2. The gospel spreads into Palestine, 6:1-12:25

i] The spirit of the gospel


Before relating the martyrdom of Stephen, Luke tells us something of the Hellenist believers and their status in the Jerusalem church. The church is increasing in numbers and there is tension in the community because the Hellenistic members feel that their widows are being overlooked by the Hebraic members in the daily distribution of food to the needy. To sort the problem, the apostles appoint a number of Hellenistic Jews, "full of the Spirit and wisdom", to share in ministry toward those in need. This enables the apostles to focus on their "word" ministry. In v7, Luke notes how the gospel is spreading throughout the wider community, with new converts swelling the ranks of the believing community; even priests are turning to Jesus.


The Way prepares for a violent break with Jerusalem / the temple leading to the emergence of a wider missionary endeavour which will bring the gospel to the Gentile world.


i] Context: See 1:1-11.

In this section The gospel spreads into Palestine, 6:1-12:25, Luke reveals the growing gulf between Jerusalem / the temple and Rome, of the gulf between Jew and Gentile (ultimately the gulf between Law and grace), and how this gulf is not only bridged by the hand of God, but by the leading lights of the Jerusalem church. Luke will go on to show how Paul's Gentile ministry of grace is no heretical movement, but is the means by which the way becomes a universal religion rather than a Jewish sect.

In chapters 6-7 we learn that the preaching ministry of the apostles continues to anger the religious authorities, but that it is the preaching of converted Hellenist Jews which causes the greater problem. The evangelistic activities of these Hellenist believers, and particularly of Stephen, leads to the martyrdom of Stephen and to a general persecution of Hellenist members of the Way. Luke pointedly notes that this persecution is led by Saul and that it is not directed at Hebraic believers, notably the apostles. The driving out of Hellenist believers from Jerusalem leads to an outward thrust of the gospel and thus to an expansion of the Christian church into Judea and Samaria - "the divine purpose overrules human malice to bring to effect the overarching divine plan", Dunn.

In chapter 8 Luke reveals how the way begins to include Samaritan and God-fearer members. We learn that through the preaching ministry of Phillip, a converted Hellenist Jew, the people of Samaria respond to the gospel, and how an Ethiopian God-fearer also believes. Luke makes a point of noting how even Samaritans receive the Spirit, and this at the hand of two prominent apostles, Peter and John. Saul is still not finished with these heretical Greek-speaking Jews and so we read in chapter 9 how he seeks them out. Confronted by the risen Christ, even Saul joins the Way and sets about proclaiming the gospel.

For Luke, his record of the conversion of Cornelius in chapter 10 is a key turning point in his Acts of the Apostles. Here we have a Gentile God-fearer joining the Way; he responds to the gospel and above all, he receives the Holy Spirit just as the apostles had received the Spirit on the day of Pentecost those few years before. His conversion is at the hand of that most trusted of apostles, Peter. To further reinforce the importance of this event, Luke records Peter's explanation to the Hebraic believers in Jerusalem, reinforcing to them that "even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life." The gospel's expansion into the Gentile world continues, again led by Hellenist believers who take the gospel North to Antioch. Again, the Jerusalem church aids this expansion, sending Barnabas, a man "full of the Holy Spirit and faith"; it is this trusted member of the Jerusalem church who asks Saul to aid him.

On concluding their mission in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul return to Jerusalem to report on their work for the gospel and to hand over funds collected for members of the Jerusalem church (a famine is presently inflicting Palestine). In chapter 11, Luke records the increasing difficulties faced by the Hebraic believers in Jerusalem. Herod has decided to turn on the believers, executing James, the brother of John, and arresting Peter. Peter is miraculously released, but before Herod refocuses on his persecution of the church, he is distracted by political affairs and inevitably comes to a well-deserved end - "he was eaten by worms and died." Having spent time with the believers in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Saul, along with "John, also called Mark", return to Antioch.

So, in this second major section of his Acts of the Apostles, Luke establishes the authority by which Gentiles are rightly included in the Way and the wholly appropriate position Saul, now called Paul, plays in the apostolic mission.


ii] Structure: The spirit of the gospel:

The appointment of deacons, v1-6:

Setting / situation, v1;

The overlooking of Hellenist widows, v1.

