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:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)And they chose Stephen.—The seven who were chosen all bear Greek names, and it is a natural, though not a necessary, inference, that they were all of the Hellenistic section of the Church, either because that section had a majority, or because the Hebrews generously voted for giving them special representatives of their own. The order of names may represent the actual order of election, Stephen obtaining the largest number of votes, and so on. The position occupied by the new teacher is so prominent that we should welcome anything that threw light on his previous training. Unhappily we cannot advance beyond the region of uncertain tradition, or, at best, of probable inference. The coincidences, however, which suggest that inference are not without interest. (1) The name of Stephanus was not a common one, and appears in few inscriptions. Like so many of the names in Romans 16, however, it is found in those of the Columbarium, or burial-place, of the household of the Empress Livia. The man bearing it is described as a goldsmith (Aurifaber), and as immunis—i.e., exempted from the religious obligations of his trade-guild. He is a freed-man or libertinus. Circumstances, such as the bequest by Herod the Great of his gold plate to Livia (Jos. Ant. xvi. 5, § 1; xvii. 8, § 1), indicate an intimate connection between him and the Imperial Court, and make it probable that the goldsmith Stephanus was a Jew. The business was one in which then, as in later ages, Jews conspicuously excelled, and the exemption just mentioned may well have been, as it were, of the nature of a “conscience-clause” in his favour. The name is found also on a tablet in the museum of the Collegio Romano. (2) It is obvious that the “strangers of Rome”—the Jews from the capital of the empire—were likely to be among the most prominent of the Hellenistæ at Jerusalem. It was antecedently probable that the name of one of that body should stand first on the list. (3) When Stephen becomes conspicuous as a teacher, the synagogue which is the most prominent scene of his activity is that of the Libertines, who can be none other than the freed-men or emancipated Jews from Rome. (See Note on Acts 6:9.) (4) Jews from Rome were, we have seen, present on the Day of Pentecost, and some conspicuous converts from among them had been made before Stephen appears on the scene. (See Note on Acts 4:37.) (5) The very appointment of the Seven has, as we have seen, its origin in the customs of the trade-guilds of Rome, such as that to which the goldsmith Stephanus had belonged. Taking all these facts together, there seems sufficient ground to believe that in the proto-martyr of the Church, whose teaching and whose prayers exercised so marvellous an influence in the history of the Church of Christ, we have one of the earliest representatives of Roman Christianity. A tradition accepted by Epiphanius in the fourth century leads to another conclusion. Stephen and Philip were both, it was said, of the number of the Seventy who were sent shortly after the last Feast of Tabernacles in our Lord’s ministry into every city and village where He Himself would come. That mission, as has been said in the Note on Luke 10:1, was in its very form, symbolic of the admission of the Gentile nations to the kingdom of God; and it would seem from Luke 9:52; Luke 17:11, as if, at that time, Samaria had been the chief scene of our Lord’s ministry, and therefore of that of the Seventy. In a mission of such a nature, it was not unlikely that Hellenistic Jews should be more or less prominent, and the assumption of some previous connection with Samaria gives an adequate explanation both of Philip’s choice of that region as the scene of his work as an Evangelist (Acts 8:5) and of the general tendency of St. Stephen’s speech; perhaps also of one of the real or apparent inaccuracies which criticism has noted as a proof of ignorance either in the speaker or the writer. (See Note on Acts 7:16.) Admitting the comparative lateness of the tradition mentioned by Epiphanius, it was still antecedently probable that men, who had been brought into prominence by their Lord’s special choice, would not be passed over in such an election as that now before us; and if, as suggested in the Note on Luke 10:1, the Seventy were the representatives of the Prophets of the New Testament, then it was natural that men should turn to them when they wanted to find men “full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom.”
Philip.—The coincidence of name with that of the Apostle and with two of Herod’s sons indicates that the name was as common as that of Stephen was rare. Of his previous history we know nothing, except the tradition that he also had belonged to the Seventy. His long-continued residence at Cæsarea just suggests the probability of an earlier connection with that city. The fact that he had four grown-up daughters when St. Paul came to Cæsarea makes it probable that he was married at the time of his appointment.
Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas.—Of these four nothing is known, nor are there any materials even for probable conjecture. The name of Nicanor was memorable as that of the great enemy of Judah, who died in battle fighting against Judas Maccabæus. It appears, later on, as borne by a Jewish friend of Titus and Josephus (Wars, v. 6, § 2). That of Timon had been made conspicuous by the philosopher of Phlius and the misanthrope of Athens.
Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch.—Next to the first two names on the list, the last is that to which greatest interest attaches. (1) It is the first appearance in the history of the Christian Church of the city which was afterwards to be the mother-church of the Gentiles. (On Antioch and its position, see Note on Acts 11:19.) Here it will be enough to note that there was a large Jewish population there, and that Herod had gained the favour of the city by building a splendid colonnade along the whole length of its chief street. (2) The name had been made memorable by Nicolaus of Damascus, who wrote a long and elaborate history of his own times, and pleaded for the Jews before Augustus and Agrippa (Jos. Ant. xii. 3, § 2; xvi. 2, § 3; 9, § 4). He appeared at Rome again as counsel for Archelaus, and was for many years the confidential friend and adviser of Herod the Great (Jos. Ant. xvii. 9, § 6; 11, § 3). Finding, as we do, an adopted son of Herod’s at Antioch (Acts 13:1), and a proselyte of that city bearing the name of his chosen companion, there seems some ground for assuming a link connecting the three together. (3) In any case Nicolas is memorable as the first person not of the race of Abraham named as admitted to full membership in the Church. He may have sacrificed to Apollo, or taken part in the licentious festivals of the grove of Daphne. The word “proselyte” is taken in its full sense, as including the acceptance of circumcision and the ceremonial law. He was, in technical language, a proselyte of Righteousness, not of the Gate. Had it been otherwise, his conversion would have anticipated the lesson taught afterwards by that of Cornelius. (4) The name of Nicolas has been identified by an early tradition as the founder of the sect of the Nicolaitanes condemned in Revelation 2:6. He, it was said, taught men “to misuse the flesh” (Clem. Alex. Strom, iii. 4, p. 187; Euseb. Hist. iii. 29). Some contended that he meant by this that it was to be subdued by a rigorous asceticism: others, that he held it to be a proof of spiritual progress to yield to sensuous impulses, and yet remain pure. The traditions are not of much value, and another interpretation of the name of the sect is now very generally adopted (see Revelation 2:6); but the fall of one of the Seven into the error of overstrained rigour, or a reaction from it, is not in itself inconceivable. In the New Testament we never come across his name again.
FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT
Acts 6:3, Acts 6:5, Acts 6:8.
I have taken the liberty of wrenching these three fragments from their context, because of their remarkable parallelism, which is evidently intended to set us thinking of the connection of the various characteristics which they set forth. The first of them is a description, given by the Apostles, of the sort of man whom they conceived to be fit to look after the very homely matter of stifling the discontent of some members of the Church, who thought that their poor people did not get their fair share of the daily ministration. The second and third of them are parts of the description of the foremost of these seven men, the martyr Stephen. In regard to the first and second of our three fragmentary texts, you will observe that the cause is put first and the effect second. The ‘deacons’ were to be men ‘full of the Holy Ghost,’ and that would make them ‘full of wisdom.’ Stephen was ‘full of faith,’ and that made him ‘full of the Holy Ghost.’ Probably the same relation subsists in the third of our texts, of which the true reading is not, as it appears in our Authorised Version, ‘full of faith and power,’ but as it is given in the Revised Version, ‘full of grace and power.’ He was filled with grace-by which apparently is here meant the sum of the divine spiritual gifts-and therefore he was full of power. Whether that is so or not, if we link these three passages together, as I have taken the liberty of doing, we get a point of view appropriate for such a day [Footnote: Preached on Whit Sunday.] as this, when all that calls itself Christendom is commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit, and His abiding influence upon the Church. So I simply wish to gather together the principles that come out of these three verses thus concatenated.
I. We may all, if we will, be full of the Holy Spirit.
If there is a God at all, there is nothing more reasonable than to suppose that He can come into direct contact with the spirits of the men whom He has made. And if that Almighty God is not an Almighty indifference, or a pure devil-if He is love-then there is nothing more certain than that, if He can touch and influence men’s hearts towards goodness and His own likeness, He most certainly will.
The probability, which all religion recognises, and in often crude forms tries to set forth, and by superstitious acts to secure, is raised to an absolute certainty, if we believe that Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Truth, speaks truth to us about this matter. For there is nothing more certain than that the characteristic which distinguishes Him from all other teachers, is to be found not only in the fact that He did something for us on the Cross, as well as taught us by His word; but that in His teaching He puts in the forefront, not the prescriptions of our duty, but the promise of God’s gift; and ever says to us, ‘Open your hearts and the divine influences will flow in and fill you and fit you for all goodness.’ The Spirit of God fills the human spirit, as the mysterious influence which we call life permeates and animates the whole body, or as water lies in a cup.
Consider how that metaphor is caught up, and from a different point of view is confirmed, in regard to the completeness which it predicates, by other metaphors of Scripture. What is the meaning of the Baptist’s saying, ‘He shall baptise you in the Holy Ghost and fire’? Does that not mean a complete immersion in, and submersion under, the cleansing flood? What is the meaning of the Master’s own saying, ‘Tarry ye. . . till ye be clothed with power from on high’? Does not that mean complete investiture of our nakedness with that heavenly-woven robe? Do not all these emblems declare to us the possibility of a human spirit being charged to the limits of its capacity with a divine influence?
