James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.Acts 6:1-7:60
FIRST CHRISTIAN MARTYR
The church was being blessed and multiplied but the conditions were not perfect. The flesh was asserting itself. Acts 6:1 carries us back to the close of chapter 4, and we see that the charity which led to hypocrisy there, led to “murmuring” here. “Grecians” should be translated “Grecian Jews” to distinguish them from the native born. The apostles who had been distributing the alms could do so no longer, and hence the institution of the office of “deacon” (Acts 6:5), after the Greek of “serve tables” (Acts 6:2). (It is interesting that their names are all Greek.) Note, the exalted nature of the Christian ministry (Acts 6:4), the high qualifications of those who even should carry on the secondary work of that ministry (Acts 6:3), the democratic nature of the church assembly, and yet the respect for order and authority (Acts 6:6). The whole multitude selected the deacons, but the Apostles ordained them. Note also the direction in which the truth of the gospel was now advancing (Acts 6:7).
The above leads up to the personal history of Stephen, whose ministry was not limited to that of an almoner, and who was endued with miraculous power (Acts 6:8). Acts 6:9 is explained by the fact that in addition to the Temple in Jerusalem there were many synagogues, where the Jews from different countries assembled according to local preferences. (The Libertines were Jews from Rome). “The servant is not greater than his Master,” and if false witnesses caused the death of the One, the other should not expect different treatment (Acts 6:11-14), but the master has not forsaken his servant (Acts 6:15).
The defense of Stephen before the Sanhedrin (chap. 7) is a historical address carrying his hearers through the glory of God’s dealings with Israel from the call of Abraham to the building of Solomon’s Temple, with special emphasis being laid on Joseph and Moses who were remarkable types of Christ (Acts 7:2-50). One instinctively feels that he was proceeding to a climax in his witness to Christ and the resurrection, when he was diverted by the gathering opposition of his hearers, and broke off in the language of rebuke at Acts 7:51-53. Their fury vented itself upon him at this time (Acts 7:54; Acts 7:57-58); but he was marvelously sustained, and had a marvellous testimony to bear of what he saw, which enabled him, as his Savior before him, to pray for the forgiveness of his murderers with his last breath.
A comparison of Stephen’s words with the Old Testament records show certain variations, but the Holy Spirit through him may have been adding details to that record. On the other hand, Stephen was a Grecian Jew, using doubtless the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Old Testament, which would explain some things.
Note in Acts 7:55 the first manifestation of the glorified Christ on record. Note in Acts 7:58 the illegality of Stephen’s judges when compared with Luke 18:31. Also note in the same verse the presence of Saul, who, in a sense, owed his conversion to this scene, and of whom we are soon to learn more (see Acts 22:20).
The second offer of the kingdom to Israel is brought to an end here, and in our next lesson we enter on the transition period through which the story of the church passes out of the Jewish into its Gentile stage.
Note in closing, that the name “Jesus” (Acts 7:45), should be rendered as in the RV “Joshua,” the two in the original being the same.
1. To what earlier event in the history of the church is the opening of this lesson related?
2. What is the significance of Grecians in 6:1?
3. Whence does the word “deacon” originate?
4. What distinguished men of Israel were now uniting with the church?
5. What is the interpretation to be put upon the synagogues of the Cyrenians, etc.?
6. What was the character of Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin?
7. What important epoch is thought to have come to an end at this time?