Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 10 December 2017; Revised 17 June 2018
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Scripture Text: The Scripture text used in this commentary is prepared by Blaine Robison and based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. See my web article The Jewish New Testament. Scripture quotations may be taken from different versions. Click here for abbreviations of Bible versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the commentary author.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Important Jewish sources include the following:
● DSS: Citations marked as "DSS" are from the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish manuscripts of Scripture and sectarian documents found in the Qumran caves. Most of the Qumran MSS belong to the last two centuries B.C. and the first century A.D. Online DSS Bible and DSS Docs. Click here for DSS abbreviations.
● LXX: The abbreviation "LXX" ("70") stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C. Online.
● Josephus: Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75–99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
● MT: The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Tanakh for Rabbinic Judaism. Work on developing a uniform Hebrew Bible began in the 2nd century under Rabbi Akiva, but completed by Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. The oldest extant manuscripts date from around the 9th century. Online.
● Targums: The targums are early Aramaic translations of the Hebrew text with commentary: Targum Jerusalem (1st c. AD), Targum Neofiti (1st c. AD), Targum Onkelos (c. 35–120 AD) and Targum Jonathan (2nd c. AD). See an index of targum texts here.
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations and pronunciation of Greek words. The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms ADONAI (for 'LORD' when quoting a Tanakh source), Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament).
The Seven Deacons, 6:1-7
The Ministry of Stephen, 6:8-15
The Seven Deacons, 6:1-7
1 Now in these days of multiplying disciples, there arose a grumbling of the Greek-speaking Jews toward the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily service.
Now: Grk. de, conj. used to indicate (1) a contrast to a preceding statement or thought, "but;" (2) a transition in presentation of subject matter, "now, then;" or (3) a connecting particle to continue a thought, "and, also," sometimes with emphasis, "indeed," "moreover" (Thayer). The second meaning applies here. The conjunction forms a bridge from the close of the previous chapter. See my note on the significance of conjunctions in the Besekh. in: Grk. en, prep. generally used to mark position, lit. "in" or "within." these: pl. of Grk. houtos, demonstrative pronoun signifying a person or thing set forth in narrative that precedes or follows it; this.
days: pl. of Grk. hēmera may refer to (1) the daylight hours from sunrise to sunset, (2) the civil or legal day that included the night, (3) an appointed day for a special purpose or (4) a longer or imprecise period, such as a timeframe for accomplishing something or a time of life or activity (BAG). The fourth meaning applies here. The opening clause of the verse reflects an indefinite time period following the release of the apostles. of multiplying: Grk. plēthunō, pres. part., become more in number; increase, multiply. disciples: pl. of Grk. mathētēs (from manthanō, to learn), one who learns through instruction from a teacher. In the Besekh the noun occurs only in the apostolic narratives and corresponds to the Heb. talmid (SH-8527, scholar or pupil), the student of a Torah scholar (Heb. rabbi). The term occurs 30 times in Acts and always refers to followers of Yeshua.
Being a disciple of Yeshua is a deeper commitment than being a "believer." Yeshua required four particular qualities of those who chose to follow him. First, Yeshua required sacrifice. Following Yeshua was not a life of luxury. Simon Peter alluded to his sacrifice when he spoke of leaving everything to follow Yeshua (Matt 19:27). The rich young ruler was not willing to pay this price to be a disciple (Matt 19:21-22). Thus, sacrifice for Yeshua has a direct impact on the pocketbook. Second, Yeshua required commitment. Devotion to Yeshua came before all other obligations (Luke 9:57-61; 14:26). Once the commitment was made turning back would have been equivalent to rebellion against God (Luke 9:62). The disciple left behind his ordinary life and embraced an extraordinary life with his master.
Third, Yeshua required humility. A disciple came to Yeshua with an inquiring mind, a desire to know. Yeshua had the answers about God and spiritual things (John 6:68). This humility is illustrated by the rabbinic saying "Let your home be a meeting-house for the sages, and cover yourself in the dust of their feet, and drink in their words thirstily" (Avot 1:4; translation by Bivin 12). Miriam, sister of Martha, demonstrated this humility when she sat at the feet of Yeshua (Luke 10:39). Fourth, Yeshua, as other rabbis, required obedience of his disciples (Matt 28:19). The disciple did not challenge the authority of his master or debate his instructions. For background information on "disciple" see the note on John 1:35.
there arose: Grk. ginomai, aor. mid., to transfer from one state or condition to another, which may be expressed in one of three ways: (1) come into being birth or natural process; be born or produced; (2) exist through application of will or effort by a person; be made, be performed; or (3) undergo a state of existence, change or development; come to be, become, take place, happen, occur, arise, be, appear, come, arrive. The third meaning applies here. a grumbling: Grk. gongusmos may mean (1) circulation of viewpoints in a suppressed manner; discreet talk, whispering; or (2) expression of discontent; murmuring, grumbling, complaint. The second meaning applies here.
of the Greek-speaking Jews: pl. of Grk. Hellēnistēs, a Greek-speaking Jew in contrast to one speaking a Semitic language (BAG). Danker extends the definition to "one who adapts to Greek culture." Similarly, Mounce defines the term as "primarily one who uses the language and follows the customs of the Greeks; in NT a Jew by blood, but a native of a Greek-speaking country, Hellenist." Likewise, Thayer says "one who imitates the manners and customs or the worship of the Greeks, and uses the Greek tongue; employed in the N. T. of Jews born in foreign lands and speaking Greek. He then commits a faux pas by saying, "the name adhered to them even after they had embraced Christianity." No, they were Hellēnistēs before they embraced Yeshua. (I maintain that Christianity was invented by the church fathers, not Yeshua and the apostles.)
Hellēnistēs occurs only three times in the Besekh (also Acts 9:29; 11:20) and in all these instances refers to Greek-speaking Israelites. The term Hellēnistēs does not occur at all in the LXX or any other Greek literature, so very likely Luke coined the term, because he was a Greek-speaking Jew. (See "Luke" in my web article Witnesses of the Good News). However, some versions either do not consider this definition or reject it outright. The KJV has "Grecians," ASV has "Grecian Jews" and the NIRV has "Greek Jews," which are clearly wrong. Many versions render the plural noun simply as "Hellenists" (AMP, DARBY, DLNT, ESV, HNV, LITV, NAB, NEB, NJB, NKJV, NRSV, NTE, RSV, TLV, WEB, YLT).
However, some versions have "Greek-speaking Jews (CJB, GW, LEB, NET, NLT, NLV, NOG, OJB, TEV, WE), and others have "Hellenistic Jews" (CSB, HCSB, ISV, MW, NASB, NIV). These versions make the important distinction that Luke is describing Jews, not Gentiles. However, in this context I believe that "Hellenized" would be a better adjective. For Luke the term meant much more than just a Jew who spoke Greek. Most Jews were familiar with Greek because it was the language of commerce in the Roman Empire. David Flusser (1917-2000), professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, preferred the term "Hellenized" to describe the Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem (75).
The "Hellenized Jews" were zealous for the Temple and Torah and certain circles of them were greatly influenced by the Essenes. The Hellenized Jews spoke Greek as their primary language and used the Greek translation of the Torah (Septuagint) for synagogue services. "Hellenistic" Jews, on the other hand, fully embraced the principles of Greek culture for life. Hellenistic Jews had a tendency toward universalism and tolerated religions around them. Many Hellenistic Jews adopted Greek customs, tolerated mixed marriage, dropped circumcision, and even in some places adopted Greek cults (Tarn & Griffith 223-227). "Hellenistic Jews" seems a poor choice for translating Hellēnistēs.
toward: Grk. pros, prep., lit. "near or facing" (DM 110), here denoting direction; to, towards, and depicts a face-to-face meeting. the Hebrew-speaking Jews: pl. of Grk. Hebraios, a Hebrew or a Hebrew-speaking Israelite. In contrast to the Hellenized Jews, the Hebraic Jews were conservative, orthodox Jews. They spoke Hebrew as their primary language and conducted synagogue services in Hebrew. Bruce and Wright, as other Christian scholars interpret Hebraios to mean Aramaic-speaking and this point of view is reflected in a few versions (CEB, CEV, EXB, TPT). Generally ignored by Christian scholars is that the LXX uses Suristi (Syrian) to mean "Aramaic" (e.g., 2Kgs 18:26; Ezra 4:7; Isa 36:11; Dan 2:4).