We do not here discuss questions which separate good Christian people from one another in regard of this matter. My object now is not to lay down theological propositions, but to urge upon Christian men the acquirement of an experience which is possible for them. And so, without caring to enter by argument on controversial matters, I desire simply to lay emphasis upon the plain implication of that word, ‘filled with the Holy Ghost.’ Does it mean less than the complete subjugation of a man’s spirit by the influence of God’s Spirit brooding upon him, as the prophet laid himself on the dead child, lip to lip, face to face, beating heart to still heart, limb to limb, and so diffused a supernatural life into the dead? That is an emblem of what all you Christian people may have if you like, and if you will adopt the discipline and observe the conditions which God has plainly laid down.
That fulness will be a growing fulness, for our spirits are capable, if not of infinite, at any rate of indefinite, expansion, and there is no limit known to us, and no limit, I suppose, which will ever be reached, so that we can go no further-to the possible growth of a created spirit that is in touch with God, and is having itself enlarged and elevated and ennobled by that contact. The vessel is elastic, the walls of the cup of our spirit, into which the new wine of the divine Spirit is poured, widen out as the draught is poured into them. The more a man possesses and uses of the life of God, the more is he capable of possessing and the more he will receive. So a continuous expansion in capacity, and a continuous increase in the amount of the divine life possessed, are held out as the happy prerogative and possibility of a Christian soul.
This Stephen had but a very small amount of the clear Christian knowledge that you and I have, but he was leagues ahead of most Christian people in regard to this, that he was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Brethren, you can have as much of that Spirit as you want. It is my own fault if my Christian life is not what the Christian lives of some of us, I doubt not, are. ‘Filled with the Holy Spirit’! rather a little drop in the bottom of the cup, and all the rest gaping emptiness; rather the fire died down, Pentecostal fire though it be, until there is scarcely anything but a heap of black cinders and grey ashes in your grate, and a little sandwich of flickering flame in one corner; rather the rushing mighty wind died down into all but a dead calm, like that which afflicts sailing-ships in the equatorial regions, when the thick air is deadly still, and the empty sails have not strength even to flap upon the masts; rather the ‘river of the water of life’ that pours ‘out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb,’ dried up into a driblet.
That is the condition of many Christian people. I say not of which of us. Let each man settle for himself how that may be. At all events here is the possibility, which may be realised with increasing completeness all through a Christian man’s life. We may be filled with the Holy Spirit.
II. If we are ‘full of faith’ we shall be filled with the Spirit.
That is the condition as suggested by one of our texts-’a man full of faith,’ and therefore ‘of the Holy Ghost.’ Now, of course, I believe, as I suppose all people who have made any experience of their own hearts must believe, that before a soul exercises confidence in Jesus Christ, and passes into the household of faith, there have been playing upon it the influences of that divine Comforter whose first mission is to ‘convince the world of sin.’ But between such operations as these, which I believe are universally diffused, wheresoever the Word of God and the message of salvation are proclaimed-between such operations as these, and those to which I now refer, whereby the divine Spirit not only operates upon, but dwells in, a man’s heart, and not only brings conviction to the world of sin, there is a wide gulf fixed; and for all the hallowing, sanctifying, illuminating and strength-giving operations of that divine Spirit, the pre-requisite condition is our trust. Jesus Christ taught us so, in more than one utterance, and His Apostle, in commenting on one of the most remarkable of His sayings on this subject, says, ‘This spake He concerning the Holy Spirit which they that believed in Him were to receive.’ Faith is the condition of receiving that divine influence. But what kind of faith? Well, let us put away theological words. If you do not believe that there is any such influence to be got, you will not get it. If you do not want it, you will not get it. If you do not expect it, you will not get it. If professing to believe it, and to wish it, and to look for it, you are behaving yourself in such a way as to show that you do not really desire it, you will never get it. It is all very well to talk about faith as the condition of receiving that divine Spirit. Do not let us lose ourselves in the word, but try to translate the somewhat threadbare expression, which by reason of its familiarity produces little effect upon some of us, and to turn it into non-theological English. It just comes to this,-if we are simply trusting ourselves to Jesus Christ our Lord, and if in that trust we do believe in the possibility of even our being filled with the divine Spirit, and if that possibility lights up a leaping flame of desire in our hearts which aspires towards the possession of such a gift, and if belief that our reception of that gift is possible because we trust ourselves to Jesus Christ, and longing that we may receive it, combine to produce the confident expectation that we shall, and if all of these combine to produce conduct which neither quenches nor grieves that divine Guest, then, and only then, shall we indeed be filled with the Spirit.
