Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις, πληθυνόντων τῶν μαθητῶν, ἐγένετο γογγυσμὸς τῶν Ἑλληνιστῶν πρὸς τοὺς Ἑβραίους, ὅτι παρεθεωροῦντο ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ τῇ καθημερινῇ αἱ χῆραι αὐτῶν.
Now in those days, when the disciples were increasing, there was a complaint of the Hellenists against the Hebrews because their widows were overlooked in the daily ministry.
Paraphrase: Now after these things, the number of those who desired to follow Jesus greatly increased. The apostles and elders took charge of the administration of this growing body of believers. As the church grew larger, however, it became increasingly difficult for them to manage all the responsibilities. At one point, those Christians who were not native to Palestine, raised a complaint. They wondered why their widows were not being cared for in the church’s mercy ministry. They noted that those widows who were native to Palestine were receiving this help while their widows were neglected.
It’s not certain, but there do appear to be elders in the Jerusalem church at this time. (Acts 11:30)
Keener notes the desire of Jewish people to be buried in Palestine. Hence, the elderly widows would often move to Jerusalem to die there and be buried in the promised land. This would account for the increased number of widows in the Jerusalem church. Acts, 1:1268.
Lightfoot goes deep into the question of who the Ἑλληνιστῶν and Ἑβραίους were. source
Olshausen points out that the διακονίᾳ here was likely a food distribution since it was given daily and the next verse describes it as “to serve tables”. source
Προσκαλεσάμενοι δὲ οἱ δώδεκα τὸ πλῆθος τῶν μαθητῶν, εἶπαν, Οὐκ ἀρεστόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς, καταλείψαντας τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ, διακονεῖν τραπέζαις.
Now the twelve, calling the multitude of disciples said, “It is not fitting we, leaving the word of God, to serve tables.
Paraphrase: When the apostles heard this complaint, they immediately saw the inconsistency. They called a meeting of the congregation and explained to the brothers and sisters that it was not appropriate for them to oversee the ministry of benevolence to the poor. Their calling was to teach the word of God and to proclaim law and gospel both within and without the church. The time they spent administering the food program to the poor and the widows was time they could not spend in the study of God’s word.
ἐπισκέψασθε δέ, ἀδελφοί, ἄνδρας ἐξ ὑμῶν μαρτυρουμένους, ἑπτὰ πλήρεις Πνεύματος καὶ σοφίας, οὓς καταστήσομεν ἐπὶ τῆς χρείας ταύτης.
but brothers, you find men from you, being witnessed, seven, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this need.
Paraphrase: That being said, brothers, we are asking you to nominate and select seven men from among you. Be sure these are men who have a reputation for honesty and integrity, full of the Spirit of God. Men who have wisdom and discernment so that they can manage this kind of ministry effectively. Once you have selected these men, we will give them the mandate to administer the benevolent fund and to see to it that all the needy in our community are cared for without any partiality. (1 Timothy 5:21)
ἡμεῖς δὲ τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ τῇ διακονίᾳ τοῦ λόγου προσκαρτερήσομεν.
but we will continue in prayer and in the ministry of the word.
Paraphrase: Now that we have confidence that the benevolent fund is in good hands, we can devote ourselves to prayer and to the teaching and preaching of the Scriptures.
Καὶ ἤρεσεν ὁ λόγος ἐνώπιον παντὸς τοῦ πλήθους· καὶ ἐξελέξαντο Στέφανον, ἄνδρα πλήρης* πίστεως καὶ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου, καὶ Φίλιππον, καὶ Πρόχορον, καὶ Νικάνορα, καὶ Τίμωνα, καὶ Παρμενᾶν, καὶ Νικόλαον, προσήλυτον Ἀντιοχέα,
and the word was acceptable before all the multitude and they chose, Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prokoros, and Nicanora, and Timona, and Paremanan, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
Paraphrase: This announcement found favor with all. The process of choosing the men began right then and there; and after some discussion, they chose:
- Stephen, a man who everyone knew to be a strong believer and full of the Holy Spirit;
- Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
Many scholars have noted that the names here are Greek which may indicate that the Christians of that time chose Hellenists to adminster this work to ensure that the Hellenist widows were not neglected. Abbott writes: “The church apparently put the work of distribution largely in the hands of the complainants.” source Neander writes:
Here, as in many other instances in the history of the church, human weakness and imperfection subserved the divine wisdom, and promoted the interests of the kingdom of God; for by this appointment of deacons for the Hellenistic part of the church, distinguished men of Hellenistic descent and education were brought into the public service of the church, and the Hellenists, by their freer mental culture, were in many respects better qualified rightly to understand and to publish the gospel as the foundation of a method of salvation independent of Judaism, and intended for all men equally without distinction. The important consequences resulting from this event, will appear in the course of the history. source
οὓς ἔστησαν ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀποστόλων· καὶ προσευξάμενοι, ἐπέθηκαν αὐτοῖς τὰς χεῖρας.
