Acts 6 Bible Study

Bible Study of Acts Chapter 6

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Acts 6 Bible Study


ACTS 6:1  1 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.

Who are the Hebrews and the Hellenists?
As referred to in this verse, "the Hebrews" are the Christian converts among the Jews born and raised in Israel, while "the Hellenists" are the converts among the Jews who had returned to Judea after having lived abroad in the Greek world, and still spoke Greek and had adopted Greek cultural elements.

What is meant by "their widows were neglected in the daily distribution"?
Because in those days women didn't inherit property, their livelihood depended on what their father, husband and/or son(s) brought home. If none of them existed, widows could "glean" and pick up the leftovers after others' fields had been harvested. This wasn't considered stealing or begging, since it was a God-ordained way to provide for those who couldn't provide for themselves: "When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow." (Deuteronomy 24:19-21) And when widows were too old to glean, her other relatives were to provide for her. Here, the family of Christ was providing "daily" for the widows among them, but apparently the widows among the Hellenists had been neglected.

Why?
Acts 2:47 reads, "And the Lord added (prostithemi) to the church daily those who were being saved" but by this time the number of the disciples were "multiplying" (plethuno), so the church was going through some growing pains of trying to keep up with everyone in the midst of rapid growth.

ACTS 6:2-7  2 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. 3 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; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 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, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. 7 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.

Why wasn't it desirable for the twelve Apostles to "leave the word of God and serve tables"?
With only twelve Apostles to tell the tens of thousands of new and multiplying Christians about Jesus, the most pressing need was "the ministry of the word." The Apostles weren't saying that manual labor was somehow below them, but that telling people about Jesus couldn't be held up while they perform roles that others could perform (In fact, in this context to "serve tables" didn't even mean to serve food on tables, but to tend to "business", which tended to be conducted on tables in those days, of church management). Each Christian is given gift(s) and our main focus should be on using them to glorify God: "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness." (Romans 12:4-8)

Which of these roles deserves particular esteem?
All of them: "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free - and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)

Should teachers only teach?
Not necessarily. Teaching should remain the focus of those truly called by God to teach, but they aren't precluded from "serving tables" in church or even working to provide for themselves. After all, Jesus washed His disciples' feet, and the Apostle Paul continued to work as a tent maker during his ministry: "So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks." (Acts 18:3-4)

Who chose the seven men?
The Apostles had "summoned the multitude", meaning the church, and had told them to "seek out from among you", so the choice was made by the congregation.

What were the criteria for these first seven deacons?
They were to be "men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom."

Why "seven"?
The local councils of Jewish communities usually consisted of seven men, usually known as the 'The seven of the town'.

What is peculiar about the seven names?
"Stephen... Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas" are all Hellenist names. The Hellenist widows had been neglected during the rapid growth of the church, so the church, which was predominantly Hebrews during this early growth phase, chose seven Hellenists to manage the church. No doubt the Hellenists appreciated this trust, and tended to both Hebrew and Hellenist widows with equal care.

What happened thereafter?
"Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem."

What is meant by "a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith"?
Unlike the chief priest and his immediate family, the majority of the thousands of the regular priests in Jerusalem had regular jobs and served their priestly duties when their turn arrived, like Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist: "There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord." (Luke 1:5-9) Apparently, a great number of these regular priests were among the new converts.

ACTS 6:8-15  8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. 13 They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” 15 And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.

Was Stephen's only gift church management?
No, he was also "full of faith and power" and "did great wonders and signs among the people."

What is "the Synagogue of the Freedmen"?
Jerusalem had one temple, the place of sacrifice, but many synagogues. This particular one had North African (Cyrene and Alexandria are in Libya and Egypt, respectively) and modern-day Turkish ("Cilicia and Asia") Jews who had once been slaves or prisoners of Rome, and who had settled in Jerusalem after being freed, as well as their children.

Where did they take Stephen?
"The council", meaning the Sanhedrin inside the temple precinct.

What accusations did they bring against Stephen?
"We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us."

Did Jesus say He will destroy the temple?
No, He said that it will be destroyed, not that He will destroy it: "Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Mark 13:1-2) Jesus also referred to His body being the temple, which the Jews would destroy: "So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body." (John 2:18-21). Jesus didn't say that He will destroy the Jerusalem temple, and neither did Stephen.

To what extent was Jesus' prophecy in Mark 13:1-2 fulfilled?
In 70 AD, the Roman general Titus sacked Jerusalem and razed the temple. Today, the lack of the remnant of this temple is so complete - "not one stone" is "left on another" - that the Wailing Wall - a facade for the foundation for this temple - serves as Judaism's most revered site.

And did Jesus say that He will "change the customs which Moses delivered to" the Jews?
Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." (Matthew 5:17-18) Jesus did destroy their "customs", but they weren't from Moses; they had made those up on their own.

What really happened in this passage?
This group of Jews couldn't "resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which" Stephen spoke, so they "stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council" so that Jesus could once again be preached to Israel's leaders as in the next chapter.

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