Acts 6:1–7 (NA28)
1Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις πληθυνόντων τῶν μαθητῶν ἐγένετο γογγυσμὸς τῶν Ἑλληνιστῶν πρὸς τοὺς Ἑβραίους, ὅτι παρεθεωροῦντο ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ τῇ καθημερινῇ αἱ χῆραι αὐτῶν.
Now(but) in these days as the disciples were increasing a complaint arose by the Hellenists(Greek speaking Jews) against the Hebrews (Hebrew speaking Jews) because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
- The word disciples appears twice in the early verses in our chapter, used first here in Acts and, interestingly, never in Paul’s epistles. We should view it as synonymous with believers or later, Christians, for Luke distinguishes disciples from the Twelve to which he refers in verse 2. Chapters 1–5 have dealt solely with Jews and Jerusalem. Now chapters 6–9 will focus on Greek (“Hellenistic”) Christians and those connected with them. The stories of Stephen, Philip, and Saul in the following chapters are all linked to this opening verse about Grecian Jews.
- Was multiplied (πληθυνόντων). Lit., “when the disciples were multiplying;” the present participle indicating something in progress.
- A murmuring of the Grecian Jews (γογγυσμος των ἑλληνιστων [goggusmos tōn Hellēnistōn]). Late onomatopoetic word (LXX) from the late verb γογγυζω [gogguzō], to mutter, to murmur. The substantive occurs also in John 7:12; Phil. 2:14; 1 Peter 4:9. It is the secret grumblings that buzz away till they are heard. These “Grecian Jews” or Hellenists are members of the church in Jerusalem who are Jews from outside of Palestine like Barnabas from Cyprus. These Hellenists had points of contact with the Gentile world without having gone over to the habits of the Gentiles, the Jews of the Western Dispersion. They spoke Greek.
- The word Hellenists denotes Jews, not Greeks, but Jews who spoke Greek. The contact of Jews with Greeks was first effected by the conquests of Alexander. He settled eight thousand Jews in the Thebais, and the Jews formed a third of the population of his new city of Alexandria. From Egypt they gradually spread along the whole Mediterranean coast of Africa. They were removed by Seleucus Nicator from Babylonia, by thousands, to Antioch and Seleucia, and under the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes scattered themselves through Asia Minor, Greece, Macedonia, and the Ægean islands. The vast majority of them adopted the Greek language, and forgot the Aramaic dialect which had been their language since the Captivity.
- Jews who had embraced Christianity, but who spoke Greek and used the Septuagint version of the Bible instead of the original Hebrew or the Chaldaic targum or paraphrase.
- Against the Hebrews (προς τους Ἐβραιους [pros tous Ebraious]). The Jewish Christians from Jerusalem and Palestine. The Aramaean Jews of the Eastern Dispersion are usually classed with the Hebrew (speaking Aramaic) as distinct from the Grecian Jews or Hellenists. 
- Hebrew is the proper antithesis to Hellenist. A man was Ἰουδαῖος, a Jew, who traced his descent from Jacob, and conformed to the religion of his fathers. He might speak Greek and be a Hellenist. He was Ἑβραῖος, a Hebrew, only as he spoke Hebrew and retained Hebrew customs. The distinction between Hebrew and Hellenist was a distinction within the Jewish nation, and not between it and other nations. Thus Paul calls himself a Hebrew of Hebrews;e., a Hebrew and of Hebrew parents (Philip. 3:5; compare 2 Cor. 11:22).
- Were neglected (παρεθεωρουντο [paretheōrounto]). Imperfect passive of παραθεωρεω [paratheōreō], old verb, to examine things placed beside (παρα [para]) each other, to look beyond (παρα [para] also), to overlook, to neglect. Here only in the N. T.
- It is not here said that the murmuring arose among the widows, but because of them.
- Were neglected (παρεθεωροῦντο). Only here in New Testament. Lit., were overlooked. The imperfect denoting something habitual.
- Daily (καθημερινῇ). Only here in New Testament.
