Acts 6:1-15

As a loving family of God’s children, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ were concerned about one another. Among them were needy widows, and these women received aid from the community of believers. As the number of believers increased, a problem arose regarding the assistance being rendered to widows. The “Hellenists,” or the Greek-speaking disciples, began to complain against the “Hebrews,” or the Hebrew-speaking disciples, because the Greek-speaking “widows were being overlooked in the daily service.” (6:1)

The initial efforts to assist those who had come from widely scattered areas to remain in Jerusalem may, in time, not have been needed. Eventually, those who continued to stay in the city would doubtless have established themselves, working to support themselves and their families. Widows, however, would have continued to be among the needy. The account does not reveal just why the Greek-speaking widows were neglected. Possibly because of their not being native to Jerusalem, Judea, or Galilee, they were not known as well among the Hebrew-speaking disciples. (6:1)

The “daily service” could have been a daily distribution of food. Many translations make this significance explicit in their renderings. “They complained that the Greek-speaking widows were not given their share when the food supplies were handed out each day.” (CEV) “The Greek-speaking widows were not getting their share of the food that was given out every day.” (NCV) “The Greeks complained that in the daily distribution of food the Hebrew widows were being given preferential treatment.” (J. B. Phillips) It is possible, however, that the “daily service” involved the distribution of contributed funds to those in need. (6:1; compare 4:35; see the Notes section.)

Upon becoming aware of the problem, the twelve apostles convened the body of disciples and informed them that it would not be “appropriate” (arestós, “pleasing,” “desirable,” or “satisfactory”) for them to forsake the “word of God” (that is, their service of proclaiming and teaching the message concerning Jesus Christ that God wanted them to fulfill) “to serve tables” instead. Their serving tables could either mean distributing food or funds to needy widows. (6:2)

Jesus Christ had commissioned the apostles to be his witnesses, and he had personally been in closer association with them than with other early disciples. Therefore, the apostles were in the best position to function as teachers and proclaimers of God’s word about his Son. Nevertheless, the apostles recognized that caring for widows in their midst should not be neglected, but that other qualified men could handle this responsibility. So they requested that their “brothers,” or fellow disciples, “search out” or select from their number seven men “being borne witness to.” The Greek expression for “being borne witness to” (a form of martyréo) apparently here means having favorable testimony from others or a good reputation. (6:3; see the Notes section.)

The selected men were to be disciples “full of spirit and wisdom.” This would denote that the men would be persons who were led by God’s spirit as would be evident from their disposition, words, and actions. Being “wise” men, they would have sound judgment and be able to handle their responsibility in an equitable and caring manner. Once the body of disciples had found the men in their midst who met the needed qualifications, the apostles would appoint them to handle the essential daily service. (6:3)

As for the apostles, they determined to devote themselves to “prayer and the service of the word.” Concerned about having God’s approval and guidance in all that they did and taught, the apostles would continue to persevere in prayer. The “service of the word” would refer to their work of proclaiming and teaching the glad tidings about Jesus Christ and how through him repentant persons could be forgiven of their sins and reconciled to God as his beloved children. (6:4)

The “word,” or what the apostles said, pleased the “multitude” of disciples. “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and holy spirit, and Phillip and Prochorus and Nicanor and Timon and Parmenas and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.” In being described as “full of faith and holy spirit,” Stephen is identified as a disciple with a solid faith or trust in Jesus Christ and as one whose life revealed that God’s spirit was fully at work within him. Of the seven disciples, only Nicolaus is identified as a proselyte. A non-Jew from Antioch, probably the Antioch in Syria, he had previously chosen to become a Jew and later became a disciple of Jesus Christ. All seven men had Greek names. In itself, however, this does not necessarily mean that all were exclusively representative of the Greek-speaking disciples. It was not uncommon for Jews to have Greek names. One of the apostles, for example, was also named Phillip. (6:5; see the Notes section.)

The body of believers set the seven disciples before the apostles who then prayed and laid their hands on the men. This prayer may well have included a petition that the seven disciples be granted the needed wisdom to care for their duty. The act of laying their hands on the men signified that the apostles had appointed them and may also have been a public expression of a bestowal of their blessing on them. (6:6)

With the problem about the daily distribution having been cared for, the community of believers apparently came to enjoy unity and continued to experience God’s blessing. “The word of God” continued to grow, which may be understood to mean that many came to believe and act on the message about Jesus Christ which God purposed to have proclaimed. In Jerusalem, the number of believers increased greatly, and even many priests came to be “obedient to the faith.” Unlike the chief priests who continued unabated in their opposition to the disciples, other priests became believers and thus were obedient to the faith or trust that had Jesus Christ as its object. (6:7; see the Notes section.)

Stephen and the other disciples must have carried out their service for needy widows in a commendable manner. As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, they would also have used their opportunities to make known the message about him. “Among the people,” Stephen “performed great portents and signs.” These “portents and signs” probably included healing the sick and liberating those who were perceived to be suffering from demonic possession. Stephen’s being described as “full of grace and power” may indicate that he enjoyed God’s abundant favor or blessing and had been empowered to perform miraculous works that brought relief to many afflicted persons. (6:8; see the Notes section.)

