Acts 6

CHAPTER VI.

The Hellenistic Jews complain against the Hebrews, that their

widows were neglected in the daily ministration, 1.

To remedy the evil complained of, the apostles appoint seven

deacons to superintend the temporal affairs of the Church, 2-6.

The progress of the word of God in Jerusalem, 7.

Stephen, one of the deacons, becomes very eminent, and confounds

various Jews of the synagogues of the Libertines, &c., 8-10.

They suborn false witnesses against him, to get him put to

death, 11-14.

He appears before the council with an angelic countenance, 15.

NOTES ON CHAP. VI.

Verse 1. A murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews] Those

who are here termed Grecians, ελληνισται, or Hellenists, were Jews

who sojourned now at Jerusalem, but lived in countries where the

Greek language was spoken, and probably in general knew no

other. They are distinguished here from those called Hebrews, by

which we are to understand native Jews, who spoke what was then

termed the Hebrew language, a sort of Chaldaio-Syriac.

It has been remarked that Greek words ending in ιστης imply

inferiority. ελληνες, Hellenes, was distinguished from

ελληνισται: the former implies pure Greeks, native Greeks, who

spoke the Greek tongue in its purity; and the latter, Jews or

others sojourning among the Greeks, but who spoke the Greek

language according to the Hebrew idiom. Pythagoras divided his

disciples into two classes; those who were capable of entering

into the spirit and mystery of his doctrine he called πυθαγορειοι,

Pythagoreans; those who were of a different cast he termed

πυθαγορισται, Pythagorists: the former were eminent and worthy

of their master; the latter only so so. The same distinction is

made between those called αττικοι and αττικισται, Attics and

Atticists, the pure and less pure Greeks, as between those

called ελληνες and ελληνισται, Hellenes and Hellenists, pure

Greeks and Graecising Jews. See Jamblicus, De Vit. Pyth. cap. 18,

and Schoettgen on this place.

The cause of the murmuring mentioned here seems to have been

this: When all the disciples had put their property into a common

stock, it was intended that out of it each should have his quantum

of supply. The foreign or Hellenistic Jews began to be jealous,

that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration, that

they either had not the proportion, or were not duly served; the

Palestine Jews being partial to those of their own country. This

shows that the community of goods could never have been designed

to become general. Indeed, it was no ordinance of God; and, in any

state of society, must be in general impracticable. The apostles,

hearing of this murmuring, came to the resolution mentioned below.

Verse 2. It is not reason] ουκαρεστονεστι, it is not pleasing,

proper, or fitting, that we should leave the word of God, that we

should give up ourselves, or confide to others, the doctrine of

salvation which God has commanded us to preach unto the people.

And serve tables.] Become providers of daily bread for your

widows and poor: others can do this, to whom our important office

is not intrusted.

Verse 3. Wherefore-look ye out among you seven men] Choose

persons in whom ye can all confide, who will distribute the

provisions impartially, and in due time; and let these persons be

the objects of the choice both of the Hebrews and Hellenists, that

all cause of murmuring and discontent may be done away. Though

seven was a sacred number among the Jews, yet there does not

appear to be any mystery intended here. Probably the seven men

were to take each his day of service; and then there would be a

superintendent for these widows, &c., for each day of the week.

Of honest report] μαρτυρουμενους Persons to whose character

there is authentic testimony, well known and accredited.

Full of the Holy Ghost] Saved into the spirit of the Gospel

dispensation; and made partakers of that Holy Ghost by which the

soul is sanctified, and endued with those graces which constitute

the mind that was in Christ.

And wisdom] Prudence, discretion, and economy; for mere piety

and uprightness could not be sufficient, where so many must be

pleased, and where frugality, impartiality, and liberality, must

ever walk hand in hand.

Whom we may appoint] Instead of καταστησωμεν, we may appoint,

καταστησομεν, we shall appoint, is the reading of ABCDE, and

several others. It makes, however, very little difference in the

sense.

Verse 4. We will give ourselves continually to prayer]

προσκαρτερησομεν,, We will steadfastly and invariably attend, we

will carefully keep our hearts to this work. The word is very

emphatic.

To prayer.-See this defined, Mt 6:5. Even apostles could not

live without prayer; they had no independent graces; what they had

could not be retained without an increase; and for this increase

they must make prayer and supplication, depending continually on

their God.

Ministry of the word.] διακονιατουλογου, The deaconship of the

word. The continual proclamation of the Gospel of their Lord; and,

to make this effectual to the souls of the hearers, they must

continue in prayer: a minister who does not pray much, studies

in vain.

