1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
3 "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
4 "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."
5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.
7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.
9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.
10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
In Acts 6:1 Luke reports that "while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food." The church was growing, but trouble loomed. It is not uncommon for trouble to arise during times of growth! The church in Jerusalem was not exempt.
The church at Jerusalem was made up of Hebrews and Hellenists. The Hebrews were Aramaic-speaking Jews, most of them natives of Palestine. The Hellenists were "Grecian Jews," and they habitually spoke Greek. They were either natives of the lands of the dispersion or had connections with them. Tension existed between the Hebrews and the Hellenists. Apparently, this tension existed even among those who had accepted Christ.
The wealthier members (Acts 2:44-45) had contributed their goods to the church. Daily allocations of food were made to the poorer members. Bruce (p. 128) states:
complaints began to arise that one group was being favoured at the expense of the other. Widows naturally formed a considerable proportion of the poorer members of the church, and the Hellenistic widows were said to be at a disadvantage in comparison with the 'Hebrew' widows, perhaps because the distribution of charity was in the hands of 'Hebrews.'
The apostles moved quickly to solve the problem. They decided to delegate the distribution of food to others! They advised the congregation to select seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, to put in charge of this task. The apostles wanted to devote their time to the ministry of the Word and to prayer. Their suggestion was accepted and the men were selected. All seven have Greek names. This probably indicates that they all belonged to the Hellenistic group.
Three times in this passage the Holy Spirit is named. The early church was very much led and empowered by the Spirit in all its life and activity. The Holy Spirit is connected with various fruit or manifestations of the Spirit such as wisdom and faith. In addition Luke uses the expression "full of grace and power." We will examine how grace and power are connected with the Spirit.
The Spirit and Administrative Wisdom
The apostles said, "But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
The selected men were to be "full" of the Spirit and wisdom. Standing alone, the adjective "full" does not say when the men were filled. However, the context here suggests that they had a lasting state of "fullness" resulting from a past filling. To be characterized in this way, the men no doubt actively manifested the presence of the Spirit on numerous occasions.
As we have noted, wisdom was needed. Up to this point in Acts the presence of the Spirit has primarily been connected with boldness to speak, power to witness, and prophetic inspiration. In this case there was a need for wisdom in practical administration. So men full of the Spirit and wisdom are to be selected for administrative purposes.
The Spirit is the source of the wisdom. He is the one who leads them, guides them, and helps them in their administrative tasks. This is not without biblical precedent. In Exodus 31:3, God says concerning Bezalel, "And I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship." This message is repeated in Exodus 35:31. We learn, also, from the apostle Paul that administration (I Corinthians 12:28) is a gift of the Spirit. The Spirit distributes wisdom as a gift among the believers.
Faith and the Holy Spirit
Luke distinguishes Stephen from the others who were selected. Three times (6:3; 6:5; Acts 7:55) Luke says that Stephen is "full" of the Spirit. Stephen was among those (Acts 6:3) who were "full of the Spirit and of wisdom." Here, in Acts 6:5 Luke writes that Stephen was a man "full of faith and the Holy Spirit." As Lenski notes (p. 245), the order is reversed. He states:
In verse 3 the order is: 'full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom'; here: 'full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.' First the source, and then the fruit; again the fruit, and then its source."
In Acts 11:24 Luke describes Barnabas as "full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." With regard to both Stephen and Barnabas, the Spirit is the source of the faith. The faith is a manifestation of the Spirit. The faith mentioned in both cases is not saving faith, but rather the faith to do exploits for God.
Wonders and Signs
Now, Luke writes (Acts 6:8), "And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing [epoiei] great wonders and signs among the people." Luke uses the verb epoiei, which is the imperfect tense of poieo. It has the sense of continuing to do wonders and signs. Whether or not Stephen performed great wonders and signs before is open to question. However, the most likely conclusion is that Stephen's ministry of performing wonders and signs began after his appointment to serve.
Full of Grace
Stephen was full of grace. The King James Version says "faith," but newer version say "grace." The evidence of the manuscripts is said to be in favor of "grace." We often think of grace as the unmerited favor of God. Here, grace has the added sense of God freely bestowing on Stephen the ability to perform signs and wonders.
