Acts 6
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - Now in these for and in those, A.V. (it is not ἐκείναις, answering to בַּיָמַים הָהֵם, but ταύταις); multiplying for multiplied, A.V.; Grecian Jews for Grecians, A.V. The Grecian Jews; the Hellenists, for this is the appellation of them in the Greek; it means properly those who spoke Greek or otherwise followed Greek usages, applied to foreigners, here of course to Jews. Of a similar form and meaning is the word "to Judaize," translated "to live as do the Jews" (A.V., Galatians 2:14), and the forms "to Demosthenize," "to Platonize," "to Atticize," etc. The Hellenists were those Jews of the dispersion who lived in countries where Greek was spoken, and who themselves spoke Greek. It was for the sake of such that the Alexandrine Version of the Scriptures, commonly called the LXX., was made. Hebrews; Palestinian and other Jews, who spoke Aramean (2 Corinthians 11:21; Philippians 3:5; Acts 21:40), as opposed to the Hellenists. Their widows. We learn incidentally by this phrase that one of the earliest Christian institutions was an order of widows, who were maintained at the common cost. We find them in the Church of Joppa (Acts 9:41), and in the Church of Ephesus (1 Timothy 5:3, 9, 10, 11, 16). They gave themselves to prayer and to works of mercy. Daily; καθημερινός only occurs here in the New Testament, and rarely in Greek writers; ἐφημερινός, of a daily fever, is used by Hippocrates, and may possibly have suggested the use of this rare word to Luke the physician.
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.
Verse 2. - And for then, A.V.; fit for reasons, A.V.; forsake for leave, A.V. It is not fit; literally, pleasing; ἀρεστόν is often the rendering of טוב in the LXX.; e.g. Gem 16:6; Deuteronomy 12:28. In Exodus 15:26, Deuteronomy 6:18, etc., it stands for יָשָׁר, that which is right. Serve tables. The English reader should remember that the "ministration" of ver. 1, the "serve" of this verse, and the "deacon" which was the name of the new officers, are all forms of the same Greek word (διακονία διακονεῖν διάκονος). In ver. 4 "the ministry of the Word" is opposed to "the daily ministration" of meat. The passage gives a necessary warning to the ministers of God's Word not to spend too much time and strength upon any secular work, even though it be a work of charity. They must give themselves to the Word of God and to prayer. There are Christian laity to serve tables.
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.
Verse 3. - Look ye out therefore, brethren, from for wherefore, brethren, look ye out, A.V.; good for honest, A.V.; Spirit for Holy Ghost, A.V. and T.R.; of wisdom for wisdom, A.V. Good report; literally, borne witness to; i.e. well spoken cf. So in Hebrews 11:5 it is said of Enoch that "he had witness borne to him that he pleased God," and in Hebrews 11:4 of Abel that "he had witness borne to him that he was righteous;" and so in Acts 10:22 Cornelius is said to be a man "well reported of by all the nation of the Jews." In Acts 16:2 Timothy is said to be "well reported of (ἐμαρτυρεῖτο) by the brethren." The Spirit. The number seven was, perhaps, fixed upon with reference to the exigencies of the service, some think because there were seven tables to be supplied; and partly perhaps from seven being the sacred number, the number of completeness - seven Churches, seven spirits, seven stars, seven children (1 Samuel 2:5), seven times (Psalm 119:164). From seven having been the number of the first deacons arose the custom in some Churches of always having seven deacons, which continued some centuries in the Church of Rome. One of the Canons of the Council of Neo-caesarea (An). 314) enacted that "there ought to be but seven deacons in any city," and St. Mark is said to have ordained seven deacons at Alexandria (see Bingham, 'Christ. Antia' vol. 1. p. 232). But the needs of the Churches gradually superseded all such restrictions. Whom we may appoint. The multitude elect, the apostles appoint. The apostolate appears as the sole ministry of the Church at first. From the apostolate is evolved first the diaconate, afterwards the presbyterate, as the need for each arose (Acts 14:23).