The office of deacon, διακονος, came to the Christian from the

Jewish Church. Every synagogue had at least three deacons, which

were called parnasim, from parnes, to feed,

nourish, support, govern. The parnas, or deacon, was a

sort of judge in the synagogue; and, in each, doctrine and wisdom

were required, that they might be able to discern and give right

judgment in things both sacred and civil. The chazan,

and shamash, were also a sort of deacons. The first was the

priest's deputy; and the last was, in some cases, the deputy of

this deputy, or the sub-deacon. In the New Testament the apostles

are called deacons, 2Co 6:4; Eph 3:7; Col 1:23: see also

2Co 11:15. Christ himself, the Shepherd and Bishop of souls, is

called the deacon of the circumcision, λεγωδεχριστονιησουν

διακονονγεγενησθαιπεριτομης, Ro 15:8. As the word implies to

minister or serve, it was variously applied, and pointed out all

those who were employed in helping the bodies or souls of men;

whether apostles, bishops, or those whom we call deacons. Some

remark that there were two orders of deacons: 1. διακονοιτης

τραπιζης, deacons of the TABLE, whose business it was to take care

of the alms collected in the Church, and distribute them among the

poor, widows, &c. 2. διακονοιτουλογου, deacons of the WORD,

whose business it was to preach, and variously instruct the

people. It seems that after the persecution raised against the

apostolic Church, in consequence of which they became dispersed,

the deaconship of tables ceased, as did also the community of

goods; and Philip, who was one of these deacons, who at first

served tables, betook himself entirely to preaching of the word:

see Ac 8:4, &c. In the primitive Church, it is sufficiently

evident that the deacons gave the bread and wine in the Eucharist

to the believers in the Church, and carried it to those who were

absent, Just. Mar. Apol. ii. p. 162; they also preached, and in

some cases administered baptism. See Suicer on the words διακονος

κηρυσσω, and βαπτισμα. But it appears they did the two last by the

special authority of the bishop. In the ancient Roman Church, and

in the Romish Church, the number of seven deacons, in imitation of

those appointed by the apostles, was kept up; and in the council

of Neocaesarea it was decreed that this number should never be

exceeded, even in the largest cities: vide Concil. Neocaesar.

Canon. xiv. other Churches varied this number; and the Church of

Constantinople had not less than one hundred. Deacons were

ordained by the bishops, by imposition of hands. None was ordained

deacon till he was twenty-five years of age, and we find that it

was lawful for them to have wives. See Suicer under the word

διακονος, and See Clarke on Mt 20:26.

In the Church of England, (the purest and nearest to the

apostolical model in doctrine and discipline of all national

Churches,) a deacon receives ordination by the imposition of the

hands of a bishop, in consequence of which he can preach, assist

in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and in general perform any

sacred office, except consecrating the elements, and pronouncing

the absolution. No person in this Church can be ordained deacon

till he be twenty-three years of age, unless by dispensation from

the Abp. of Canterbury. There were deaconesses, both in the

apostolic and primitive Church, who had principally the care of

the women, and visited and ministered to them in those

circumstances in which it would have been improper for a deacon to

attend. They also assisted in preparing the female candidates for

baptism.

At present, the office for which the seven deacons were

appointed is, in the Church of England, filled by the

churchwardens and overseers of the poor; in other Churches and

religious societies, by elders, stewards, &c., chosen by the

people, and appointed by the minister.

Verse 5. Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost] A

person every way properly fitted for his work; and thus qualified

to be the first martyr of the Christian Church.

Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch] A heathen Greek, who had not

only believed in the God of Israel, but had also received

circumcision, and consequently was a proselyte of the covenant;

for, had he been only a proselyte of the gate, the Jews could not

have associated with him. On the word proselyte, see the note on

Ex 12:43. As this is the only proselyte mentioned here, we may

presume that all the rest were native Jews. From this Nicolas, it

is supposed that the sect called Nicolaitans, mentioned

Re 2:6, 15, derived their origin. Dr. Lightfoot doubts this,

and rather inclines to derive the name "from nicola, let us

eat together; those brutes encouraging each other to eat meats

offered to idols, like those in Isa 22:13, who said,

Let us eat flesh and drink wine, &c." Both Irenaeus and

Epiphanius derive this sect from Nicolas the deacon. Clemens

Alexandrinus gives this Nicolas a good character, even while he

allows that the sect who taught the community of wives pretended

to derive their origin from him. See Clarke on Re 2:6.

