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.
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(1) And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied.—Better, were being multiplied, as by an almost daily increase. The length of the interval between this and the previous chapter is left uncertain. The death of Stephen is fixed by most writers in A.D. 38.

The Grecians.—The English version always carefully uses this word, and not Greeks, for the Hellenistæ or Greek-speaking Jews. These were known also as “the dispersion among the Gentiles” (John 7:35), or generally as “the dispersion,” the “sojourners of the dispersion,” those that were “scattered abroad” (James 1:1; 1Peter 1:1). Many of the converts of the Day of Pentecost must have belonged to this body; so, probably, did Barnabas and the others named in the Note on Acts 4:37. Now they were becoming a prominent section of the Church, perhaps more numerous than the Hebrews, or Jews of Palestine. They, as their name implies, spoke Greek habitually, and as a rule did not read the older Hebrew or speak the current Aramaic. They read the Septuagint (LXX.) version of the Old Testament. They were commonly more zealous, with the zeal of pilgrims, for the sanctity of the holy places than the Jews of Jerusalem itself, who had been familiar with them from infancy (Acts 21:27).

Because their widows were neglected.—The words imply something like an organised administration of the common fund: widows and their children being the chief objects of relief. The rules of 1Timothy 5:3-16, were probably the growth of a more mature experience; and here we have to think of a clamorous crowd of applicants besieging the house at which the Apostles held their meeting at the times appointed for giving relief in money, or, as seems more probable, in kind. The Twelve—singly, or in groups—sat at the table, and gave as they were able. It was like the dole of alms at the gate of a convent. Under such circumstances, jealousies and complaints were all but in- evitable. The Twelve were all of them Galileans, and were suspected of favouring the widows of Palestine rather than those of the Dispersion. It was the first sign that the new society was outgrowing its primitive organisation.

Acts 6:1. In those days — Some time after the fact last recorded had taken place; when the number of the disciples was multiplied — For it appears their number increased continually and rapidly, notwithstanding the opposition made by the priests and rulers to the preaching of the gospel: indeed that opposition, instead of checking the progress of Christianity, contributed to it: there arose a murmuring — The historian’s manner of speaking, πληθυνοντων των μαθητων εγενετο γογγυσμος, the disciples multiplying, there arose a murmuring, seems to imply, that the murmuring was partly, at least, the consequence of the great increase of the disciples. And certainly, 1st, In proportion as the number of Christians increased, the scandal of the cross would be diminished, and many would be inclined to unite themselves to them, who were influenced by motives not perfectly pure, and were not truly converted to God, and made new creatures in Christ. 2d, The accession of a great number of converts to the church, perhaps chiefly from the poor, would render it more difficult than it was before, to afford all the necessitous a proper supply. But, whatever was the cause of the murmuring here spoken of, it was the first breach made on those who were before of one heart and of one soul. Partiality crept in unawares on some, and murmuring on others. Ah, Lord! how short a time did pure, genuine, undefiled Christianity remain in the world! How soon was its glory, at least in some measure, eclipsed! Of the Grecians — Greek, of the Hellenists, that is, the Jews born out of Judea, so called, because they used the Greek as their native language. These were descendants of such Jews as, in several national calamities, had been forced to flee to Alexandria, and other Gentile countries, or, on account of trade and commerce, had chosen to settle there, and yet kept themselves unmixed with the Gentiles; and, retaining the knowledge of the true God, were wont to come occasionally, especially on the solemn feasts, to worship at Jerusalem. Against the Hebrews — Who were natives of Judea, and therefore used a dialect of the Hebrew, or Syro-Chaldaic tongue; because their widows were neglected — In some degree, as they supposed; in the daily ministration — Of the charities that were distributed to the poor members of the church. It is justly observed here by Mr. Scott, that “as the greatest part of the public stock must have been contributed by the Hebrews, perhaps they, who acted under the apostles in this business, thought it right to show more favour to the poor widows of that description than the others.” It is very probable, however, that the Hellenists suspected more partiality than there really was. Be this as it may, by this real or supposed partiality of the Hebrews, and the murmuring of the Hellenists, there is reason to think the Spirit of God was grieved, and the seeds of a general persecution were sown. For, did God ever, in any age or country, withdraw his restraining providence, and let loose the world upon the Christians, till there was a cause for it among themselves? Is not an open, general persecution, always both penal and medicinal? a punishment of those that will not accept of milder reproofs as well as a medicine to heal their sickness? and at the same time a means of purifying and strengthening those whose hearts are still right with God?6:1-7 Hitherto the disciples had been of one accord; this often had been noticed to their honour; but now they were multiplied, they began to murmur. The word of God was enough to take up all the thoughts, cares, and time of the apostles. The persons chosen to serve tables must be duly qualified. They must be filled with gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost, necessary to rightly managing this trust; men of truth, and hating covetousness. All who are employed in the service of the church, ought to be commended to the Divine grace by the prayers of the church. They blessed them in the name of the Lord. The word and grace of God are greatly magnified, when those are wrought upon by it, who were least likely.In those days ... - The first part of this chapter contains an account of the appointment of "deacons." It may be asked, perhaps, why the apostles did not appoint these officers at the first organization of the church? To this, question we may reply, that it was better to defer the appointment until an occasion should occur when it would appear to be manifestly necessary and proper. When the church was small, its alms could be distributed by the apostles themselves without difficulty But when it was greatly increased when its charities were multiplied; and when the distribution might give rise to contentions, it was necessary that this matter should be entrusted to the hands of "laymen," and that the "ministry" should be freed from all embarrassment, and all suspicions of dishonesty and unfairness in regard to pecuniary matters. It has never been found to be wise that the temporal affairs of the church should be entrusted in any considerable degree to the clergy, and they should be freed from such sources of difficulty and embarrassment.

