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The Jerusalem Seven

INTRODUCTION: The last few verses of Acts chapter five provide the baseline to introduce Acts chapter six. Peter and other apostles were taken by guards, from the outdoor public area of Solomon's porch at the temple and brought before the Jewish ruling council. After some deliberation, one of the leaders advised the council to use some restraint in their punishment. Here is the description of what followed, as presented in the Weymouth translation. Acts 5 "40 His advice carried conviction. So they called the Apostles in, and--after flogging them--ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then let them go. 41 They, therefore, left the Sanhedrin and went their way, rejoicing that they had been deemed worthy to suffer disgrace on behalf of the NAME. 42 But they did not desist from teaching every day, in the Temple or in private houses, and telling the Good News about Jesus, the Christ." The punishment of the apostles by the council was not only physically injurious, but it was also disgraceful; however, Peter and the other apostles displayed the surprising response of rejoicing that their devotion to Christ was evident enough to bring about this disgrace. They were not ashamed or intimidated, but rather resumed teaching daily in public at the temple, as well as in private homes. Paul made a similar statement about devotion to teach in public and private in the face of personal danger, "and that I never shrank from declaring to you anything that was profitable, or from teaching you in public and in your homes," (Acts 20:20 WEY).

NOTE: New Testament text is taken from the 1912 Weymouth translation of only the New Testament, and Old Testament text is from the American KJV.

Acts 6 [1912 Weymouth New Testament]

1 About this time, as the number of disciples was increasing, complaints were made by the Greek-speaking Jews against the Hebrews because their widows were habitually overlooked in the daily ministration.

COMMENTS: Since the believers who constituted the "church" did not meet in a central church building, there could be much iversity among the crowd in public meetings at the outdoor temple courts, but in the home gatherings the groups may have been more consistent in their composition along class, language, or other distinctions. Some differences then could arise between the smaller groups. With twelve apostles in leadership, it is likely that they taught separately at various locations for home groups, especially as the church continued to grow in numbers. Collection and distribution for the common needs had begun earlier in the church as described very briefly in Acts chapter 4, "32 Among all those who had embraced the faith there was but one heart and soul, so that none of them claimed any of his possessions as his own, but everything they had was common property; 33 while the Apostles with great force of conviction delivered their testimony as to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great grace was upon them all. 34 And, in fact, there was not a needy man among them, for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the money which they realized, 35 and gave it to the Apostles, and distribution was made to every one according to his wants." (Acts 4:32-35 WEY).

Whatever system that had been in use for daily distribution apparently was now faulty, and the shortfall was significant among Hellenist widows, so the Hellenists made their complaints against the Jews. The Hellenists (translated by Weymouth as "Greek-speaking Jews") were Jews or proselytes born in foreign lands who used Greek as their primary language, and the Hebraios (translated here as Hebrews) were Jews who used the Hebrew language as their native tongue. These were at the time, identifiable as two distinct groups of Jews. Since the distribution service for widows was daily, it would not have taken long for disparity to be recognized, especially if there were home groups that included only Hellenist widows. Based on these two earlier passages, the church was quite large at this time. "Those, therefore, who joyfully welcomed his Message were baptized; and on that one day about three thousand persons were added to them;" (Acts 2:41 WEY). "But many of those who had listened to their preaching believed; and the number of the adult men had now grown to be about 5,000." (Acts 4:4 WEY).

Acts 6 [1912 Weymouth New Testament]

2 So the Twelve called together the general body of the disciples and said, "It does not seem fitting that we Apostles should neglect the delivery of God's Message and minister at tables."

COMMENTS: So the twelve apostles, acting as a group with authority, called a general meeting which would involve the majority of the disciples in the resolution of the complaint, and would make the greatest number of people aware by one central means of communication. There is no Bible text to suggest that an individual apostle led the general meeting. It seems then that the inspired text places the emphasis on the twelve apostles acting in one accord as that phrase had application in Acts 1:14, 2:1, 2:46, 4:24, and 5:12. The apostles made a clear statement of their priority, and then followed that with a proposed alternative. "It does not seem fitting that we Apostles should neglect the delivery of God's Message and minister at tables." This also seems to indicate that they had not been "ministering at tables" up to this point.

Acts 6 [1912 Weymouth New Testament]

3 Therefore, brethren, pick out from among yourselves seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, and we will appoint them to undertake this duty.

COMMENTS: The apostles as the leadership of the church first gave the responsibility to the general body to select seven men. They stated basic qualifications that each man be of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. Such men would be trustworthy and have the knowledge to conduct business wisely: and these qualities would need to be clearly evident to the group as a whole. It is interesting to note that there were twelve apostles at this time, but they directed that only seven men be selected for administration to widows. This number must have been sufficient for the need at hand, and there may have already been sufficient help for the Hebraic widows since the complaint was regarding neglect of the Hellenist widows, not all widows. This aspect of service to some who were needy in the body of the church was taken very seriously with important qualifications set forth to assure proper handling of the responsibility with inclusion of the spiritual element in their conduct. Final approval of the men was to be by the apostles, and this duty to serve physical needs was intended to keep the apostles free to fully perform their own duties.