Suristi does not occur in the Greek New Testament at all, although the related form Suros (Syrian) does occur in Luke 4:27. It is clear that the Greek of the Besekh is the Greek of the LXX and Greek words in the Besekh mean what they mean in the LXX. If the apostolic authors had intended to say "Aramaic-speaking" they would have used Suristi, not Hebraios. It's as simple as that. David Flusser says, "The spoken languages of that period [first century] were Hebrew, Aramaic, and to an extent Greek … during that period Hebrew was both the daily language and the language of study" (11).
because: Grk. hoti, conj. that serves as a link between two sets of data, whether (1) defining a demonstrative pronoun; that; (2) introducing a subordinate clause as complementary of a preceding verb; (3) introducing a direct quotation translatable through modern use of punctuation marks; or (4) indicating causality with an inferential aspect; for, because, inasmuch as. The fourth usage applies here. their: pl. of Grk. autos, personal pronoun used to distinguish a person or thing from or contrast it with another, or to give him (it) emphatic prominence. The pronoun may mean (1) self, (2) he, she, it, or (3) the same. widows: pl. of Grk. chēra, a woman bereft of her husband; widow.
Hellenized Jewish widows were likely wives of expatriates who had immigrated to Jerusalem. They likely reflected the diversity of the Pentecost crowd who came from 14 different locations in the Jewish Diaspora (Acts 2:9-11). Greece is not included in the list. Pilgrims residing in the city were distributed into different sections by national origin and had a common synagogue (Jeremias 62). Some of the expatriates may have been among those Jews expelled from Rome during the reign of Caesar Tiberius (AD 19-30). Some may have come for the festivals, fell in love with the city and simply stayed. Whatever the reason, the husbands had died and now the widows were left dependent on others. The widows of Hebrew-speaking Jews were likely already residents of the area.
were being overlooked: Grk. paratheōreō, impf. pass., look past, overlook, neglect. The verb occurs only here in the Besekh. in: Grk. en. the daily: Grk. kathēmerinos, adj., day-by-day, daily. The word occurs only here in the Besekh. service: Grk. diakonia, service or ministration, especially in meeting the needs of others. Sometimes the term is used in the apostolic writings of dedication to a specific divine assignment, such as prayer and proclaiming the good news. Other examples include special ministrations like that of Martha (Luke 10:40) and the collection for famine relief (1Cor 16:15; 2Cor 8:4). According to the next verse the "daily service" was probably the distribution of food.
Taking care of widows was an important value in Jewish society (Ex 22:22; Deut 14:29; 16:11; 24:19) and Israelites were rebuked for failure to care for widows (Isa 1:17; 10:1-3; 58:7; Zech 7:10; Mal 3:5). Among the growing congregation numbering in the thousands there were apparently many widows needing assistance. Luke does not imply there was a genuine religious dispute at the heart of the conflict. The Hebrew-speaking Jews apparently had charge of the provision of aid, and the Greek-speaking Jews complained they were being neglected in the charitable distribution. The two groups lived in different quarters of the city and it may have only been a matter of the distributors taking food to widows they knew.
2 But the Twelve, having summoned the community of the disciples, said, "It is not desirable for us, having neglected the word of God, to serve tables.
But: Grk. de, conj. used to indicate (1) a contrast to a preceding statement or thought, "but;" (2) a transition in presentation of subject matter, "now, then;" or (3) a connecting particle to continue a thought, "and, also," sometimes with emphasis, "indeed," "moreover" (Thayer). The first meaning applies here. the Twelve: Grk. dōdeka, the numeral twelve but used here of the apostles whom Yeshua called to follow him and act with authority in his stead. The names of the Twelve are Simon Peter; Andrew; Jacob and John, the sons of Zebedee; Philip; Bartholomew (aka Nathanael); Thomas; Matthew (aka Levi); Jacob the son of Alphaeus; Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot (Matt 10:2-3) and Matthias (Acts 1:26).
having summoned: Grk. proskaleō, aor. part., to call, invite or summon to one's self or one's presence. the community: Grk. plēthos, a relatively large number of any kind, generally of people and used here of a group with shared interests. of the disciples: pl. of Grk. mathētēs. See the previous verse. The number of disciples easily exceeded 10,000 by this time, so there is no implication that every disciple attended the meeting. The meeting could have been held in the portico of Solomon (cf. Acts 5:12). said: Grk. legō, aor., to make a statement or utterance, whether mentally, orally or in writing, often used to introduce quoted material since ancient writings did not contain punctuation. In the LXX legō renders Heb. amar (SH-559), to utter, say, show, command or think. While not stated explicitly the spokesman was probably Peter who had the full support of the rest of the apostles.
It is: Grk. eimi, pres., to be, a function word used primarily to declare a state of existence, whether in the past ('was, were'), present ('are, is') or future ('will be'), often to unite a subject and predicate (BAG). not: Grk. ou, adv., a particle used in an unqualified denial or negation. desirable: Grk. arestos, adj., pleasing, gratifying, desirable. for us: Grk. hēmeis, pl. pronoun of the first person; used of the Twelve. having neglected: Grk. kataleipō, aor. part., to leave behind, abandon, used here in the sense of neglecting what has priority. Most versions translate the verb as an infinitive to project the action into the future, when the action was past. Only a few versions give the perspective of past action (DARBY, DLNT, LITV, YLT).
the word: Grk. logos, vocalized expression, word, discourse, statement, message or speech. In the LXX logos stands principally for Heb. dabar, which has a range of meaning "speech, word, report, command, advice, counsel, thing, matter" (Gen 29:13; BDB 182) (DNTT 3:1087). of God: Grk. theos, God or god, which must be determined from the context. In the LXX theos primarily renders the name of the Creator God Elohim (2568 times), but sometimes YHVH (300 times) (DNTT 2:67-70). The only God in existence is the God who created the heavens and the earth out of nothing (Gen 1:1) and who chose Israel out of all the nations on the earth for a covenantal relationship (Ex 19:5; Isa 44:6; 45:5-6; 46:9). By "word of God" Peter alludes to the active proclamation of the good news and instruction in the commandments of Yeshua (Matt 28:19-20).
to serve: Grk. diakoneō, pres. inf., to serve, especially in meeting of personal needs or attending to in some practical manner. tables: pl. of Grk. trapeza, a surface on which something can be placed. In the LXX trapeza renders Heb. shulchan, and while it's usually translated "table," meaning an item of furniture, its root meaning is "a skin or leather mat spread on the ground" (BDB 1020). In the Besekh trapeza is used of a dining table from which crumbs fall (Matt 15:27), a table for money transactions (Matt 21:12; Mark 11:15; Luke 19:23; John 2:12), and a table for the showbread in the tabernacle (Heb 9:2). Dining tables in most ancient Israeli homes were low in relation to the floor and persons would sit or recline on pallets to eat. "Serving tables" is a word picture of delivering food to the tables of the widows. The apostles had apparently been taken away from their mission priority to troubleshoot the charitable ministry and supervise food deliveries.
The narrative offers an early distinction between "word" ministries and "table" ministries. Based on Yeshua's list of serving ministries (Matt 25:35-36) and Paul's description of spiritual gifts (Rom 12:6-8; 1Cor 12:4-10), table ministries would include giving money, helping orphans and widows, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, quenching thirst, visiting prisoners, showing mercy, visiting the sick, healing the sick and providing hospitality. Word ministries would include proclaiming, prophesying, teaching, exhorting, leading, wisdom, knowledge, discernment, speaking in other languages, and interpreting other languages.
3 Moreover, brothers and sisters, select from yourselves seven men bearing good witness, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint over this need.