I know of no other way by which a man can receive God into his heart than by opening his heart for God to come in. I know of no other way by which a man can woo-if I may so say-the Divine Lover to enter into his spirit than by longing that He would come, waiting for His coming, expecting it, and being supremely blessed in the thought that such a union is possible. Faith, that is trust, with its appropriate and necessary sequels of desire and expectation and obedience, is the completing of the electric circuit, and after it the spark is sure to come. It is the opening of the windows, after which sunshine cannot but flood the chamber. It is the stretching out of the hand, and no man that ever, with love and longing, lifted an empty hand to God, dropped it still empty. And no man who, with penitence for his own act, and trust in the divine act, lifted blood-stained and foul hands to God, ever held them up there without the gory patches melting away, and becoming white as snow. Not ‘all the perfumes of Araby’ can sweeten those bloody hands. Lift them up to God, and they become pure. Whosoever wishes that he may, and believes that he shall, receive from Christ the fulness of the Spirit, will not be disappointed. Brethren, ‘Ye have not because ye ask not.’ ‘If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,’ shall not ‘your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?’
III. Lastly, if we are filled with the Spirit we shall be ‘full of wisdom, grace, and power.’
The Apostles seemed to think that it was a very important business to look after a handful of poor widows, and see that they had their fair share in the dispensing of the modest charity of the half-pauper Jerusalem church, when they said that for such a purely secular thing as that a man would need to be ‘full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.’ Surely, something a little less august might have served their turn to qualify men for such a task! ‘Wisdom’ here, I suppose, means practical sagacity, common sense, the power of picking out an impostor when she came whining for a dole. Very commonplace virtues! -but the Apostles evidently thought that such everyday operations of the understanding as these were not too secular and commonplace to owe their origin to the communication to men of the fulness of the Holy Spirit.
May we not take a lesson from that, that God’s great influences, when they come into a man, do not concern themselves only with great intellectual problems and the like, but that they will operate to make him more fit to do the most secular and the most trivial things that can be put into his hand to do? The Holy Ghost had to fill Stephen before he could hand out loaves and money to the widows in Jerusalem.
And do you not think that your day’s work, and your business perplexities, come under the same category? Perhaps the best way to secure understanding of what we ought to do, in regard to very small and secular matters, is to keep ourselves very near to God, with the windows of our hearts opened towards Jerusalem, that all the guidance and light that can come from Him may come into us. Depend upon it, unless we have God’s guidance in the trivialities of life, ninety per cent., ay! and more, of our lives will be without God’s guidance; because trivialities make up life. And unless my Father in heaven can guide me about what we, very mistakenly, call ‘secular’ things, and what we very vulgarly call trivial things, His guidance is not worth much. The Holy Ghost will give you wisdom for to-morrow, and all its little cares, as well as for the higher things, of which I am not going to speak now, because they do not come within my text.
‘Full of grace,’-that is a wide word, as I take it. If, by our faith, we have brought into our hearts that divine influence, the Spirit of God does not come empty-handed, but He communicates to us whatsoever things are lovely and of good report, whatsoever things are fair and honourable, whatsoever things in the eyes of men are worthy to be praised, and by the tongues of men have been called virtue. These things will all be given to us step by step, not without our own diligent co-operation, by that divine Giver. Effort without faith, and faith without effort, are equally incomplete, and the co-operation of the two is that which is blessed by God.
Then the things which are ‘gracious,’ that is to say, given by His love, and also gracious in the sense of partaking of the celestial beauty which belongs to all virtue, and to all likeness in character to God, these things will give us a strange, supernatural power amongst men. The word is employed in my third text, I presume, in its narrow sense of miracle-working power, but we may fairly widen it to something much more than that. Our Lord once said, when He was speaking about the gift of the Holy Spirit, that there were two stages in its operation. In the first, it availed for the refreshment and the satisfying of the desires of the individual; in the second it became, by the ministration of that individual, a source of blessing to others. He said, ‘If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink,’ and then, immediately, ‘He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’ That is to say, whoever lives in touch with God, having that divine Spirit in his heart, will walk amongst men the wielder of an unmistakable power, and will be able to bear witness to God, and move men’s hearts, and draw them to goodness and truth. The only power for Christian service is the power that comes from being clothed with God’s Spirit. The only power for self-government is the power that comes from being clothed with God’s Spirit. The only power which will keep us in the way that leads to life, and will bring us at last to the rest and the reward, is the power that comes from being clothed with God’s Spirit.
