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Acts 6:1-7

Catching up on the Story

The early church is beginning to grow and spread throughout Judea. The Holy Spirit has enabled the followers of Jesus to do miraculous things. Additionally, the Spirit has radically reorganized how these believers live life. On more than one occasion (Acts 2:43-47 and 4:32-37), we are told that these new believers share all of their possessions with the whole community of faith. Believers are giving sacrificially, without expecting anything in return, so that everyone might be taken care of.

However, we learn in Chapter 5 that life in the new church is not always perfect. In addition to the persecution that the church was beginning to suffer at the hand of the Jewish leadership, there were also some internal malfunctions. The Ananias and Sapphira story shows that life in the new church is not always smooth. Despite the work of the Spirit in the new church, dishonesty, and strife have crept in.

The Text

After some of the apostles had been flogged for proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, the scene shifts back to the inner life of this new church. Despite the persecution, the church continues to grow, and when there is growth, there are always growing pains. As the number of individuals who come into this new fellowship grows, so does the number of people who need assistance. Remember that the church, from the very beginning, cared for those in their community who were in need. There were some Hellenists, who were Greek-speaking Jews, who needed food and found themselves neglected by the church as it distributed food.

This neglect, in all likelihood, was not intentional. Rather, the leadership of this new church was all Hebrew or Aramaic-speaking Jews. As humans, we all tend to look after those who are most like us first, while we tend to forget those who might differ from us in some way. Living in Jerusalem and Judea were Jews who had moved there from other places. They were Jews by birth but were raised outside of Israel. Therefore, they spoke Greek. Greek was the common language of the world at the time. It was, if you will, the language of international business and commerce.

It was not uncommon for Jews living in other lands to move to Jerusalem as they approached death so that they might die in the holy city. Their widows were left vulnerable without means of family or friends to replace their dead husbands in providing for them. As those Greek-speaking Jews were converted, it fell to the newly established church to care for their widows.

The problem is brought to the attention of the “the twelve” (Acts 6:2), or the disciples, as the guiding group of leaders. The twelve act to rectify the problem, seeing that it was not right that the Greek-speaking widows be neglected. The twelve declare that there should be a division of duties. The disciples should not be the ones overseeing the distribution of food. To do so would keep them from fulfilling their call to proclaim the Word of God.

Important Terms

Hellenist: Greek-speaking Jew in contrast to one who speaks a Semitic language, i.e., Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. The Greek-speaking Jews were basically Jewish in culture and religion, but they had adopted certain customs typical of the larger Greco-Roman world where many lived. This inevitably resulted in certain suspicions and misunderstandings.

Hebrew: A Jew who spoke Hebrew as opposed to Greek or another language. At this time in history, Jews had been spread throughout the known world. Some would have been raised as ethnic Jews but would have also learned the language and culture of the area where they were born.

Widow: A woman whose husband has died. The reason for making special mention of widows in this passage in Acts is perhaps that the community was openly trying to practice the statutes of Deuteronomy in favor of widows. Various Jews of the diaspora (Jews living outside of Israel) came to live in Jerusalem in their old age, and in many cases, these placed their possessions at the disposal of the congregation (Acts 2:45; 4:32, 34). When they died, many of them left widows behind, and there would have been no provision for these without the organized care of the church since they had no relatives there. If the complaint of the Hellenists (see above) that their widows were neglected was justified, this was perhaps related to the fact that care for widows in the primitive community was in the hands of the local Jews who, as tension developed between the Hebrew group and the diaspora element in the church, looked after Hellenistic widows more negligently than Jewish widows.

So What?

To answer a question regarding the greatest commandment, Jesus responds, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) What Jesus holds together in this commandment, indeed what the entirety of the Old Testament holds together, i