Acts: Chapter 6


Themes:

  • Wisdom: In this chapter we see the value of humility and wisdom. Acts chapter 6 starts with a dispute in the Jerusalem Church. Hellenistic, or Greek speaking Jews, were being disparaged by Aramaic Jews, native to the land of Israel. This is the first tension we see overtake the church, which had been an overall unified community. First, this shows us that sin is still present in our world, and it even creeps into the church. The early church, seeing great wonders and miracles, still struggled with cultural differences. But, God through his Spirit gives wisdom to the leaders of the church, and in this we see the election of the first deacons. The newly elected deacons then serve the church with humility and grace, and because of their humility they are used mightily by the Spirit. They first impartially distribute the food, thus calming the church and bringing the peace of God to a culturally divided church. Secondly, the deacons are used to witness and evangelize the gospel. First we will see Stephen accomplish this in chapters 6-7 and then Philip in chapter 8. Stephen, who is the first mentioned of the deacons, boldy preaches in the synagogue and is violently grabbed and falsely accused of blasphemy. It is interesting to note that even in the face of death, Stephen was humble, bold, and filled with Wisdom through the power of the Spirit. Stephen so greatly loved God that the Wisdom of God literally shown in his face. The high priests accused him of contradicting Moses, yet it was Stephen’s face that glowed just as Moses’ face in Exodus 34. The great irony is that the Jews ultimately rejected Moses’ teaching in the wilderness, and now they reject the wisdom of Stephen, who is preaching the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. This teaches us that sometimes no matter how beautiful and attractive we display the Gospel through the power of the Spirit, the world will still suppress it. As Ecclesiastes 8 states, “Who is like the wise person, and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A person's wisdom brightens his face, and the sternness of his face is changed.” We as Christians should desire our face to shine with wisdom! And may we remember who is true wisdom: Jesus is Wisdom! As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1, “...you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” When we imitate Jesus and glory in his work (not our own) we become the wisdom of God to the world and our face shines bright!

People:

  • Stephen: A humble servant, who was Mighty in the Spirit. One of the seven deacons first chosen by the church at Jerusalem, and distinguished among them as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." He seems from his name to have been a Hellenistic Jew, and to have been chosen in part as being familiar with the language, opinions, and customs of the Greeks, Acts 6:1-6. His mighty works and unanswerable argument roused the bitterest hostility against him, and he was brought before the Sanhedrin for trial, on the charge of blasphemy and heresy. His speech in his own defense, probably recorded only in part, shows historically that the opponents of Christianity were but the children and imitators of those who had always opposed true religion. His enraged hearers hurried him to death, a judicial tribunal becoming a riotous mob for the occasion. Compare John 18:31. With Christ-like magnanimity he forgave his murderers, and "fell asleep" amid their stones, with his eyes upon the Savior "standing at the right hand of God," as if rising from his throne to protect and receive the first martyr of his church, Acts 7:1-60. The results of Stephen's death illustrates the saying of Tertullian, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," Acts 8:1,4 11:19-21. Augustine observes that the church owes the conversion and ministry of Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Paul, himself a Cilician, Acts 6:9 22:3, had undoubtedly felt the force of his arguments in the discussions which preceded his arrest; and long afterwards alluded to his own presence at the martyr's death, Acts 22:19,20- that triumph of Christian faith and love which has taught so many martyrs and Christians how to die. Yet nothing he heard or witnessed availed for his conversion, till he saw the Savior himself, Acts 9:1-43. The scene of Stephen's martyrdom is placed by modern tradition on the east side of Jerusalem, near the gate called after his name. Earlier traditions located it more to the north.

Culture:

Places:

  • Antioch - In Syria, on the river Orontes, about 16 miles from the Mediterranean, and some 300 miles north of Jerusalem. Antioch was the metropolis, the city center,  of Syria, and actually became the capital of the Roman province in Asia. It ranked third, after Rome and Alexandria, in point of importance, of the cities of the Roman empire. It was called the “first city of the East.” Christianity was early introduced into it (Acts 11:19, 21, 24), and the name “Christian” was first applied here to its professors (Acts 11:26). Antioch is intimately connected with the early history of the gospel (Acts 6:5; 11:19, 27, 28, 30; 12:25; 15:22–35; Gal. 2:11, 12). It was the great central point whence missionaries to the Gentiles were sent forth. It was the birthplace of the famous Christian father Chrysostom, who died 407. It bears the modern name of Antakia, and is now a miserable, decaying Turkish town. Like Philippi, it was raised to the rank of a Roman colony. Such colonies were ruled by “praetors” (R.V. marg., Acts 16:20, 21).

Cultural Background:

  • A Church Divided: Hellenists (Greeks) vs. Hebrew. Large numbers of Jews lived outside Palestine in the first century. These are the Jews of the Diaspora, the "scattering," or "exile" of the Jews throughout the Greek world - first in 722 BC when the Assyrians declared war and conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, then in 588 BC the Chaldeans conquered the southern kingdom of Judah. The victors in both instances forced the Jews to be relocated, thus diluting their national and cultural strength. Over the next few centuries the Hebrew language was neglected and forgotten by these exiled Jews. Most diaspora Jews of the first century spoke Greek. In fact, sometime in the third century BC the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament, OT) were translated from Hebrew into Greek so that these Greek-speaking Jews could hear and understand the Law of Moses. This famous translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX), a reference to the legendary story that 72 scribes translated the various texts in a 72 day period with a divinely inspired perfection of agreement. These Jews of the diaspora were referred to as "Hellenized" ("Greek influenced") by the politically important, Hebrew-speaking Jews of Palestine. Palestinian Jews despised this Hellenization and these Hellenized Jews, believing they had compromised their religion. They could not speak Hebrew, God's language, nor could they understand the Law of Moses when read in Hebrew. When Hellenized Jews came to Jerusalem they were urged to attend Greek speaking synagogues so they could hear and understand Moses being read. They were not wanted in the Temple. We know that the Jews hated Samaritans, and were not fond of Gentiles. Luke tells us this prejudice found its way into the primitive church - the result was that poor Hellenized widows were being neglected.

Contemplating God:

Voice of the Past:

  • A Shining Witness: Luke writes,And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on Stephen, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. This shows that it is possible to supernaturally shine as a human this side of heaven. Was not Stephen even a lower position than the Apostles? But, God still used him to perform many miracles, and he exhibited great boldness — Moses face also shined after he witnessed God’s presence. Exodus records that, They (Israel) saw His face as it had been the face of an angel. (Exodus 34:30) A face shining is thus a symbol of God’s grace and presence upon someone. God made Stephen gracious (ἐ πίχαριν) to look at, now that he was about to preach the Gospel, so that those listening could not deny their awe and wonder. God gives his humble servants (even you here today) shining faces full with spiritual grace, your joyful face is lovely to them that love, but it will be awful to those who hate and are full of envy.

Footnotes

ATS Bible Dictionary. “Stephen the Deacon.”

Easton Bible Dictionary. “Antioch.”

https://www.churchhistory101.com/century1-p2.php

Homilies on Acts. John Chrysostom. Homily 15. “Paraphrased by Peter Elliott.”

Peter Elliott