Acts 6

The Hebrew and Greek widows complain about distribution of resources. The apostles appoint seven servants to handle the issue. Certain members of a synagogue oppose Stephen and drag him before Caiaphas the high priest.

As I write in every introduction:

The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.

At the end of each passage and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?

Links are provided for further study.

Let’s begin.

Appointing the Seven (Acts 6:1-6)

1 In those days, while the number of disciples was multiplying, there was a complaint among the Hellenist Jews against the Hebraic Jews, for their widows were overlooked in the daily distribution. 2 So the twelve summoned the community of disciples and said, “It is not best that we leave behind the word of God to serve the tables. 3 Therefore, brothers and sisters, look for seven men who are well attested and full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we will appoint for this office. 4 For we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 This reasonable proposal was satisfactory to the entire community. And they selected Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas, the proselyte from Antioch. 6 They stood in front of the apostles, who prayed and laid hands on them.

7 And so the word of God was increasing, and the number of disciples was growing strongly in Jerusalem, and a large group of priests obeyed the faith.

Comments:

I really like Polhill’s comments, describing the transitional chapters 6-8 (I could add 9-10). Let’s see what he has to say:

Chapters 6–8 may thus be described as transitional. They show Christianity breaking out from the bounds of its Jewish heritage, taking a first step toward its mission to the wider world. This is more than a story of the geographical spread of Christianity. It is much more the story of the gospel becoming a truly universal gospel, breaking the racial, national, and religious barriers in which it was born and carrying out a genuinely worldwide witness. It is the triumphant story of the inclusive gospel. (p. 176)

1:

Who were the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebraic Jews? The older NIV translates “Hellenist Jews” as “Grecian Jews.” Bruce answers the question succinctly: “The main distinction between the two groups was probably linguistic: the Hellenists were Jews whose habitual language was Greek and who attended Greek-speaking synagogues; the Hebrews spoke Aramaic (or Mishnaic Hebrew) and attended synagogue where the service was conducted in Hebrew” (comment on v. 1).

Peterson expands on Bruce’s brevity:

The Hellenistic Jews in 6:1 would have been Greek-speaking Jews from the Dispersion or their descendants, who lived in or around Jerusalem and attended synagogues where Greek was spoken (cf. 6:9). Those who had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah had joined the church, where they were in close fellowship with Christian Hebraic Jews. It cannot be assumed that there was a doctrinal rift between the Hellenists and the Hebrews, but language and culture are closely linked, and it is likely that these two groups brought differences of outlook and attitude with them into the community of disciples. Old prejudices and resentments may have reasserted themselves—or appeared to have been an issue—when practical problems relating to the care of widows became obvious. Christians in every age and social context need to be more aware of the threat that cultural and racial differences can pose to their unity in Christ. (p. 231).

Polhill explains why the Greek-speaking Jewish widows were attracted to the Christian community:

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. Many of them may have been attracted to the Christian community precisely because of its concern for the material needs of its members. (comment on v. 1)

See 2:44; 4:32-34. I add: the gospel and the signs and wonders attracted them, as well.

“grumbling”: gongurosmos (gone-goo-ross-moss) is the Greek noun. And it is onomatopoeic; that is, it is a vocal imitation of the pronunciation of the word that sounds like its meaning. (Even our English “grumble” is also onomatopoeic, incidentally.) The verb is used eight times, and the noun grumbling is used four, and “grumbler” once (Jude 16).

These were Greek-speaking Messianic Jews, and the other Messianic Jews spoke Hebrew. A synagogue around Jerusalem was discovered to serve Greek-speaking Jews.

It does not take long for strife and neglect to happen in a growing Jesus community—or any community for that matter. The complaint did not seem unjust. In fact, the twelve never denied it, but came up with a solution. We must overcome our differences and move towards unity and fairness. That’s the call of God for his kingdom. We are all equal in our essence (soul) before his eyes. We need to be equal in our essence (soul) before each other’s eyes in the church. We receive his love and acceptance equally. Our vision must match up and catch up with his.

