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Bible Commentaries
Acts 6

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Introduction

In this chapter we find an account of the apostles’ dealing with a problem in the church and the beginning of the ministry of Stephen.

Verse 1

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

And in those days: This phrase represents an indefinite period of time; perhaps as much as six to eight years have passed since the establishment of the church.

when the number of the disciples was multiplied: The size of the church has literally grown by leaps and bounds. Some scholars estimate there may have been as many as twenty thousand Christians in the area around Jerusalem (5:14).

there arose a murmuring: To murmur is to complain. In the Old Testament, Israel is often described as "murmuring." This constant complaining seems to have been a source of irritation that wore on the patience of God. "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me" (Numbers 14:27)? In New Testament times, this sin of whispering and discontent is warned against (1 Corinthians 10:10; Philippians 2:14). It is obvious, according to the context, "murmuring" (griping, complaining, grumbling) results in discord and division in the Lord’s church. This sin will produce the same results today.

of the Grecians against the Hebrews: The problem about to be dealt with is a dispute between the Greeks and the Hebrews in the church in Jerusalem.

"Grecian Jews" were "Hellenists, " or Jews who are born and reared in another country than Palestine; "Hebrews" are the Jews who were of pure Jewish blood and spoke the Hebrew language. Paul says he is "a Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Philippians 3:5), which means he is of pure Hebrew blood and he speaks the Hebrew language (Boles 94).

because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration: The early church demonstrates concern for the needy, in this case, widows, by a "daily ministration" to their needs (4:35; 1 Timothy 3:3-16; James 1:27). The Grecian Jews make the charge that "their widows" are not receiving equal treatment.

Verse 2

Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.

Then the twelve: This is the eleven original apostles plus Matthias who was chosen to replace Judas (1:26).

called the multitude of the disciples unto them: A meeting is called to consider the problem.

and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God: The logic used by the apostles is thus: we should not forsake the preaching and teaching of the word of God in order to meet the temporal needs of a few. It is not that the daily care of the needy is not important, but they do not leave their first priority of preaching to tend to "serving tables." This concept is just the opposite of the tenets of the social gospel practiced by many today.

and serve tables: The Greek word, diakoneo, here rendered "serve, " may be defined as, "to serve, wait upon, (a) as a waiter, Luke 12:37; (b) to minister, help, Matthew 25:44; Acts 19:22; (c) to serve as a deacon, 1 Timothy 3:10" (Wigram-Green 164).

There are at least three English words that describe this activity; servant, minister, and deacon. The context helps us to determine which of these words is to be used.

It is upon this rather precarious basis that the men here appointed are often called "deacons." Significantly, the record here does not so name them, nor is there very much similarity between their status and that of the deacons Paul commanded Timothy to appoint. The men here were not assistants to elders of the church, but to the Twelve; and, furthermore, they are endowed by a laying on of the hands of the apostles. Perhaps the best name for them is the Seven, as Luke himself calls them (Acts 21:8) (Coffman 123-124).

Verse 3

Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men: The apostles instruct the congregation to "look ye out, " that is to "look at" or examine, seven men to be responsible for this "daily ministration." By allowing the "brethren" to choose the men, there could be no charge of partiality made against the apostles. These men are chosen by the brethren, but they are to be "appointed" by the apostles. There does not seem to be any special significance in the number seven.

of honest report: These men, by necessity, have to be men of good reputation and integrity.

full of the Holy Ghost: This is not a reference to miraculous spiritual gifts but rather to the "gift of the Holy Spirit" or the indwelling Spirit that is promised to all Christians (see notes on 2:38). The "seven" do not receive miraculous abilities until after the "laying on of the apostles’ hands, " according to verses 6-8. If this situation had been a reference to miraculous spiritual gifts, why would the writer have mentioned "wisdom" and also "faith" (verse 5) as "the word of wisdom" and "faith" are "gifts of the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:8)?

If we were asked to select men "full of the Holy Ghost" today, what would we look for? We would look for men whose lives demonstrate, in abundance, the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23)."He means men who were full of the Spirit as respects the fruits of a holy life" (McGarvey, Vol. I 105). A man can be recognized for what he really is by observing what his life produces. Jesus says, "... by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20).

and wisdom: The seven are to be men able to make wise and fair decisions.

whom we may appoint: Although the selection is done by the"brethren, "the power of ordaining these men is retained by the apostles.

over this business: The business involves an equitable division of the alms to care for the poor widows.

Verse 4

But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

With the temporal problems of the church delegated to the care of the seven, the apostles will be free to devote their energies to spiritual matters.