Was multiplied - By the accession of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, and of those who were subsequently added, Acts 4:4; Acts 5:14.

A murmuring - A complaint - as if there had been partiality in the distribution.

Of the Grecians - There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to these persons, whether they were "Jews" who had lived among the Gentiles, and who spoke the Greek language, or whether they were proselytes from the Gentiles. The former is probably the correct opinion. The word used here is not what is commonly employed to designate the inhabitants of Greece, but it properly denotes those who "imitate" the customs and habits of the Greeks, who use the Greek language, etc. In the time when the gospel was first preached, there were two classes of Jews - those who remained in Palestine, who used the Hebrew language, and who were appropriately called "Hebrews"; and those who were scattered among the Gentiles, who spoke the Greek language, and who used in their synagogues the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint. These were called "Hellenists," or, as it is in our translation, "Grecians." See the notes on John 7:35. These were doubtless the persons mentioned here - not those who were proselyted from Gentiles, but those of Jewish origin who were not natives of Judea, who had come up to Jerusalem to attend the great festivals. See Acts 2:5, Acts 2:9-11. Dissensions would be very likely to arise between these two classes of persons. The Jews of Palestine would pride themselves much on the fact that they dwelt in the land of the patriarchs and the land of promise; that they used the language which their fathers spoke, and in which the oracles of God were given; and that they were constantly near the temple, and regularly engaged in its solemnities. On the other hand, the Jews from other parts of the world would be suspicious, jealous, and envious of their brethren, and would be likely to charge them with partiality, or of taking advantage in their contact with them. These occasions of strife would not be destroyed by their conversion to Christianity, and one of them is furnished on this occasion.

Because their widows ... - The property which had been contributed, or thrown into common stock, was understood to be designed for the equal benefit of "all" the poor, and particularly, it would seem, for the poor widows. The distribution before this seems to have been made by the apostles themselves - or possibly, as Mosheim conjectures (Commentary de rebus Christianorum ante Constantinum, pp. 139, 118), the apostles committed the distribution of these funds to the Hebrews, and hence, the Grecians are represented as complaining against them, and not against the apostles.

In the daily ministration - In the daily distribution which was made for their needs. Compare Acts 4:35. The property was contributed doubtless with an understanding that it should be "equally" distributed to all classes of Christians that had need. It is clear from the Epistles that "widows" were objects of special attention in the primitive church, and that the first Christians regarded it as a matter of indispensable obligation to provide for their needs, 1 Timothy 5:3, 1 Timothy 5:9-10, 1 Timothy 5:16; James 1:27.


Ac 6:1-7. First Election of Deacons.

1. the Grecians—the Greek-speaking Jews, mostly born in the provinces.

the Hebrews—those Jews born in Palestine who used their native tongue, and were wont to look down on the "Grecians" as an inferior class.

were neglected—"overlooked" by those whom the apostles employed, and who were probably of the Hebrew class, as being the most numerous. The complaint was in all likelihood well founded, though we cannot suspect the distributors of intentional partiality. "It was really just an emulation of love, each party wishing to have their own poor taken care of in the best manner" [Olshausen].

the daily ministration—the daily distribution of alms or of food, probably the latter.Acts 6:1-4 The apostles, that the poor might not be neglected,


Acts 6:5,6 and with, the church’s consent ordain, seven chosen

men, deacons.

Acts 6:7 The word of God prevaileth.

Acts 6:8-15 Stephen, full of faith and the Holy Ghost, confuting

those with whom he disputed, is brought before the

council, and by suborned evidence falsely accused of

blasphemy against the law and the temple.

Grecians; these were not such as are elsewhere called Greeks, either as being of that nation, or more generally taken for all Gentiles at large; but they were (as to their authority) Jews, and descended from such of them who, in several national calamities, were forced (or chose) to leave their country, and fly to Alexandria, and divers other places; yet kept themselves unmixed with other nations, retaining the knowledge of God, and coming to worship upon the solemn feasts; only, disusing the Hebrew language, they were more acquainted with the Greek tongue, (then commonly spoken every where), and used the Holy Scripture translated into that language, which made them the rather called Hellenists or Grecians.