But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
Verse 4. - Continue steadfastly in for give ourselves continually to, A.V.; in (the ministry) for to, A.V. Steadfastly. The verb προσκαρτερέω is of frequent use in the Acts (see Acts 1:14; Acts 2:42; 5:46; 8:13; x. 7; see also Colossians 4:2). It is used of persons and things to which any one adheres closely and perseveringly, which are put in the dative case, as here. But sometimes it has the prepositions ἐν or εἰς after it, as in Acts 5:46; Hist. of Susann. 7; Romans 13:6. Ver. 5. - Holy Spirit for Holy Ghost, A.V. The mention of Stephen, and the narrative which follows leading up from Stephen's martyrdom to St. Paul (Acts 7:60), show to what the writer is tending. He selects the incidents in the history of the Church at Jerusalem which connect themselves most directly with that after history which was the object he had in view. It has been thought by some that the Greek character of all seven names is an indication that they were Hellenists. Such a conclusion, however, is not warranted, as many Jews who were not Hellenists had Greek or Latin names, e.g. Paul, Sylvanus, Aquila, Priscilla, Marcus, Justus, Petrus, Didymus, etc. At the same time, it is likely that some of them were. One, Nicolas, was a proselyte. The object, doubtless, was to ensure perfect fairness of distribution of the Church charities. Stephen and Philip (Acts 8:5, etc.; Acts 21:8) are the only two of whom we know anything beyond their names.
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:
Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
Verse 6. - When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. They did not pray without imposition of hands, nor did they lay hands on them without prayer. So in the sacraments, in confirmation, and ordination, the outward sign or rite is accompanied by prayer for the thing signified. And God's grace is given through the sacrament or rite in answer to the prayer of faith (see Acts 8:15, and the Office for Baptism, the Prayer of Consecration in the Office for Holy Communion, and the Confirmation and Ordination Services). (For the laying on of hands as a mode of conveying a special grace and blessing, see Numbers 27:3; Deuteronomy 34:9; Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 4:40; Acts 8:17; Acts 13:3; 1 Timothy 5:22; Hebrews 6:2.)
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.
Verse 7. - Exceedingly for greatly, A.V. Were obedient to the faith. Compare the phrase, obedience of faith or "to the faith" (Romans 1:5; Romans 16:25). The addition of a great multitude of priests was an important incident in the Church's history, both as they were a higher order of men, and a class very liable to be prejudiced against the faith which would rob them of their importance.
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
Verse 8. - Grace for faith, A.V. and T.R.; wrought for did, A.V.; signs for miracle, A.V. Power (Acts 1:8, note); power to work miracles especially, but also other spiritual power beyond his own natural strength (see ver. 10). This power showed itself in the signs and wonders which he wrought.
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.
Verse 9. - But for then, A.V.; certain of them that were for certain, A.V.; of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians for Cyrenians and Alexandrians, A.V.; Asia for of Asia, A.V. Of the synagogue, etc. There were said to have been four hundred and eighty synagogues in Jerusalem alone in the time of our Savior (Olshausen, on Matthew 4:23). But this is probably a fanciful number; only it may be taken as an indication of the great number of such places of Jewish worship. Tiberias is said to have had twelve synagogues. Ten grown-up people was the minimum congregation of a synagogue. It seems by the enumeration of synagogues in our text that the foreign Jews had each their own synagogue at Jerusalem, as Chrysostom supposes, where men of the same nation attended when they came to Jerusalem; for the construction of the sentence is to supply before Κυρηναίων and again before Ἀλεξανδρέων the same words as precede Λιβερτίνων, viz. καὶ τῶν ἐκ τῆς συναγωγῆς τῆς λεγομένης, SO as to mean "and certain of them that were of the synagogue called of the Cyrenians," and so on. The very numerous Jews of Cyrene and of Alexandria would doubtless require each a synagogue for themselves. The Libertines were, as Chrysostom explains it, "freedmen of the Romans." They are thought to consist chiefly of the descendants of the Jews who were taken prisoners by Pompey, and deported to Rome, who were afterwards emancipated and returned to Judaea, though some (Meyer, 1:1) settled in Rome. Tacitus, under the year A.D. , speaks of four thousand Libertini, infected with Jewish or Egyptian superstitions, as banished to Sardinia ('Annal.,' 2. 85.). Many of these must have been Jews. Josephus, who tells the same story as Tacitus, though somewhat differently, says they were all Jews ('Ant. Jud.,' 18, 3:5). The Cyrenians. Cyrene was the chief city in North Africa, and a great Jewish colony. Numbers of Jews were settled there in the time of Ptolemy Lagus ('Cont. Apion.,' 2:4), and are said by Josephus (quoting Strabo) to have been a fourth part of the inhabitants of the city ('Ant. Jud.,'14. 7:2). Josephus also quotes edicts of Augustus and of M. Agrippa, confirming to the Jews of Cyrene the right to live according to their own laws, and specially to send money for the temple at Jerusalem (16. 