The apostles address the situation, v2-4;

The appointees, v5;

Their appointment, v6;

A brief summary of the expansion of the Way, v7.


iii] Interpretation:

The Jewish world was divided between Aramaic speaking Jews from Palestine (Hebrews), and Greek speaking Jews from outside Palestine (Hellenists). The Hellenists were either emigrants from Palestine or descendants of Jews of the dispersion. It is worth noting that large populations of Jews existed outside of Palestine, eg., a third of the population of Alexandria in Egypt were Jews. Racial tension, often focused on religious purity, existed in the Jewish community and likely found its way into the New Testament church. This racial tension is evident in Luke's account, a tension which was one of the factors leading up to the martyrdom of Stephen and the evacuation of the Hellenist believers from Jerusalem. It was these evacuees who were responsible for the initial spread of the gospel beyond Jerusalem.

The seven are Hellenist believers appointed to care for the poor, particularly within their own community, given that they felt that "their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food", v1. That all seven deacons have Greek names indicates that they are probably Hellenists, although it was not uncommon for a Palestinian Jew to have a Greek name at this time.


The purpose behind Luke's record of a break in fellowship between the Hellenist and Hebraic believers. Conzelmann doubts the historicity of Luke's account of the tension between the Hebrews and the Hellenists in the church. It may well be that Luke is doing nothing more than explaining the emergence of Hellenist leaders in the church who play an important role in the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to "the ends of the earth" / Rome, eg., Stephen, Philip. Having noted the incident, Luke moves on.

On the other hand, Luke may be underlining the inclusive nature of the kingdom now realised in Christ - Jew and Gentile. We may have here the first steps on that journey - Palestinian Jew and Hellenist Jew; "the first step in the equality of Jew and Gentile in the Church", Bruce, Gk. Note also the inclusion of the proselyte Nicholas, but more particularly that of Stephen who heads the list.

It is possible that this incident serves no other purpose than to introduce the reader to Stephen, the first martyr for the Way, but this seems unlikely. Nor is it likely that Luke is recording the establishment of the order of deacons.

Luke selects his material to suit his overall purpose of revealing the divine plan of gospel extension from Jew to Gentile, Jerusalem to Rome / the ends of the earth. In the passage before us, Luke records another small step in that journey.


The qualities required of the seven appointees. It seems strange that the seven are required to possess a skill-set necessary for a preaching / teaching ministry. Luke often uses the term "full of the Spirit" to define a spiritual gifting for a word ministry - communicating (preaching / teaching) the gospel; "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly", 4:31. In the passage before us, the seven are chosen on the ground of their being "full of the Spirit", but also of their possessing "wisdom", a gift essential for a preaching / teaching ministry.

It is possible that "full of the Spirit" specifically relates to "wisdom" itself, ie., they must be full of the Spirit / spiritually full when it comes to wisdom. We possibly even have a hendiadys where two words are joined by kai expressing a single thought; "spiritually wise / possessing a spiritually enriched good sense." There is then only one quality being sought after - the spiritual gift of wisdom. They must be spiritually gifted, able administrators, qualified to adeptly handle tensions in human relationships; "their lives are dedicated to God's Spirit so that they are spiritually sensitive, able to make good judgments", Bock.

Most commentators widen the sense of "full of the Spirit" and treat "wisdom" as a second qualification: "showing all the marks of the work of the Holy Spirit" along with the natural (so Barrett, but see below) attribute of wisdom, ie., "the men appointed had to excel in spiritual and natural gifts", Barrett.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 6:1

The choosing of the seven deacons, v1-6: i] Situation, v1. The apostles confront a dispute, prompted by a claim from Hellenist members of the Jerusalem fellowship, that their widows were not getting a fair share of the church's welfare budget.

de "-" but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative. The use of de with the phrase "in these day" indicates a major transition, Culy, Kellum, ...

en + dat. "in [those days]" - in [these days]. Temporal use of the preposition.

plhqunontwn (plhqunw) gen. pres. part. "when the number [of disciples] was increasing" - [the disciples] multiplying, increasing. The genitive participle, with its genitive subject "disciples", forms a genitive absolute construction, temporal, as NIV; "In those days, as the number of disciples kept growing", Berkeley.

twn Ellhnistwn (hV ou) gen. "the Hellenistic Jews" - [there became a complaint, grumbling] of the hellenists. The genitive is usually treated as adverbial, instrumental, "by those who spoke Greek", Cassirer, or ablative / descriptive; "from the Hellenists." As noted above, this is likely to be a cultural designation, ie., non-Palestinian Jews, primarily Greek speaking. Cadbury argued that Luke is using the word to mean Gentile, but this seems unlikely. "There rose a complaint on the part of the Greek-speaking .... Jews", Berkeley.

proV + acc. "against" - toward. Here expressing opposition, "against".