“distribution”: it comes from the noun diakonia (pronounced dee-ah-koh-nee-ah), where we get our word deacon, but let’s not impose our modern meaning on the old Greek word. It meant those who did practical service, but this does not limit their service away from the Word, as we shall observe with Philip and Stephen. But it gradually came to mean those people at the church who did practical service (1 Tim. 3:10, 13).

So we have minority and foreign voices against the majority and native voices. There is a lesson here. We need to take care of both.

In any case diakonia is used both for administering the tables (food distribution) and ministering the word (v. 2).

2:

“community”: normally the Greek word means “crowd” or “people,” but in other contexts it means the “congregation.” I chose an updated word: community.

What Is Fellowship?

The Spirit in the Church and Believers

“Word of God”: here the word logos means how we usually take it: the proclamation of the word. In their case it was the Old Testament, particularly the Messianic prophecies, and the storyline about Jesus: his life and ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation; in our case the Word is this storyline and the entire Bible, rightly interpreted. Always be a “Word guy” or a “Word girl.” Don’t listen to the voices around the web that dismiss or treat Scripture lightly. It can change your life.

The Power of Scripture and Doctrine in the Church

Here is a table of Messianic prophecies:

Messianic Prophecies

At that link, there is a long table of quoted verses in the OT and NT, but Jesus fulfills more than just quoted verses. He also fulfills themes and patterns and types and shadows, like the entire sacrificial system and all the covenants and many more things.

“tables”: The Greek word is trapeza (pronounced tra-peh-zah), and it literally means “table,” but it can encompass “finances.” (In Greece today, it is the word for “bank.”) Recall that certain members of the community sold their land and houses and laid the proceeds of the sales at the feet of the apostles, in a word, money (Acts 4:32-37). But here it means food, because they did share goods in common (2:42-47).

“word”: It comes from the Greek noun logos (pronounced loh-gohss). Let’s explore the noun more deeply. It is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.

I repeat the following comments throughout the entire commentary. Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level. Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to, also. Paul’s brief speech to the Gentiles, below, also has Bible-based logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.

People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible. Yes, the book of Acts is very charismatic, but it is also very orderly and rational and logical.

On the other side of the word Word, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true.  Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.

“serve”: it is the verb of diakonia, and see v. 1, for more comments.

3:

“brothers and sisters”: The Greek adelphos (pronounced as it looks) is not exclusive, but includes women, like our word mankind does. Never exclude women in your ministry. And women themselves should never feel excluded, either, just because they are women.

“Seven”: is a special number in the Bible, implying completeness and perfection. But here the number is literal.

The whole scene here of selecting men to whom service can be delegated looks like Ex. 18:17-23, where Jethro advised Moses to select God-fearing men to share in the judicial burden (Bruce, p. 182). Pastors and church leaders need men to whom they can give away or share the responsibility and burden of ministry.

“well attested”: to whom witness is born; that is, the community can all testify that these men were tried and true. They are not so difficult to find nowadays, or they can be developed.

“full of the Spirit and wisdom”: the Spirit is the Holy Spirit, not a disposition of spirituality (v. 5). “Full of” means that these men overflowed with the Spirit’s goodness and power. As we shall see with Stephen, he worked wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). Philip too was effective for the kingdom. Just because Luke does not reveal the details of the power and manifestations of the Spirit does not mean they had none. Luke-Acts is elliptical and suggestive—the entire NT is. Rather, Philip and Stephen are accurate and full representations of the other five.

“wisdom”: Let’s define it broadly and biblically. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon, and it translates the noun sophia (pronounced soh-fee-ah and used 51 times) as “the capacity to understand and function accordingly—wisdom.”