Verse 5

And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:

And the saying pleased the whole multitude: This proposition, as presented by the apostles, pleases the congregation. The wisdom of this solution can be seen by all.

and they chose Stephen: Luke introduces Stephen first of the seven. Of Stephen’s previous life, we know nothing for certain, but Stephen is soon to go down in the annals of sacred history as the first Christian martyr.

a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost: Stephen is a man"full of faith"that comes from his knowledge of God’s word (Romans 10:17). But it must also be noted, Stephen is also a man"full of the Holy Ghost."The Holy Spirit did not dwell in Stephen by faith as maintained by some. Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit as well as being"full of faith"! As surely as our own spirit dwells in us, so also the Holy Spirit dwells in every child of God (see notes on verse 3 above as well as 2:38; 11:24).

and Philip: This Philip becomes the great evangelist who carries the gospel to Samaria where Simon the sorcerer is converted; later, in the same chapter, the eunuch is also converted (8:1-40; 21:8).

and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Of the remaining five, very little is known of their past or what they accomplished for the Lord’s cause. It might be noted that all of the names are Greek names. Some scholars assume all seven are members of the complaining party, but this is not necessarily so."There is no reason to infer from this that they were all Hellenists. It was customary among the Jews to have two names, the one Hebrew and the other Greek. They were probably partly Hebrews and partly Hellenists" (Vincent 474-475). It is mentioned that Nicolaus is a proselyte, indicating he is converted from paganism to Judaism before he is converted to Christianity.

Verse 6

Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

Whom they set before the apostles: The seven candidates selected to remedy the problem among the widows are presented to the apostles to be ordained for the job.

and when they had prayed: The apostles never make decisions or appointments without invoking the blessing of God upon their actions.

they laid their hands on them: This is the first mention of the"laying on of hands"in the New Testament, giving these seven the means by which they will be enabled to work miracles and wonders. This practice was common among the Jews. The"laying on of hands"was used to bestow a blessing (Genesis 48:12-15), to indicate a successor (Numbers 27:18), and to satisfy various other purposes. This process, as used in the New Testament, does not necessarily imply the impartation of miraculous abilities (1 Timothy 4:14), although the"laying on of the apostles’ hands"is the means of giving the miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit to selected men. It should be remembered the apostles received miraculous abilities through the baptism of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts 2:1-4. These miraculous powers could be passed on to others in only one way, by the"laying on of the apostles’ hands" (8:18). It should be understood that when the last apostle died, the ability to pass on the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit ceased (see notes on 8:18).

The Seven were already "full of the Holy Spirit" in the sense ordinary; and therefore something more is intended here. Luke himself connected the laying on of the apostles’ hands with the gift extraordinary of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18); and coupled with Luke’s statement a moment later that one of the Seven did"great wonders and signs among the people" (v. 8), the teaching appears to be that the apostles here endowed the Seven with miraculous powers. To view the laying on of hands as a mere ceremony of ordination is incorrect (Coffman 126).

Verse 7

And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.

And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly: It seems every time an obstacle is overcome it results in a flourish of growth for the Lord’s church. Today we must realize the problems affecting the church must be dealt with firmly, fairly, and as swiftly as possible, or else they will hinder the church’s growth. In Luke’s history of the church, he often takes the opportunity to chronicle the rapid growth of the church (2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20).

and a great company of the priests were obedient: Even among the company of what are usually haughty and arrogant men, the power of the gospel of Christ is felt. Many of the priests have their hearts pricked by the gospel and turn to Christianity.

to the faith: We must not overlook the expression, "obedient to the faith."

There is something more to their faith than mere mental assent; there is something in it that demands obedience ... The apostles preach"the faith"and men become obedient to it. When we examine Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19 we must conclude their obedience entails repentance and baptism ... for the remission of sins (De Welt 86).

Luke has described three things to show the progress of the church:

1. The word of God increases.

2. The number pf the disciples multiplies.

3. A great many of the priests are obedient to the faith.

We may rest assured this progress does not go unobserved by the enemies of Christianity. This success is soon to bring a blood bath upon the disciples of Jesus.

Verse 8

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.

And Stephen, full of faith and power: Luke describes the soon-to-be first Christian martyr as a man with complete confidence in God who, by the power given him through"the laying on of the apostles’ hands" (verse 6), is able to perform miracles of a significant magnitude among the people.

did great wonders and miracles among the people: By the use of"wonders and miracles, "Stephen draws much attention to the words he preaches. This is the purpose of miracles: to confirm the testimony of the preacher (see notes on 2:17, 4:30).

Verse 9

Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.

