Acts of the Apostles 6.1-15

Book of Acts

Up until this point in the narrative the episodes and events have primarily involved the Apostle Peter. Now the focus will shift from Peter and onto others, the first of whom is Stephen. His time in the narrative is short, but there is quite a bit that we can learn from him.

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

I remarked earlier that the events recorded in the Bible are not necessarily arranged chronologically, but are instead arranged according to the purpose of the author. Here we have another episode that does not necessarily follow chronologically from the previous events. The only clue we are given as to where it falls chronologically in the narrative is the phrase in v. 1, “Now at that time while the disciples were increasing in number…” Thus it is possible for these events to have occurred at any point after the bestowing of the Holy Spirit in chapter 2.

What transpired was a complaint from the Hellenistic Jews (Jews who had adopted the Greek language and probably some of the culture as well) against the native Hebrews regarding their widows being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. This was no small matter since in those days these widows likely would have been dependent on others for their daily needs.

Recognizing the seriousness of this matter the Twelve (the remaining 11 appointed by Jesus and Matthias) gathered all the disciples together and told them to select “seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” The Twelve recognized that this was a task that needed to be done, but they also recognized that it was not for them to carry out since they said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables… But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The lesson here is that there are a variety of ministries within the Church and none is inferior to the other and each is necessary. The Twelve recognized that their place was in the teaching and ministry of the word of God.* They had each spent time with Jesus while he was on Earth and had heard him teach regularly for 3 years. They had been chosen and prepared by God for the positions they were in and they recognized that they should not neglect the duties and responsibilities of their positions (e.g. prayer and “ministry” of the word). However they also recognized that ensuring all the widows were provided and received food, so they decided to appoint others to be in charge of this task.

The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

Remember earlier that the requirements for this position were to be a man “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” so all these men listed here had to have met that requirement. Thus mentioning that Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” seems unnecessary and redundant. However, as we will see shortly, this is done in order to place special emphasis on Stephen and to seemingly put him above the others in terms of being full of the Spirit.

7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Before we move on to Stephen however it is again mentioned that the disciples, or the Christian community, continued to increase in Jerusalem. What is significant about it this time however is that the Jewish priests were also becoming part of the Christian community.

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

The account of Stephen here is remarkably similar to what has been recorded of Peter and the other Apostles. Like the Apostles he performed miracles among the people (v. 8); was then opposed by some of the Jews (v. 9); those who opposed him could not answer him (v. 10); so they raise up false witnesses against him and get the Jewish leaders involved (vv. 11-14). However they all recognize that there is a certain power at work in him that is quite formidable (v. 15).

This is not the end of Stephen in the narrative, but rather just his introduction. His story continues in the follow chapter, which will be discussed next time.

*What exactly is meant by “ministry of the word” isn’t exactly clear from the context. I believe however that teaching, preaching, and administering of sacraments are included in this idea.”

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and [h]signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [i]Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him [j]before the [k]Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the [l]Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

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