Luke uses the Greek word is charitos. Concerning grace, Lenski (p. 2) writes: "This is not charis in the sense of pardoning grace, for that Stephen had when he first came to faith, but the special favor Dei that was connected with the dunamis or power bestowed on him at this time as something exceptional and not granted to the other deacons: the ability to perform miracles." [Transliteration Mine.]
Although we are dealing with Luke's writings, it is interesting that Paul uses the word charismaton (I Corinthians 12:4) to describe spiritual gifts. They are graces or gifts from God. Also, Paul makes it clear that these gifts are distributed (I Corinthians 12:11) by the Holy Spirit. They are gifts of the Spirit. The Spirit distributes this gift as well as others according to His will.
The Holy Spirit and Power
Stephen (Acts 6:8) was full of power, and he was performing wonders and signs. There can be no doubt that the Spirit enabled Stephen to perform the wonders and signs, but Luke does not mention the Spirit in this verse. Briefly, we will discuss briefly the role of the Spirit in miracle working power and then Luke's silence about the Spirit.
The Scriptures as a whole identify the role of the Spirit in miracles. Isaiah prophesies (Isaiah 61:1-4) that the Spirit of the Lord will be upon Jesus. As a result, He will "bind up the broken-hearted." According to Matthew 12:28, Jesus attributed His ability to cast out demons to the Spirit of God. The apostle Paul develops (I Corinthians 12:4-11) the doctrine of the Spirit and His gifts. The Spirit's gifts include faith, gifts of healing, and effecting of miracles.
Why, then, does Luke not mention the Spirit in Acts 6:8? Luke commonly connects (Luke 4:36; 5:17; 6:19; 9:1; Acts 4:7) "power" with healing and exorcisms without mentioning the Spirit. His silence about the Spirit may be due to the fact that Luke deals with the Spirit primarily as the Spirit of prophecy. He emphasizes that the Spirit empowers believers to speak and to witness. Luke stresses prophetic inspiration
Nevertheless, Luke elsewhere does recognize the Spirit as the source of power to heal and cast out demons. For example, in Acts 10:38 Luke writes: "You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him." NASU Thus, it is not a question of the role of the Spirit, but of Luke's purpose in writing about the Spirit.
Prophetic Wisdom and the Spirit
Now, in Acts 6:9, Luke writes: "But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen."
According to Arrington (p. 72), "The members of the synagogue of the Free Men were probably Jewish prisoners of war set free by the Romans." Horton (Acts, p. 87) says, they were "probably taken as slaves to Rome and later set free by their Roman masters." The essential point is that these men were now free.
Verse 9 could mean that all of the groups mentioned were from the Synagogue of the Freedmen. On the other hand, it could mean that there were synagogues for more than one of the groups named. Those who attended the synagogue, or synagogues, were people who had returned from the lands of the dispersion to live in Jerusalem.
The members of the synagogue were a powerful group of opponents to Stephen, but Luke says (6:10), "they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking." Stephen spoke with great prophetic wisdom. Jesus had promised that the Spirit would be with His disciples on such occasions. He declared (Luke 12:12), "for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." NASU The ability of Stephen to speak was a fulfillment the promise. The wisdom was from the Spirit of God.
Although his opponents could not cope with the wisdom of Stephen, they rose up against him. They accused him of blasphemous words against Moses and against God. Stephen was put to death, but the strong advance of the church continued. The dispersion of the saints resulted in the gospel being preached in Samaria.
George M. Flattery
For Further Reading
Arrington, French L. The Acts of the Apostles. Peabody: Hendrikson Publishers, 1988.
Beasley-Murray, G. R. Baptism in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Ervin, Howard M. Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984. Ervin, Howard M. These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose. Plainfield: Logos International, 1968.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Horton, Stanley M. What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1976.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Lenski, R. C. H. St. Luke's Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1946.
Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke. Exeter, The Paternoster Press, 1978. Menzies, Robert P. Empowered for Witness. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.
Palma, Anthony D. The Spirit--God in Action. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1974. Rea, John. Bible Handbook on the Holy Spirit. Orlando: Creation House, 1998.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Shelton, James B. Mighty in Word and Deed. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.
Stronstad, Roger. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.
Swete, Henry Barclay. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. London: Macmillan and Company, 1910.
Turner, Max. The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.
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