Their widows were neglected in the daily ministration; they were not taken, as others, into the college, or number of widows, who in that time had some care of the poor; or rather, because they were not so largely allowed, or carefully looked after; for those that sold their goods, being Hebrews, they might not be so tender over the Hellenists, whose estates laying farther off, could not so readily be sold for the relief of themselves or others.

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied,.... From an hundred and twenty to three thousand more, from thence to five thousand more, and after that a multitude of men and women were added, and still they were increasing; see Acts 1:15 Acts 2:41. This increase of the disciples agrees with what Maimonides says (z), before observed, that

"in the days of Gamaliel, , "the heretics were multiplied in Israel".''

The word "disciples" was a common name to all Christians, to all that believed in Christ, and was the name they went by, before they were called Christians, Acts 11:26

there arose a murmuring of the Grecians, or Hellenists, against the Hebrews; by the Hebrews are meant the Jews that dwelt in Judea, and were the inhabitants of that country, and chiefly of Jerusalem, who spoke the Hebrew, or rather the Syriac language; and by the Grecians, or Hellenists, are meant, not the Greeks that were proselyted to the Jewish religion, though there might be some few among them; but Jews who were born, and had dwelt, in some parts of Greece, and spoke the Greek language, and used the Septuagint version of the Bible; between these two a murmuring arose, a complaint was made by one against the other: so that, as it appears from the instance of Ananias and Sapphira, that this first and pure Gospel church was not free from hypocrites; it is also manifest, that though they were at first so united and harmonious in their affections and judgments, yet they were not always clear of feuds, animosities, and contentions; Satan bestirred himself, and got footing among them, as he commonly does where the Gospel is preached, and there is an increase of it: the reason of this uneasiness was,

because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration; that is, they had not that distributed which was necessary for them, nor so much as the Hebrew widows; they complained of partiality, as if because the Hebrew widows were the natives of the country, and might be nearly related to many of the community, that therefore they were more regarded and better supplied every day, than their widows were, whose husbands had dwelt in foreign lands, and were not so well known, and had fewer acquaintance and relations; for it seems the ministration or distribution was made every day: and such a practice obtained among the Jews in common, who used to collect every day for the poor, and give it daily to them. Maimonides (a) speaks of it in this manner;

"they appoint collectors, who receive "every day", from every court, a piece of bread, or any sort of food, or fruit, or money, from whomsoever that offers freely for the time; and they divide that which is collected, "in the evening", among the poor, and they give to every poor person of it "his daily sustenance"; and this is called "Tamchui", or "the alms dish".''

And from hence the apostles might take up this custom, and follow it. The Ethiopic version renders it, "because they saw their widows minister", or "employed daily"; as if the complaint was, that their widows were too much made use of, and obliged to more frequent and to harder service in taking care of the poor, the sick, and helpless, than the other widows were, who had not their share of labour with them, but lived more at ease. Though others rather think the murmur was, because the Grecian widows were not taken into the number, and employed in taking care of the poor, as the Hebrew widows were; but the sense first given, of not having so good a share in the distribution, seems to be the best.

(z) Hilchot Tephilla, c. 2. sect. 1.((a) Hilchot Mattanot Annayim, c. 9. sect. 2.

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

(1) When Satan has assailed the Church on the outside, and with little result and in vain, he assails it on the inside, with civil dissension and strife between themselves: but the apostles take occasion by this to set order in the Church.

(a) From among their own members, who became religious Jews from among the Greeks.

(b) In the bestowing of alms according to their need.

Acts 6:1. Δέ] Over against this new victory of the church without, there now emerges a division in its own bosom.

ἐν ταῖς ἡμέρ. ταύτ.] namely, while the apostles continued, after their liberation, to devote themselves unmolested to their function of preaching (Acts 5:42). Thus this expression (בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם) finds its definition, although only an approximate one, always in what precedes. Comp. on Matthew 3:1.

πληθυνόντων] as a neuter verb (Bernhardy, p. 339 f.): amidst the increase of the Christian multitude, by which, consequently, the business of management referred to became the more extensive and difficult. Comp. Aesch. Ag. 869; Polyb. iii. 105. 7; Herodian, iii. 8. 14, often in the LXX. and Apocr.

