Acts

6:1-7

2. The gospel reaches into Judea and Samaria, 6:1-12:25

i] The spirit of the gospel

Synopsis

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 they are being overlooked by the Hebraic members in the daily distribution of food. To this end the apostles appoint a number of Hellenistic Jews, "full of the Spirit and wisdom", to sort the problem, enabling the apostles to focus on their "word" ministry. In v7 Luke notes how the gospel is constantly gathering new members, even priests.

 
Teaching

The way, engulfed in their new life in Christ through the power of the Spirit, is touched by a new radical temper which leads not just to division in the church itself, but to a violent break with Jerusalem / the temple and the emergence of a wider missionary endeavor which will bring the gospel to the Gentile world.*

 
Issues

i] Context: See 1:1-11. In the section The gospel reaches into Judea and Samaria, 6:1-12:25, Luke reveals the growing gulf between Jerusalem / the temple and Rome, Jew and Gentile, Law and grace, and how this gulf was not only bridged by the hand of God, but by the leading lights of the Jerusalem church. Paul's Gentile ministry of grace is no heretical movement, but is the means by which the way becomes universal rather than remaining 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 a 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 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", and 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 who are suffering due to the famine 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 meets the end of all tyrants - "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, before focusing on Paul's Gentile mission beyond Antioch, Luke has established the authority by which Gentiles are rightly included in the way and the wholly appropriate position Saul, now called Paul, plays in that mission.

 

ii] Structure: This passage, The spirit of the gospel, presents in the following scenes

The appointment of deacons, v1-6:

Setting / situation, v1;

The overlooking of the widows of Hellenist believers in the distribution of food, v1.

The apostles address the situation, v2-4;

The appointees, v5;

Their appointment, v6;

A brief summary of the continued 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 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.

 

*Why does Luke record this break in fellowship between the Hellenist and Hebraic believers at this point in his account of the Acts of the Apostles? 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, he may be underlining the inclusive nature of the kingdom now realized 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, 1951. 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. Nor is it likely that Luke is recording the establishment of the order of deacons.

Luke's purpose in this passage is not overly clear, yet we can be sure that he selects his material to suit his overall purpose and this because Acts is not a detailed history of the early church as such, cf. Barrett. Note suggested purpose in "Teaching" above.

 

What qualities are required of the seven appointees? Luke often uses the term "full of the Spirit" to define a spiritual gifting for ministry, often particularly the ministry of communicating (preaching / teaching) the gospel - "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly", 4:31. Here with "wisdom", a gift essential for a preaching / teaching ministry. None-the-less it is worth considering that "full of the Spirit" may relate to "wisdom" itself, ie. they must be full of the Spirit / spiritually full when it comes to wisdom. Possibly even a hendiadys where two words 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.

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

plhqunontwn (plhqunw) gen. pres. part. "when the number [of disciples] was increasing" - filling = multiplying, increasing. Genitive absolute participle, adverbial, temporal, as NIV.

twn Ellhnistwn (hV ou) "the Grecian Jews among them" - [a complaint] of the Hellenists. The genitive is ablative, of source / origin; "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.

goggusmoV (oV) "complained" - [there became] a complaint, grumbling, murmuring.

proV "against" - to, 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. Possibly 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" - Haenchen refers to the theory of Rengstorf that widows of the dispersion came to Jerusalem to live-out their final years.

pareqewrounto (paraqewrew) imperf. pas. "they were being overlooked" - they were being neglected / they have been neglected. The imperfect is used to establish aspect, here durative, an ongoing neglect.

en "in" - in [the daily]. Expressing the sphere of activity; "the widows were being neglected when it came to the daily distribution of support."

th/ diakonia/ (a) "distribution of food" - support, service. Referring to material support given to someone in need, financial or otherwise.

 
v2

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 chooses seven men who are "full of the Spirit", gifted with wisdom, men who are capable and intelligent, able to perform a social-welfare role. When Luke uses the phrase "full of the Spirit", "filled with the Spirit", he often has in mind endowments for Christian ministry, ministry gifts, especially those for preaching, eg. "Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said.....", Ac.4:8, cf. Lk:21:14. So, these men must exhibit the gifts of the Spirit, particularly that of wisdom. Of course, it goes without saying that having been endowed with spiritual gifts they have also received the Spirit in the sense of being born again, ie. they are believers.

de "so" - and [the twelve]. Transitional. "The twelve summoned the body of disciples", Barclay.

proskalesamenoi (proskaleomai) aor. mid. part. "gathered [all the disciples] together" - having summoned, called together. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said"; summoned ..... and said".

twn maqhtwn (hV ou) "[all] the disciples" - [the multitude] of disciples. The genitive is adjectival, partitive / wholative.

areston adj. "right" - pleasing / proper, right. "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, but it seems best to treat it as forming an dependent statement of perception expressing what would not be pleasing / desirable; "it is far from desirable that we should forsake the preaching of God's message", Cassirer. The participial construction, as a whole, stands as the subject of estin, "it is [desirable]."

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the ministry of the word] of God" - [the word] of God. The genitive is best treated as ablative, expressing source; "the message/revelation that derives from God." Obviously "ministry of" is assumed, possibly "preaching of", Barclay, etc, "teaching of", Berkeley, etc., "It wouldn't be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God", Peterson.

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 Culy suggests that the so formed infinitival construction with kataleiyantaV stands as the subject of estin. As such it too serves as a dependent statement of perception expressing what is not desirable, namely, "to wait on tables." "It would not be right for us to to neglect the Word of God and (instead) distribute food", Culy / "help with the care of the poor", Peterson.

