THE CHURCH IN PALESTINE AND SYRIA 2, 1 -- 12, 25 (continued)
1. Growth of the Church in Jerusalem 2, 1 -- 8, 3 (continued)
6, 1-7: The Deacons. With the growth of the
Church the number of widows needing help increased to such an extent that the original simple method of distributing alms
to them seemed inadequate; at least the foreign-born Jews, called Hellenists, thought that their widows were being
neglected. All those so far converted were Jews; but while some had been born in Palestine and used Aramaic in their
synagogues, there were others who had been born in foreign lands (the Diaspora or Dispersion), or of parents born abroad and
who spoke Greek in their synagogues. They were, of course, real Jews and so entirely distinct from the pagans; this
distinction is clearly marked in Greek, the foreign-born Jews being called Hellenists (6, 1), while the pagans are
called Hellenes (11, 20; 14, 1). The Vulgate does not bring out the distinction, calling both classes
Greeks. To meet the new situation the Apostles ordained seven assistants; their primary task was the distribution of
food (or of money for food) to those in want, but they also administered Baptism and gave catechetical instruction.
Their usual name "deacons" (1 Tim. 3, 8) is derived from the Greek verb used here for serve (6,
2). There is nothing in the text obliging us to suppose that these seven were all Hellenists, i.e., Jews from the Diaspora.
6, 8 -- 7, 1: Stephen's Arrest. Stephen,
one of these seven deacons, was remarkable for his lively faith and unflinching courage. He preached with zeal and effect,
confirming his words with miracles. His eloquence aroused the anger of the Jews and especially the active opposition
of one (or perhaps several) of the Hellenistic synagogues in Jerusalem. His opponents were from various parts of the
world, from Lybia, Egypt Cilicia, and the Roman Province of Asia, together with the Libertines or freedmen, the descendants
of the Jews whom Pompey had transported as slaves to Italy in 60 B.C. Unable to meet Stephen in argument they secured
false witnesses to testify that he had blasphemed by speaking against Moses and the temple. Then they excited the crowd
and some of the rulers, and with the help of this mob they dragged him off to be tried before the Sanhedrin.
1* Now in those days, as the number of the disciples was increasing, there arose a murmuring among the Hellenists against
the Hebrews that their widows were being neglected in the daily ministration. 2 So the Twelve called together the multitude
of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should forsake the word of God and serve at tables. 3 Therefore,
brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, that we may put them in charge
of this work. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 And the plan met the
approval of the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus
and Nicanor and Timon and Parmenas and Nicholas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and
after they had prayed they laid their hands upon them. 7 And the word of the Lord continued to spread, and the number
of the disciples increased rapidly in Jerusalem; a large number also of the priests accepted the faith.
8 Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But there arose some
from the synagogue which is called that of the Freedmen, and of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians and of those from Cilicia
and the province of Asia, disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit who
spoke. 11 Then they bribed men to say they had heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and against God.
12 And they stirred up the people
and the elders and the Scribes, and, running together, they seized him and brought him to the Sanhedrin. 13 And they
brought forward false witnesses to say, "This man never ceases speaking words against the Holy Place and the Law; 14 for we
have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the traditions which Moses handed down
to us." 15 Then all who sat in the Sanhedrin, gazing upon him, saw his face as though it were the face of an angel.
1: Hellenists: Jews from outside Palestine who spoke Greek. The Latin uses one term for
the Greek terms Hellenistae and Hellenes; the latter were Gentiles.