Ἑλληνιστής, elsewhere only preserved in Phot. Bibl. (see Wetstein), according to its derivation (from ἑλληνίζειν, to present oneself in Grecian nationality, and particularly to speak the Greek language; Lobeck, ad Phryn. p. 380), and according to its contrast to Ἑβραίους, is to be explained: a Jew (and so non-Greek) who has Greek nationality, and particularly speaks Greek: Acts 9:29. Comp. Chrysostom and Oecumenius. As both appellations are here transferred to the members of the Christian church at Jerusalem, the Ἑβραῖοι are undoubtedly: those Christians of the church of Jerusalem, who, as natives of Palestine, had the Jewish national character, and spoke the sacred language as their native tongue; and the Ἑλληνισταί are those members of this church, who were Greek-Jews, and therefore presented themselves in Greek national character, and spoke Greek as their native language. Both parties were Jewish Christians; and the distinction between them turned on the different relation of their original nationality to Judaism. And as the two parties embraced the whole of the Jews who had become Christian, it is a purely arbitrary limitation, when Camerarius, Beza, Salmasius, Pearson, Wolf, Morus, Ziegler, (Einleit. in d. Br. a. d. Hebr. p. 221), and Pfannkuche (in Eichhorn’s allg. Bibl. VIII. p. 471) would understand exclusively the Jewish proselytes who had been converted to Christianity. These are included among the Greek-Jews who had become Christian, but are not alone meant; the Jews by birth who had been drawn from the διασπορά to Jerusalem are also included. The more the intercourse of Greek-Jews with foreign culture was fitted to lessen and set aside Jewish narrow-mindedness, so much the more easy is it to understand that many should embrace Christianity. Comp. Reuss in Herzog’s Encykl. V. p. 703 f.

πρός] denotes, according to the context, the antagonistic direction, as in Luke 5:30. Comp. Acts 9:29ἐν τῇ διακ. τῇ καθημ.] in the daily service (2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 9:13), here: with provisions, in the daily distribution of food. Acts 6:2 requires this explanation.

καθημερινός only here in the N. T., more frequently in Plutarch, etc., belongs to the later Greek; Jdt 12:15; Lobeck, ad Phryn. p. 55.

The neglect of due consideration (παραθεωρεῖν, not elsewhere in the N. T., nor in the LXX. and Apocr., but see Kypke, II. p. 36), which the widows of the Hellenists met with, doubtless by the fault not of the apostles, but of subordinates commissioned by them, is an evidence that the Jewish self-exaltation of the Palestinian over the Greek-Jews (Lightf. Hor. ad Joh. p. 1031), so much at variance with the spirit of Christianity (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11; Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13), had extended also to the Christian community, and now on the increase of the church, no longer restrained by the fresh unity of the Holy Spirit, came into prominence as the first germ of the later separation of the Hebrew and Hellenistic elements (comp. Lechler, apost. Zeit. p. 333); as also, that before the appointment of the subsequently named Seven, the care of the poor was either exclusively, or at least chiefly, entrusted to the Hebrews. Mosh. de reb. Christ, ante Const., pp. 118, 139.

The widows are not, as Olshausen and Lekebusch, p. 93, arbitrarily assume, mentioned by synecdoche for all the poor and needy, but simply because their neglect was the occasion of the γογγυσμός. We may add, that this passage does not presuppose another state of matters than that of the community of goods formerly mentioned (Schleiermacher and others), but only a disproportion as regards the application of the means thereby placed at their disposal. There is nothing in the text to show that the complaint as to this was unfounded (Calvin).