- Luke introduced the new section with a rather vague “in those days.” Luke generally was not concerned with giving precise chronological references, but from later data in Acts it may be concluded that this incident took place in the early to midthirties, perhaps five years or so after Pentecost. The Jerusalem Christian community had witnessed considerable growth; and as is so often the case with rapid increase, administrative problems developed.
- In terms of the Hebrew Bible, the term “Exile” denotes the fate of the Israelites who were taken into exile from the Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century BCE, and the Judahites from the Kingdom of Judah who were taken into exile during the 6th century BCE. While in exile, the Judahites became known as “Jews” (יְהוּדִים, or Yehudim)—”Mordecai the Jew” from the Book of Esther being the first biblical mention of the term.
The first exile was the Assyrian exile, the expulsion from the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) begun by Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria in 733 BCE. This process was completed by Sargon II with the destruction of the kingdom in 722 BCE, concluding a three-year siege of Samaria begun by Shalmaneser V. The next experience of exile was the Babylonian captivity, in which portions of the population of the Kingdom of Judah were deported in 597 BCE and again in 586 BCE by the Neo-Babylonian Empire under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II.( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora 5/9/18)
- The particular difficulty involved a complaint from the Greek-speaking Christians against the native Aramaic-speaking Christians that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food (literally, “the daily ministry”). We may assume that at this point the Christian community consisted exclusively of Jews. The only exceptions would be the “proselytes,” like Nicolas (v. 5), who were Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. The Gentile mission as such had not yet begun.
- The Hellenists (“Grecian Jews,” NIV) were more than likely Jews who had come from the Jewish dispersion and settled in Jerusalem. Their language and probably many of their ways were Greek. They had their own synagogues (cf. v. 9), and funerary inscriptions excavated in Jerusalem attest to their extensive presence there. As so often with ethnic groups, they tended to associate with those who shared their language and cultural background. As the church increased and came to include more and more of these “Hellenist” converts, it is only natural that they would have formed close associations with one another, perhaps even meeting in home fellowships together. There is no reason to picture a breach or separation in the total Christian community—only the sort of “distancing” created by natural linguistic and cultural differences
- Hellenistic Jews were strongly attached to the temple.
- it has been noted that many widows came from the Dispersion to end their days in Jerusalem. They would not be able to work to keep themselves, and, if they had exhausted or given away their capital, they could be in real want.
- In Jewish society widows were particularly needy and dependent, and the Old Testament singles them out along with orphans as the primary objects of charitable deeds. The Hellenist widows may have been a particularly sizable group. Diaspora Jews often moved to Jerusalem in their twilight years to die in the holy city. When the men died, their widows were left far from their former home and family to care for them and were thus particularly in need of charity.10 Many of them may have been attracted to the Christian community precisely because of its concern for the material needs of its members.
- Language barriers being what they are, it is easy to picture how some of the Greek-speaking widows were overlooked. In its charity the church may have followed somewhat the precedents already set in contemporary Judaism, which had a double system of distribution to the needy. The Jews had a weekly dole for resident needy, called the quppah. It was given out every Friday and consisted of enough money for fourteen meals. There was also a daily distribution, known as the tamhuy. It was for nonresidents and transients and consisted of food and drink, which were delivered from house to house where known needy were dwelling. The Christian practice seems to have embraced elements of both Jewish systems. Like the tamhuy it was daily, and like the quppah it was for the resident membership.
- The Semitic language which they spoke was most probably Aramaic rather than Hebrew itself. By contrast, the Hellenists were Jews who spoke Greek and knew little or no Aramaic. These groups would tend to worship as Jews in their own languages, and this practice would carry over when they became Christians. 
2προσκαλεσάμενοι δὲ οἱ δώδεκα τὸ πλῆθος τῶν μαθητῶν εἶπαν· οὐκ ἀρεστόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς καταλείψαντας τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ διακονεῖν τραπέζαις.
So the twelve summoned the community of disciples and said, “it is not desirable that we neglect the word of God to serve tables.”
- The multitude (το πληθος [to plēthos]). The whole church, not just the 120. 
