Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists,* because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."
And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Stephen Accused of Blasphemy
And Stephen, full of faith* and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, "This man does not cease to speak blasphemous* words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us." And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel
The people who were complaining were called “Grecians” or Hellenists. The Hellenists were the Jews that were scattered in Greece, and other parts, who ordinarily spoke the Greek language, and read the Old Testament in the Greek version, not from the Hebrew translation.
Many of them who were at Jerusalem at Pentecostal heard the gospel message Peter preached in Acts Chapter 2 and embraced Jesus Christ as Messiah. While they embrace the faith and were added to the church, for some reason they had problems getting along with the Jews that resided in Jerusalem and spoke in the Hebrew language. Before their conversion, it appeared that these 2 groups had petty jealousies that weren’t resolved after their conversion. It can be said they retained somewhat of that old leaven; not understanding, or not remembering, that in Christ Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew, no distinction of Hebrew and Hellenist, but all are alike welcome to Christ, and should be, for his sake, dear to one another.
Dissention in the Church:(Murmuring Grecians) (Verses 1-7)
Murmuring in the Fellowship (vs. 1)
Despite the opposition that the preaching of the gospel faced, the amount of new converts rapidly increased. The more the Sanhedrin tried to scatter the church, the more it multiplied. But now that the membership multiplied, internal strife began to creep within the fellowship. They began to murmur over “money matters”. The dispute was concerning the Grecian widows. The first dispute that came up in the church was a dispute over “equal” distribution of money and goods to all the widows.
The accusation: The Grecian widows were being discriminated against. Whether the accusation was true or not, the Jews in Jerusalem had a ongoing rift with Jews who lived in other countries and provinces. There was always an underlining rift and in all probability the Grecian widow were being neglected to some extent.
Why hadn’t the Apostle placed Deacons (servant) in place beforehand?
The answer is simple: There was no genuine need at first.
It was better to wait to appoint laymen until there was a real need and a genuine necessity. When the church was small, there was no need. The Apostles could take care of their needs without compromising the preaching of the Word. But, once the church saw a sharp increase in membership and needs, The Apostle would need help this point. This matter should be entrusted to the hands of "laymen," and that the "ministry" should be freed from all embarrassment , suspicions of dishonesty and unfairness in regard to this matter. It’s really important that the ministers be free to dedicate themselves to the study of and the preaching and teaching of the Word.
A Special Call Meeting: The Calling of Deacons (Servants) (vs. 2-4)
The Apostles called a meeting of the all the disciples and made this proposal…” "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you
Criteria: Look out among you choosing from the Grecian and the Hebrew man for 7 men that meet the following criteria:
[Of honest report] Men who have a good reputation, men of good character and are regarded as men of integrity
[Full of the Holy Ghost] Men who ‘s lives are heavily influenced by the Holy Spirit, men who were of distinguished piety. This was all that was necessary in the case, and this is all that the words fairly imply.
[And wisdom] Men of Prudence, or skill, Men who will be indiscriminant, willing to make a wise and equable distribution. The qualifications of deacons are still further stated and illustrated in 1 Timothy 3:8-10. In this place it is seen that they must be people of eminent piety and fair character, and that they must possess "prudence," or wisdom, to manage the affairs connected with their office. These qualifications are indispensable to a faithful discharge of the duty entrusted to the officers of the church.
[Whom we may appoint] Whom we may "constitute," that is, appoint and give responsibility over this business. The way in which this was done was by prayer and the imposition of hands, Acts 6:6.
Note: Even though they were "selected" by the church, the power of ordaining them, or setting them apart, was retained by the apostles. The church body was given the right to designate those who should serve them in the office of deacon, and the right of the apostles to organize and establish the church with its appropriate officers; on the one hand, a due regard to the liberty and privileges of the Christian community, and, on the other, the security of proper respect for the office as being of apostolic appointment and authority.
[Over this business] That is, over the distribution of the alms of the church to these widows-Their responsibility was not to preach, or to govern the church, but solely to take care of the sacred funds of charity, and distribute them to supply the needs of the poor.