Acts 6:1-7. An explanation paving the way for the history of Stephen, Acts 6:8 ff. Acts 6:7 is not at variance with this view.Acts 6:1. δὲ; cf. Acts 1:15, and see above in Acts 5:41. There seems no occasion to regard δὲ as marking a contrast between Acts 5:41 and the opening of this chapter, or as contrasting the outward victory of the Church with its inward dissensions (as Meyer, Holtzmann, Zechler, see Nösgen’s criticism in loco); simply introduces a new recital as in Acts 3:1. It may refer back to the notice in Acts 5:14 of the increase of the disciples, and this would be in harmony with the context. On the expression ἐν ταῖς ἡμέρ. ταύτ., as characteristic of Luke, see above, and Friedrich, Das Lucasevangelium, p. 9; in both his Gospel and the Acts expressions with ἡμέρα abound. Harnack admits that in passing to this sixth chapter “we at once enter on historical ground,” Expositor, 5, p. 324 (3rd series). For views of the partition critics see Wendt’s summary in new edition (1899), p. 140, Hilgenfeld, Zeitschrift für wissenschaft. Theol., p. 390 ff. (1895), and also in commentary below. Wendt sees in Acts 6:1-7 the hand of the redactor, the author of Acts 2:5; others suppose that we have in 6 the commencement of a new Hellenistic source; so Feine, J. Weiss, Hilgenfeld. Clemen refers Acts 6:7-8 to his Historia Petri, whilst Acts 6:9 commences his Historia Hellenistarum (Acts 6:1-6 belong to a special source); others again see in chap. 6 the continuance of an earlier source or sources.—πληθυνόντων, when the number of the disciples was multiplying (present part[188]); verb frequent in LXX, sometimes intrans. as here, Exodus 1:20, etc., and see Psalms of Solomon, Acts 10:1, and note in Ryle and James’ edition; cf. also its classical use in its more correct form, πληθύω, in the Acts: Acts 6:7; Acts 7:17; Acts 9:31; Acts 12:24. On St. Luke’s fondness for this and similar words (Friedrich) see p. 73. Weiss calls it here a very modest word, introduced by one who knew nothing of the conversions in many of the preceding chapters. But the word, and especially its use in the present participle, rather denotes that the numbers went on increasing, and so rapidly that the Apostles found the work of relief too great for them.—μαθητῶν, the word occurs here for the first time in the Acts (surely an insufficient ground for maintaining with Hilgenfeld that we are dealing with a new source). The same word is found frequently in each of the Gospels, twenty-eight times in Acts (μαθήτρια once, Acts 9:36), but never in the Epistles. It evidently passed into the ancient language of the early Church from the earthly days of the ministry of Jesus, and may fairly be regarded as the earliest designation of the Christians; but as the associations connected with it (the thought that Jesus was the διδάσκαλος and His followers His μαθηταί) passed into the background it quickly dropped out of use, although in the Acts the name is still the rule for the more ancient times and for the Jewish-Christian Churches; cf. Acts 21:16. In the Acts we have the transition marked from μαθηταί to the brethren and saints of the Epistles. The reason for the change is obvious. During the lifetime of Jesus the disciples were called after their relationship to Him; after His departure the names given indicated their relation to each other and to the society (Dr. Sanday, Inspiration, p. 289). And as an evidential test of the date of the various N.T. writings this is just what we might expect: the Gospels have their own characteristic vocabulary, the Epistles have theirs, whilst Acts forms a kind of link between the two groups, Gospels and Epistles. It is, of course, to be remembered that both terms ἀδελφοί and ἅγιοι are also found in Acts, not to the exclusion of, but alongside with, μαθηταί (cf., e.g., Acts 9:26; Acts 9:30, Acts 21:4; Acts 21:7; Acts 21:16-17): the former in all parts of the book, and indeed more frequently than μαθηταί, as applied to Christians; the latter four times, Acts 9:13; Acts 9:32; Acts 9:41, Acts 26:10. But if our Lord gave the charge to His disciples recorded in St. Matthew 28:19, bidding them make disciples of all the nations, μαθητεύσατε (cf. also Acts 14:21 for the same word), then we can understand that the term would still be retained, as it was so closely associated with the last charge of the Master, whilst a mutual discipleship involved a mutual brotherhood (Matthew 23:8). St. Paul in his Epistles would be addressing those who enjoyed through Christ a common share with himself in a holy fellowship and calling, and whom he would therefore address not as μαθηταί but as ἀδελφοί and ἅφιοι. They were still μαθηταί, yet not of man but of the Lord (only in one passage in Acts, and that a doubtful one, Acts 9:43, is the word μαθηταί or μαθητής used of any human teacher), and the word was still true of them with that significance, and is still used up to a period subsequent (we may well believe) to the writing of several of Paul’s Epistles, Acts 21:16. How the word left its impress upon the thought of the Church, in the claim of the disciple to be as his Master, is touchingly evidenced by the expressions of St. Ign., Ephes. i. 2; Magn., ix., 2; Rom. iv. 2; Tral., v., 2 (St. Polyc., Martyr, xvii., 3, where the word is applied to the martyrs as disciples of the Lord, and the prayer is offered: ὧν γένοιτο καὶ ἡμᾶς συγκοινωνούς τε καὶ συμμαθητάς γενέσθαι).—γογγυσμὸς and γογγύζειν are both used by St. Luke (cf. Luke 5:30), by St. John, and also by St. Paul, Php 2:14, and 1 Corinthians 10:10, the noun also by St. Peter, Acts 1:4; Acts 1:9. The noun is found seven times in the LXX of Israel in the wilderness (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:10); so in Php 2:14 it is probable that the same passage, Exodus 16:7, was in the Apostle’s mind, as in the next verse he quotes from the Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:5, LXX; so γόγγυσις is also found in LXX with the same meaning, Numbers 14:27. γογγυσμός is also found in Wis 1:10, Sir 46:7, with reference to Numbers 14:26-27, and twice in Psalms of Solomon Acts 5:15, Acts 16:11. In Attic Greek τονθυρισμός would be used (so τονθρίζω and τονθυρίζω). Phrynichus brands the other forms as Ionian, but Dr. Kennedy maintains that γογγυσμός and γογγύζειν from their frequent use in the LXX are rather to be classed amongst “vernacular terms” long continued in the speech of the people, from which the LXX drew. Both words are probably onomatopoetic.—Kennedy, Sources of N. T. Greek, pp. 38–40, 72, 73, 76; see also Rutherford, New Phrynichus, p. 463; Deissmann, Bibelstudien, p. 106. Here the word refers rather to indignatio clandestina, not to an open murmuring.