- The Twelve gathered all the disciples together, not just a select group. From the earliest days of the New Testament the church practiced strong congregational involvement in church decisions. We see it here, and we’ll also see it in chapters 11; 13; and 15.
- Serve tables (διακονειν τραπεζαις [diakonein trapezais]). Present active infinitive of διακονεω [diakoneō] from διακονος [diakonos] (δια [dia] and κονις [konis], dust), to raise a dust in a hurry, to serve, to minister either at table (John 12:20), or other service (John 12:25f.), to serve as deacon (1 Tim. 3:10, 13). “Tables” here hardly means money-tables as in John 2:15, but rather the tables used in the common daily distribution of the food (possibly including the love-feasts, Acts 2:43–47). This word is the same root as διακονια [diakonia] (ministration) in verse 1 and διακονος [diakonos] (deacon) in Phil. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 3:8–13. It is more frequently used in the N. T. of ministers (preachers) than of deacons, but it is quite possible, even probable, that the office of deacon as separate from bishop or elder grew out of this incident in Acts 6:1–7. Furneaux is clear that these “seven” are not to be identified with the later “deacons” but why he does not make clear.
- Even though the Hellenists had the main grievance, the problem involved the entire congregation; and the apostles wanted total participation in its resolution. This is not a bad precedent, particularly in matters where money is involved. As the spiritual leaders of the congregation and the ultimate administrators of the community funds, the apostles’ duty was to solve the problem.
- This is what is meant by their statement in v. 2 about it not being right for them to neglect God’s word to wait on tables. To oversee the distribution to the Hellenist widows would distract them from their primary responsibility of witness. The phrase “it would not be right” really means “not pleasing in God’s eyes.” Modern ministers sometimes misuse this statement as a biblical warrant for refusal to do the mundane administrative tasks in the church.
- In context this passage deals with the apostles and their unique role. They alone in all of Christian history were the witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Their witness was unique, unrepeatable, and absolutely foundational for the Christian movement. Surely it was not fitting for anything to limit their bearing their witness. But what did they mean by “wait on tables”? Does the phrase permit a closer definition of the church’s charitable procedure? Actually, it is somewhat ambiguous. The word “table” was characteristically used as a metaphor for a meal or for a table from which money was distributed. Either practice could have been followed by the church, just as both are found in the tamhuy (food) and quppah (money) of Judaism.
- They responded to the criticism which was ultimately directed against themselves by recognizing that the combined task of teaching and poor relief was too great for them. 
- Quite possibly, Luke is not talking about a soup kitchen here, but the administrative procedure of gathering and dispensing funds for the care of Christian widows in the Jerusalem church and making sure that the handling of those funds and their distribution was done fairly.
- Although the verb ‘serve’ comes from the same root as the noun which is rendered into English as ‘deacon’, it is noteworthy that Luke does not refer to the Seven as deacons; their task had no formal name.
3ἐπισκέψασθε δέ, ἀδελφοί, ἄνδρας ἐξ ὑμῶν μαρτυρουμένους ἑπτά, πλήρεις πνεύματος καὶ σοφίας, οὓς καταστήσομεν ἐπὶ τῆς χρείας ταύτης,
So select, brothers, seven men from among you well spoken of, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we will put in charge of this need.
- Why seven? No mystical or theological reason. Jewish courts commonly consisted of seven members, and that would have been the logical choice for Jerusalemite Christians. 
- Of good report (μαρτυρουμενους [marturoumenous]). Present passive participle of μαρτυρεω [martureō], to bear witness to. Men with a good reputation as well as with spiritual gifts (the Holy Spirit and wisdom). We may appoint (καταστησομεν [katastēsomen]). Future active indicative of καθιστημι [kathistēmi], we shall appoint. The action of the apostles follows the choice by the church, but it is promised as a certainty, not as a possibility. The Textus Receptus has a first aorist active subjunctive here (καταστησωμεν [katastēsōmen]).
