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Bible: What Does Acts 6 Teach Us About Early Church Government and Witness?

Updated on September 15, 2016



The "Seven": Deacons?

Were the seven men deacons?

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Acts 6: The Choosing of the "Seven"; Stephen's Powerful Witness

Controversy over the Food Service

Whether deliberately or not, Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians neglect to provide necessaries for Greek-speaking Jewish Christians widows, causing the latter’s relatives to complain to the apostles (v. 1).

Believing it undesirable for them to perform a food service ministry, having been divinely called to pray for the Church and to preach and teach God’s word (vv. 2, 4), the twelve apostles advise the parties involved to choose seven of their own men whom they deem spiritually qualified—subject, of course, to apostolic approval—to manage “this business” (v. 3).

[The spokesman for the Twelve sets forth three qualifications these servants must possess:

(1) a good reputation;

(2) a consistent spiritual lifestyle (“ ‘full’ of the Holy Spirit”); and

(3) moral wisdom.]

[Some interpreters have generally understood these "seven" men to be the precursors of "deacons"; however, others consider these leaders to have been elders, for at least two of them (Stephen and Philip) were certainly gifted teachers--a spiritual ability/qualification reserved for elders/pastor-teachers/overseers (See 1 Timothy 3)].



The "Laying on of Hands"

What does the

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The Groups Choose Seven Qualified Men to Serve

Gladly accepting this counsel, the leaders of the disputing groups choose seven men with Greek names to serve the Hellenic widows.

[Language and other cultural barriers undoubtedly provoked the distribution controversy.]

Of the seven, Luke provides biographical details only for Stephen—“a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit”—and Nicolas, “a proselyte from Antioch”; Philip also distinguishes himself later (v. 5; cf. 8:5-8, 26-40).

[Nicolas may have led a group of professing Christians that later evolved into the Nicolaitans, a heretical sect whom the apostle John excoriates in Revelation 2:6, 15.]

These seven the apostles ordain to the needed ministry positions (v. 6).

[Ryrie’s explanation of the various uses of the “laying on of hands” dispels erroneous teachings about this ritual (New Testament Study Bible 217)].

As the direct result of the proper handling of this controversy—this administrative action permits the apostles to function according to their giftedness, not according to necessity—the Church continues to grow throughout Jerusalem, significantly extending its roots into the Jewish priesthood (v. 7).

Apostles, Elders and Deacons in the Church

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The Stoning of Stephen


The Sanhedrin Try the Servant, Stephen

At this point, Luke focuses his attention upon one particular “servant”: Stephen (7:8-60).

Besides possessing the prescribed character requirements to administer the food service ministry, Stephen also has the gift to exercise miracle-working faith (NU, grace) [v. 8].

[Luke does not specify what these “great wonders and signs” were.]

Representatives from a significant synagogue of Jewish Freedmen, which boasted constituents from various parts of the ancient world, confront him (v. 9).

Encased between references to Stephen’s powerful witness—his manifestation of spiritual wisdom with which he refuted their arguments (v. 10; cf. 6:3), and his angelic countenance that attracted the attention of the Sanhedrin (v. 15)—appears the main charge these men brought against him: blasphemy against Moses, God, the temple, and the Law (vv. 11-14).

The Freedmen “secretly induced” men to charge Stephen with blasphemy against God and Moses (v. 11).

They “stirred up” both laity and elite to arrest him (v. 12), and “set up false witnesses” to accuse him of blasphemy against the temple andTorah, perhaps resurrecting Jesus’ misconstrued statement about His destroying the temple of His body in three days (vv. 13-14; cf. John 2:19-21).

[As for the charge that Jesus sought to change Mosaic customs, it appears likely that Stephen discussed how the new dispensation would do away with the ceremonial aspects of the Law because of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice upon the Cross.]

© 2013 glynch1


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