—Ἑλληνιστῶν. The meaning of the term, which was a matter of conjecture in St. Chrysostom’s day, cannot be said to be decided now (Hort, Judaistic Christianity, p. 48). The verb Ἑλληνίζειν, to speak Greek (Xen., Anab., vii., 3, 25), helps us reasonably to define it as a Greek-speaking Jew (so also Holtzmann and Wendt). The term occurs again in Acts 9:29 (and Acts 11:20? see in loco), and includes those Jews who had settled in Greek-speaking countries, who spoke the common Greek dialect in place of the vernacular Aramaic current in Palestine, and who would be more or less acquainted with Greek habits of life and education. They were therefore a class distinguished not by descent but by language. This word “Grecians” (A.V.) was introduced to distinguish them from the Greeks by race, but the rendering “Grecian Jews” (R.V.) makes the distinction much plainer. Thus in the Dispersion “the cultured Jew was not only a Jew but a Greek as well”; he would be obliged from force of circumstances to adapt himself to his surroundings more or less, but, even in the more educated, the original Jewish element still predominated in his character; and if this was true of the higher it was still more true of the lower classes amongst the Hellenists—no adoption of the Greek language as their mode of speech, no separation of distance from the Holy City, no defections in their observances of the law, or the surrender as unessential of points which the Pharisees deemed vital, could make them forget that they were members of the Commonwealth of Israel, that Palestine was their home, and the Temple their pride, see B.D.2, “Hellenist,” Schürer, Jewish People, div. ii., vol. ii., p. 282, E.T.; Hamburger, Real-Encyclopädie des Judentums, ii., 3, “Griechenthum”. But bearing this description in mind, we can the more easily understand the conflict with Stephen, and his treatment by those who were probably his fellow-Hellenists. If as a cultured Hellenist St. Stephen’s sympathies were wider and his outlook less narrow than that of the orthodox Jew, or of the less educated type of Hellenist, such a man, who died as St. Stephen died with the prayer of Jesus on his lips (see Feine’s remarks), must have so lived in the spirit of his Master’s teaching as to realise that in His Kingdom the old order would change and give place to new. But the same considerations help us to understand the fury aroused by St. Stephen’s attitude, and it is not difficult to imagine the fanatical rage of a people who had nearly risen in insurrection because Pilate had placed in his palace at Jerusalem some gilt shields inscribed with the names of heathen gods, against one who without the power of Pilate appeared to advocate a change of the customs which Moses had delivered (see Nösgen, Apostelgeschichte, p. 69).—Ἑβραῖοι—in W.H[189] with smooth breathing, see W.H[190], Introduction, p. 313, and Winer-Schmiedel, p. 40; here those Jews in Palestine who spoke Aramaic; in the Church at Jerusalem they would probably form a considerable majority, cf. Php 3:5, and Lightfoot’s note. In the N.T. Ἰουδαῖος is opposed to Ἕλλην (Romans 1:16), and Ἑβραῖος to Ἑλληνιστής, Acts 6:1. In the former case the contrast lies in the difference of race and religion; in the latter in the difference of customs and language. A man might be called Ἰουδαῖος, but he would not be Ἑβραῖος in the N.T. sense unless he retained in speech the Aramaic tongue; the distinction was therefore drawn on the side of language, a distinction which still survives in our way of speaking of the Jewish nation, but of the Hebrew tongue. See Trench, Synonyms, i., p. 156 ff. In the two other passages in which Ἑβρ. is used, Php 3:5 and 2 Corinthians 11:22, whatever difficulties surround them, it is probable that the distinctive force of the word as explained above is implied. But as within the nation, the distinction is not recognised by later Christian writers, and that it finds no place at all in Jewish writers like Philo and Josephus, or in Greek authors like Plutarch and Pausanias (Trench, u. s.).—πρὸς, cf. St. Luke 5:30, ἐγόγγυζον πρὸς τ. μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ.—παρεθεωροῦντο: not found elsewhere in N.T. and not in LXX, but used in this sense in Dem. (also by Diodorus and Dion. Hal.) = παρορᾶν, Attic: imperfect, denoting that the neglect had been going on for some time; how the neglect had arisen we are not told—there is no reason to suppose that there had been previously Palestinian deacons (so Blass in [191], critical notes), for the introduction of such a class of deacons, as Hilgenfeld notes, is something quite new, and does not arise out of anything previously said, although it would seem that in the rapidly growing numbers of the Church the Hebrew Christians regarded their Hellenist fellow-Christians as having only a secondary claim on their care. Possibly the supply for the Hellenists fell short, simply because the Hebrews were already in possession. The Church had been composed first of Galileans and native Jews resident in Jerusalem, and then there was added a wider circle—Jews of the Dispersion. It is possible to interpret the incident as an indication of what would happen as the feeling between Jew and Hellenist became more bitter, but it is difficult to believe that the Apostles, who shared with St. James of Jerusalem the belief that θρησκεία consisted in visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, could have acted in a spirit of partiality, so that the neglect, if it was due to them, could be attributed to anything else than to their ignorance of the greatness of the need.—διακονίᾳ, see below on Acts 6:2.—καθημερινῇ: not found elsewhere in N.T. or in LXX, only in Jdt 12:15. It is a word only used in Hellenistic Greek, cf. Josephus, Ant., iii., 10, 1; but it may be noted that it is also a word frequently employed by medical writers of a class of fevers, etc. See instances in Hobart, pp. 134, 135, and also in Wetstein, in loco.—αἱ χῆραι αὐτῶν: not merely a generic term for the poor and needy—under the Mosaic dispensation no legal provision was made for widows, but they would not only receive the privileges belonging to other distressed classes, but also specific regulations protected them—they were commended to the care of the community, and their oppression and neglect were strongly condemned—it is quite possible that the Hellenistic widows had previously been helped from the Temple Treasury, but that now, on their joining the Christian community, this help had ceased. On the care of the widow in the early Church, see Jam 1:27 (Mayor’s note); Polycarp, Phil., vi., 1, where the presbyters are exhorted to be εὔσπλαγχνοι μὴ ἀμελοῦντες χήρας ἤ ὀρφανου ἤ πένητος, and cf. Acts 4:3. The word χήρα occurs no less than nine times in St. Luke’s Gospel, three times in the Acts, but elsewhere in the Evangelists only three times in St. Mark (Matthew 23:14, omitted by W.H[192] and R.V.), and two of these three in an incident which he and St. Luke alone record, Mark 12:42-43, and the other time in a passage also peculiar to him and St. Luke (if we are justified in omitting Matthew 23:14), viz., Mark 12:40.