- The context suggests that the seven men were to be Hellenists. The system had broken down with their group, and they would know better who the needy widows were and be better able to communicate with them. The apostles, however, laid down basic qualifications which the seven had to meet. First, they were to be “full of the Spirit,” i.e., they were to have manifested a special degree of allowing the Spirit to work in them. Then they were to be known for their “wisdom,” probably referring to the kind of practical know-how necessary for the proper management of the charitable funds. One would assume that the seven would take over the administration of the charity among the Hellenist Christians and the apostles would continue to do so among the others. Verse 4 concludes the apostolic proposal. By selecting the seven, the apostles were free to carry out their primary responsibilities of preaching and bearing witness to Christ.
- The choice of seven men corresponded with Jewish practice in setting up boards of seven men for particular duties. The men chosen were to be distinguished by their possession of wisdom (6:10; 7:10, 22) and the Spirit, i.e. a wisdom inspired by the Spirit; we may recognize a parallel with the appointment of Joshua (Num. 27:16–20).
- This point however, raises the wider issue of whether these seven men became the first deacons, a view commonly espoused from this passage. It seems unlikely that the church had any concept of “officers” at this point, though certainly Paul clearly treats the office of deacon in 1 Timothy 3. The issue here was taking care of widows, not electing officers. The word diakonia, though it certainly gave birth to the word deacon, hardly seems related to any kind of title in this passage.
- The words from among you draw interest. Do they imply that the leaders selected should come from the group complaining about the injustice? Though we might not conclude that from verse 3, a quick glance at the Greek names in verse 5 suggests that the people selected seven Hellenists.
4ἡμεῖς δὲ τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ τῇ διακονίᾳ τοῦ λόγου προσκαρτερήσομεν.
But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.
- But we (ἑμεις δε [hemeis de]). In contrast to the work given the seven. The ministry of the word (τῃ διακονιᾳ του λογου [tēi diakoniāi tou logou]). The same word διακονιᾳ [diakoniāi] employed in verse 1, but here about preaching as the special ministry with which the apostles were concerned. For
5καὶ ἤρεσεν ὁ λόγος ἐνώπιον παντὸς τοῦ πλήθους καὶ ἐξελέξαντο Στέφανον, ἄνδρα πλήρης πίστεως καὶ πνεύματος ἁγίου, καὶ Φίλιππον καὶ Πρόχορον καὶ Νικάνορα καὶ Τίμωνα καὶ Παρμενᾶν καὶ Νικόλαον προσήλυτον Ἀντιοχέα,
And the statement pleased the whole group, and they chose Stephen , a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip and Prochorus and Nicanor and Timon and Parmenas and Nicolaus a convert from Antioch.
- They chose (ἐξελεξαντο [exelexanto]). First aorist middle indicative of ἐκλεγω [eklegō], to pick out for oneself. Each one of the seven has a Greek name and was undoubtedly a Hellenist, not an Aramaean Jew. Consummate wisdom is here displayed for the murmuring had come from the Hellenists, seven of whom were chosen to take proper care of the widows of Hellenists. This trouble was settled to stay settled so far as we know. Nothing is here told of any of the seven except Stephen who is “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” and Nicolas “a proselyte of Antioch” (who was not then born a Jew, but had come to the Jews from the Greek world).
- Stephen, The names are all Greek. There is no reason to infer from this that they were all Hellenists. It was V 1, p 475 customary among the Jews to have two names, the one Hebrew and the other Greek. They were probably partly Hebrews and partly Hellenists.
- That they were all Hellenists is likely, given the nature of the problem and the fact that all seven names listed in v. 5 are Greek. Stephen was named first. He met the qualifications (v. 3), being full of faith and the Holy Spirit. That Luke listed him first is no accident. He would be the primary character in the following narrative (6:8–8:4).
Next came Philip. He too would be a major figure in the story of the expanding Christian witness (8:5–40). The other five play no further role in Acts, and we have no reliable additional information on any of them. Early tradition connects Procorus with the apostle John, maintaining that he was John’s amanuensis in writing the Fourth Gospel, that he later became the bishop of Nicomedia in Bithynia, and that ultimately he was martyred in Antioch. We know nothing further on Nicanor, Timon, and Parmenas. Interestingly, Luke gave the additional note on Nicolas that he was a proselyte from Antioch. Some scholars feel he may have been Luke’s primary source of information about the Hellenists, who later seem to have centered around Antioch (11:19–21). The later Gnostic sect of Nicolaitans seems to have borrowed his name to gain authority for their teaching, but there is no evidence that he himself had any connection with them.