Concerning the Call of Deacons:
The deacons were expressly set apart to a different work, and to that work they should be confined. In this account of their original appointment, there is not the slightest intimation that they were to "preach," but the contrary is supposed in the whole transaction. Nor is there here the slightest intimation that they were regarded as an order of "clergy," or as in any way connected with the clerical office.
But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. (vs.4)
The Apostles being freed from the physical job of making sure ever body was fairly taken care of can now completely focus on praying and the study of the Scriptures and would be free to fully turn their attention to their evangelistic calling of preaching and teaching the Word of God, spreading the Gospel Message.
7 Men Chosen (First deacons) (vs. 5-8)
Notice: All 7 men were Grecian. Choosing all seven of them from the Hellenic group was probably done to put an end to the murmuring and to assure that they would see to it that the Grecian widows would get their fair share of economic support.
Stephen was a man full of faith and full of the Holy Ghost. He had a strong faith in the doctrine of Christ, and was full of it above most; full of fidelity, full of courage (so some), for he was full of the Holy Ghost, of his gifts and graces. He was an extraordinary man, and excelled in everything that was good; his name signifies a crown.
Phillip: a man that used this office of a deacon well, thereby obtained a good degree, and was afterwards ordained to the office of an evangelist, a companion and assistant to the apostles,
Nicolas: who, was rumored at some point to fall away from the faith and rumored to be the founder of the Nicolatians.
Prochoros: His name meant “Leader of the Dance”. He is said to have been the choir director in the church.
Nicanor: His name meant conqueror, victorious. Nothing else is known of him.
Timon: His name meant “honoring”
Parmenas: One of the 7 chosen. Nothing else is known of him.
Ordination: All 7 were set before the Apostles at their feet. (vs.6)
Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And when they had prayed: The purpose of the prayer was to Invoke in this manner the blessing of God upon them and to guide them in the discharge of the duties of their office.
They laid their hands ...Among the Jews it was customary among the Jews to lay hands on the head of a person who was set apart to any particular office. (Numbers 27:18); The laying on hands was not done to impart any power or ability, but to "designate" that they received their authority or commission from the Apostles who laid their hands on them.
Increased Evangelism: “Increased number of Disciples” (vs.7-8)
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.
Immediate Results: And the Word of God increased Preaching and Teaching with Greater Fervency
The preaching of the Gospel was more than just successful, the Gospel became more mighty and extensive in influence because the Apostle were no longer burdened with serving tables. It was obvious that they preached and taught with more fervent….so much so that a great company of the priests who once opposed the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ were converted.
The conversion of the priest was striking proof of the power of truth. They had been opposed to the gospel with quite as much hostility as any other class of the Jews, but the gospel was sufficient enough and mighty enough to humble even the proud priests and drive them in submission to the foot of the cross. The Gospel made them drop their haughty spirit, get rid of their selfishness and drop their foolish pride.
Power point: One design of the gospel is to spread the power of truth in such away that it will humble and subdue all classes of people. Here in the New Testament in this very verse, we have the record of the Gospel having actually subduing every class of people to the obedience of faith in Jesus Christ.
Concerning the Priest: They were obedient to the faith….
Faith" as it is used here is saying the priest now have fully embraced being “Members of “The Way”” The priest now has “saving faith”. There are 2 types of faith….Temporal which is having faith to obtain the abundance of things that are temporary and “earthy”
Faith (saving faith) is one of the main requirements of the gospel according to Mark 16:16. The term “faith” can be used as a figure of speech to signify a person’s “religious” belief. That said…, the priest became "obedient to the faith," by accepting Jesus Christ as their Messiah which is the requirement of salvation.
Now as for Stephen……
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. (vs. 8)
Stephen was fully confident in God and trusted completely in the promises (signs) of Mark 16:16. He was empowered by the Holy Spirit and given the gift of working miracles and other great wonders.
Stephen: Arrested and Brought before the Council (vs. 9-15)
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.
The Jews were scattered in all parts of the world. Many of the Hebrews in the second Exodus (Exodus from the Persian Empire at the time of Ezra, Nehemiah and Zerubbabel) remained in Persia and subsequently in Greece, Sparta, Thrace and Macedonia. Obviously they built synagogues where they lived.