[188]art. grammatical particle.

[189] Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in Greek: Critical Text and Notes.

[190] Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in Greek: Critical Text and Notes.

[191] R(omana), in Blass, a first rough copy of St. Luke.

[192] Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in Greek: Critical Text and Notes.1. And in those days] Better, these. The narrative which follows is closely connected with Acts 5:14, where it is said, “believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.”

when the number of the disciples was multiplied] Better, was multiplying. The participle is in the present tense, and its meaning should be fully expressed. It was at the time when this sudden increase was in progress that the difficulty arose which led to the murmuring. The numbers of the society increased so rapidly that the superintendence of the relief of the needy claimed the full devotion of the Apostles, and proved in the end more than they could discharge.

there arose a murmuring] By the readiness with which the Apostles took measures to remedy what was complained of, we may infer that there had been shewn sufficient cause for complaint. This may easily have come to pass without any fault on the part of the twelve, simply from the sudden growth of the number of Christians.

of the Grecians against the Hebrews] The first-named, who are called in the original Hellenistæ, were either Jews who had been born in countries where Greek was the vernacular, and so did not speak Hebrew, nor join in the Hebrew services of the Jews of the Holy Land, but had synagogues of their own in Jerusalem, or else they were proselytes. In either case they had embraced Christianity as Jews, for as yet the Gospel had been preached to Jews only. That provision was made for a Greek service for the foreign Jews, we may see from T. Jerus. Sotah vii. 1 (Gemara), “Rabbi Levi, the son of Hithah, went to Cæsarea, and heard the voice of the people saying the Shema (the name given to the Hebrew confession ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, Jehovah is one,’ from its first word) in Hellenistic. He desired to prevent them. Rabbi Jose heard of it and was angry, and said, Thus I say, that whosoever does not know how to read it correctly in Hebrew shall not read it at all [in that language], but does his duty [by reading it] in any language which he knows how to speak.”

the Hebrews] These were the born Jews who lived in the Holy Land and spoke the language which the New Testament calls Hebrew.

because their widows were neglected] The very persons who, speaking a foreign language and being desolate, would be likely to be overlooked amid the increased number of applications for help.

in the daily ministration] The original word is the same as that which in Acts 11:29 is rendered relief, and from the class of persons on whose behalf the complaint was made it is clear that it bears the same sense here. This word diakonia has, however, caused the name of deacons to be attached to these officers, whose appointment was at first made that they might have care of and distribute the funds contributed by the rich members for the relief of the needy. We can nevertheless see from St Stephen’s work that the labours of the seven were not confined to these duties alone, for he is a mighty preacher and endued with gifts of the Holy Ghost in the same way as the Apostles. It is deserving of notice that, before we find any special arrangements made for what we now understand by “divine service,” the regulation of the relief of those in need had become so engrossing a part of the duty of the twelve as to have thrust aside in some degree the prayers and ministration of the word, which were especially their charge. In these early days they appear to have acted according to St James’ teaching (James 1:27), “Pure religion (θρησκεία) and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Acts 6:1-7. Murmuring about the distribution of the common fund. Measures for allaying it