So biblical wisdom is very practical. It is not like the wisdom of the Greek philosophers, which was very abstract. But let’s not make too much of the differences. In the classical Greek lexicon, sophia can also mean: “skill in handcraft and art … knowledge of, acquaintance with a thing … sound judgment, intelligence, practical wisdom.” In a bad sense it can mean “cunning, shrewdness, craft” (Liddell and Scott).

The adjective is sophos (pronounced soh-fohss and used 20 times) and according to BDAG it means (1) “pertaining to knowing how to do something in a skillful manner, clever, skillful, experienced”; (2) “pertaining to understanding that results in wise attitudes and conduct, wise.”

Wisdom is really lacking in our society. What is the clever saying I’ve heard several times recently? “You may have a smart phone, but not a wise one. You don’t have a wisdom phone.” Wisdom is discernment or seeing through appearances and making the right decision, at the right time, at the right place, and in the right spirit (disposition), with the right people.

Go to biblegateway.com, and type in the word “wisdom.” You will get marvelous verses. Here are some themes:

Wisdom begins with the reverential awe of God (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; 15:13).

Wisdom is a gift of God (1 Kings 3:11-12; 4:29; Prov. 2:6; Dan. 2:21 Jas. 1:5).

Wisdom can be received as a gift of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:8; Eph. 1:17).

Wisdom leads us to avoid evil (Prov. 2:12-19; 5:1-6; 13:10).

Wisdom blesses us (Prov. 3:13; 3:16; Ecc. 7:12). It protects us (Prov. 4:6).

Wisdom exalts us (Prov. 4:8-9).

Wisdom brings us joy (Prov. 27:11; 29:3).

Wisdom gives us strength (Ecc. 7:19);

Wisdom brings us healing (Prov. 12:18).

Most important of all, Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30; Col. 2:3). 1 Cor. 1:30 says that Christ has become our wisdom. That means we can receive his wisdom as our minds are transformed by their being renewed day by day (Rom. 12:2).

You can too much head knowledge. You can even get too much love. But you can never get enough of wisdom!

Please see my post about wisdom:

Word Study: Wisdom

4:

“we will devote ourselves”: The one Greek verb, proskartereō (pronounced praws-kar-teh-reh-oh or prohs-kar-teh-reh-oh) implies that translation, because kartereō means to “persevere” and “endure” (Heb. 11:27), and the preposition pros has a directional meaning of “towards.” It is a very strong word and here it means the apostles are leaning in to the Word and prayer (see Acts 1:14; 2:42, 46; 8:13; Rom. 12:12; 13:6; Col. 4:2; in most of those verses people are devoted to prayer).

Longenecker has some advice for today’s ministers of the word and church boards and councils: “While Christian ministers might wish such qualities [full of the Spirit and wisdom and service for food distribution] of their boards and councils, it is only fair to say that church boards and councils often wish their ministers were given more ‘to prayer and ministry of the word’! A pattern is set here for both lay leaders and clergy. Undoubtedly, God’s work would move ahead more effectively and efficiently were it followed more carefully” (comment on vv. 2-4).

“prayer”: it is the very common noun proseuchē (pronounced pros-yew-khay) and is used 36 times. Its verb proseuchomai (pronounced pros-yew-khoh-my) appears 85 times, so they are the most common words for prayer or pray in the NT. They are combined with the preposition pros, which means, among other things, “towards,” and euchē, which means a prayer, vow and even a mere wish. But Christians took over the word and directed it towards the living God. I like to believe that they leaned in toward him and prayed their requests fully expecting an answer. It is not a mere wish or heartfelt payer to a pagan deity.

Prayer flows out of confidence before God that he will answer because we no longer have an uncondemned heart (1 John 3:19-24; Rom. 8:1); and we know him so intimately that we find out from him what is his will is and then we pray according to it (1 John 5:14-15); we pray with our Spirit-inspired languages and our native languages (1 Cor. 14:15-16). But that’s what all believers should do; however, too often theory outruns practice. Pray! For a theology on how to respond when God does not answer our prayers, as when James was executed by Herod, see Acts 12 and the Observations for Discipleship section.