Moreover: Grk. de, conj. See the previous verse. brothers and sisters: pl. of Grk. adelphos, voc. case, lit. "of the same womb," and in secular Greek meant a male sibling; brother. In the apostolic narratives adelphos primarily refers to blood siblings or fellow Israelites who are of the same blood by virtue of descent from Jacob. In the LXX adelphos is used for the Heb. ach, meaning (1) brother, a male sibling born of the same mother and father (Gen 4:2); also half-siblings (Gen 20:5). The plural vocative case (direct address) in this verse could be translated as "brothers and sisters" given that Peter is addressing a mixed group, and is so rendered in some versions (CEB, HCSB, GW, NOG, NCV, NIV). It's inconceivable that the vocative case would not include the women.
select: Grk. episkeptomai, aor. mid. imp., to pay attention to; take an interest in, look for, select. from: Grk. ek, prep. used to denote exit or separation from something with which there has been a close association, lit. "out of, from within" (Thayer). The prep. is used here to indicate point of origin. yourselves: pl. of Grk. humeis, pl. pronoun of the second person. seven: Grk. hepta, adj., the number seven. men: pl. of Grk. anēr, an adult man without regard to marital status. In the LXX anēr renders several Heb. words: (1) ish, man; (2) enosh, men, people; (3) ba'al, lord, husband, head of a household; (4) gibbor, hero, warrior; (5) zaqen, elder; (6) nasi, prince; and (7) adon, lord (DNTT 2:562).
This requirement may seem strange to modern readers since the persons being served were women. The suggestion no doubt was meant to imitate synagogue organization since a "board" of seven men managed a synagogue (Moseley 10). The synagogue board included three men called "almoners" who cared for the poor, distributed alms and were expected to be scholars of the Scriptures. However, wives of the deacons would likely be involved in assisting their husbands with the ministry, as Paul later instructed Timothy (1Tim 3:11).
bearing good witness: Grk. martureō, pres. pass. part., to attest to a fact or truth, often in a legal context. Here the focus is on having received reliable and positive information from others about the individual being considered. The sense is captured by the NET, "well attested," and NTE, "well spoken of." The criteria for appointing deacons given by Paul may provide the breadth of meaning for the verb: "Deacons likewise must be deeply respected, not deceitful, not being devoted to much wine, not greedy, 9 holding to the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience." (1Tim 3:8-9 BR). Paul also adds the requirement that the deacon must first be tested (3:10), implying the candidate had some favorable prior experience or responsibility that supported his nomination for the office.
full: Grk. plērēs, adj., in a state or condition of being supplied abundantly with something, filled up, full of. of the Spirit: Grk. pneuma, (for Heb. ruach, Resh-Vav-Chet), wind, breath or spirit; here referring to the Holy Spirit. Pneuma is used for the human spirit and transcendent beings (Matt 8:16; Heb 1:14), particularly the Spirit as God's self-expression (Gen 1:2; Mark 1:10).
and: Grk. kai, conj. that marks a connection or addition. Kai has three basic uses: (1) continuative – and, also, even; (2) adversative – and yet, but, however; or (3) intensive – certainly, indeed, in fact, really, verily, yea (DM 250f). The first use applies here. Kai is used in the LXX to translate the vav (ו) character added to words for conjunctive effect. There are over 50 conjunctions in biblical Greek, but kai is by far the most common in the Besekh, occurring over 9,000 times (BibleHub). The excessive use of conjunctions is evidence of either an original Hebrew text or Jewish Greek.
of wisdom: Grk. sophia, exceptional endowment of discernment, understanding and insight, wisdom. In the LXX sophia renders predominately Heb. chokmah (SH-2451), wisdom, first in Exodus 28:3, but also Heb. binah (SH-998), understanding, first in Deuteronomy 4:6 (DNTT 3:1027). Sophia appears primarily in the Wisdom literature (Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Psalms). A large proportion of instances occur in the apocryphal writings (1Esdra, Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon). In Proverbs sophia is also used as a personification of ADONAI (Prov 1:20; 3:19; 7:4; 9:1). The fear of ADONAI is the beginning of wisdom (Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Prov 9:10; 15:33).
Wisdom is closely linked with the Holy Spirit (Ex 31:3; 35:31; Isa 11:2). Thus, the gift of wisdom would be coincidental with being full of the Spirit as Paul says, "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words" (1Cor 2:13 NIV). The need for wisdom perhaps relates to understanding stewardship principles and management of resources, as well as how to relate to people of different ethnic backgrounds. Clarke suggests that "wisdom" represents frugality, impartiality, and liberality walking hand in hand.
whom: Grk. hos, relative pronoun used to give significance to the mention of a person, thing, or piece of information that precedes; who, which, what, that. we will appoint: Grk. kathistēmi, fut., to put into a position of responsibility, to appoint. over: Grk. epi, prep., with the root meaning of "upon," used primarily as a marker of position or location; 'at, in, on, upon, over.' this: Grk. houtos, demonstrative pronoun. See verse 1 above. need: Grk. chreia, state or experience of necessity, need, necessity. The apostles offer no guidance on the practical management of the charitable ministry, but Paul will later provide guidance on serving the needs of widows (1Tim 5:3-16).
4 And we will steadfastly continue in prayer and the ministry of the Word."
And: Grk. de, conj. we: Grk. hēmeis, pl. pronoun of the first person. will steadfastly continue: Grk. proskartereō, fut., attend to with continuing resoluteness, show steadfast strength. HELPS notes that the verb means consistently showing strength which prevails in spite of difficulties; remaining firm in a fixed direction. in prayer: Grk. proseuchē with the definite article, a general word for prayer in the apostolic writings, appearing in contexts of worship, personal requests and intercession for others. In the LXX proseuchē renders Heb. tephillah (SH-8605, occurring numerous times in the Psalms) a derivative of the verb palal (DNTT 2:863).
Palal (SH-6419), lit. means "to intervene or to interpose" and has a wide range of usage in the Tanakh, including to arbitrate, to judge, to intercede or to pray. The presence of the definite article implies something more than attending the daily prayer services at the temple, perhaps the commitment to earnest intercession for the salvation of Israel, as well as prayer for their own continued empowerment for service. and: Grk. kai, conj. the ministry: Grk. diakonia. See verse 1 above. The apostles considered their role to be servants of the Messiah. of the Word: Grk. logos. See verse 2 above. The "ministry of the word" certainly alludes to the apostles' teaching (Acts 2:42), but it could also hint of humble service on behalf of the divine Logos.
5 And the statement was pleasing before the assembly; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faithfulness and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas and Nicolaus, an Antiochian proselyte,
And: Grk. kai, conj. the statement: Grk. logos. See verse 2 above. was pleasing: Grk. areskō, aor., give pleasure or gratification by meeting needs or interests. before: Grk. enōpion, adv., from a word meaning "facing" with the basic idea of being 'in sight of' or 'in the presence of.' the assembly: Grk. plēthos, See verse 2 above. The noun is used here of a gathering for official business. and: Grk. kai. they chose: Grk. eklegomai, aor. mid., to pick out for oneself; choose or select as the recipients of special favor and privilege. The verb indicates a highly deliberative choice between alternatives or a selection out of a larger group. In the LXX eklegomai nearly always renders forms of the Heb. verb bachar (SH-977), 'choose,' 'select,' or 'prefer' (DNTT 1:537).
Of the men chosen to oversee the charitable ministry nothing is known of their antecedents, and scant information is available of their ministry after this time. Hippolytus (170-236) includes all their names in the list of seventy apostles whom Yeshua chose and sent on an evangelistic mission in Luke 10:1 (On the Seventy Apostles). Thus, Luke would have been personally acquainted with them. Commentators note that all seven men had Greek names, which might imply that some or all of them were Hellenists. Remember that the Twelve apostles also had Greek names and they were all Hebraic Jews. The membership of the seven deacons would probably represent both parties of Jewish disciples, with perhaps the majority from the Hellenized Jews.
Stephen: Grk. Stephanos, a personal name meaning, "crown." The name of Stephen may appear first in the list because of his prominence in the rest of this chapter and the next. He may also have served as the president of the deacons. The following brief description serves as a fitting epitaph of his character and life. a man: Grk. anēr. See verse 3 above. full: Grk. plērēs, adj. See verse 3 above. of faithfulness: Grk. pistis incorporates two primary facets of meaning, first that which causes trust and faith, i.e., faithfulness or reliability, and second, trust or confidence in an active sense (BAG). All Bible versions translate the noun as "faith." In the LXX pistis is used two times to render Heb. emun, 'faithfulness' (SH-529; BDB 53; Deut 32:20; Prov 13:17).