touV EbraiouV (oV) "Hebraic Jews" - hebrews. As above, a cultural designation, ie., Palestinian Jews, primarily Aramaic/Hebrew speaking.

oJti "because" - that. Either introducing a causal clause, as NIV, or a dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing the content of the complaint; "they alleged that their widows were being passed over", Barclay.

aiJ chrai (a) "[their] widows" - the widows [of them were being neglected]. Nominative subject of the imperfect verb "to be neglected." Haenchen refers to the theory of Rengstorf that widows of the dispersion came to Jerusalem to live-out their final years. The imperfect is probably being used here to establish aspect, here durative, an ongoing neglect.

en "in" - in [the daily support, service]. Local, expressing the sphere of activity, although Culy suggests reference / respect. When it came to the daily distribution of support (financial or material), the Hellenistic widows were being overlooked.


ii] The apostles address the situation, v2-4. The apostles see their main function as administering the worship of the church ("give our attention to prayer") and the preaching and teaching of the Word of God ("ministry of the Word"). They don't want to be sidetracked into a social-welfare role. To this end, the apostles suggest that the congregation choose seven men who are gifted with wisdom, men who are capable and intelligent, able to perform a social-welfare role.

proskalesamenoi (proskaleomai) aor. mid. part. "gathered [all the disciples] together" - [but/and the twelve] having summoned, called together. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said"; summoned ..... and said", but possibly adverbial, temporal, so Kellum.

twn maqhtwn (hV ou) "[all] the disciples" - [the multitude] of disciples [and said]. The genitive is adjectival, partitive / wholative. "The twelve summoned the body of disciples, 'It is not right', they said .....", Barclay.

areston adj. "right" - pleasing / proper, right. Predicate adjective; "desirable", or "fitting", REB, is a bit soft, so "it is not right", Phillips, as NIV.

kataleiyantaV (kataleipw) aor. part. "to neglect" - having neglected, forsaken, left. The function of this participle is not overly clear. It is possibly adverbial, modal, expressing manner, so Culy (qualified), but it seems best to treat it as standing in the place of an infinitive, so introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what is not pleasing / desirable; "it is far from desirable that we should forsake the preaching of God's message", Cassirer.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the ministry of the word] of God" - [the word] of god. The genitive is best treated as descriptive, idiomatic / source; "the message/revelation that derives from God." Obviously "ministry of" is assumed, possibly "preaching of", Barclay, etc, "teaching of", Berkeley, etc.

diakonein (diakonew) pres. inf. "in order to wait on" - to serve, wait on. The infinitive may be adverbial, final, expressing purpose, as NIV, so Barrett, although, as with the participle kataleiyanta, "having neglected", it more likely serves to introduce a dependent statement of perception expressing what "is not right, desirable", namely, "that we should devote our attention to ministrations at table", Cassirer. As Culy notes, both the participial phrase, together with the infinitival phrase, serves as the subject of the impersonal use of the verb to-be; "for us to neglect (having neglected) the ministry of the word of God, and to wait on tables, is not right / desirable." The pronoun hJmaV, "we = us", serves as the accusative subject of the infinitive, but also of the participle serving as an infinitive. "It wouldn't be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor", Peterson.

trapeqaiV (a) dat. "tables" - tables. Dative of direct object after the dia prefix verb "wait on / serve."


adelfoi (oV) "brothers / brothers and sisters" - [but/and] brothers. Given the context, the term is inclusive, as NIVII. Today, "brothers" refers to a group of men; "my friends", CEV.

episkeyasqe (episkeptomai) aor. imp. "choose" - select, choose (after careful investigation). The choice of seven men has Biblical precedence. At the time, it was also the number of people appointed to local councils. There is probably no real significance in the choice of seven. "You, our brothers, must look around and pick out from our number .....", Phillips.

ex (ek) + gen. "from among [you]" - [men] out of, from [you, seven]. Expressing source / origin, or serving instead of a partitive genitive. The adjective eJpta, "seven", stands in apposition to "men"

marturoumenouV (marturew) pres. mid. / pas. part. "who are known" - being well reported of, testified of. Three adjectival modifiers follow, limiting "men"; they should be men who are well spoken of, who are full of the Spirit and who are full of wisdom. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "men"; "seven men who are of good repute."

pneumatoV kai sofiaV "of the Spirit" - [full] of spirit [and of wisdom]. "Spirit", as in Holy Spirit, or "spirit", as in spiritual? The genitive is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic / of content, as NIV. As noted above, it is somewhat unclear whether the second and third qualification, "full of the Spirit and wisdom", amount to two qualifications, or a single qualification, "of honest report", AV, "of honourable reputation", Bruce, "respected / attested ...." It is unclear whether we should understand "wisdom" here as a natural attribute such as "sensible", so Barrett, or as a spiritual gift, "a particular manifestation of the Spirit's presence in their lives", so Peterson D.

epi + gen. "over" - [whom we will appoint, put in charge] over [this duty, need]. Here expressing subordination. "We will put them in charge of this duty (to help with the care of the poor)", Barclay.