Then there arose certain of the synagogue: There is some discussion as to whether Luke has reference to one particular"synagogue"or perhaps to a separate"synagogue"for each of the groups named. It should be noted the word"synagogue"is singular and appears to denote one particular place, although if the reference is to more than one synagogue it is, as McGarvey says, "of no special importance" (Vol. I 112).

which is called the synagogue: Thayer defines"synagogue"as"an assembly of Jews formally gathered together to offer prayer and listen to the reading and exposition of Holy Scriptures" (600-1-4864). This"synagogue"is a gathering of the following groups of Jews.

of the Libertines: The term "Libertines" is a Latin word meaning "Freedmen." These Greek Jews have at one time been slaves, but now they are "Libertines" or "Freedmen."

and Cyrenians: These are men from Cyrene, a region that lies about five hundred miles west of Alexandria, Egypt.

and Alexandrians: These are men from the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great, B. C. 332, and was populated by colonies of Greeks and Jews. Next to Jerusalem and Rome, there is no other city that has a larger population of Jews. It is in Alexandria that the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, is written.

and of them of Cilicia: There are many Jews in the providence of Cilicia. The capital of this providence, in Asia Minor, is the city of Tarsus, which is the home of Paul (9:11). It is very likely Paul is a ring leader in this dispute with Stephen.

and of Asia: This phrase refers to an area in and about the modern country of Turkey.

disputing with Stephen: Stephen, also being a Greek, is most likely a member of this synagogue; therefore, it is only natural he would attempt to teach these of his own background. It is logical Stephen will receive his strongest opposition in the synagogue. It should also be noted that the opposition to the truth has now been undertaken in a much more deadly fashion by the sect of the Jews known as the Pharisees. Until now the primary opposition to the church has been by the Sadducees, but now the Pharisees become actively involved. Where the plots of the Sadducees to put Christians to death have failed, the murderous Pharisees succeed.

Verse 10

And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.

And they were not able to resist the wisdom: Stephen certainly meets the requirements of his calling as a man of wisdom (6:3). He demonstrates his wisdom in a way the Jews could not "resist."

and the spirit by which he spake: Although the word "spirit" is not capitalized in the King James Version, it should be understood the reference is to the Holy Spirit. Most other translations, American Standard Version, New International Version, etc., indicate the reference is to the Holy Spirit. It is by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that Stephen is able to present irrefutable arguments to these Jews. This ability to speak by inspiration is one of the miraculous abilities Stephen receives by "the laying on of the apostles’ hands."

Verse 11

Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.

Then they suborned men:"To ’suborn’ in the legal sense is to procure a person who will take a false oath" (Vine, Vol. IV 87).

That is they bribed men to be false witnesses. The Greek word speaks of bringing men under one’s control by suggestion or money. By some means or other, they induced them to lie in court about what Stephen had actually said (Reese 212).

which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God: The testimony of these lying witnesses is that Stephen has"blasphemed"Moses and God. It is not difficult to see how they might twist the words of Stephen and accuse him of blasphemy of the Law, but how can it be said he is blaspheming God? Perhaps the Jews consider one who speaks against the Law or the temple as one who blasphemes God. There is no proof offered for the charges; in reality the charges are as false as the witnesses.

Verse 12

And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,

And they stirred up the people: This is the first time the ordinary people are stirred up against the disciples. Until now, the fear of the common man has caused the violence of the Jewish leaders to be tempered. The Sadducees have conducted the previous inquisitions, but they have little influence with the people. The Pharisees, being the teachers and leaders in the synagogues, have more influence with the common people; therefore, it is easier for them to gain the following of the multitude.

and the elders, and the scribes: Apparently, even the members of the Sanhedrin are "stirred up" against Stephen.

and came upon him, and caught him: Now that the leaders of the synagogue have the crowd in a bloodthirsty mode, they go after Stephen.

and brought him to the council: This expression certainly sounds familiar. Just as Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin in previous chapters, now Stephen will make a defense for his life.

Verse 13

And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:

And set up false witnesses: The "suborned men" are produced to press the false charges against Stephen.

which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: They have added an additional charge; along with a charge of blasphemy of God and the Law, now they include"words against this holy place, "meaning the temple.

Verse 14

For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.

For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place: The false witnesses begin their perjured testimony. Here is a misrepresentation of the words of Jesus.

"It is quite probable that Stephen had, in the course of the debate, quoted the prediction of Jesus that the temple would be destroyed, but had not said that Jesus would destroy it; and as his enemies could see that the destruction of the temple would necessarily bring to an end the temple services..." (McGarvey, Vol. I 114) (Matthew 24:1-2).

and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us: Stephen is accused of blaspheming Moses by changing the Law.

Only malignant spite could construe Stephen’s preaching the very changes God himself had prophesied in the OT scriptures as blasphemy, either of God or Moses. Thus it was no mere twisting what Jesus or Stephen had said, no mere distortion of their words, which was practiced by the suborned witnesses. Their testimony was totally false (Coffman 131).

Verse 15

And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.

This council, which must have contained Paul, is in for an unforgettable experience. As members of the council look upon Stephen, his face is "as the face of an angel." There are those who prefer to view this appearance as the natural radiance of a righteous person who stands in complete confidence in the presence of God and man. This view seems to fall short of the phenomenon as Luke records it. Here is a man who is allowed to look into heaven (7:56). It is obvious his face reflects the divine presence of God. Whatever is the explanation, Paul has forever the face of Stephen indelibly etched upon his conscience. Paul’s memory is never relieved of the sorrow of this tragic day when the first martyr for Christ paid for his faith with his blood.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 6". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-6.html. 1993-2022.
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