Over 20 times pistis renders Heb. emunah, firmness, steadfastness, or fidelity (SH-530; BDB 53), mainly of men's faithfulness (1Sam 26:23; 2Kgs 12:15; 22:7; Jer 5:1, 3; 7:28; 9:3; Hos 2:20), but also of God's faithfulness (Ps 33:4; Lam 3:23; Hab 2:4). Pistis also translates Heb. aman (SH-539), to confirm, to support (Jer 15:18); amanah (SH-548), fixed support (Neh 9:38; 11:23; SS 4:8); and emet (SH-571), firmness, faithfulness, or truth (Prov 14:22; Jer 28:9; 33:6). The LXX usage emphasizes that the intended meaning of pistis is faithfulness.
and: Grk. kai. of the Holy: Grk. Hagios has two distinctive uses in Scripture: (1) as an adj., meaning set apart for dedication to the interests or expectations of deity; and (2) as a pure substantive to refer to that which has been set apart (BAG). The term is used of sacred things, places, people, angels and God. In the LXX hagios translates Heb. qadosh (SH-6918), which means separate, sacred, holy. Qadosh is first used of God in Leviticus 11:44. Spirit: Grk. pneuma See verse 3 above. In Scripture "holy" is only used as an adjective of "spirit" to refer to the Holy Spirit, a name or face of God.
"Holy Spirit" is not the title of a separate being, because God is Spirit (pneuma ho theos, John 4:24), just as God is the Word (John 1:1). The specific name "Holy Spirit" occurs only three times in the Tanakh (Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10, 11) given as Ruach Qodesh. The Holy Spirit is identified by three other forms in the Tanakh (Ruach Elohim, Gen 1:2; Ruach YHVH, Jdg 3:10; and Ruach Adonai YHVH, Isa 61:1). The Greek text of this verse does not have the definite article for either "Holy" or "Spirit," corresponding to the lack of the definite article in the three passages of Ruach Qodesh.
and: Grk. kai. Philip: Grk. Philippos, "fond of horses," composed etymologically from philia, "fondness, affection," and hippos, "horse." This was the name of five kings of Macedon, including Philip II the father of Alexander the Great. There are three other men named Philip in the Besekh: (1) Philip a son of Herod the Great and Mariamne; first husband of Herodias (Matt 14:3; Luke 3:19). He was a half-brother of Herod Antipas. (2) Philip the Tetrarch, a son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem (Luke 3:1); and (3) one of the twelve apostles of Yeshua (John 1:43). Bruce suggests that Luke may have been indebted to Philip for the later narrative of his ministry among the Samaritan Jews and to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).
Eventually Philip made his home in Caesarea where Luke mentions he had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9). Later tradition says that he became the beloved bishop of Tralles in Asia Minor (Barker 285). and: Grk. kai. Prochorus: Grk. Prochoros, a personal name meaning "leader of the dance" (Thayer). His name appears only here in the Besekh. According to Hippolytus, Prochorus was later appointed overseer of the congregation of disciples in Nicomedia, an ancient Greek city located in Asia Minor. Hippolytus notes that Prochorus embraced Yeshua together with his daughters. Tradition also says that Prochorus acted as an amanuensis of John the apostle and was martyred at Antioch (Bruce).
and: Grk. kai. Nicanor: Grk. Nikanōr, a personal name meaning "conqueror or overcomer" (Thayer). Nicanor was a common name and the name of this deacon appears only here in the Besekh. Nicanor may have been named for the ancient Judean holiday Yom Nicanor, which fell on Adar 13. Yom Nicanor celebrates the Maccabean defeat of Nicanor, a Syrian-Greek military officer who was considered a "master of elephants." Hippolytus says Nicanor died when Stephen was martyred. Gill discounts this tradition. Barker says a rash of legends developed about Nicanor, but nothing more of him is known for certain (261). Of interest is that a record of the seventy apostles by Dorotheus, bishop of Tyre, concurs with Hippolytus and says that 2,000 believers died the day Stephen was killed (cf. Acts 8:1). The word "day" could simply mean the time period of the "great persecution."
and: Grk. kai. Timon: Grk. Timōn, a personal name meaning "honorable" (HBD). His name appears only here in the Besekh. Hippolytus says Timon was later appointed overseer of the congregation of disciples in Bostra, a town in southern Syria. Dorotheus says Timon was martyred by burning. and: Grk. kai. Parmenas: Grk. Parmenas, a personal name meaning "faithful" or "constant" (HBD). His name is a shortened form of Parmenides. His name appears only here in the Besekh. Hippolytus says Parmenas was later appointed overseer of the congregation of disciples in Soli, an ancient city in Cilicia. One tradition holds that he was martyred at Philippi (Barker 274).
and: Grk. kai. Nicolaus: Grk. Nikolaos, a personal name meaning "conqueror of people" (HBD). His name appears only here in the Besekh. A number of versions spell his name as "Nicolas" and a few have "Nicholas." an Antiochian: Grk. Antiocheus, an inhabitant of Antioch. There are two cities named Antioch in the Besekh (Syrian Antioch, Acts 11:19; and Pisidian Antioch, Acts 13:14), so the place of origin is not certain. proselyte: Grk. prosēlutos, a technical term invented by the Jewish rabbis to designate a convert from polytheism to Judaism or orthodox religion and practice as espoused especially in Judean circles. The term occurs nowhere in secular Greek literature (DNTT 1:360). Prosēlutos occurs only four times in the Besekh (Matt 23:15; Acts 2:10; 6:5; 13:43).
In the LXX prosēlutos occurs 83 times, 80 of which renders Heb. ger (SH-1616), a sojourner or temporary dweller with no inheritance rights, first in Exodus 12:48. This term is variously translated as "alien, foreigner, immigrant, sojourner or stranger" in English Bibles. Prosēlutos also twice renders the participle form of the Heb. verb gur (SH-1481), to abide or sojourn (2Chr 15:9; Isa 54:15) and appears without Hebrew equivalent in Deut 12:18. Philo says that proselytes are so called from "the fact of their having come over to a new and God-fearing constitution, learning to disregard the fabulous inventions of other nations, and clinging to unalloyed truth" (Special Laws I, 51). He also says of them that they "have left their country, and their friends, and their relations for the sake of virtue and holiness" (52).
Rabbinic tradition distinguished two kinds of proselytes, the righteous proselyte (Heb. ger tzedek) and the gate proselyte (Heb. ger ha-sha'ar, Ex 20:10, Deut 5:13-14). The gate proselyte believed in and prayed to the God of Israel, attended synagogue worship, kept at least the moral code and other Jewish traditions in varying degrees, and gave alms and other financial support to the Jews. However, the righteous proselyte chose full identification with Israel (cf. 2Chr 2:17-18; Esth 8:17), and, if male, submitted to circumcision (Ex 12:48). Rabbinic Judaism added immersion as a requirement (Yeb. 46a).
The circumcised and immersed male proselyte was considered as a "child newly born" (Yeb. 22a). A righteous proselyte was bound to all the doctrines and precepts of the Torah, and considered a full member of the Jewish people. A righteous proselyte could participate fully in all religious festivals and enjoyed all the legal rights and privileges accorded native Israelites. The proselyte was to be present at the reading of the Torah (Deut 31:12), demonstrating his willingness to be bound by its demands. In terms of piety a righteous proselyte lived as an orthodox Jew. The proselytes mentioned in the Besekh were most likely of the "righteous" category. They were zealous of their adopted religion, often to the point of becoming legalists.
It should be noted that no proselyte of any kind was ever called a Jew by Jews, probably because of the ethnic definition of the descendants of Jacob, the distinctive promise of the land of Israel to the Jews in perpetuity and the special relationship of the Jews to the Torah (cf. Gal. 5:3) (Stern 339). Proselytes had no inheritance rights in the Land promised to the Israelites. Only in the age to come will proselytes be granted land among the tribes of Israel (Ezek 47:22-23). God never required Gentiles to be circumcised to receive salvation and the issue will be confronted at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). While some modern Gentile Christians might view themselves as spiritual Jews by virtue of being grafted into Israel and possessing circumcision of the heart, the apostles never made confused their terms.
Additional Note on Nicolaus
Nicolaus was most likely a righteous proselyte. Hippolytus says Nicolaus was later appointed overseer of the congregation of disciples in Samaria, perhaps meaning Sebaste, a Hellenistic city and capital of the territory of Samaria. As early as the time of Irenaeus (c. AD 180) Nicolaus was held to be the founder of the heretical sect called Nicolaitans mentioned in Revelation 2:5, 15. Irenaeus said, "The Nicolaitans are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the deaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols" (Against Heresies, I.26.3).