I am charged to all who hear me now with this message. Here is a gift offered to you. You cannot pare and batter at your own characters so as to make them what will satisfy your own consciences, still less what will satisfy the just judgment of God; but you can put yourself under the moulding influences of Christ’s love. Dear brethren, the one hope for dead humanity, the bones very many and very dry, is that from the four winds there should come the breath of God, and breathe in them, and they shall live, ‘an exceeding great army.’ Forget all else that I have been saying now, if you like, but take these two sentences to your hearts, and do not rest till they express your own personal experience; If I am to be good I must have God’s Spirit within me. If I am to have God’s Spirit within me, I must be ‘full of faith.’Acts 6:5-6. And the saying pleased the multitude — Who had been called together upon this occasion; and — After some little deliberation upon the choice that was to be made; they chose seven — It seems all Hellenists, as their names show; a measure which accorded very well with the occasion of their election; Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost — That is, not only endowed with the ordinary graces of the Holy Spirit, in a high degree, but even with his extraordinary gifts, as appears from the subsequent verses; and Philip — Who long continued an ornament and blessing to the church, being afterward raised to a yet higher character, that of an evangelist; and Nicolas — Who was not a Jew born, but a proselyte of Antioch — That is, one who by circumcision had been incorporated with the Jewish people; for if he had only been what was called a proselyte of the gate, he could not at this time have been a member of the Christian Church, no uncircumcised person being yet admitted into it. As he was a proselyte, others that were proselytes would the more readily apply to him for redress in any matter of grievance; and perhaps his peculiar relation to the Grecians might be a special reason why he was chosen to this office, the disciples being willing to cut off from them all cause of complaint. Whom they set before the apostles — That is, presented to them, as persons in whom they could put confidence, and whom they wished the apostles to accept, as proper for the intended work. And when they had prayed — Supplicated the divine blessing to attend all their ministrations: they laid their hands on them — Both that they might express their solemn appointment of them to the office, and confer upon them such extraordinary gifts as would qualify them yet more abundantly for the full discharge of it.
And they chose Stephen ... - A man who soon showed Acts 7 that he was in every way qualified for his office, and also suited to defend the cause of the Lord Jesus. This man had the distinguished honor of being the first Christian martyr.
And Nicolas - From this man some of the fathers (Iren., lib. 1:27; Epiphanius, 1; Haeres., 5) says that the sect of the "Nicolaitanes," mentioned with so much disapprobation Revelation 2:6, Revelation 2:15, took their rise. But the evidence of this is not clear.
A proselyte - A "proselyte" is one who is converted from one religion to another. See the notes on Matthew 23:15. The word does not mean here that he was a convert to "Christianity" - which was true - but that he had been converted at Antioch from paganism to the Jewish religion. As this is the only proselyte mentioned among the seven deacons, it is evident that the others were native-born Jews, though a part of them might have been born out of Palestine, and have been of the denomination of "Grecians," or "Hellenists."
Of Antioch - This city, often mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 11:19-20, Acts 11:26; Acts 15:22, Acts 15:35; Galatians 2:11, etc.), was situated in Syria, on the river Orontes, and was formerly called "Riblath." It is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but is frequently mentioned in the Apocrypha. It was built by Seleucus Nicanor, b.c. 301, and was named "Antioch," in honor of his father Antiochus. It became the seat of empire of the Syrian kings of the Macedonian race, and afterward of the Roman governors of the eastern provinces. In this place the disciples of Christ were first called "Christians," Acts 11:26. Josephus says it was the third city in size of the Roman provinces, being inferior only to Seleucia and Alexandria. It was long, indeed, the most powerful city of the East. The city was almost square, had many gates, was adorned with fine fountains, and possessed great fertility of soil and commercial opulence. It was subject to earthquakes, and was often almost destroyed by them. In 588 a.d. above 60,000 persons perished in it in this manner. In 970 a.d. an army of 100,000 Saracens besieged it, and took it. In 1268 a.d. it was taken possession of by the Sultan of Egypt, who demolished it, and placed it under the dominion of the Turks. It is now called "Antakia," and until the year 1822 it occupied a remote corner of the ancient enclosure of its walls, its splendid buildings being reduced to hovels, and its population living in Turkish debasement. It contains now about 10,000 inhabitants (Robinson's Calmet). This city should be distinguished from Antioch in Pisidia, also mentioned in the New Testament, Acts 13:14.
A proselyte of Antioch: see Acts 2:10.
and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost; he was a man eminent for his faith in Christ, and his faithfulness to him, and in everything he was concerned, and for his courage and boldness in the cause of Christ and for other gifts and graces of the Spirit, with which he was filled; he was, it is very likely, the most eminent person of all the seven, and is therefore named first; he is afterwards taken notice of, and was the first that suffered martyrdom for Christ, with which he was crowned, answerable to his name, which signifies a crown:
and Philip; who was also an evangelist, and had four daughters that prophesied; and perhaps is the same that went down to Samaria, and preached Christ there with great success, and after that baptized the Ethiopian eunuch;
and Prochorus; of this and the rest, no other mention is made in the sacred writings. He is said by some to be a nephew of Stephen's, and first bishop of Nicomedia; but these are things not certain; and as for the life of the Apostle John, said to be written by him, it is a spurious and fabulous piece.