6:5). Jews from "the parts of Libya about Cyrene" are mentioned in Acts 2:10; Simon, who bore our Savior's cross, was "a man of Cyreue;" there were "men of Cyrene" at Jerusalem at the time of the persecution that arose about Stephen (Acts 11:19); and "Lucius of Cyrene" is mentioned in Acts 13:1. It was natural, therefore, that the Cyrenians should have a synagogue of their own at Jerusalem. Of the Alexandrians. Alexandria had a Jewish population of 100,000 at this time, equal to two-fifths of the whole city. The famous Philo, who was in middle age at this time, was an Alexandrian, and the Alexandrian Jews were the most learned of their race. The Jews settled in Alexandria in the time of Alexander the Great and Ptolemy Lagus. The LXX. Version of the Scriptures was made at Alexandria primarily for their use. We may be sure, therefore, that they had a synagogue at Jerusalem. And of them of Cilicia. The transition from the African Jews to those of Asia is marked by changing the form of phrase into καὶ τῶν ἀπὸ Κιλικίας. There were many Jews in Cilicia, and this doubtless influenced St. Paul in preaching there, as well as the fact of its being his own native province (see Acts 15:23, 41; Galatians 1:21). Josephus makes frequent mention of the Jews in the wars between the Ptolemies and Antiochus the Great, with whom the Jews sided, and in consequence were much favored by him. And it is thought that many who had been driven out from their homes by the wars, and others who were brought by him from Babylonia, settled in his time in Cilicia, as well as other parts of his Asiatic dominions. Seleucus also encouraged the Jews to settle in the towns of Asia in his kingdom, by giving them the freedom of the cities and putting them on an equal footing (ἰσοτίμους) with Macedonians and Greeks ('Ant. Jud.,' 12. 3:1, 3). Asia; meaning the same district as in Acts 2:9 (where see note). Evidence of the abundance of Jews in Asia crops up throughout the Acts (8. 16, 24, 42, 45; 14:19; 16:13; 18:26, 28; 19:17; 20:21). That the Jews of Asia were very bigoted we learn from Acts 21:27 (see also 1 Peter 1:1).
And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
Verse 10. - Withstand for resist, A.V. This was a part of the "power" mentioned in ver. 8.
Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
Verse 11. - Then they suborned, etc. The resource of those who are worsted in argument is violence or treachery. Blasphemous words against Moses. It must be remembered that at this time the whole Jewish people were in a state of ill-suppressed frenzy and most sensitive jealousy for the honor of the Mosaic institutions - feelings which broke out in constant revolts against the Roman power. The accusation against the apostles of speaking blasphemies against Moses was therefore the most likely one they could have pitched upon to stir up ill will against them.
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,
Verse 12. - Seized for caught, A.V.; into for to, A.V. And they stirred up; i.e. by means of the reports spread by the men whom they suborned, and by working upon the feelings of the people and the elders and scribes, these men of the synagogues so excited them that they obtained permission to arrest Stephen and bring him before the Sanhedrim.
And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:
Verse 13. - Words for blasphemous words, A.V. and T.R. Set up false witnesses. The similarity of Stephen's trial to that of our Lord is striking. The same set purpose to silence a true-speaking tongue by death; the same base employment of false witnesses; the same wresting of good words into criminal acts; and the same meekness and patience unto death in the righteous martyrs. Blessed servant to tread so closely in thy Lord's steps! (comp. Matthew 5:11, 12; 1 Peter 4:14-16). This holy place; the Sanhedrim sat in one of the chambers of the temple, called Gazith. This had been prohibited by the Romans, but the prohibition was in abeyance in the present time of anarchy (Lewin).
For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
Verse 14. - Unto us for us, A.V. We have heard him say, etc. These false witnesses, like those who distorted our Lord's words (Matthew 26:61; John 2:19), doubtless based their accusation upon some semblance of truth. If Stephen had said anything like what Jesus said to the woman of Samaria (John 4:21) or to his disciples (Mark 13:2), or what the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote (8. 13), or what St. Paul wrote to the Colossians (Colossians 2:16, 17), his words might easily be misrepresented by false witnesses, whose purpose it was to swear away his life. This Jesus of Nazareth. The phrase is most contemptuous. This (οῦτος), so often rendered in the A.V. "this fellow" (Matthew 26:61, 71; John 9:29, etc.), is of itself an opprobrious expression (comp. Acts 7:40), and the ὁ Ναζωραῖος, the Nazarene, is intended to be still more so.
And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
Verse 15. - Fastening their eyes for looking steadfastly, A.V. (see above, Acts 3:4). The council would naturally all look at him, in expectation of his answer to the evidence just delivered against him. In his face, illuminated with a Divine radiance, they had an answer which they would have done well to listen to (for the brightness of an angel's face, comp. Matthew 28:3; Daniel 10:6; Revelation 10:1, etc.).

Pulpit Commentary

Acts 5
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