Prayer can be (1) for oneself, like overcoming sins and vices in your heart and mind or receiving wisdom from above (James 3:17) and not being double-minded about receiving it (Jas. 1:5-8), but (2) it is also for the needs of the community. It was coming under attack, so prayers were offered. Praying for boldness to reach out and spread the word is wonderful. We should do it more often. (3) Further, prayer brings down the manifest presence of God. God is omnipresent (everywhere) of course, but his presence can make itself felt and experienced. God showed up and shook the place where they were gathered.

Prayer can be visualized like a pebble in a pond, and the ripples go outward. (1) It starts with oneself and one’s needs; (2) then it goes outward to one’s own family and (3) to the Christian community (your home church). (4) It goes out to evangelism and the needs of the world around the community, (5) and finally to parts around the globe. But this prayer here in Acts varies the order, which you may do, if you like. Prayer is ultimately and most deeply a conversation with God.

What Is Prayer?

What Is Petitionary Prayer?

What Is Biblical Intercession?

“Serving”: Serving is the same word as in v. 1. It is dishing out ladles full of the word, more and more Word, all the time. It starts with what was said in v. 2.

“word”: see v. 2 for a close look.

5:

Note that the names are Greek, so it looks like the Hellenists would be pleased with this development. But remember many Jews took a second name, either Greek or Latin, to fit in the larger Greco-Roman world, so they probably had biblical Hebrew names. Yet, the fact that Luke lists them with their Greek names indicates his care of the Hellenist widows. Bruce says that these seven men probably led the Hellenist synagogues (comment on v. 5).

Philip will reappear in the outreach to the Samaritans (8:26-39) and later in Caesarea with his four daughters who were prophetesses (21:8). Nicolas was a proselyte from Antioch. This means he was not born Jewish but converted. Antioch will turn out to be a major Christian center, where the believers will first be called Christians (11:26). So he first converted to Judaism, and then it did not take long for him to convert to the new Jesus Movement.

“this reasonable proposal”: the phrase comes from the one noun logos, so the word is very versatile. It always carries embedded in it “reason” or “rational.” Yes, God may make a promise to you that defies reason and logic, like Abraham and Sarah having a child in their old age. Wait on him for its fulfillment. However, in daily living even Abraham and Sarah had to take care of daily duties and chores and business; he was rich, after all, because God’s blessing was on him and he was savvy. Renewalists should never lose sight of the reasonable side of daily life. God granted reason to us in our brains. It’s his gift.

“A man full of faith and the Holy Spirit”:

“faith”: the noun is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or pis-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.

True acronym:

F-A-I-T-H

=

Forsaking All, I Trust Him

Let’s discuss the noun, faith, more deeply. These comments apply to the verb, as well: pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh). It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).

See my word study on faith:

Word Study on Faith and Faithfulness

We must see Stephen and the other six men as enjoying their prayer languages. Paul, after all, writing later, said he spoke in his Spirit-inspired languages more than the Corinthians did (1 Cor. 14:18). He said he wanted everyone to pray in their spiritual languages (1 Cor. 14:5) and not forbid this wonderful gift (1 Cor. 14:39).

Therefore, Luke does not need to link the fullness or baptism of the Spirit with prayer languages in every verse that talks about this fullness. It would be like Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, intervening to tell his readers on every other page, “Don’t forget! We’re on a whaling ship!” In Acts, Luke omits some of these details, but that is how all four Gospels and Acts are presented to us: elliptical. But the entire context of Acts is Spirit-empowered and Spirit-filled. The entire book is very charismatic. Luke expects us to fill in the ellipses with the power of the Spirit and manifested gifts, like prayer languages.