Verse 6. And when they had prayed] Instead of και, and, the

Codex Bezae reads οιτινες, who, referring the act of praying to

the apostles, which removes a sort of ambiguity. The apostles

prayed for these persons, that they might in every respect be

qualified for their office, and be made successful in it. And,

when they had done this, they laid their hands upon them, and by

this rite appointed them to their office. So then, it plainly

appears that the choice of the Church was not sufficient: nor did

the Church think it sufficient; but, as they knew their own

members best, the apostles directed them, Ac 6:3, to

choose those persons whom they deemed best qualified, according

to the criterion laid down by the apostles themselves, that they

should be of honest report, and full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.

Let us examine the process of this business: 1. There was an

evident necessity that there should be more helpers in this

blessed work 2. The apostles called the disciples together, that

they might consider of this necessity and provide for it, Ac 6:3.

3. They directed the disciples to choose out from among themselves

such persons as they judged the most proper for the work. 4. They

gave them the criterion by which their choice should be directed;

not any man, not every man, not their nearest relative, or best

beloved friend; but such as were of honest report, whose public

character was known to be unblemished; and men who were full of

the Holy Ghost, the influence of which would keep all right

within, and direct their hearts into all truth; and men who

were known to be men of prudence and economy, for not every good

and pious man may be proper for such a work. 5. Seven persons

being chosen by the disciples, according to this criterion, are

presented to the apostles for their approbation and confirmation.

6. The apostles, receiving them from the hands of the Church,

consecrated them to God by prayer, imploring his blessing on them

and their labour. 7. When this was done, they laid their hands

upon them in the presence of the disciples, and thus appointed

them to this sacred and important work; for it is evident they did

not get their commission merely to serve tables, but to proclaim,

in connection with and under the direction of the apostles, the

word of life. Let no man say that any of the things here

enumerated was unnecessary, and let no Church pretend or affect to

do without them. 1. No preacher or minister should be provided

till there is a place for him to labour in, and necessity for his

labour. 2. Let none be imposed upon the Church of Christ who is

not of that Church, well known and fully approved by that branch

of it with which he was connected. 3. Let none be sent to publish

salvation from sin, and the necessity of a holy life, whose moral

character cannot bear the strictest scrutiny among his neighbours

and acquaintance. 4. Let none, however moral, or well reported of,

be sent to convert souls, who has not the most solid reason to

believe that he is moved thereto by the Holy Ghost. 5. Let those

who have the power to appoint see that the person be a man of

wisdom, i.e. sound understanding-for a witling or a blockhead,

however upright, will never make a Christian minister; and that he

be a man of prudence, knowing how to direct his own concerns, and

those of the Church of God, with discretion. 6. Let no private

person, nor number of private members in a Church, presume to

authorize such a person, though in every way qualified to preach

the Gospel; for even the one hundred and twenty primitive

disciples did not arrogate this to themselves. 7. Let the person

be brought to those to whom God has given authority in the Church,

and let them, after most solemnly invoking God, lay their hands

upon him, according to the primitive and apostolic plan, and thus

devote him to the work of the ministry. 8. Let such a one from

that moment consider himself the property of God and his Church,

and devote all his time, talents, and powers, to convert sinners,

and build up believers in their most holy faith. 9. And let the

Church of God consider such a person as legitimately and divinely

sent, and receive him as the ambassador of Christ.

Verse 7. The word of God increased] By such preachers as the

apostles and these deacons, no wonder the doctrine of God

increased-became widely diffused and generally known; in

consequence of which, the number of the disciples must be greatly

multiplied: for God will ever bless his own word, when ministered

by those whom he has qualified to proclaim it.

A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.] This

was one of the greatest miracles wrought by the grace of Christ:

that persons so intent on the destruction of Christ, his apostles,

and his doctrine, should at last espouse that doctrine, is

astonishing; and that they who had withstood the evidence of the

miracles of Christ should have yielded to the doctrine of his

death and resurrection, is worthy of note. And from this we may

learn that it is not by miracles that sinners are to be converted

unto God, but by the preaching of Christ dying for their offenses,

and rising again for their justification.