But it is also probable that there would be enough foreign Jews residing at Jerusalem from each of those places to maintain the worship of the synagogue; and at the great feasts, those synagogues adapted to Jewish people of different nations would be attended by those who came up to attend the great feasts. They comprised mainly of 4 main groups:
Libertines: they were said to be Roman slaves who at one time were slaves but were now freemen that embraced and converted to the Jewish religion and had a synagogue in Jerusalem.
Cyrenians: they were blacks people from Africa that lived in Tripoli, a major city in Libya. Simon, the man who helped Jesus bear the cross on the way to Calvary was Cyrenian.
Alexandrains: originated from Alexandria in Egypt.
Cilicia: Jews who lived in Asia Minor north of Cyprus. Tarsus (the place where Saul, later called Paul) lived. Because Paul came from this area and must have belonged to this synagogue, more than likely he was one who was engaged in this dispute with Stephen because in Chapter 7. Saul stood where the executioners who stone Stephen placed their coats.
This group got into a Spirited dispute with Stephen concerning the validity whether Jesus Christ was Messiah or not.
Results: They were not able to resist the wisdom of what Stephen spoke (vs. 10)
They couldn’t counter argue Stephen because of the wisdom and power in which he spoke through the Holy Spirit. They could resist the knowledge Stephen had in the Scriptures. He possessed and spoke with a spirit of zeal and sincerity which they could not withstand; which served, more than mere argument could have done, to convince them that everything he said was the truth and he was right.
Point of power: If the messenger of God simply give strong evidence of sincerity, honesty, and zeal, the Holy Spirit will in using these traits will often go further to convince the great number of people who heard the message of its truth and authenticity than the most able argument delivered in a cold and indifferent manner. You have to have holy enthusiasm and express it whenever you express yourself, especially when you are standing as God’s mouthpiece.
Their ultimate response: Accusation of blasphemy (vs. 11)
They lied on Stephen: Then they suborned men, which said: We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
They accused Stephen of blasphemy: speaking against the Mosaic Law and against God based on their opinion of what they thought he said: basically they twisted his words to make the truth he spoke sound like a blatant lie.
And they stirred up the people (vs. 12)
They stirred up the people and excited their fears causing a great commotion. Their actions caused the elders, scribes (lawyers) and Great Council (Sanhedrin) to arrest Stephen and bring him before them in a trial hearing.
They set up false witnesses against Stephen (vs. 13)
False witnesses said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: He is constantly speaking against the temple and the Mosaic Law. For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
Let's examine these accusations: Here's the truth concerning what they were implying:
Fact: Jesus himself never affirmed that HE would destroy that place. He uniformly taught that it would be done by the "Gentiles." ( Actually Titus and the Roman army destroyed the temple and desecrated Jerusalem in 70 AD.) (Matthew 24).
a. It is altogether improbable, therefore, that Stephen should declare any such thing. b. It is equally improbable that he taught that Jesus would abolish the special customs and rites of the Jews. It was long, and after much discussion, before the apostles themselves were convinced that they were to be changed, and when they were changed it was done gradually. See other references to this in Acts 10:14, etc.; Acts 11:2, etc.; Acts 15:20; 21:20, etc.
c. In all probability the whole testimony was "false," and was artfully invented to produce the utmost exasperation among the people, and yet was at the same time so plausible as to be easily believed. For on this point the Jews were particularly sensitive; and it is clear that they had some expectations that the Messiah WOULD produce some such changes. Compare Matthew 26:61 with Daniel 9:26-27. The same charge was afterward brought against Paul, which he promptly denied. See Acts 25:8.
He is saying the same thing Jesus of Nazereth said: He shall abolish all the ceremonial rites, observances of sacrifices, festivals and everything else Moses said we are to observe and have observed even up to now. And even worse, He was going to desegregate the temple and allow non Jews the right to worship in our temple. In the next chapter, we will continue at the trial haring of Stephen and what happened at its conclusion....
Dr. William Edward Boddie