By the confession of the high-priest himself (Acts 5:28) Jerusalem was now filled with the teaching of the Christians, and thus the first step was accomplished in the course which Christ had ordained (Acts 1:8) for the publication of the Gospel. Now, therefore, the historian of the Church’s progress turns to deal with other events and different persons, because he has to tell of a persecution which caused Christian missionaries to go forth for the next stage of the work, the spread of the faith through Judæa and Samaria (Acts 8:1). The means which God employed for this end are not such as an inventor in the second century would have been likely to hit upon, nor such as any writer who merely desired to magnify the Apostles would have adopted. A system for the more effectual relief of the widows among the congregation is devised, and an outburst of popular rage, causing the death of one of the dispensers of the relief-funds, also disperses the greater part of the Church of Jerusalem. A person who was free to choose (as an inventor would have been) would scarcely have selected one of the seven deacons for the first Christian martyr, and have left the Apostles out of sight, while giving the history of Stephen. The choice of such a writer would have surely fallen upon one of the twelve to be the first to die for the faith.Acts 6:1. Πληθυνόντων) viz. ἑαυτούς [multiplying themselves]. In the case of a multitude, a cause of murmuring easily arises.—τῶν Ἑλληνιστῶν, of the Hellenists) These were Jews born outside of Palestine, to whom it seems the Greek tongue, besides the Hebrew, was vernacular: as in our days there are many Lusitanian, German, etc., Jews.—παρεθεωροῦντο, were overlooked) without any evil design. The apostles were not sufficient for the administration of all things at once.—αἱ χῆραι, their widows) who, even in a society of saints, are more easily forgotten, since men are better able to urge their own claims.Verse 1. - Now in these for and in those, A.V. (it is not ἐκείναις, answering to בַּיָמַים הָהֵם, but ταύταις); multiplying for multiplied, A.V.; Grecian Jews for Grecians, A.V. The Grecian Jews; the Hellenists, for this is the appellation of them in the Greek; it means properly those who spoke Greek or otherwise followed Greek usages, applied to foreigners, here of course to Jews. Of a similar form and meaning is the word "to Judaize," translated "to live as do the Jews" (A.V., Galatians 2:14), and the forms "to Demosthenize," "to Platonize," "to Atticize," etc. The Hellenists were those Jews of the dispersion who lived in countries where Greek was spoken, and who themselves spoke Greek. It was for the sake of such that the Alexandrine Version of the Scriptures, commonly called the LXX., was made. Hebrews; Palestinian and other Jews, who spoke Aramean (2 Corinthians 11:21; Philippians 3:5; Acts 21:40), as opposed to the Hellenists. Their widows. We learn incidentally by this phrase that one of the earliest Christian institutions was an order of widows, who were maintained at the common cost. We find them in the Church of Joppa (Acts 9:41), and in the Church of Ephesus (1 Timothy 5:3, 9, 10, 11, 16). They gave themselves to prayer and to works of mercy. Daily; καθημερινός only occurs here in the New Testament, and rarely in Greek writers; ἐφημερινός, of a daily fever, is used by Hippocrates, and may possibly have suggested the use of this rare word to Luke the physician. And (δέ)

Better but, as a contrast is now introduced with the prosperous condition of the Church indicated at the close of the last chapter.

Was multiplied (πληθυνόντων)

Lit., "when the disciples were multiplying;" the present participle indicating something in progress.

A murmuring (γογγυσμὸς)

See on the kindred word murmurers, Jde 1:16.

Grecians (Ἑλληνιστῶν)

Rev., much better, Grecian Jews, with Hellenists in margin. "Grecians" might easily be understood of Greeks in general. 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 Aegean islands. The vast majority of them adopted the Greek language, and forgot the Aramaic dialect which had been their language since the Captivity. The word is used but twice in the New Testament - here and Acts 9:29 - and, in both cases, of 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. The word Ἕλλην, Greek, which is very common in the New Testament, is used in antithesis, either to "Barbarians" or to "Jews." In the former case it means all nations which spoke the Greek language (see Acts 18:17; Romans 1:14; 1 Corinthians 1:22, 1 Corinthians 1:23). In the latter it is equivalent to Gentiles (see Romans 1:16; Romans 2:9; 1 Corinthians 10:32; Galatians 2:3). Hence, in either case, it is wholly different from Hellenist.


Hebrew is the proper antithesis to Hellenist. A man was Ἰοουδαῖος, 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; i.e., a Hebrew and of Hebrew parents (Philippians 3:5; compare 2 Corinthians 11:22).

Were neglected (παρεθεωροῦντο)

Only here in New Testament. Lit., were overlooked. The imperfect denoting something habitual.

Daily (καθημερινῇ)

Only here in New Testament.


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