It is like the anointing of Jesus at his water baptism with the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove (Luke 3:31-22; 4:18-19). From then on, Jesus worked miracles of nature and healing and demonic expulsion in the third Gospel, and Luke does not have to announce every time Jesus did those things: “Remember when I wrote that Jesus was anointed with the Spirit? He worked that miracle based on those verses!” Rather, Luke expects us to fill in those omissions with the power of the Spirit. Likewise, in the many cases of Christian witness from town to town in Acts, Luke expects us to fill in the omissions with the same empowerment because of Acts 2:1-4. And so Luke-Acts is all very charismatic, which is normative for the church throughout its history. Spirit-filled empowerment and anointing continues.

It is similar to his omitting water baptism in key places. Often he does say that new converts got baptized: Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 35-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; 19:5), Yet in other cases water baptism is not brought up for new converts: Acts 9:42; 11:21; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 17:12, 34). Luke expects us to fill in these omissions. It may surprise some interpreters, but during Paul’s (and Barnabas’) first missionary journey, there is not one record of new believers getting water baptized. Yet we can assume this was done since it was standard practice. For these reasons and more, I have nicknamed Luke the “Omitter” or the “Condenser.”

For a deeper discussion:

Are ‘Tongues’ the Sign of Baptism with Spirit in Acts?

Baptized, Filled, and Full of the Spirit: What Does It All Mean?

Questions and Answers about Spirit-Inspired Languages

For systematic theology:

The Spirit’s Deity and Divine Attributes

The Personhood of the Spirit

Titles of the Holy Spirit

The Spirit in the Life of Christ

The Spirit in the Church and Believers

Nicholas was a convert to Judaism, a proselyte. Centimeter by centimeter, the earliest church is gradually admitting in outsiders who were not born Jewish. But this won’t happen fully until Peter receives his vision and ministers to Gentiles (non-Jews), Cornelius and his household in Acts 10-11. Even then some Messianic Jews had a tough time with the new, uncircumcised converts.

As noted, the names of the seven are Greek, so no doubt they were chosen since the Messianic, Greek-speaking Jewish widows were the one who were neglected.

6:

“stood in front of the apostles”: Commissioning must be done publicly, so the community can see the transference of authority and power.

“prayed”: see v. 4 for more comments.

“laid hands on”: In the OT, the ritual of laying on of hands had these functions: it ordained Levites (Num. 8:10); it ordained leaders (Num. 27:18, 22-23); it transferred guilt to the sacrificial animal (Lev. 16:20-21).

In the NT, the ritual transfers healing (Mark 6:5l; Luke 4:40; Acts 28:8); it transfers the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 9:17; 19:6); it ordains missionaries (Acts 13:3); it ordains church leaders (Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).

From those verses, Renewalists believe these things about laying on of hands: (1) hands can be the conduit of the presence and power of God; (2) public acknowledgement that the leaders or friends are close to and support the receiver of the hands; (3) the leaders or friends identify with the receiver; (4) combining all three, it means commissioning. Here it means the fourth.

Further, Renewalists believe those four points because they have seen it happen with their own eyes. And it starts and ends with God, not the human vessel. It is shortsighted for the human vessel to take on the burden that he is the source of the power supply. “Hey everybody! Look at me! I’m powerful, and you’re not!” He is in danger of being shipwrecked.

“prayed” see v. 4 for a closer look.

7:

This verse ends the first of the so-called six “panels” of Acts, each one lasting about five years. Here they are:

1:1 to 6:7

6:8 to 9:31

9:32 to 12:24

12:25 to 16:5

16:6 to 19:20

19:21 to 28:31

But this verse is not to be thrown away as a mere summary or transition. The number of disciples and the word of God really were growing. Bruce says that this panel mentions the priests who were still drawn the temple and the old order, though they had come to believe in the Messiah, yet Stephen has also been introduced because the old temple order was now superseded (comment on. v. 7).

“word of God”: see v. 2 for a closer look.

“was increasing” and “was growing”: both verbs are in the imperfect tense, which indicates unfinished or incomplete action. The growth kept happening—and Renewalists believe it is happening right now, nonstop!