And Nicanor; of this man we have no other certain account; for that he suffered martyrdom with "Stephen" is not to be depended on. It is a Grecian name; there is one of this name who was a general in Demetrius's army, who was sent by him against the Jews,
"Then the king sent Nicanor, one of his honourable princes, a man that bare deadly hate unto Israel, with commandment to destroy the people.'' (1Mac 7:26)
and there was a gate of the temple, which was called the gate, of Nicanor:
and Timon; he is said to be afterwards bishop of Bersea; though others make him bishop, of Bostra; but with what truth cannot be asserted:
and Parmenus; of him no other account is given, than in the Roman martyrology, which is not to be depended upon, that he suffered martyrdom under Trajan:
and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch; who was first a Greek or Gentile, and then became a Jew, a proselyte of righteousness, and then a Christian, and now made a deacon. Some think, that from this man sprung the sect of the Nicolaitanes, spoken of in the Revelations; though others think, that that wicked set of men only covered themselves with his name, or that they abused some words of his, and perverted the right meaning of them; though was it certain he did turn out a wicked man, it is not to be wondered at, that since there was a devil among the twelve apostles, there should be a hypocrite and a vicious man among the first seven deacons. It is observable, that the names of all these deacons are Greek names; from whence, it seems, that they were of the Grecian or Hellenistic Jews; so that the church thought fit to chose men out of that part of them which made the complaint, in order to make them easy; which is an instance of prudence and condescension, and shows of what excellent spirits they were of.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:
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Acts 6:5. Παντὸς τοῦ πλήθους] “pulcher consensus cum obsequio,” Bengel. The aristocracy of the church was a μετ ̓ εὐδοξίας πλήθους ἀριστοκρατία, Plat. Menex. p. 238 D.
πίστεως] is not, with Wetstein, Kuinoel, and others, to be interpreted honesty, trustworthiness; for this qualification was obvious of itself, and is here no peculiar characteristic. But the prominent Christian element in the nature of Stephen was his being distinguished by fulness of faith (comp. Acts 11:24), on which account the church united in selecting him first.
Φίλιππον] At a later period he taught in Samaria, and baptized the chamberlain (Acts 8:5 ff.). Concerning his after life and labours (see, however, Acts 21:8) there are only contradictory legends.
Νικόλαον] neither the founder of the Nicolaitans (as, after Iren. Haer. ii. 27, Epiph. Haer. 25, Calvin, Grotius, and Lightfoot assumed), nor the person from whom the Nicolaitans had borrowed their name in accordance with his alleged immoral principles (Constitt. ap. vi. 8. 3; Clem. Al. Strom. ii. p. 177, iii. p. 187; Thiersch wishes historically to combine the two traditions; see his Kirche im apost. Zeitalt. p. 251 f.; comp. generally, Lange, apost. Zeitalt. II. p. 526 ff., and Herzog in his Encykl. X. p. 338 f.), but otherwise historically quite unknown. Νικολαιταί, Revelation 2:6, is an invented Greek name, equivalent to κρατοῦντες τὴν διδαχὴν Βαλαάμ (Acts 6:14), according to the derivation of בָּלַע עָם, perdidit populum. See Ewald and Düsterdieck, l.c. Of the others mentioned nothing further is known.
προσήλυτον Ἀντιοχ.] From this it may be inferred, with Heinsius, Gieseler, de Wette, Ewald, and others, that only Nicolas had been a proselyte, and all the rest were not; for otherwise we could not discern why Luke should have added such a special remark of so characteristic a kind only in the case of Nicolas. But that there was also a proselyte among those chosen, is an evidence of the wisdom of the choice.
Ἀντιοχέα] but who dwelt in Jerusalem.