Instead of λερεων, priests, a few MSS., and the Syriac, read

ιουδαιων, Jews; for the copyists seem to be struck here with two

difficulties: 1. That such persons as these priests could be

converted. 2. That the word οξλος, company, or multitude, could

with propriety be applied to this class, which must have been

inconsiderable in their numbers, when compared with the rest of

the Jews. To preserve the ancient reading, which is undoubtedly

genuine, some have altered the text by conjecture; and, by putting

a comma after οχλος, and a και before τωνιερεων, make the text

read thus: And a great multitude, and some of the priests, were

obedient to the faith. This conjecture is unnecessary, as there is

no such difficulty here as to require so desperate an expedient,

which is not recommended by the evidence of a single MS. or

version. 1. The grace of Christ Jesus can save even a murderous

Jewish priest: his death is a grand atonement for all crimes and

for the worst of sinners. 2. In the twenty-four courses of

priests, there was not a multitude merely, but multitudes: indeed

the number of ecclesiastics at Jerusalem was enormous. A great

company out of these might be converted, and yet multitudes be

left behind.

Verse 8. Stephen, full of faith and power] Instead of πιστεως,

faith, χαριτος, grace, is the reading of ABD, several others,

the Syriac of Erpen, the Coptic, Armenian, Vulgate, and some of

the fathers. This reading Griesbach has admitted into the text.

Some MSS. join both readings. Stephen was full of faith-gave

unlimited credence to the promises of his Lord; he was full of

grace-receiving the fulfilment of those promises, he enjoyed

much of the unction of the Divine Spirit, and much of the favour

of his God; and, in consequence, he was full of power, δυναμεως,

of the Divine energy by which he was enabled to work great wonders

and miracles among the people.

Verse 9. The synagogue-of the Libertines, &c.] That Jews and

proselytes from various countries had now come up to Jerusalem to

bring offerings, and to attend the feast of pentecost, we have

already seen, Ac 2:9-11. The persons mentioned here were

foreign Jews, who appear to have had a synagogue peculiar to

themselves at Jerusalem, in which they were accustomed to worship

when they came to the public festivals.

Various opinions have been entertained concerning the Libertines

mentioned here: Bp. Pearce's view of the subject appears to me to

be the most correct.

"It is commonly thought that by this name is meant the sons of

such Jews as had been slaves, and obtained their freedom by the

favour of their masters; but it is to be observed that with these

Libertines the Cyrenians and Alexandrians are here joined, as

having one and the same synagogue for their public worship. And it

being known that the Cyrenians (Ac 2:10) lived in

Libya, and the Alexandrians in the neighbourhood of it, it is

most natural to look for the Libertines too in that part of the

world. Accordingly we find Suidas, in his Lexicon, saying, upon

the word λιβερτινοι, that it is ονοματουεθνους, the name of a

people. And in Gest. Collationis Carthagine habitae inter

Catholicos et Donatistas, published with Optatus's works, Paris,

1679, (No. 201, and p. 57,) we have these words: Victor episcopus

Ecclesiae Catholicae LIBERTINENSIS dixit, Unitas est illic,

publicam non latet conscientiam. Unity is there: all the world

knows it. From these two passages it appears that there was in

Libya a town or district called Libertina, whose inhabitants bore

the name of λιβερτινοι, Libertines, when Christianity prevailed

there. They had an episcopal see among them, and the

above-mentioned Victor was their bishop at the council of

Carthage, in the reign of the Emperor Honorius. And from hence

it seems probable that the town or district, and the people,

existed in the time of which Luke is here speaking. They were

Jews, (no doubt,) and came up, as the Cyrenian and Alexandrian

Jews did, to bring their offerings to Jerusalem, and to worship

God in the temple there. Cunaeus, in his Rep. Hebr. ii. 23, says

that the Jews who lived in Alexandria and Libya, and all other

Jews who lived out of the Holy Land, except those of Babylon and

its neighbourhood, were held in great contempt by the Jews who

inhabited Jerusalem and Judea; partly on account of their quitting

their proper country, and partly on account of their using the

Greek language, and being quite ignorant of the other. For these

reasons it seems probable that the Libertines, Cyrenians, and

Alexendrians, had a separate synagogue; (as perhaps the

Cilicians and those of Asia had;) the Jews of Jerusalem not

suffering them to be present in their synagogues, or they not

choosing to perform their public service in synagogues where a

language was used which they did not understand."

It is supposed, also, that these synagogues had theological, if

not philosophical, schools attached to them; and that it was the

disciples or scholars of these schools who came forward to dispute

with Stephen, and were enraged because they were confounded. For

it is not an uncommon custom with those who have a bad cause,

which can neither stand the test of Scripture nor reason, to

endeavour to support it by physical when logical force has failed;

and thus:-

"Prove their doctrine orthodox,

By apostolic blows and knocks."

