See this post for the introduction to these posts on The Acts of The Apostles.
- V1 – 7: Seven chosen
- V8 – 15: Stephen seized
- Luke is addressing “Theophilus” (1:1)
- The twelve
- False witnesses
- Hellenists (Hellenized Jewish Christians)
- Hebrews (non-Hellenized Jewish Christrians)
- Full number of the disciples
- priests obedient to the faith
- Members of the synagogue of the Freedmen*
- Those from Cilicia and Asia**
- People and elders and scribes
- The council
- People and elders and scribes
It’s not very clear if the ** groups were all part of *, or separate groups just working together in this story.
- The Seven are often seen in church history as the first deacons, but the word for deacon (diákonos) is not used for these guys – in fact, diákonos is never used in the Acts of the Apostles.
- Seven people are listed, but only the first (Stephen) and last (Nicolaus) get a description in the list.
- Of the seven, only Stephen and Philip will ever be mentioned again in this book. Stephen disputes with other Jews later in this chapter and (SPOILER WARNING!) gets martyred in the next chapter. Philip evangelizes Samaria and teaches an Ethiopian eunuch in Chapter 8.
- However, early church traditions have Nicolaus of the seven being the founder of the Nicolatians, mentioned so unfavorably in the second chapter of Revelation.
- Nowhere in Scripture does it ever mention any of these guys doing the job they were hired for (taking care of the daily distribution to widows).
- It’s interesting that the conflict at the beginning of the chapter is between “Hellenists” and “Hebrews”, and the seven chosen to resolve the conflict all appear to have Greek names. This doesn’t mean that they were Hellenists (in Maccabees you often see the Hellenists with Hebrew names, and the Hebrews with Greek names). Still, interesting (to me, at least).
- When the disciples dispute with the leaders of the people in earlier chapters, it ends up with them getting in trouble – you threaten somebody’s power, they don’t like it. But when Stephen disputes with the Freedmen, it ends up leading to his death. The freedmen are thought to be the descendents of Jews enslaved by Pompey who have returned to the land – these are people who had to work hard to maintain their identity as Jews. When you are perceived as threatening somebody’s identity, it gets ugly quick. It would be interesting to know whether Stephen was originally a member of the synagogue of freedmen – we don’t know, but it would make sense if he was.
- Interesting that they would have false witnesses (V13) in defense of the law, since the law most stringently prohibits false witness. (Many Old Testament references, see Exodus 20:16 as one example.) Again, when someone’s identity feels threatened, they sometimes go a little crazy in fighting back.
- This whole chapter is the beginning of the first big plot point in Acts – the martydom of Stephen and the scattering of disciples from Jerusalem.
- This is the first chapter where we don’t get a speech from Peter.
- This chapter features two conflicts – internal to the church and resolved peaceably, external to the church and resolved violently.
If the overall arc of Acts is the spread of the Gospel to different groups, this chapter has the key moment of showing two different groups (Hellenist Jews and Hebrew Jews) in conflict within the church, and then resolving it. It’s interesting how the Gospel spreads concentrically – first we see just people who knew Jesus, then Jews in Jerusalem, we see now that this includes the Hellenist Jews. Next up will be Samaritans, then God-fearing Greeks, then all peoples. We can see the ripples expanding. The ripples are still expanding today, until someday “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.“