The fact that Stephen is named at the head of the Seven finds its explanation in his distinguished qualities and historical significance. Comp. Peter at the head of the apostles. Chrysostom well remarks on Acts 6:8 : καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἑπτὰ ἦν τις πρόκριτος καὶ τὰ πρωτεῖα εἶχεν· εἰ γὰρ καὶ ἡ χειροτονία κοινή, ἀλλʼ ὃμως οὗτος ἐπεσπάσατο χάριν πλείονα. Nor is it less historically appropriate that the only proselyte among the Seven is, in keeping with the Jewish character of the church, named last.Acts 6:5. ἤρεσεν ἐνώπιον: phrase not usual in classical Greek; but ἐνώ. in this sense, so κατενώπιον ἔναντι κατέναντι, derived from the LXX (ἐναντίον frequent in LXX, is also classical); cf., e.g., Deuteronomy 1:23 A, 2 Samuel 3:36, 1 Kings 3:10; 1 Kings 3:20(1 Kings 3:21), Jeremiah 18:4, Jdg 7:16; Jdg 13:20, 1Ma 6:60; 1Ma 8:21 (ἐναντίον, ), where the whole phrase occurs. Blass, Grammatik, p. 125, and see on Acts 4:10.—πλήθους, cf. Deissmann, Neue Bibelstudien, p. 60, and above on p. 73.—ἐξελέξαντο, see above, cf. Acts 15:22; Acts 15:25, always in the middle in N.T. (Luke 9:35 doubtful), so in LXX. Blass, Grammatik, p. 181, nearly always = בָּחַר. On the importance of the step thus taken as marking a distinct stage in the organisation of the Church, and in the distribution of work amongst the members of what was now a true body politic, see Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 372; Hort., Ecclesia, p. 52, and on its further importance in the emancipation of the Church, see Lightfoot’s “Paul and the Three”. The choice of the names has often been held to indicate the liberal spirit in which the complaint of the Hellenists was met, since the Seven bear purely Greek names, and we infer that the bearers were Hellenists, “elegerunt ergo Graecos non Hebræos, ut magis satisfacerent murmuri Graecorum” Cornelius à Lapide. But the inference is not altogether certain, however probable (see Wendt, Felten), for Greek names, e.g., Philip, Didymus, Andrew, were also found amongst the Palestinian Jews. Bengel holds that part were Hebrew, part Hellenist, whilst Gieseler hazarded the opinion that three were Hebrews, three Hellenists, and one a proselyte. But we cannot conclude from the fact that they were probably Hellenists, that the Seven were only charged with the care of distribution amongst the Hellenist section of the Church, as there is nothing in the narrative to warrant this. We cannot say that we know anything of the Seven except Stephen and Philip—Stephen the preacher and martyr of liberty, Philip the practical worker (Lightfoot, “Paul and the Three”). Baronius hazarded the fanciful conjecture that Stephen as well as Saul was a pupil of Gamaliel. Both Stephen and Philip were said to have been amongst the Seventy, Epiphanius, Haer., xx., 4 (but see Hooker, v., lxxviii., 5). If so, it is possible that they may have been sent to labour in Samaria as our Lord had laboured there, Luke 9:52; Luke 17:11; and possibly the after work of Philip in that region, and possibly some of the remarks in St. Stephen’s speech, may be connected with a mission which had been committed to Hellenistic Jews. See further on his name and work, Dean Plumptre, in loco, and also below, notes on chap. 7. He may well be called not only the proto-martyr, but also the first great Christian Ecclesiastic (B.D. “Stephen”).—The description given of Stephen (as of Barnabas, so closely similar, Acts 11:24, cf. Numbers 27:18 of Joshua) shows that the essential qualifications for office were moral and spiritual; see also below on φίλιππον.—πλήρη: in some MSS. the word appears as indeclinable, W.H margin, so in Acts 6:3, Acts 19:28, Mark 8:19, 2 John 1:8. Blass, Grammatik, p. 81. St. Luke uses the adjective twice in his Gospel, and eight times in the Acts; on his fondness for such words, see p. 73.—πίστεως: not in the lower sense of honesty or truthfulness, but in the higher sense of religious faith, cf. Acts 11:24, “non modo fidelitate sed fide spirituali,” Bengel.—φίλιππον, cf. Acts 8:5, Acts 21:8 : we may probably trace his work also along the coasts of Palestine and Phœnicia, cf. Acts 8:40, Acts 15:3, Acts 21:3; Acts 21:7 (Plumptre’s notes on these passages), and no doubt St. Luke would have learnt from him, when he met him at Cæsarea, Acts 21:8, much that relates to the early history of the Church, Introd., 17. It would appear both in his case and in that of St. Stephen that the duties of the Seven could not have been confined to service of the tables. In the deacons M. Renan saw a proclamation of the truth that social questions should be the first to occupy the attention of man, and the deacons were, for him, the best preachers of Christianity; but we must not forget that they did not preach merely by their method and works of charity, but by a proclamation of a Saviour and by the power of the Holy Ghost. In the reference to Philip in Acts 21:8 as simply “one of the Seven” we may fairly see one of the many proofs of the unity of the authorship of Acts, see Salmon, Introd., chapter 18, and Lightfoot, “Acts,” B.D.2, and see further, Salmon in the same chapter, on the proof which is afforded in the account of Philip of the antiquity of the Acts; see below also on Acts 21:8.—Πρόχορον: tradition says that he was consecrated by St. Peter Bishop of Nicomedia, and a fabulous biography of John the Evangelist had his name attached to it, as a companion of the Apostle in Asia, and his biographer—but we cannot attach any credence to any such professed information; see Blass, in loco, Hilgenfeld, Zeitschrift für wissenschaft. Theol., 1895, p. 426; B.D.1 iii. sub v. Of Simon, Parmenas, Nicanor, it cannot be said that anything is known, as is frankly admitted by the Romanist commentator Felten.