Even religious priests can obey the faith. Don’t discount the super-religious from receiving the gospel that is ministered in great power and signs and wonders. In this case, however, their conversions to Messianic Judaism would mean that the Jesus movement would adhere too closely to the temple and look (and remain) very Jewish. It is possible that some of these priests were the Judaizers who later went down to Antioch and told non-Jewish Greeks that they had to be circumcised (Acts 15 and Gal. 5:1-12). But God intended that his gospel would go around the world and touch all people of any religion or creed. Circumcision would not work physically or theologically.

At this stage Stephen may have been the only prominent member of the Messianic community who saw the deficient vision of remaining stuck in a hybrid Judaism and Jesus movement and temple religion. It was time, God was about to say, to move beyond all of it.

“faith”: see v. 5 for a fuller discussion.

GrowApp for Acts 6:1-7

A.. We see a division of labor: apostles speak the word and pray, while servants serve practical needs. How do you serve in your church?

B.. The seven servants had a good reputation and were full of faith and wisdom. How can you grow in these things?

Opposition to Stephen (Acts 6:8-15)

8 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs in front of all the people. 9 But certain members of the synagogue of the freedmen (as it was called), comprising Cyrenians and Alexandrians and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen, 10 and they were unable to counter the spiritual wisdom, which he was speaking. 11 So then they suborned men who said, “We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God!” 12 They stirred up the people and the elders and teachers of the law and attacked and dragged him away and led him into the council. 13 And they set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop speaking words against this holy place and the Law! 14 For we heard him say that this Jesus, the Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs which were handed down to us from Moses!” 15 Everyone sitting in the council, as they fixed their gazes on him, saw his face like a face of an angel.

Comments:

Polhill effectively describes why Stephen’s story is so pivotal: “The narrative about Stephen constitutes a major turning point in Acts. It ends a series of three trials before the Sanhedrin. The first ended in a warning (4:21), the second in a flogging (5:40), and Stephen’s in his death. The Stephen episode is the culmination in the witness to the Jews of Jerusalem, which has been the major subject of Acts 2–5” (comments on 6:8-7:1).

8:

The fullness of the Spirit’s power went beyond the twelve apostles and to Stephen.

“grace”: It is the Greek noun charis (pronounced khah-rees) and has these meanings, depending on the context: graciousness, attractiveness; favor, gracious care, help or goodwill, practical application of goodwill; a gracious deed or gift, benefaction. In some contexts, it means “exceptional effects produced by divine grace,” in other words, empowerment to accomplish a task. In this case it means his ability to do wonders and great signs. God gave him the grace and power to accomplish them.

Let’s go deeper, by repeating part of what I wrote in the post Do I Really Know God? He Is Gracious. Mounce in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words teaches us about the Hebrew and Greek words. The Hebrew noun ḥen (pronounced khen) “describes that which is favorable or gracious, especially the favorable disposition of one person to another” (p. 302). The Greek noun further means “the acceptance of and goodness toward those who cannot earn or do not deserve such gain” (p. 303). The verb in Hebrew is ḥanan (pronounced khah-nan) and means to be gracious, “to show mercy favor, be gracious” (ibid.).

Here is a quick definition. God’s grace means he gladly shows his unmerited goodness or love to those who have forfeited it and are by nature under a sentence of condemnation.

Good news! We do not have to suffer condemnation for our past sins because God hands us his grace.

What Is Grace?

Grace to You

Law versus Grace

Here, however, it means Stephen was graced to move in the powerful gifts of the Spirit.

“Signs”: Sēmeion (pronounced say-may-on or -own). In the plural it is mostly translated as “signs” or “miraculous signs.” A sign points towards the loving God who wants to heal and redeem broken humanity, both in soul and body. Signs are indicators of God breaking into his world, to help people and announce that he is here to save and rescue them and put things right. Here Luke adds the modifier megala (pronounced meh-gah-lah). Not only did he do signs and wonders, but he worked great wonders and signs. There must have been an extra thrust of the Spirit in his ministry.