- The Philip listed here is a different person from Philip the apostle (see 8:5; 21:8f.). 
- Notice that the Twelve offered a suggestion, not a dictatorial decision. The apostles put forth the idea, but the church elected the leaders (just as they chose Matthias in chapter 1). Look at the names of the seven men. As I suggested earlier, most commentators believe they were all Hellenists, though that cannot be proven since Palestinian Jews also had Greek names. One stands out as a Gentile convert (proselyte).
6οὓς ἔστησαν ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀποστόλων, καὶ προσευξάμενοι ἐπέθηκαν αὐτοῖς τὰς χεῖρας.
Whom they stood before the apostles and prayed and placed their hands on them.
- They laid their hands on them (ἐπεθηκαν αὐτοις τας χειρας [epethēkan autois tas cheiras]). First aorist active indicative of ἐπιτιθημι [epitithēmi]. Probably by the apostles who ratified the choice (verse 3). The laying on of hands “was a symbol of the impartation of the gifts and graces which they needed to qualify them for the office. It was of the nature of a prayer that God would bestow the necessary gifts, rather than a pledge that they were actually conferred” (Hackett).
- It is best not to read our current practices of ordination back into the text of Acts with regard to this gesture of hand-laying. In the Old Testament the laying on of hands deals with the transfer of some personal characteristic or responsibility from one person to another, as from Moses to Joshua (Num 27:16–23). The gesture is used in several ways in Acts: in healings (9:17), the gift of the Spirit (9:17; 8:18), and in commissioning to a task (6:6; 13:3). Even in the commissionings the emphasis is not so much on appointment to an office as to designation for a task. Often the present passage is seen to be the initiation of the diaconate. The word “deacon” (diakonos) never occurs in the passage. The word “ministry” (diakonia) does occur several times, but it is applied to both the ministry of the daily distribution (v. 2) and the ministry of the word, the apostolic witness (v. 4). In fact, the word “deacon” never occurs in Acts. The office generally referred to is “elder” (Acts 11:30; 14:23, et passim). If one is inclined nevertheless to see the diaconate in this passage, that person should take a cue from Stephen and Philip. In the rest of Acts, nothing is made of their administrative duties. What one finds them doing is bearing their witness, even to martyrdom
- The whole story is reminiscent of that of the choice of Matthias (1:15–26), but the closest parallel is the story of the appointment of Joshua as Moses’ successor in Numbers 27:15–23 by the laying on of hands. The rite indicated a conferring of authority, and the accompanying prayer was for the power of the Spirit to fill the recipients (cf. Deut. 34:9). A similar rite was used in the appointment of rabbis, but there is some uncertainty whether this goes back to the first century. See further 8:17; 9:17; 13:3; 19:6.
- Though many churches still practice physical laying on of hands at ordination services, we should probably not read that back into this text. This Jewish ritual practiced by Jewish Christians gave no hint that God intended to create a new church office. 
- As a longtime teacher of leadership courses, I cannot leave this passage without pointing out several fascinating patterns we find in this model:
- The early church took seriously the combination of spiritual and material concerns. This was not just a soul-saving center, but a congregation which recognized the genuine needs of its widows and designed a practical, biblical plan to take care of them.
- The early church always seemed ready to adjust its organization to meet needs. We tend to get so locked into structure that we bypass needs if we have no pattern to handle them. In the New Testament church, structure only developed to meet needs.
- The early church practiced positive attitudes of restraint. In this particular case they fixed no blame, showed no paternalism toward the Hellenistic widows, and certainly gave no hint of autocratic leadership on the part of the Twelve.
Can we find a key word in all this? Certainly it has to be the word ministry or service (diakonia). The one who rows a boat seldom has time to rock it, and here were seven new rowers about to take on significant congregational responsibilities.