The ministry exercised by the apostles is one of prayer and preaching / teaching, cf., 5:42, a ministry of teaching from home to home and preaching (gospel proclamation) in the temple.

hJmeiV "we" - [but/and] we. Emphatic by use and position; "we ourselves", TEV.

proskarterhsomen (proskarterew) fut. "will give our attention to" - we will persevere = devote ourselves to. In the sense of giving priority to; "we can spend our time", CEV.

th proseuch/ (h) "prayer" - to prayer. As with diakonia/, "service", dative of direct object after the proV prefix verb "to be devoted to."

tou logou (oV) "[the ministry] of the word" - [and to the service] of the word. The genitive is adjectival, usually classified as verbal, objective, where the genitive "word" receives the action of the verbal noun "ministry", although it may simply be treated as attributive, limiting "ministry"; "a word ministry." "Ministry" again in the sense of a teaching and preaching ministry.


iii] The appointees, v5. The seven have Greek names, indicating that they are all Hellenists. One wasn't even a Jew, but rather a proselyte. Stephen heads the list, and is described as a man "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." He is a gifted person, the most evident spiritual gift being his strong faith. His appointment recognises this fact.

oJ logoV "this proposal" - the word [was pleasing]. Nominative subject of the verb "to please"; "What they said found favour with all the assembled", Cassirer. What the apostles said obviously aligned with the assembly's understanding of the divine will, and so "they agreed" with it.

enwpion + gen. "-" - before, in the presence of. Spatial. Not simply "all", which may imply the whole of Jerusalem, but rather this particular gathering; "the general body of the congregation", Barclay.

plhrhV "full" - [and they chose stephen, a man], a full man. Used here as an indeclinable nominative standing in apposition to "man".

pistewV (iV ewV) gen. "of faith" - of faith. The genitive is adjectival, limiting "a full man", descriptive, idiomatic / content; "a filled man with faith" = "a man full of faith." "Faith" in the sense of "essential Christian belief and commitment", Fitzmyer, although Haenchen thinks Stephen's faith is the type that moves mountains, ie., miracle-working faith.

pneumatoV aJgiou gen. "of the Holy Spirit" - [and] holy spirit. As above, genitive of content. A title is usually implied, both words coming with or without articles, so "the Holy Spirit". As noted above, "full of" seems to mean in Luke "spiritually gifted", particularly gifted in preaching / teaching the word of God, ie., Luke is using the phrase in the Old Testament sense of "endowed with Spirit-giving force and eloquence", Fitzmyer. None-the-less, as with "full of the Spirit and wisdom", where "wisdom" can be understood as the spiritual endowment identified as necessary for serving the poor, here Luke may be identifying "faith" "as a particular manifestation of the Spirit's presence in his (Stephen's) life", Peterson, D. To avoid confusion, it is worth noting that phrases like "baptized with the Holy Spirit", or "received the Holy Spirit", seem to have a regenerative sense rather than that of spiritual endowment.

Nikolaon (oV) "Nicolas" - [and philip, and prochorus, and nicanor, and timon, and parmenas, and] nicolas [a proselyte and an antiochean]. Only Stephen and Philip get another mention in Acts. It is unclear whether Philip is the apostle Philip - Marshall argues against the possibility. By noting that Nicolas is a proselyte, a convert to Judaism in training to become a full Jew, indicates that the other six are Jewish believers. The important point for Luke is that they are Hellenistic Jews (indicated by their Greek names), Jews of the dispersion, with one even a proselyte - the gospel is on its way from Jew to Gentile, Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.


iv] The appointment of the seven, v6. The church (the assembly of believers) selects the seven, while the apostles appoint them to their office. The laying on of hands may serve to either express a prayer for blessing, or a commissioning for service. It is very unlikely that this act imparts spiritual power since they were already "full of the Spirit". The ministry function of deacon comes from this passage and its title is derived from the Greek word diakonos, "servant, minister." It is unlikely that a ministry classification is being established here; these men are just being set apart to serve the church community.