Acts 6 [1912 Weymouth New Testament ]

4 But, as for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the delivery of the Message.

COMMENTS: The apostles determined that they would continue their devotion to prayer, and to the delivery of the gospel message. This is a very brief statement, but of the two components, prayer is listed first. The importance of prayer is a clear pattern in scripture: as a routine, any time of the day, and for brief or extended periods.
"So Abraham prayed to God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bore children." (Genesis 20:17 AKJV).
"And he said O LORD God of my master Abraham, I pray you, send me good speed this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham." (Genesis 24:12 AKJV).
"My voice shall you hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer to you, and will look up." (Psalms 5:3 AKJV).
"Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice." (Psalms 55:17 AKJV).
"In the morning He {Jesus} rose early, while it was still quite dark, and leaving the house He went away to a solitary place and there prayed." (Mark 1:35 WEY).
Since we live in both a physical and a spiritual realm, wouldn't we be well advised to follow the pattern throughout scripture and of our Lord to consider prayer as a routine, and especially as the foundation for major decisions?

Acts 6 [1912 Weymouth New Testament]

5 The suggestion met with general approval, and they selected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch.

COMMENTS: The solution set forward by the apostles met with approval from the gathering, and seven men were subsequently selected for this duty. Stephen, meaning "crowned" in the Greek, is listed first, and he is described as being "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." All seven names are Greek, and there is no characterization of the next five listed, but the seventh man is identified as a proselyte from Antioch. This is the first mention of Antioch in the book of Acts, but there will be more mention of the church at Antioch because of growth and missionary endeavor. Details about Stephen and Philip will follow in Acts, but the names of the other five appear only this one time in all of the New Testament. Since Nicolas is the only one of the seven identified as a proselyte, the other six were possibly born as Jews in Hellenist territories, or reared under Hellenistic influence.

Acts 6 [1912 Weymouth New Testament]

6 These men they brought to the Apostles, and, after prayer, they laid their hands upon them.

COMMENTS: Since we are not told by the Bible text specifically who among the apostles prayed, or the content of the prayer, we would need to depend on guidance from the Holy Spirit to offer prayer in similar situations. Sometimes scripture provides us with a model prayer, and other times such as this one, we have only the fact that prayer was an essential part in the situation. When the apostles laid their hands on the seven, they provided a visual indication of the transfer of the authority and trust for the chosen men to assume this duty. Just a few examples from scripture of wording related to "laying Hands" are given below.

"And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it on Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn." (Genesis 48:14 AKJV). The younger brother was intentionally being designated to have prominence over the older.
"And he brought the bullock for the sin offering: and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bullock for the sin offering." (Leviticus 8:14 AKJV).
"And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God." (Luke 13:13 AKJV).
"Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come." (John 7:30 AKJV).
There could be much more discussion about the subject of "laying hands", but that will not be developed in this study.

Acts 6 [1912 Weymouth New Testament]

7 Meanwhile God's Message continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem very greatly increased, and very many priests obeyed the faith.

COMMENTS: The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ continued to spread as the apostles concentrated on their declared task of prayer and preaching. The Lord increased the number of disciples in Jerusalem greatly, and a large number of Jewish priests came to faith in their Messiah. God certainly receives all the glory for this remarkable development as these apostles who were of common background were the vessels used by the Holy Spirit of God to open the eyes of even those who were trained to spiritually lead the nation of Israel! The Lord Jesus, Emmanuel, was the underlying factor who made the apostles so significant to the growth of the church.

This great growth in Jerusalem was the first part of the spread of the gospel witness that the Lord Jesus had told the disciples would take place. "and yet you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and Samaria and to the remotest parts of the earth." (Acts 1:8 WEY).

--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, I thank you for this scriptural record of the development of the early church in Jerusalem. Your Holy Spirit has directed the human writers of scripture to reveal the many failings within man and the way your grace works through those who obey your word so the end result gives you the glory. May the local church continue to follow wise leaders in their guidance of the assembly, and may prayer be an essential element of every decision making process. May we take encouragement from this account that illustrates how our human nature can give rise to problems even in a church body with leadership that unquestionably was comprised of men filled with your Holy Spirit. Thank you that our confidence is properly placed in you, not in human leaders on their own merits. Thank you also Lord that their are various functions within the church that can minister to physical needs appropriately when prayer and the spread of the gospel remain as the primary purpose for the existence of the church. I ask that you work in my heart that I will be a positive influence and a peacemaker within my own local assembly of believers. Amen.

Published 17 October 2006