7Καὶ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐπληθύνετο ὁ ἀριθμὸς τῶν μαθητῶν ἐν Ἰερουσαλὴμ σφόδρα, πολύς τε ὄχλος τῶν ἱερέων ὑπήκουον τῇ πίστει.
And the word of God kept spreading, and was increasing the number of disciples in Jerusalem greatly, and a large number of priests began obeying the faith.
- Increased (ηὐξανεν [ēuxanen]). Imperfect active, kept on growing all the more because the apostles were now relieved from the daily ministration of the food. Multiplied (ἐπληθυνετο [eplēthuneto]). Imperfect passive. The two imperfects kept pace with each other. Of the priests (των ἱερων [tōn hierōn]). Who were usually Sadducees. It was a sad day for Annas and Caiaphas and all the sect of the Sadducees (5:17). Were obedient to (ὑπηκουον [hupēkouon]). Imperfect active of ὑπακουω [hupakouō], repetition, one after another. The faith (τῃ πιστει [tēi pistei]). Here meaning the gospel, the faith system as in Rom. 1:5; Gal. 1:23; Jude 3, etc. Here the word means more than individual trust in Christ.
- To the faith (τῇ πίστει). Opinions differ greatly as to whether this is to be taken as meaning faith in Jesus Christ, or faith considered as Christian doctrine—the Gospel; the faith in the ecclesiastical sense. This passage and Gal. 1:23 are the strong passages in favor of the latter view; but the general usage of the New Testament, added to the fact that in both these passages the former meaning gives a good, intelligible, and perfectly consistent sense, go to confirm the former interpretation.
- Acts contains examples of both ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ (the word of God; 4:31; 6:2; 11:1; 13:5, 7; 17:13; 18:11) and ὁ λόγος τοῦ κυρίου (the word of the Lord; 8:25; 13:49; 15:35, 36; 19:10, 20; 20:35 [plural λόγοι]; the reading is in doubt at 12:24; 13:44; 16:32; 19:20.
- In the present verse, ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ seems to be the more appropriate reading in view of v. 2 and it has superior manuscript support. NJB follows the variant reading, “The word of the Lord continued to spread …”
- Here “the word of God” points to the proclaimed word as it was preached in wider and wider areas. The “word” grows when it is faithfully proclaimed and falls on fertile soil. In this instance it grew on unexpected soil—among the Jewish priests. There were many poor priests in Palestine, perhaps as many as 8,000. They received little support from the temple cult, had to support themselves primarily with their own hands, and had little in common with the Sadducean priestly aristocracy. From their ranks came these Christian converts. Luke’s mentioning them at this point in the narrative may be significant. The next event would be Stephen’s arrest and his stirring critique of the temple. Some of these priestly “insiders” may have shared the same viewpoint and longed for a purer worship of God.
- Using a favourite phrase (12:24; 19:20), he says that the word of God increased; its proclamation increased and was effective in winning converts. As a result the number of disciples continued to grow, and in particular there were converts among the priests. This suggests that the work of the apostles among the ‘Hebrews’ was expanding; we then hear of the work among the ‘Hellenists’ in verses 8ff. The priests were presumably those attached to the temple in Jerusalem, of whom there was a great number (estimated at 18,000 priests and Levites; they were on duty for a fortnight each year according to a rota; Luke 1:8). The theory that these were priests belonging to the Qumran community who were disaffected from the temple is improbable. Obedient to the faith means obedient to the call for faith contained in the gospel (cf. 2 Thess. 1:8).
- Priests served in twenty-four weekly courses at the temple each year, in addition to the function of the high priestly family. At this particular time we would expect as many as eight thousand priests and ten thousand Levites to be involved in temple functions.
Most Bible scholars agree we should not equate the priests of this passage with the Sanhedrin henchmen of 4:1. Considerably poorer, these priests quite likely practiced sincere piety and devotion to God. Consequently, the message of a risen Messiah alive in the hearts of his people would have attracted them.
 Omanson, R. L., & Metzger, B. M. (2006). A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: an adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual commentary for the needs of translators (p. 231). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.