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

 
v3

de "-" - but, and. Here connective and so left untranslated.

adelfoi (oV) "brothers / brothers and sisters" - The term, of course, is inclusive, as TNIV, although today "brothers" refers to a group of men; "my friends", CEV.

episkeyasqe (episkeptomai) aor. imp. "choose" - visit / care for / select, choose after careful investigation. The third meaning applies in this verse. The choice of seven men has Biblical precedence and is also the number of people appointed to local councils, but there is 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]" - out of, from [you]. Expressing source / origin.

marturoumenouV (marturew) pres. mid. / pas. part. "who are known" - being well reported of, testified of. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "seven men"; "seven men who are of good repute." It is somewhat unclear whether the testimony given these men concerns their being "full of the Spirit and wisdom", as NIV, or whether they are men "of honest report", AV, "of honorable reputation", Bruce, "respected / attested .... who are full of the Spirit and wisdom", ie. are there two, or three qualifications (or just one, see below)?

plhreiV acc. adj. "full" - Standing in apposition to "seven men."

pneumatoV kai sofiaV "of the Spirit" - of spirit. "Spirit", as in Holy Spirit, or "spirit", as in spiritual? The genitive is adjectival, of content.

sofiaV (a) "[and] wisdom" - 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, 2009. As with all the ministry gifts, they are likely shaped by human qualities actively enriched by the Holy Spirit.

katasthsomen (katisthmi) "we will turn [this responsibility over] to them" - [whom] we will put in charge [over this need]. "We will put them in charge of this duty (to help with the care of the poor)", Barclay.

epi + gen. "over" - [we will appoint] over [this duty]. Here expressing subordination.

 
v4

de "and" - but, and. Here coordinative, "and".

hJmeiV "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" - Dative of direct object after the proV prefix verb "be devoted to."

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

 
v5

iii] The appointees, v5. The seven have Greek names, which may indicate that they were all Hellenists; see above. 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 recognizes this fact.

oJ logoV "this proposal" - the word [was pleasing before all the multitude]. "What they said", Cassirer.

hresen (areskw) aor. "pleased" - caused to be pleased with = pleased. "Found favor", Cassirer, in that it obviously complied with their understanding of the divine will, and so "they agreed" with it.

enwpion + gen. "-" - before, in the presence of. Spacial.

tou plhqouV (oV) gen. "[the whole] group" - [all] of the multitude, crowd. The genitive is adjectival, partitive / wholative. Not simply "all", which may imply the whole of Jerusalem, but rather this particular gathering; "the general body of the congregation", Barclay.

plhrhV adj. "full" - The indeclinable reading is to be preferred, cf. Bruce, 1951. "'Full of faith' means of very strong faith", Barrett.

pistewV (iV ewV) gen. "of faith" - The genitive is adjectival, of content. "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" - [full of .....] holy spirit. 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 an Old Testament sense; "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, 2009. 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" - Nicanor [a proselyte and an Antiochean]. Only Stephen and Philip get another mention in Acts, but Luke, with an obvious interest in Antioch, gives us some information on Nicolas. That he is a proselyte is worth noting, see notes above.

 
v6

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 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.

ou{V pro. "[they presented] these men" - whom [they placed].

enwpion + gen. "to [the apostles]" - before [the apostles]. Spacial

proseuxamenoi (proseucomai) aor. mid. part. "who prayed" - having prayed. The participle is probably just attendant on the verb epeqhkan, "they laid upon", so "they prayed and laid ...", but possibly adverbial, temporal, "who, after prayer, laid their hands upon them", Moffatt.

epeqhkan (epitiqhmi) aor. "laid [their hands] on" - they placed, laid [the hands] upon. The syntax does not identify the agent, so ether "whom" = "crowd = assembled congregation", or "the apostles." The laying on of hands is used as a visible expression of a prayer for blessing; it expresses personal identification, but it is very unlikely that it serves to convey a 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" - The verb "lay on, upon" takes an accusative so the dative here is classified as locative, of place.

 
v7

Luke now gives us a brief report on the state of the church, telling us that there is an increasing communication of the gospel in Jerusalem and beyond, v7. Luke is most likely thinking of the gospel message in particular when he uses the phrase "Word of God." As a result, the number of believers increase. This includes converts who are priests - an unlikely source of believers. 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 opened their hearts to the gospel.

kai ..... te "So" - and. Culy notes that this construction introduces a series and so it is possible that the verse serves as the opening to the account of Stephen's death. Peterson, 2009, argues the inclusion is backward looking to v1. At least it can be dealt with as a separate paragraph, as NIV.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the word] of God" - The genitive is best viewed as ablative, expressing source / origin.

huxanen (auxanw) imperf. "spread" - grew. Durative; "was spreading widely", Barclay.

twn maqhtwn (hV ou) gen. "[the number] of the disciples" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

eplhquneto (plhqunw) imperf. pas. "increased" - was being multiplied. The passive may be classed as theological - God does the increasing. Durative, again expressing continued action; "continued to be [greatly] increased", Barclay.

sfodra adv. "radidly" - very much. Modal adverb, expressing manner.

twn iJerewn (uV ewn) "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" - Dative of direct object. 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, 2009), 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 realized through faith in the faithfulness of Christ, as opposed to the obedience that is generated by 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

Exposition

 

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