Hippolytus also referred to the Nicolaitans as "disciples of Nicolas," the early deacon (The Refutation of All Heresies, VII, 24). Dorotheus (d. 362 AD) says Nicolaus deviated from the true faith together with Simon Magus. However, Tertullian (AD 220) mentions the Nicolaitans in a neutral fashion without indicating their origin (Against Marcion, I, 29; The Prescription Against Heretics, 33). Most other church fathers disagreed that the heresy originated with Nicolaus, but rather the Nicolaitans distorted an obscure saying attributed to Nicolaus. Ignatius (30-107), writing shortly after John the apostle, referred to the Nicolaitans as "falsely so-called" (Epistle to the Trallians, XI). Clement of Alexandria (153-220) said, "Such also are those who say that they follow Nicolaus, quoting an adage of the man, which they pervert" (Stromata, II, 20).
Victorinus (c. 300) also dissented from Irenaeus and in the first Latin commentary on Revelation wrote that the heretics spoke "n the name of Nicolaus" to give authority to their teaching (Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John). Bruce comments that Victorinus probably based his opinion on Papias and Papias must have known what he was talking about (131). Finally, Nicolaus was first a proselyte to Judaism before he became a disciple of Yeshua and if he departed from the truth it would more likely be in the direction of the Judaizers than to paganism. Without further corroboration from the apostles the good name of Nicolaus should be left unsullied.
6 whom they placed before the apostles; and having prayed, they laid their hands on them.
This verse continues from verse 5. whom: Grk. hos, relative pronoun. they placed: Grk. histēmi, aor., may mean (1) cause to be in a place or position; or (2) be in an upright position, used of bodily posture. The first meaning applies here. before: Grk. enōpion, adv. See the previous verse. the apostles: pl. of Grk. apostolos, one who is sent on a mission or assignment as an official representative. Apostolos occurs one time in the LXX where it translates shaluach, Qal pass. part. of the verb shalach (SH-7971), "sent," in 1Kings 14:6 of Ahijah the prophet. Josephus also uses apostolos one time of a group of Jewish ambassadors sent to Rome to complain about the appointment of Archelaus (Ant. XVII, 11:1). Apostolos appears in no other early Jewish literature.
First century Judaism institutionalized the office of shaliach, who acted as an official messenger or a proxy for and with the full authority of the sender. The Mishnah says, "the agent [Heb. shaliach] is as the one who sends him" (Ber. 5:5). The shaliach’s mission was "limited in scope and duration by definite commission and terminating on its completion" (DNTT 1:128). In the Besekh the plural term "apostles" refers to the Twelve apostles of Yeshua. All the apostles named in Acts were Jewish. The apostles had the authority to proclaim the good news, determine orthodox doctrine, impose requirements based on application of Torah ("bind and loose," Matt 16:19; 18:18), and shepherd the congregations they founded (cf. 1Cor 14:37).
and: Grk. kai, conj. having prayed: Grk. proseuchomai, aor. part., to petition deity for some personal desire. The verb is plural, which could imply either the united prayer of the group or intensive prayer, or both. In the LXX proseuchomai renders Heb. palal, to intervene or interpose, i.e., judge. The verb has a variety of meanings, including arbitrate, judge, intercede and pray. The context of prayer in the Tanakh is addressing the Sovereign Judge of all people and thus prayer by its nature requires self-examination. The verb refers to petitioning God for His help or answer with respect to an urgent need. The apostles likely prayed that God would empower the deacons for service.
they laid: Grk. epitithēmi, aor., to put, place or lay upon. their hands: pl. of Grk. cheir, the body part of the hand. on them: pl. of Grk. autos, personal pronoun. The idiomatic expression of "laying on of hands," (from Heb. s'mikhah, "leaning" or "laying") meaning to consecrate, dedicate or ordain, has a strong history in Scripture and Jewish culture. Animals were dedicated for sacrifice by hand-laying (Ex 29:10; Lev 4:15). The practice of the laying on of hands to consecrate someone to an office began at Sinai. The ritual effectively made the candidate a "living sacrifice." Israelites dedicated Levites for service (Num 8:10) and Moses transferred his authority to Joshua by this method (Num 27:18-23; Deut 34:9). This ritual may have been followed for ordaining the seventy elders to their office by Moses (Num 11:16–17, 24–25).
In Jewish culture the ordination ceremony for a judge, elder or rabbi was accomplished by laying on of hands. This symbolic act confers or transfers an office, along with its duties and privileges, by dramatizing God's bestowal of the blessings and spiritual gifts needed for the work. A rabbinic candidate was ordained by a board of three elders, at least one of whom had also received s'mikhah (Stern 64). By the apostles placing their hands on the candidates for the deacon office, they became living sacrifices for their Messiah (Rom 12:1) and their lives from that point belonged wholly to the Lord's service. Mentions of the ordaining ritual occur several more times in the Besekh (Acts 8:17, 9:17, 13:3, 19:6, 28:8; 1Tim 4:4, 5:22; 2Tim 1:6)
7 And the word of God was increasing; and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem was multiplying, also a great crowd of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
Bruce notes that Luke interrupts his narrative with a brief report of progress. Several brief reports appear at intervals throughout the book that summarize activity for a period of time and move the narrative forward (2:42-47; 4:32-35; 5:12-16, 42; 6:7-8; 8:1-4; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:31). Unfortunately, these reports do not help to fix dates for events. The imperfect tense of the three verbs in this verse, which depict continuous action in past time, imply an indefinite extension of time.
And: Grk. kai, conj. the word of God: See verse 2 above. was increasing: Grk. auxanō, impf., cause to become greater in extent or amount, increase. and: Grk. kai. the number: Grk. arithmos, number or total, and may refer to a specific number, a total number of something or the numerical value assigned to specific letters of the alphabet (BAG). of the disciples: pl. of Grk. mathētēs, i.e., followers of Yeshua. See verse 1 above. in: Grk. en, prep. Jerusalem: Grk. Ierousalēm, a transliteration of Heb. Yerushalaim ("the dwelling of peace"). The city is situated some 2500 feet above sea level and eighteen miles west of the northern end of the Dead Sea, is renowned as the capital of all Israel. In ancient times the city covered seven mountains: Mount Zion, Mount Ophel, Mount Moriah, Mount Bezetha, Mount Acra, Mount Gareb, and Mount Goath (Neil 289).
Jerusalem was (and is) dear to Jews (Ps 122:3-4; 137:5-6) and is the city God favors above all other cities of the earth and the focus of His covenantal faithfulness (Ps 135:21; 147:2; Ezek 5:5; Zech 2:8). The city figured prominently in Messianic expectation (Isa 59:20; 62:11; Zech 9:9). Jerusalem is the "city of the great king" (Matt 5:35). It was the city in which the Messiah was to be killed and raised to life. It was also the city from which the message of God's salvation would go forth (Isa 2:3; 40:9; 41:27; Mic 4:2). In the millennial kingdom Jerusalem will be the capital and center of the Messiah's government (Zech 14:16; Rev 20:9).
was multiplying: Grk. plēthunō, impf. pass. See verse 1 above. The number of disciples in Jerusalem was not limited to permanent residents. also: Grk. te, conj. used to connect an idea closely to another in a manner that is tighter than with kai; also, both. a great: Grk. polus, adj., extensive in scope, here indicating a high number. crowd: Grk. ochlos, an aggregate of people or an assembled company of people; crowd, multitude, great number. of the priests: pl. of Grk. hiereus, personnel in charge of sacrifice and offering at worship places, particularly the tabernacle and Temple. In the LXX hiereus renders Heb. kohen, first in Genesis 14:18. The priests were originally organized into 24 divisions or courses by David (1Chr 23:6; 24:7–18) and this organization was followed in the first century. Josephus tallies the number of priests as at least 20,000 (Against Apion, 2:8).