enwpion + gen. "to [the apostles]" - [whom they placed] before [the apostles]. Spatial

proseuxamenoi (proseucomai) aor. mid. part. "who prayed" - [and] having prayed. The participle is attendant on the verb epeqhkan, "they laid upon", so "they prayed and laid ...", but it may be treated as adverbial, temporal, "who, after prayer, laid their hands upon them", Moffatt.

epeqhkan (epitiqhmi) aor. "laid [their hands] on" - they placed upon, laid on [the = their hands]. The syntax does not identify the agent, so ether ou}V, "whom" = "crowd = assembled congregation", or "the apostles." As indicated above, the laying on of hands is used as a visible expression of a prayer for blessing; it expresses personal identification. As also noted above, it is very unlikely that it conveys spiritual endowment - "it did not, of course, impart the gift of the Spirit; the seven were already full of the Spirit", Bruce.

autoiV dat. "them" - on them. The epi prefix verb "to lay on, upon" may take an accusative or a dative. Here it takes the accusative "hands", with the dative "them" serving as a local dative of place.


Luke now gives us a brief report on the state of the church, telling us that gospel-communication is progressing, both in Jerusalem and beyond, v7. As a result of the apostolic mission, the number of believers is increasing. This includes converts who are priests - an unlikely source. The phrase "obedient to the faith" may well reflect Romans 1:5, but may also simply mean that they "put their faith in the Lord", CEV. At any rate, many priests have committed their life to Jesus through the preaching of the gospel.

kai .... kai ..... te "So" - and .... and ..... and. Culy notes that this coordinating construction introduces a series and so it is possible that the verse serves as the opening to the account of Stephen's death. Peterson D argues that the inclusion is backward looking to v1. It may just be best to treat it as a separate paragraph, as NIV. What we end up with is a list of three elements: the word "was growing"; disciples "were being multiplied"; and priests "were being obedient" - the verbs are imperfect. Kellum suggests that the first two are durative / progressive and the third inceptive / ingressive, "began to be obedient".

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the word] of God" - [the word] of god [was growing, increasing]. The genitive is best viewed as descriptive, idiomatic / source, "from God." It is more than likely that this "word / message from God" is the gospel, the announcement of the inauguration / realisation of the kingdom of God / the reign of God in Christ. "Was spreading widely", Barclay.

twn maqhtwn (hV ou) gen. "[the number] of the disciples" - [and the number] of disciples [in jerusalem was being multiplied greatly, very much]. The genitive is adjectival, partitive. "Continued to be [greatly] increased", Barclay (theological passive - God is the agent).

twn iJerewn (uV ewn) "of priests" - [and a great crowds] of priests. The genitive is adjectival, partitive / wholative. Given that there were some 8,000 priests in Palestine at the time, it is not unreasonable for some to become believers. Luke seems to be noting the effectiveness of the gospel in Jerusalem - many people are being converted, even priests.

uJphkouon (uJpakouw) imperf. "became obedient to" - were hearing / responding / obeying. The imperfect my be treated as: iterative, expressing repeated action, "kept joining", Knowling; or voluntative, expressing an attempted action; or possibly inceptive, "began to", Barrett. The word "obedient" can be misleading since the sense is probably "commitment to / acceptance of"; "accepted the faith", TEV, "put their faith in the Lord", CEV - but see below.

th/ pistei (iV ewV) "the faith" - the faith. Dative of direct object after the verb "to obey." Luke may intend "the faith" in an objective sense, "that which Christians believe, .... the Christian religion", Fitzmyer, "Christian belief / doctrine / the creed / NT ethics ...." (= "the content of Christian belief and life", Barrett, so Peterson, D), or more specifically "the gospel", and so "faith in the gospel / Christ", "acceptance of the Christian message (and thus the object of the message, namely, Christ)", Longenecker; they "opened their hearts to the gospel", Haenchen, cf., Acts 13:8, 14:22, 16:5. There is always the possibility that Luke, due to his close association with the apostle Paul, is reflecting Pauline doctrine, so Dunn, Conzelmann. Is this an example of Paul's "obedience of faith", the state of obedience / covenant compliance realised through faith in the faithfulness of Christ, as opposed to obedience that is a fruit of faith, cf., Rom.1:5? So, Luke may be stating that many priests became obedient / covenant compliant "with / by means of" (instrumental dative) "faith = the faithfulness of Christ relied on by the instrument of faith / belief", so Bock, Bruce.


Acts Introduction


Exegetical Commentaries


[Pumpkin Cottage]