Acts Chapter 6: Appointing of Deacons, Stephen Full of Faith and Power

Jan 27th, 2010 | By | Category: Acts, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Acts Chapter 6: Appointing of Deacons, Stephen Full of Faith and Power

Acts 6:1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

Acts 6:2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.

“Grecian” Jews (from other lands) murmured against the “Hebrew” Jews (from Israel) for neglecting their widows. It was still the first year, AD 33, and all things were held in common (Acts 2:44,45). Apparently, partiality was being shown to Jews in Israel versus Jews from foreign lands. Nothing lacked earlier, but now the widows of Jews in foreign lands were lacking (Acts 4:34). Foreign Jews all spoke Greek, the international language, so “Grecian Jews” came from Northern Africa, Asia Minor, and Europe. The Grecian Jews were not viewed as favorably as the Hebrew Jews, who resided in the Holy Land. This distinction exists even today, for many Jews in Israel look with askance on Jews living in the United States and elsewhere, feeling that their duty and responsibility are in Israel.

With the number of disciples multiplying daily, the distribution of goods had become too time-consuming and burdensome to the apostles. Serving tables and assisting in the daily ministration distracted them from their main purpose of preaching the gospel. Therefore, the apostles called the disciples together and said (paraphrased), “It is not right that we should leave preaching the word of God, and serve tables.” At this time, “the twelve” included Matthias because Paul had not been called yet.

Acts 6:3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

The apostles recommended that the brethren select or appoint seven honest, wise, holy, Spirit-begotten men to take care of the daily ministration of the needs of the brotherhood. The recommendation for seven suggests that seven messengers would be appointed by the Holy Spirit to distribute spiritual food to the Church down through the Gospel Age in seven portions.

Murmuring about the partiality being shown to widows in Israel is what precipitated the appointing of seven men as deacons. The appointment started to lay down the principle of having deacons as well as elders. So that there would be regional appointees, the apostles left the selection of the seven deacons to the brethren.

Comment: It is not that an elder would not perform a very humble task, but with regular duties, common sense would say to recognize the talents of others and to provide assistance in ways that would give more free time to those with the greatest ability to teach and prophesy.

Comment: A practical reason for having seven deacons was so that each deacon would serve only once a week.

Acts 6:4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

Prayer, as well as the ministry of the Word, was given a priority by the apostles. Prayer was frequent in the early Church, especially for the Lord’s direction in decision making and in the expending of funds, efforts, and energy.

Acts 6:5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:

The suggestion to appoint seven deacons pleased the whole multitude because the dispute over the widows was factional. Of the seven who were chosen, Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” was highly commended. Philip, who was from Caesarea, was probably the evangelist who intercepted the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 21:8). Nicolas was a proselyte from Antioch, where the word “Christian” was first used (Acts 11:26). According to tradition, the Nicolaitan doctrine started with this deacon. Antioch was an important location, from which Paul and Barnabas often began and ended their journeys.

Acts 6:6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

After the congregation, or brotherhood, appointed the seven deacons at the suggestion of the apostles, the apostles prayed and laid their hands on the seven, indicating approval (not authority to preach). This was the first instance of laying on of hands in the early Church.

Acts 6:7 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.

The number of disciples kept multiplying, starting in Jerusalem in harmony with Jesus’ instructions. He had said to begin in Jerusalem and all Judea, and then to go to Samaria and finally to Gentiles in all the earth (Acts 1:8).

A “great company” of priests were “obedient to the faith.” Originally only Aaron and his four sons constituted the priesthood, but as time went on, the children of Aaron greatly increased so that thousands of priests were in Jerusalem when the Church began. Therefore, when the narrative tells that “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith,” the “great” number of believers could have been just 10 or 15 percent.

Comment: John 12:42,43 says that many of the “chief rulers” believed on Jesus, but for fear of the Pharisees, “they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” After Jesus’ resurrection, many of this group gained the courage to openly declare their faith.

Reply: Yes, they became bolder, and the increasing number of other believing Jews made it easier for them to confess their faith. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were exceptions in that they manifested their boldness after Jesus’ crucifixion but prior to his resurrection, when Christianity seemed to be at its lowest ebb.

Acts 6:8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.

Stephen was so full of faith that God especially blessed him to do “great wonders” and miracles of healing, opening blind eyes, etc. He was so zealous for the Lord that he made his calling and election sure in a brief time and could be martyred almost immediately.

Comment: For him to be appointed as one of the seven deacons, his unusual character had to be apparent to others in various ways.