In the apostolic narratives the chief priests are often seen in opposition to Yeshua, but nothing is said about the attitude of the ordinary priests. Yeshua made three references to ordinary priests: (1) one in which he directed a man cleansed of a skin disorder to present the Torah required offering (Matt 8:4); (2) one in which he remarked that the consecrated bread is for priests (Matt 12:4); and (3) one in which he remarked that priests who serve on the Sabbath are innocent of violating the fourth commandment (Matt 12:5). Two ordinary priests are identified by name, both godly men looking for the Messiah, Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25) and possibly Simeon (Luke 2:25-35). Malachi had prophesied that ADONAI would come to His temple and purify the sons of Levi (Mal 3:3). It's possible that the number of priests who accepted Yeshua represented a tithe of the total number (cf. Mal 3:8-10).
were becoming obedient: Grk. hupakouō, impf., to be in compliance, to obey. The verb is formed from the preposition hupo, 'under,' and akouō, 'to hear.' In Hebrew culture "to hear" is "to obey." to the faith: Grk. pistis with the definite article. See verse 5 above. The dative case of pistis makes it the object of the verb. Bruce suggests the phrase should possibly rendered "obedient by faith" (cf. Rom 1:5; 16:26). The AMP version has a note that pistis is used here to mean accepting Yeshua as Messiah and acknowledging Him as the Source of eternal salvation. However, pistis is the result of the verb "becoming obedient." Pistis is used in this manner a number of times in the Besekh.
Pistis can never mean "creedal doctrine" as some scholars assert for some of the mentions of pistis in the letters of Paul (Rom 1:5; Gal 1:23; 3:23; 1Tim 1:19; 4:1; 6:10; 2Tim 4:7) and Jude (1:3) (BAG 669f). When Paul said he had kept "the faith" he did not mean that he kept on believing a set of doctrines. Doctrine is something to be believed, not obeyed. Thus the NIRV translates pistis here with "to Jesus' teachings." The Great Commission of Yeshua charged his apostles with teaching disciples to observe all that he commanded them (Matt 28:20). So "the faith" is shorthand for faithfulness to the body of ethical and moral guidance taught by Yeshua and his apostles (cf. Acts 13:8; 14:22; 16:5).
The Ministry of Stephen, 6:8-15
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great signs and wonders among the people.
And: Grk. de, conj. Stephen: See verse 5 above. full: Grk. plērēs, adj. See verse 3 above. of grace: Grk. charis, disposition marked by inclination to generosity, frequently unmotivated by the worth of the recipient; thus, grace, gracefulness, graciousness, favor, thanks or gratitude. In the LXX charis renders primarily Heb. hēn (SH-2580), favor, first in Gen 6:8 in regards to Noah receiving the favor of God, but also Heb. racham (SH-7356), compassion, mercy, first in Gen 43:14 (DNTT 2:116). The noun is used here in the sense of God's favor and resulting spiritual equipping from that favor (cf. Rom 12:6). and: Grk. kai, conj. power: Grk. dunamis, from dunamai, the quality or state of being capable, here as an exhibition of a singular capability.
was performing: Grk. poieō, impf., a verb of physical action that may refer to (1) producing something material; make, construct, produce, create; or (2) to be active in bringing about a state of condition; do, act, perform, work. The second meaning applies here. In the LXX poieō renders chiefly Heb. asah (SH-6213), accomplish, do, make, work (first in Gen 1:7), and used of a wide range of human and divine activity. great: Grk. megas, adj. signs: pl. of Grk. sēmeion usually refers to an extraordinary phenomenon, a portent or a miracle (Mounce). In the LXX sēmeion is predominately a translation of the Heb. word oth (SH-226), "sign, pledge, token, standard or miracle" (DNTT 2:626). Most of the usages of "sign" in the Tanakh are related to miraculous wonders that only the Creator could perform, especially the many miracles for Israel's benefit.
and: Grk. kai. wonders: pl. of Grk. teras, a phenomenon with astounding effect; marvel, wonder, portent. In the Besekh the noun occurs only in the plural and always coupled with "signs." In the LXX teras renders Heb. mopheth (SH-4159), a wonder, sign or portent. The term is used of special displays of God's power, especially the miracles performed through Moses and Aaron in Egypt (Ex 4:21; 11:10). The word "wonders" occurs 16 times in the Besekh, always combined with "signs," and together they may be considered two sides of the same coin. In other words, "sign" is the event and "wonder" is the impact on those who witness the sign.
among: Grk. en, prep. the people: Grk. laos, a group of humans, understood geographically or ethnically. In the apostolic narratives the term often corresponds to the Heb. am-ha'aretz, "people of the land," i.e., the people of Israel, sometimes viewed in contrast with the ruling class. Luke draws attention to Stephen for his divinely anointed ministry. The deacons were obviously more than just charity managers, but effective evangelists for Yeshua. Their spiritual empowerment was clearly equivalent to the apostles.
9 But some of those out of the synagogue called 'Freedmen,' and Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up, disputing with Stephen.
But: Grk. de, conj. some: Grk. tis, indefinite pronoun which generally indicates non-specification; some one, any one, a certain one. of those: pl. of Grk. ho, definite article but used here as a relative pronoun. out of: Grk. ek, prep. the synagogue: Grk. sunagōgē means a gathering-place or place of assembly. In the Besekh the term refers to the place at which Jews gathered for worship and learning. The term does not necessarily mean a manufactured structure as the word "church" can mean (cf. Acts 16:13). In the LXX sunagōgē occurs 225 times and is generally used to translate the Heb. words edah (SH-5712), congregation (Ex 12:3) and qahal (SH-6951), assembly, convocation, or congregation (Ex 16:3) (DNTT 1:292ff).
The origin of the Jewish synagogue is not known for certain, but scholars generally date its beginning during the Babylonian exile (NIBD 1019). Pious Jews, far from their native land, without the ministry of the temple, no doubt felt the necessity to gather on the Sabbath in order to listen to the word of God and engage in prayer (cf. Ps 137; Jer 29:7; Ezek 14:1; 20:1). Eventually meetings came also to be held on other days, and at the same hours as the morning and evening services in the temple. According to Philo, the Jewish philosopher (20 B.C.─A.D. 50), synagogues were houses of prayer and schools of wisdom (On the Life of Moses II, 39). By the first century, synagogues emerged as the central institution of Jewish life as a place where study, worship, celebration, and various other kinds of meetings took place.
called: Grk. legō, pres. part. See verse 2 above. The verb is used here to mean "to call by a name." Freedmen: pl. of Grk. Libertinos, a transliteration of the Latin word, libertinus, one who has been liberated from slavery, a freedman, or the son of a freedman. The term occurs only here in the Besekh. Some versions (ASV, BRG, DRA, JUB, KJV, PHILLIPS, WEB, YLT) have "Libertines," which in modern culture can mean "morally or sexually unrestrained," an inaccurate description of the group mentioned here. The grammar implies that the membership of the synagogue consisted of people freed from Roman slavery or their descendants.
Historically a number of suggestions have been made as to the origin of the freedmen, but according to BAG and Thayer the freedmen were descendants of Jews who had been enslaved by the Romans under Pompey (65-63 BC). A narrative of Pompey's campaign in Judea may be found in Cassius Dio (Roman History, XXXVII, 15-19) and Josephus (Ant. XIV, 4:1-5). The Jews taken to Rome were afterward set free by Julius Caesar. The Jews in Rome received government favor and protection during the reigns of Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus and enjoyed influence among prominent Romans. According to Philo the Jews in at Rome also built at their own expense a synagogue at Jerusalem, which they frequented when in that city (On the Embassy to Gaius § XXIII, 155-156).
However, after Augustus the reign of Tiberius (14-37 A.D.), until the removal of his minister Sejanus, was a time of misfortune for the Jews in Rome. The Jews were expelled from Rome, because a Roman lady who inclined toward Judaism had been deceived by four Jewish swindlers. The synagogues were closed, the vessels burned, and 4,000 Jewish youths were sent upon military service to Sardinia. See the narratives of Tacitus (Annals, Book II, 85), Suetonius (Life of Tiberius §36), and Josephus (Ant. XVIII, 3:5). Thus, the synagogue of freedmen may have also included expatriates who had been expelled from Rome.
