Archive for October 2008

Acts 6

October 11, 2008

The first real division among the followers of Jesus occurs between the Greeks and the Hebrews and it occurs over the feeding of widows. The disciples delegate to seven men the task of caring for the widows (Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas [1]), laying hands [2] on them in their commissioning. The proximate effect of the delegation is that the disciples multiply and “a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”  The former reminds one of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, in which division leads to multiplication. The latter suggests that the more who are willing to serve, the more leaders appear.   

The delegation to the seven represents a division of preaching from service to the poor, with preaching given a higher status than deaconship. However, despite his status as a lowly server of widows, Stephen also “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”

Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia [3] called the Synagogue of the Libertines (Freedmen) tried to debate Stephen but “they could not stand up against his wisdom [4] or the Spirit by whom he spoke,” so they accused Stephen of blaspheming Moses [5] and God, and produced false witnesses to testify that he said that Jesus will destroy “this place”[6] and change the customs handed down from Moses [7]. The Sanhedrin saw that Stephen’s face looked like that of an angel.

Notes.
1. The names Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas are Greek. Since the complaint was that Greeks were being neglected, this suggests that Greeks were given control of the distribution of food as a means of guaranteeing that this complaint would be resolved. Stephen is was martyred in Acts 7, and Philip evangelized the eunuch in Acts 8. Of the others, we know little. The names have these meanings:
Stephen: crowned (since Stephen suffers the fate of Jesus, he is in a sense the king of the deacons)
Philip: lover of horses (notice that he approaches the eunuch in a chariot in Acts 8 )
Procurus: leader of the chorus
Nicanor: conqueror
Timon: honorable; this is also the name of a Skeptic philosopher
Parmenas: constant
Nicolas: conqueror of the people
2. The laying on of hands carries many meanings. It is most commonly associated with healing. However, in the Old Testament, it is the means by which the priest transfers the nation’s sins to a sacrificial animal as well as the means by which a father’s blessing is passed to his sons. 
3. Stephen’s opponents are Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia, from the Synagogue of Freedmen (or, in the KJV, Libertines). These would have been foreigners and outsiders. However, the Blue Letter Bible proposes that “Libertines” carries the sense of being blessed.  It notes that there are many interpretations of who may have freed these people. 
4. Notice that it is not only the Spirit that gives Stephen’s arguments force, but also his own wisdom.
5. This is an interesting charge. Blasphemy in the present day is generally understood to be a denunciation of God, not of a man.
6. Presumably the Temple.
7. It’s unclear why changing customs would be a religious issue. The Greek word for “customs” is “ethos”