Reply: The Lord blessed Stephen in a very special manner, for the account does not mention the miracles and powers of the other deacons. It would be interesting to know what his “great miracles” were, as the Scriptures do not specify. With Peter, even his shadow could cause healing (Acts 5:15). Like Jesus when the woman touched the hem of his garment, Peter did not have to give direct attention to the individual. Faith was the receptor for such miracles (Matt. 9:20-22). Also, handkerchiefs passed out by the apostles caused healing, particularly with Peter.

Evidently, Stephen, who was not an apostle, could do similar great wonders. For him to have such power was unusual, and it not only helped to keep the apostles humble in their office but also guarded against the concept of a hierarchy.

Q: Based on what Stephen did, would he really have been an elder?

A: Only in God’s sight would he have been an elder, for he was not voted to that office.

Consider Paul. Even though the disciples laid hands on Paul when he went with Barnabas, his authority and ability to perform miracles came from God, not men. God had dealt with him in a very singular way, apart from the disciples. The disciples were merely privileged to share in his ministry by giving moral (and possibly financial) support. The power given to Stephen to perform great wonders and miracles was specially designed to keep the apostles humble.

Comment: The timing of giving Stephen this power so early in the history of the Church was providential because Paul was on the scene to witness Stephen’s activities, and Paul had to become an apostle very quickly to replace Matthias.

Acts 6:9 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 Libertines were probably from Libya, Africa, and the Cyrenians and the Alexandrians were from different sections of that same continent. In early Church history, Alexandria was very influential, that is, before authority developed in Rome and Constantinople. However, to favor the spread of the gospel, the Book of Acts concentrated on Paul’s ministry and more or less ignored what occurred in Alexandria. We recall that Paul was from the city of Tarsus in the region of Cilicia. At any rate, the Jews from these places got into a disputation with Stephen.

Acts 6:10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.

Acts 6:11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.

In promulgating the doctrine of Christ, Stephen reasoned from the Old Testament to show that the Messiah would come from the seed of the Jews and that he had already come. These foreign Jews were all opposed to the thought that Jesus was that Messiah. “Stephen” in Greek (stephanos) means “crown.” The suggestion is that Stephen was able to dispute with them very capably in their own tongue. Even though the foreign Jews felt a sense of ostracism from the Jews in Israel, they considered themselves to be mentally superior because, generally speaking, they had more education. In fact, Grecians were renowned for their knowledge.

The foreign Jews “were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit” of Stephen. His “wisdom” was his Scriptural knowledge and reasoning plus his ability to counter their arguments. He also had a “spirit” of power and grace in that he spoke powerfully but tactfully, and a radiance surrounded him (see Acts Chapter 7).

To “suborn” means to induce someone to commit perjury, that is, to be a false witness.

Unprincipled men were paid or rewarded in some way to give false testimony against Stephen. What happened to Stephen is similar to what happened to Jesus prior to his crucifixion. False witnesses said that Stephen blasphemed Moses and God. In other words, because he used Scriptures about Moses to reason that Jesus was the Messiah, certain Jews who were not accustomed to this type of reasoning accused Stephen of blasphemy.

Acts 6:12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,

The foreign Jews stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes against Stephen and then seized him and took him to the Sanhedrin.

Acts 6:13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:

Acts 6:14 For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.

False witnesses testified that Stephen blasphemed “this holy place [Jerusalem and the Temple], and the law.” Of course the gospel message did take away the priority of the literal Temple and the literal city. For example, Jesus said that the time would come when the people would no longer have to go to Jerusalem to pray to God (John 4:21-23). However, Stephen did not blaspheme the Law but spoke about the true portent of things in the Law of which the Jews were completely ignorant.

“Nazareth” was mentioned to demean Jesus. The accusation against Stephen was, “We have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered” to the Jews. Stephen did “change the customs,” but he did this with Biblical authority. Stephen merely spoke according to the Scriptures, but the false witnesses did not report that fact. In other words, what they did not say—their half truths—constituted the false witness. Half truths can be just as damaging as a complete falsehood because they give a wrong impression.

For Stephen to have so much knowledge and to be able to speak on such deep things proves he received instruction and knowledge before Christ’s ministry began. He was a Jew learned in the Law.

Acts 6:15 And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.

All who “sat in the council” noticed that Stephen’s face was like “the face of an angel”—even before he began his defense. His countenance did not look worried or guilty. The implication is that he was peaceful, full of repose, and confident and that he had a look of innocence. How remarkable! Many would feel guilty just by being brought to the council and seeing so many men sitting in judgment but not Stephen. Not only was he not ashamed to testify about Jesus, but he patiently waited to testify.

(1991–1992 Study)

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