The common interpretation of this verse is that the membership of the synagogue consisted of freedmen from the following geographical locations (so Clarke, Bruce 133; Gilbert 210; Jeremias 62; Stern 240). CJB has "composed of." However, Jeremias also says that pilgrims residing in the city were distributed into different sections by national origin. Also, Groag points out the grammar is indefinite and there were many synagogues in Jerusalem. Gill concurs that the grammar supports different ethnic synagogues. Luke did not need to repeat the word "synagogue" to indicate that Jews from these separate points of origin had their own synagogue. The Talmud says that, at the time of the destruction of the second temple, there were 394 synagogues in Jerusalem alone (Ket. 105a; TJ Sot. 7:7, 8; Yom. 7:1). The Talmud mentions specifically a synagogue of people from Cilicia in Jerusalem, as well as a synagogue of Alexandrians and a synagogue of Roman Jews (Megilah 26a-b; TJ Megilah 73.4).
and: Grk. kai, conj. Several versions translate this conjunction as "both," since the following two locations are in North Africa (CSB, NASB, NET, TLV). Cyrenians: pl. of Grk. Kurēnaios, belonging to Cyrene or a native of Cyrene, a large and important city in Cyrenaica, the district of Upper Libya on the north coast of Africa west of Egypt. The noun occurs only here in the Besekh. Many Jews resided in the region. While under the Egyptian kings the Jews had enjoyed equal rights, but now they were oppressed by the autonomous Greek population (Ant. XVI, 6:1).
and: Grk. kai. Alexandrians: pl. of Grk. Alexandreus, belonging to or a native of Alexandria, Egypt. Next to Jerusalem and Rome, there was, perhaps, no city in which the Jewish population was so numerous and influential as Alexandria. The city was founded by Alexander the Great, 332 B.C., and was populated by colonies of Greeks and Jews. The city was known for its cultural and academic pursuits. The finest library in the ancient world with over 500,000 volumes attracted many scholars. The Jews had their own quarter and were permitted to govern themselves (Ant. XIV, 7:2). They were recognized as citizens by their Roman rulers (Ibid. XIV, 10:1). From Alexandria had come the Greek version of the Tanakh or Septuagint (LXX), which was then in use among all the Hellenistic and Hellenized Jews throughout the empire, and read even in Israel itself. There, at this time, living in fame and honor, was the great Jewish philosopher and teacher Philo.
and: Grk. kai. those: pl. of Grk. ho. from: Grk. apo, prep. Cilicia: Grk. Kilikia, a province of Asia Minor, bounded on the north by Cappadocia, on the south by the Mediterranean, on the east by Syria, and on the west by Pamphylia. Cilicia was part of the Roman province of Syria. Its capital, Tarsus, was the birthplace of Saul (later Paul). Saul likely attended the synagogue of Cilicians. Some commentators believe Saul was one of the disputants against Stephen (so Bruce, Gill and Groag). and: Grk. kai. Asia: Grk. Asia, the Roman province of Asia, roughly the western third of Asia Minor. The important province included the well-known cities of Colossae, Ephesus, Hierapolis, Laodicea, Miletus, Pergamum, Philadelphia, Sardis, Smyrna, Thyatira and Troas. All of these cities had Jewish populations.
Stephen's ministry likely took him to different Greek-speaking synagogues in Jerusalem as he faithfully proclaimed Yeshua as Messiah (Wright 105). Considering the points of origin the adversaries were not native Jerusalem Jews, but Hellenized Diaspora Jews, although some could have been orthodox Hebrew-speaking Jews. (Saul of Cilicia was of the latter group, Php 3:5). They would not be Hellenistic Jews since worldly Hellenistic Jews would be unlikely to have a zealous opposition against Stephen's religious viewpoint. stood up: Grk. anistēmi, aor., to rise, stand up or get up and in its ordinary use refers to the physical motion of transition from a sitting or prone position or simply standing. The verb may be meant idiomatically of taking a stand on principle.
disputing: Grk. suzēteō, pres. part., engage in serious conversation about a matter, either amiable or contentious, which is the meaning here. Most versions translate the verb as past tense with either "argued" or "disputed." with Stephen: See verse 5 above. The combination of the verbs "stood up, disputing" may imply debate in a public place. Some members from these various synagogues were strongly opposed to the message of Yeshua. Stern suggests that the adversaries may have included proselytes. The zeal of the proselytes for circumcision as the seal of salvation became a stumblingblock to Messianic communities.
10 But they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.
But: Grk. kai, conj., used here to emphasize contrast. they were not: Grk. ou, adv. able: Grk. ischuō, impf., to have the capacity for accomplishing, either to cope with a situation or to achieve an objective; have power or strength, be able. The verb in this context refers to having strength of persuasion. to withstand: Grk. anthistēmi, aor. inf., take a position in opposition to, resist, hold one's own, take a stand against, oppose, withstand. the wisdom: Grk. sophia. See verse 3 above. and: Grk. kai. the Spirit: Grk. Pneuma. See verse 3 above. A few versions translate pneuma with the lower-case "spirit" which would refer to the spirit of Stephen (DRA, KJV, MSG, NAB, NMB, NTE, REV, TLB, YLT). Most versions translate the noun as referring to the Holy Spirit, which makes more sense for the context.
by whom: Grk. hos, relative pronoun. See verse 3 above. Most versions have "with which," but if pneuma refers to the Holy Spirit, then "by whom" makes more sense as found in a few versions (AMP, CSB, EHV, HCSB, TLV, WE). he was speaking: Grk. laleō, impf., to make an oral statement and to exercise the faculty of speech; assert, proclaim, report, say, speak, talk about, utter. Just as Yeshua had promised his apostles that the Spirit would give them the words to speak when challenged (Matt 10:19-20), so Stephen was anointed by God with powerful words to refute the argumentations against Yeshua being the Messiah.
11 Then they suborned men saying that "We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God."
Then: Grk. tote, temporal adv. that focuses on a time or circumstance that is closely associated with what precedes in the narrative; at that time, then, thereupon. they suborned: Grk. hupoballō, aor., put forward to do something wrong; suborn or induce. The verb occurs only here in the Besekh. men: pl. of Grk. anēr. See verse 3 above. saying: Grk. legō, pres. part. See verse 2 above. that: Grk. hoti, conj. See verse 1 above. The conjunction is used here to introduce a quotation. In other words, the critics of Stephen found men who were willing to give false testimony, probably for money, and the critics told these men what to say.
We have heard: Grk. akouō, perf., may mean (1) to hear, with the focus on willingness to heed the substance of what is said; (2) hear with comprehension, understand; or (3) receive information aurally, hear, hear about. The third meaning dominates here. In the LXX akouō consistently stands for Heb. shama, which not only means to apprehend, but also to accept and to act upon what has been heard (DNTT 2:173). him: Grk. autos, personal pronoun. The genitive case may be one of attribution, claiming direct evidence of hearing Stephen's own words. The genitive, which normally requires "of," might also indicate hearsay evidence. In other words, the false witnesses are only repeating what they heard other say, so they themselves cannot be accused of breaking the 9th commandment.
speaking: Grk. laleō, pres. part. See the previous verse. blasphemous: Grk. blasphēmos, abusive in utterance; reviling, defaming, slanderous. words: pl. of Grk. rhēma, a communication consisting of words, often with the implication of importance or special significance. In secular Greek literature rhēma referred to a statement, discourse or explanation. In the LXX rhēma occurs predominately in the Pentateuch and prophetic writings for the Heb. dabar, which means "word" or "thing." Thus, rhēma, standing for dabar, can mean both (a) a word or utterance as well as (b) a matter, event, or case in the sense of the result of things said or done (DNTT 3:1119f). against: Grk. eis, prep. that focuses on entrance, frequently in relation to direction and limit ("to, into, toward"), but used here in a disadvantageous sense.
Moses: Grk. Mōusēs, transliterates Heb. Mosheh, the great Hebrew leader, prophet and lawgiver of Israel born about 1525 BC. His life can be easily divided into three 40-year periods, the first being his birth and early life in Egypt, the second his years in Midian, and the third the wilderness period after the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. Moses was the leader of the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness. At Mount Sinai Moses served as God's spokesman to facilitate the beginning of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Forty years later on the plains of Moab Moses renewed the covenant with Israel and made preparations for their entry into the promised land.