“Wonders”: Teras (pronounced teh-ras). It is often translated as “wonders” and is always in the plural in the NT. Only once does it appear without “signs,” in Acts 2:19, where wonders will appear in the sky. Wonders inspire awe and worship of God through Christ who performs the wonders. The purpose is to patch up and restore broken humanity. They testify that God in his kingdom power is here to save and rescue people.

For the phrase, see Acts 2:22, 43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 7:36; 8:13; 14:3.

For nearly all the references of those two words and a theology of them, please click on:

What Are Signs and Wonders and Miracles?

Rather than celebrating the healings and other miracles, these religious leaders and extra-devout are about to attack Stephen. They valued the temple and their religion over kingdom blessings.

9-10:

The freedmen “were Jews who had been manumitted as slaves by their owners or were the descendants of emancipated Jewish slaves” (Schnabel, comment on v. 9).

Why were the Hellenists and the other diaspora Jews in Jerusalem and why raise such opposition? (Diaspora Jews are those who lived outside of Israel and set up their own synagogues in various towns and cities.)

Schnabel has a great answer to the question:

Since diaspora Jews retiring in Jerusalem were undoubtedly devoted to the city and to its temple, it is plausible that the increasing number of diaspora Jews who came to faith in Jesus—the “Hellenists” mentioned in 6:1—provoked a strong reaction against the Christian leaders who were particularly active among the Greek-speaking Jewish community in Jerusalem. They would have felt that the ancestral faith that brought them back to the center of the Jewish commonwealth was betrayed by those who believed that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and Savior. (comment on 6:9).

In other words, the diaspora Jews made it their mission to retire in Jerusalem, so they were extra-zealous to maintain the temple rituals and religion. They did not come just to see it threatened by a preacher of a new sect.

Luke 21:15 says that Jesus will give the disciples the “mouth” (words) and wisdom, which their opponents will not be able to resist. Promise fulfilled here in Stephen’s case. When one is full of the Spirit and wisdom, it is impossible to counter or resist the testimony or preaching.

“counter”: can also be translated as “resist” or “withstand.”

Saul, who was soon to be named Paul, was in Jerusalem at this time. We can have no doubt that he was right there observing Stephen. Paul’s hometown was in Cilicia, and could it be that he attended the local synagogue with his fellow-Cilicians in Jerusalem? Was he one of those who opposed Stephen in these preliminary debates, but could not defeat him? I say yes. Saul was the one who gladly approved of the ones who rushed him and grabbed hold of him and dragged him to the High Court. Or he stood by and egged them on. They roughed him up. Later, after his hard-hitting speech, they will stone him.

11-12:

The synagogue attenders were unable to stop him, so they took the issue to the highest level: the Jewish high court / council or the sanhedrin.

The twelve were persecuted because they brought Jesus’s blood on the heads of the Sanhedrin, not because they preached against the Law of Moses or his customs or the temple. Stephen will preach against the whole system and their guilt in killing prophets and Jesus. Moses set up anti-blasphemy laws, which prescribes being cut off from the people (Num. 15:30). Some may have interpreted “cut off” as executed.

After saying that later rabbinic ruling narrowed the definition of blasphemy to profaning the ineffable name of God apart from the high priest uttering it on the day of atonement, he goes on to say that at the time of Jesus and Stephen just a few years later, blasphemy more broadly included speaking against the temple (7:56) (comment on v. 11).

But, as the narrative of our Lord’s appearance before the Sanhedrin indicates, blasphemy was interpreted in a wider sense

13-14:

“this man”: it is a put down, and they were probably pointing at him, a sign of contempt.

This accusation reflects the same ones leveled at Jesus (Matt. 26:61 // Mark 14:58; cf. John 2:19). Apparently, the accusers remembered the accusation just a few years earlier. It worked in part back then. Why not now?