In the reign of Queen Mary, when popery prevailed in this

country, and the simplest women who had read the Bible were an

overmatch for the greatest of the popish doctors; as they had

neither Scripture nor reason to allege, they burned them alive,

and thus terminated a controversy which they were unable to

maintain. The same cause will ever produce the same effect: the

Libertines, Cilicians, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, pursued this

course: Stephen confounded them by Scripture and reason, and they

beat his brains out with stones! This was the most effectual way

to silence a disputant whose wisdom they could not resist. In the

same way were the Protestants treated, when by Scripture and

reason they had shown the absurdity and wickedness of that

anti-christian system which the fire and the sword were brought

forth to establish. These persecutors professed great concern at

first for the souls of those whom they variously tortured, and at

last burned; but their tender mercies were cruel, and when they

gave up the body to the flames, they most heartily consigned the

soul to Satan. Scires � sanguine natos: their conduct proclaimed

their genealogy.

Verse 10. They there not able to resist the wisdom, &c.] He was

wise, well exercised and experienced, in Divine things; and, as

appears by his defence, in the following chapter, well versed in

the Jewish history. The spirit by which he spake was the Holy

Spirit, and its power was irresistible. They were obliged either

to yield to its teachings, or were confounded by its truth.

Several MSS. add to this verse, because he reproved them with

boldness, they could not resist the truth. This reading is not

genuine, though it exists (but in different forms) in some good

MSS.

Verse 11. Then they suborned men] υπεβαλον. They made underhand

work; got associated to themselves profligate persons, who for

money would swear any thing.

Blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.] This was the

most deadly charge they could bring against him. We have already

seen, Mt 9:4, that

blasphemy, when against GOD, signifies speaking impiously of his

nature, attributes, or works; and, when against men, it

signifies speaking injuriously of their character, blasting their

reputation, &c. These false witnesses came to prove that he had

blasphemed Moses by representing him as an impostor, or the like;

and GOD, by either denying his being, his providence, the justice

of his government, &c.

Verse 12. And they] The Libertines, &c., mentioned before,

stirred up the people-raised a mob against him, and, to assist

and countenance the mob, got the elders and scribes to conduct it,

who thus made themselves one with the basest of the people, whom

they collected; and then, altogether, without law or form of

justice, rushed on the good man, seized him, and brought him to a

council who, though they sat in the seat of judgment, were ready

for every evil work.

Verse 13. Against this holy place] The temple, that it shall be

destroyed.

And the law] That it cannot give life, nor save from death.

It is very likely that they had heard him speak words to this

amount, which were all as true as the spirit from which they

proceeded; but they gave them a very false colouring, as we see in

the succeeding verse.

Verse 15. Saw his face, as it had been the face of an angel.]

Sayings like this are frequent among the Jewish writers, who

represent God as distinguishing eminent men by causing a glory to

shine from their faces. Rabbi Gedalia said that, "when Moses and

Aaron came before Pharaoh, they appeared like those angels which

minister before the face of the Lord; for their stature appeared

greater, and the splendour of their faces was like the sun, and

their eyes like the wheels of the sun; their beard like clusters

of grapes, and their words like thunder and lightning; and that,

through fear of them, those who were present fell to the earth."

The like is said of Moses, in Debarim Rabba, fol. 75. that "when

Sammael (Satan) came to Moses, the splendour of his face was like

the sun, and himself resembled an angel of God." The reader may

find several similar sayings in Schoettgen.

It appears that the light and power of God which dwelt in his

soul shone through his face, and God gave them this proof of the

falsity of the testimony which was now before them; for, as the

face of Stephen now shone as the face of Moses did when he came

down from the mount, it was the fullest proof that he had not

spoken blasphemous words either against Moses or God, else this

splendour of heaven had not rested upon him.

The history of the apostolic Church is a series of wonders.

Every thing that could prevent such a Church from being

established, or could overthrow it when established, is brought to

bear against it. The instruments employed in its erection and

defence had neither might nor power, but what came immediately

from God. They work, and God works with them; the Church is

founded and built up; and its adversaries, with every advantage in

their favour, cannot overthrow it. Is it possible to look at this,

without seeing the mighty hand of God in the whole? He permits

devils and wicked men to work-to avail themselves of all their

advantages, yet counterworks all their plots and designs, turns

their weapons against themselves, and promotes his cause by the

very means that were used to destroy it. How true is the saying,

There is neither might nor counsel against the Lord!

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