—Νικόλαον προσήλυτον Ἀ.: that the name proselyte is given to him has been held by many to mark him out as the only proselyte among the Seven; otherwise it is difficult to see why he alone is so designated (so Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 375, Lightfoot, Hort, Weiss, Felten, and amongst earlier writers, De Wette and Ewald). No doubt he was a proselyte of the higher and more complete type (a “proselyte of the gate,” the lower type—as distinct from a “proselyte of righteousness”—is always in Acts φοβούμενος or σεβόμενος τὸν θεόν), but Ramsay sees in his election to office another distinct step in advance: “the Church is wider than the pure Jewish race, and the non-Jewish element is raised to official rank,” although, as Ramsay himself points out, there was nothing in this step out of harmony with the principle of the extreme Judaistic party (St. Paul, p. 375, cf. 157). The case of Cornelius was of a different kind, see below on chap. 10. But the notice is all the more interesting because it contains the first mention of the Church afterwards so important, the Mother Church of the Gentiles, Antioch in Syria, and this may point to the reason of the description of Nicolaus as a proselyte of Antioch. It was a notice of special interest to St. Luke if his own home was at Antioch, but we cannot say positively that the notice means that Nicolaus was the only proselyte among the Seven. That the Jews were numerous at Antioch and had made many proselytes we learn from Jos., B. J., vii., 3, 3: of the supposed connection between this Nicolaus and the sect of the Nicolaitans, Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:14, we may hesitate to say with Blass that it is worthy of no more credit than the notice which attaches to Prochorus, although we may also well hesitate to accept it, but it has been advocated by Lightfoot, Galatians, p. 297, and recently by Zöckler, Apostelgeschichte, p. 199. Zöckler goes so far as to see in the list of the Seven a copy of the list of the Apostles, inasmuch as the most distinguished is placed first, the traitor last. But Nicolaus would be fitly placed last if he were the only proselyte. The Patristic evidence in support of the connection in question is by no means conclusive, see Ritschl, Altkatholische Kirche, p. 135 and note (second edition), Felten, Apostelgeschichte, p. 140, and Wendt, in loco, Hilgenfeld, Zeitschrift für wissenschaft. Theol., p. 425 (1895). Holtzmann on Revelation 2:6 holds that the Nicolaitans, who are not to be connected with Nicolaus the deacon, may = symbolically, the Bileamites, Acts 6:14; so Grimm, sub. v. Νικολαΐτης, if we take the latter as coinciding with the Hebrew בִּלְעָם = destruction of the people.
 Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in Greek: Critical Text and Notes.5. And the saying pleased the whole multitude] There was clearly no thought of neglecting any, and when the oversight was known and a remedy proposed all were rejoiced thereat.
and they chose Stephen, &c.] If we may conclude about the men who were chosen from the names they bear, every one of the seven was of the Grecians. The names are all Greek, and such a choice marks the desire of all the Church to put an end to every cause of complaint, and as it were to say, We know that as we should not wilfully overlook a Greek who was in need, so no Greek Christian would of purpose neglect a Hebrew widow, and to shew our trust we choose Greeks to have the whole oversight of this duty.
Of the men who were chosen, except Stephen, we hear in future only of Philip (Acts 8:5) as a preacher in Samaria, and he is supposed to be and probably is the same person as “Philip the evangelist” mentioned Acts 21:8.
There is a tradition that Nicolas was the originator of that error of the Nicolaitanes against which St John speaks in such condemnatory terms in the Apocalypse (Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:15). But even in the early ages of the Church there was much uncertainty about this matter, and there is no trustworthy evidence for connecting this Nicolas with the licentious body whom St John condemns. (See Burton’s Eccl. Hist. p. 364.)
Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch] Some have thought that, from this description of Nicolas, he was the only proselyte among the seven, but the distinction of such a special addition may have been given to him because he came from Antioch, while the other six were of Jerusalem.Acts 6:5. Παντὸς, the whole) Beautiful harmony, accompanied with obedience.—Στέφανον, Stephen) From the Greek names, in addition to other reasons (for instance, lest the Hebrews should have an advantage over the Hellenists in the distribution of food), it is inferred that these seven were in part Hebrews, in part Hellenists Many Jews had Greek names.—πλήρη, full) He was eminent in fulness of the Holy Ghost: the others are not excluded; Acts 6:3.—πίστεως, of faith) Not merely faithfulness (in temporal matters), but spiritual faith.—Παρμενᾶν, Parmenas) Parmenio. So it is written in the Chronicon Alexandrinum.—προσήλυτον, a proselyte) The proselytes might betake themselves for assistance to him who was himself a proselyte. Proselytes, when well tried, may be even employed in offices.
The names are all Greek. There is no reason to infer from this that they were all Hellenists. It was customary among the Jews to have two names, the one Hebrew and the other Greek. They were probably partly Hebrews and partly Hellenists.
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