In the course of his declaring the message about Jesus Christ, Stephen encountered those who resisted his words. Certain ones from the synagogue that was said to be of “freedmen” (genitive plural form of libertínos) “and [kaí] of Cyrenians and of Alexandrians, and of [those] from Cilicia and Asia” disputed with him. The designation libertínos is the grecized form of the Latin term libertinus and applies to a “freedman,” a liberated slave or the descendant of a freed slave. As Jews and proselytes belonging to the “synagogue,” “congregation,” or “assembly” of the “freedmen,” those who disputed with Stephen would have been former slaves or the offspring of former slaves. (6:9; see the Notes section.)

All the proper nouns “Cyrenians” (individuals from Cyrene on the northern coast of Africa), “Alexandrians (persons from Alexandria, Egypt), Cilicia (a region in southeastern Asia Minor in which the apostle Paul’s home city Tarsus was located), and Asia (the Roman province of Asia occupying the western part of Asia Minor) are in the genitive case. So it is possible that, instead of just being Jews and proselytes from those locations, they were all part of the “assembly of freedmen.” This is so because the Greek word kaí that follows “freedmen” may here mean “even,” not “and.” (6:9) A number of translations make this basic sense explicit in their renderings. “Some members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, comprising Cyrenians and Alexandrians and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and argued with Stephen.” (REB) “But some Jewish people were against him. They belonged to the synagogue of Free Men (as it was called), which included Jewish people from Cyrene, Aexandria, Cilicia, and Asia.” (NCV) “But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia.” (NLT)

Other translators represent the disputants from Cilicia and Asia as a different group. “But some men from Cyrene and Alexandria were members of a group who called themselves ‘Free Men.’ They started arguing with Stephen. Some others from Cilicia and Asia also argued with him.” (CEV) Another view that is made explicit in the rendering of translations takes the words of verse 9 to mean three different synagogues or assemblies. “However, members of a Jewish synagogue known as the Libertines, together with some from the synagogues of Cyrene and Alexandria, as well as some men from Cilicia and Asia, tried debating with Stephen.” (J. B. Phillips) When, however, the Greek word kaí that precedes “Cyrenians” is understood to mean “and,” those mentioned after “freedmen” may be persons other than those from the “synagogue” or “assembly of freedmen.” “But some members of the so-called ‘Synagogue of the Freed-men,’ together with some Cyrenaeans, Alexandrians, Cilicians and men from Roman Asia, were roused to encounter Stephen in debate.” (Weymouth)

Those who argued with Stephen could not disprove what he said and did not succeed in establishing their position to be sound when faced with the “wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.” His “wisdom” was doubtless evident from the way in which he presented passages from the Scriptures to show that Jesus is indeed the Christ. The “spirit with which he spoke” may have been as a disciple guided by God’s spirit. It is also possible that the reference is to Stephen’s own spirit, one of sincerity and reasonableness. (6:10)

Frustrated and angry, those who disputed with Stephen launched an attack against him. Secretly they got certain men to accuse him falsely, saying that they heard him express blasphemous words against Moses and God. As the context indicates, the blasphemous sayings against Moses related to their false claim that Stephen had said that Jesus the Nazarene would change the customs that had been handed down from Moses. The blasphemous words against God pertained to the false accusation that Jesus would throw down God’s holy temple. (6:11)

With their false accusations, these men incited the people, the elders of the nation, and the scribes to anger. As a group, they suddenly came upon Stephen, seized him, and led him to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court. (6:12) False witnesses came forward, claiming that he did “not cease speaking [‘blasphemous,’ according to numerous manuscripts] words against this holy place [the temple] and against the law.” (6:13) They continued, “For we heard him say that this Jesus the Nazarene will tear down this place [the temple] and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” Thus they implied that Stephen was a radical who had no regard for God’s holy temple and disrespected the sacred customs that God’s prophet Moses had committed to the Israelites centuries earlier. (6:14)

Apparently after the false witnesses spoke, the eyes of all members of the Sanhedrin focused on Stephen. When they did so, they saw that his face was like that of an angel. Numerous translations represent this as meaning that Stephen’s countenance appeared miraculously illuminated with the brightness of an angel’s face. “His face became as bright as an angel’s.” (NLT) “His face glowed like the face of an angel.” (Sein Gesicht leuchtete wie das Gesicht eines Engels. [German, Neue Genfer Übersetzung]) The reference to his face appearing like that of an angel, however, may simply indicate that his face reflected the purity, innocence, and tranquility that would have been associated with an angel. There was nothing about Stephen’s countenance to suggest that the accusations made against him had even the slightest validity. (6:15; see the Notes section.)


At the end of verse 1, Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) adds, “in the service of the Hebrews.”

The opening words of Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) for verse 3 are, “What then is [it], brothers” (tí oun estin, adelphoí). In this verse, a number of manuscipts read “holy spirit” and not just “spirit.”

In verse 5, Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) is specific in identifying the “multitude” as being a “multitude of disciples” (pléthos tón mathetón)

In verse 7, the reading “word of God” has the superior manuscript support. Other manuscripts read, “word of the Lord.” Instead of “priests,” a few manuscripts read “Jews.”

In verse 8, many manuscripts read “faith” instead of “grace.” One sixth-century manuscript says “grace and faith.” A number of manuscripts, including Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis), add “through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” in connection with the great portents and signs Stephen did among the people.

In verse 9, the absence of “and Asia” in a number of manuscripts appears to be a copyist’s error.

Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) concludes verse 15 with the words “like the face of an angel standing in their midst.”