who they placed before the apostles and praying, they laid hands on them.
Paraphrase: Then the assembled church presented these seven men to the apostles. They all prayed while the apostles laid hands on them and commissioned them to go and do the work to which they had been set apart confessing their dependence on the Holy Spirit for the strength and wisdom they would need to perform it well.
For the meaning of laying on of hands, see Hort or Ferguson, The Early Church at Work and Worship, 1.160.
Καὶ ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ ηὔξανεν, καὶ ἐπληθύνετο ὁ ἀριθμὸς τῶν μαθητῶν ἐν Ἰερουσαλὴμ σφόδρα· πολύς τε ὄχλος τῶν ἱερέων ὑπήκουον τῇ πίστει.
And the word of God expanded and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly. A great crowd of priests were submitting in faith.
Paraphrase: With this difficulty resolved, the preaching of the word went forth with even greater force. Everywhere, people flocked to Jesus Christ, turned from their former life, and began to follow Jesus. They became people of the Way (Acts 9:2) confessing publicly that Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Even from the priests themselves, many came to bow before Jesus and to confess that He is Lord.
The priests were bitterly opposed to Christianity. (Luke 23:10; Acts 4:1; 5:17) Luke’s note here leads us to believe that the apostle Paul was not the only one powerfully led by the Spirit of God to bow before the despised Nazarene. Olshausen believes that these priests would have come from the Pharisees, not the Sadducees. source We read later of Pharisees who had become Christians. (Acts 15:5) Lindsay believes that these priests would have been Sadducees. He also makes the interesting observation that these priests must have been the source for the information that the temple curtain tore from top to bottom when Jesus died. source
Στέφανος δὲ, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ δυνάμεως, ἐποίει τέρατα καὶ σημεῖα μεγάλα ἐν τῷ λαῷ.
Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing wonders and great signs among the people.
ἀνέστησαν δέ τινες τῶν ἐκ τῆς συναγωγῆς τῆς λεγομένης Λιβερτίνων, καὶ Κυρηναίων καὶ Ἀλεξανδρέων καὶ τῶν ἀπὸ Κιλικίας καὶ Ἀσίας, συζητοῦντες τῷ Στεφάνῳ.
καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυον ἀντιστῆναι τῇ σοφίᾳ καὶ τῷ Πνεύματι ᾧ ἐλάλει.
Τότε ὑπέβαλον ἄνδρας, λέγοντας ὅτι, Ἀκηκόαμεν αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ῥήματα βλάσφημα εἰς Μωϋσῆν καὶ τὸν Θεόν.
συνεκίνησάν τε τὸν λαὸν καὶ τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους καὶ τοὺς γραμματεῖς, καὶ ἐπιστάντες, συνήρπασαν αὐτὸν καὶ ἤγαγον εἰς τὸ συνέδριον.
Ἔστησάν τε μάρτυρας ψευδεῖς, λέγοντας, Ὁ ἄνθρωπος οὗτος, οὐ παύεται λαλῶν ῥήματα κατὰ τοῦ τόπου τοῦ ἁγίου [τούτου] καὶ τοῦ νόμου·
ἀκηκόαμεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος οὗτος καταλύσει τὸν τόπον τοῦτον καὶ ἀλλάξει τὰ ἔθη ἃ παρέδωκεν ἡμῖν Μωϋσῆς.
Καὶ ἀτενίσαντες εἰς αὐτὸν, πάντες οἱ καθεζόμενοι ἐν τῷ συνεδρίῳ εἶδον τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ πρόσωπον ἀγγέλου.