Here’s Mark’s version:

57 Some, standing up, were bearing false witness against him, saying: 58 “We heard him saying, ‘I shall destroy this temple made with hands and in the course of three days I shall build another one that is not made with hands!’” (Mark 14:57-58)

Then John adds:

Jesus said to them, “Tear down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!” 20 So the Jews said, “For forty-six years this temple was built, and you raise it up in three days?”

21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 So when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this, and they believed the Scripture and the statement which Jesus spoke. (John 2:19-22)

These little tidbits spread around three very different texts (Mark, John, and Acts) are called “undesigned coincidences.” They show that the stories (traditions) handed down by the original eyewitnesses are reliable and mutually confirming without a human-centered master design or colluding with each other—which would be okay even if they did compare their notes. But here this comparison between the three authors is less likely. So they accurately recorded these traditions in tiny tidbits.

15:

Saul / Paul saw Stephen’s face glow like the face of an angel. Did it make an impact on him? Surely it did (consider 2 Cor. 3).

“fixed their gazes”: it comes from the verb atenizō (pronounced ah-teh-nee-zoh) and also means “stare intently or intensely.” Luke is fond of it: Luke 4:20; 22:56; Acts 1:10; 3:4; 3:12; 6:15; 7:55; 10:4; 11:6; 13:9; 14:9; 23:1. Then Paul uses it twice: 2 Cor. 3:7, 13.

His face looking like the face of an angel is supposed to remind us of Moses’s glowing face (Ex. 34:29-35; see 2 Cor. 3:7-11). Jews of Stephen’s day believed that the law was revealed by angels (Acts 7:38; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2). Stephen is about to steer people away from the Old Covenant handed down at Sinai, so God made his face appear like an angel’s. Something better than the law is happening. His angelic face is also a signal to the readers that he has an extra-surge of power and the Spirit flowing through him.

Renewalists believe that you too can have an extra-strong power surge when things are tough, especially when you are about to be martyred!

God inspired and endorsed what he was about to say in his long sermon (Acts 7). It is a speech that Renewalists would do well to heed and study.

Saul was right there observing this supernatural phenomenon. What did he think? Did this sight influence his writing in 2 Cor. 3:7-11, in which he said the glory of the old law was fading? We’ll never know for sure, but it seems probable, when he looked at the martyrdom retrospectively, while writing that passage.

GrowApp for Acts 6:8-15

A.. Stephen seemed very calm during this persecution. How calm are you during your trials and troubles?

B.. To answer the question, please study Philippians 4:6-7.

Observations for Discipleship

We have here a battle between Saul, who was super-zealous for the law, and Stephen, who was full of faith and wisdom and the Holy Spirit. In the final analysis, Stephen won, even though he was martyred. But God has mercy on Saul / Paul.

Here’s Paul’s own testimony:

3 We are the true circumcision who worship God in the Spirit and boast in Christ Jesus, without being confident in the flesh, 4 although I have confidence in the flesh also. If someone else thinks to boast in the flesh, I do much more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, from the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, by the law’s standards a Pharisee, 6 by the standards of zeal, persecuting the church, by the standards of righteousness that is in the law, blameless. (Phil. 3:3-6, my tentative translation)

He goes on to say that he counts all of it to be loss compared to the surpassing worth of know Christ.

And this autobiographical statement:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has empowered me because he considered me faithful and placed me in service, 13 being formerly a blasphemer and persecutor and violently insolent man, but he had mercy because I acted ignorantly and in unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord super-abounded with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I myself was the foremost. 16 But for this reason he showed mercy, so that in me foremost Jesus Christ would display all patience, so I could be a prototype for those who are about to believe on him, for eternal life. (1 Tim 1:12-16, my tentative translation)

Never write someone off because you judge him to be the worst sinner you met. If God can do it for Saul / Paul, he can do it for everyone.

SOURCES

Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.

Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).

The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.

Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.

Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.

Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.

Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.

Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.

Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.

Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.

Works Cited

 

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