Moses was a heroic leader of the people and a devout man of God. Yet, due to an act of disobedience to God's instructions Moses was not permitted to enter the land of Canaan with the nation (Num 20:8-12). At the end of his life God allowed Moses to view the land from the top of Mt. Pisgah before his death and there he died at the age of 120. God buried him in the land of Moab (Deut 34:1-7). However, Moses' death was not the end of his importance or influence, because Scripture asserts that Moses compiled, wrote and/or edited the five books attributed to his name (Matt 22:24; Mark 12:19; Luke 16:29; 24:27, 44). Stern suggests that the accusation of "speaking against Moses" implies the alleged blasphemy was asserting that Yeshua is greater than Moses and the Torah has been changed or annulled.
and: Grk. kai. God: Grk. theos. See verse 2 above. In Leviticus 24:15 blasphemy is defined as "cursing" God, that is, treating His name with contempt or dishonor. The speech is considered blasphemy when it is against transcendent powers. The Mishnah says of blasphemy against God that it was only considered an offence if the divine name of God was uttered at the same time (Sanh. 7:7; Makk. 3:15; Ker. 1:1). Yeshua was also charged with blasphemy by his accusers because he claimed to be the Son of Man (Matt 26:65; Mark 14:64; John 10:33).
12 Also they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and having come upon him they seized him and brought him into the Council meeting.
Also: Grk. te, conj. they stirred up: Grk. sugkineō, aor., cause to move together in a tumultuous manner; stir up, arouse, excite. The verb occurs only here in the Besekh. the people: Grk. laos. See verse 8 above. This is the first time any hostility of the people is mentioned. Previously, the apostles enjoyed a degree of popularity with the people. However, the masses can be turned by a great lie, especially if it is continually repeated. The lie was that the message of the sect of Yeshua followers was undermining the principles of Judaism (Gloag).
the elders: pl. of Grk. presbuteros may mean (1) ranked as superior in age, older, older one; or (2) ranked in terms of official responsibility, elder(s). The second meaning applies here. In the LXX presbuteros renders Heb. zaqen (old, aged; and in the plural "elders," BDB 278). Presbuteroi first occurs in Exodus 19:7 to identify the leaders of Israel. It was from this group that the seventy elders were chosen to assist Moses (Num 11:24). The "elders" formed a faction of the Sanhedrin and were often aligned with the Sadducees. There is no definitive information on the number of elders on the Sanhedrin.
and: Grk. kai, conj. the scribes: pl. of Grk. grammateus refers to a specialist in legal matters. In the LXX grammateus renders two Hebrew words, shotêr and more frequently sophêr (DNTT 3:477f). The word shotêr (SH-7860, official; officer, BDB 1009) is initially used of men chosen to be part of the seventy elders (Num 11:16), and then later of other officials (Deut 20:5; 1Chr 23:4). The word sophêr (SH-5608, secretary, scribe, BDB 708) was used for the secretary to a ruler, a prophet or a military officer (2Sam 8:17; Jer 36:4, 18, 32; 37:15), as well as one skilled in Torah laws (Ezra 7:6; Neh 8:1). In the Besekh the term always has its Jewish meaning of one learned in Torah. Scribes were clearly influential. For more information on the scribes see my commentary on Mark 1:22. Jeremias says that the Pharisaic party in the Sanhedrin was composed entirely of scribes (cf. Matt 21:45; Luke 20:19) (236).
and: Grk. kai. having come upon: Grk. ephistēmi, aor. part., may mean (1) to come or stand near in a non-threatening mode; or (2) come or stand near in a discomfiting or threatening mode. The second meaning applies here. him they seized: Grk. sunarpazō, aor., take forcibly under control; seize. him: Grk. autos, personal pronoun. and: Grk. kai. brought: Grk. agō, aor., to cause movement by taking the lead; lead, bring, carry, take. him into: Grk. eis, prep. the Council meeting: Grk. sunedrion, a governing board. In Greek culture the term originally meant (1) the place where the council met, (2) then the body of councilors or (3) their actual meeting (DNTT 1:363). All three usages of the noun may be found in the apostolic narratives of Jewish judicial assemblies. With the preposition eis the third meaning seems intended. The actual number present in any of these meetings is never mentioned.
The Greek word came into general usage in 57-55 B.C. when the Romans divided the Land into five sunedria (Ant. XIV, 5:4). Jews transliterated the term into the Hebrew sanhedrin. In the LXX sunedrion renders Heb. math (SH-4962), male, man, men (Ps 26:4 as a deliberative body); qahal (SH-6951), assembly, congregation (Prov 26:26); and sôd (SH-5475), council (Jer 15:17). Sunedrion also occurs without Heb. equivalent in Proverbs for those sitting in the gate for judgment (11:13; 15:22; 20:19; 22:10; 24:7; 27:22; 31:23). The usage of sunedrion in the LXX denotes small groups of elders who acted as advisors or judges. The great majority of versions translate sunedrion here with the capitalized "Sanhedrin," or "the Council," implying the full 71-member Great Sanhedrin or Supreme Court. Constituent members are mentioned in the previous verse and the high priest in 7:1.
Yet, we should note that the terms "Court of Seventy-One" "Great Sanhedrin," and "Beth din" ("house of judgment") used throughout the Tractate Sanhedrin for the Supreme Court are never used in the apostolic narratives. It's possible that Luke intends the Temple ruling council. Josephus uses the term sunedrion for an ad hoc group assembled for a special purpose or task (Ant., XX, 9:1, 6). Luke might also have meant a Small Sanhedrin (23 members). Two Courts of Twenty-Three convened in the Jerusalem Temple, one at the entrance to the Temple mount and one at the entrance to the Court of the Israelites (Sanh. 10:4; 88b). In any event, the council meeting was of men with ruling and judicial authority.
The accusers could also have taken Stephen to the terrace area called "Chel" that ran along the north and south sides of the temple, 10 cubits broad, with 12 steps leading up to it (Midd. 1:5, 2:3). See the illustrations here and here. The Sanhedrin would meet in some part of the open-air Chel to conduct discussions on application of Torah (Sanh. 88b). Luke's narrative in the next chapter seems to indicate that the meeting was not inside a roofed building (cf. 7:55-56).
13 Also they put forward false witnesses saying, "This man does not cease speaking words against the holy place and the Torah;
Also: Grk. te, conj. they put forward: Grk. histēmi, aor. See verse 6 above. false: Grk. pseudēs, adj., contrary to the truth; false. witnesses: pl. of Grk. martus, one who attests the fact or truth of something, often used in a legal context of who testifies before a legal proceeding regarding first hand knowledge (cf. Matt 18:16; Acts 7:5). saying: Grk. legō, pres. part. See verse 2 above. This: Grk. houtos, demonstrative pronoun. See verse 1 above. man: Grk. anthrōpos, human being or man, here used of adult males, probably implying the apostles. In the LXX anthrōpos renders three Hebrew words: (1) adam, SH-444, a human male or mankind as a contrast to animals (e.g., Gen 1:26, 27); (2) ish, SH-376, adult male or husband (Gen 2:23, 24) and (3) enosh, SH-582, man or mankind (Job 5:17; Ps 8:4-5) (DNTT 2:564). The noun has the definite article, so the opening phrase could be "this is the man."
does not: Grk. ou, adv. cease: Grk. pauō, pres. mid., engage in cessation of an activity or state; stop, cease. speaking: Grk. laleō, pres. part. See verse 10 above. words: pl. of Grk. rhēma. See verse 11 above. against: Grk. kata, prep., the root meaning is "down," but with the noun following being in the genitive case, the resultant meaning is 'against' or 'down upon' (DM 107). the holy: Grk. hagios. See verse 5 above. place: Grk. topos, a spatial area, generally used of a geographical area. The "holy place" would be a euphemism for the Temple. and: Grk. kai, conj. the Torah: Grk. nomos may mean either (1) a principle or standard relating to behavior or (2) codified legislation, i.e. law. In the LXX nomos translates torah (SH-8451), direction, instruction or law, first in Genesis 26:5.
In the Tanakh torah not only refers to commandments decreed by God and given to Israel through Moses, but also customs of man, e.g. direction given by priests (Deut 24:8; 33:10). In the Besekh nomos can refer to (1) specific commandments given to Israel (John 8:5), (2) that plus the entire Pentateuch (John 1:45), (3) that plus the Prophets (John 1:45), (4) that plus the Writings (John 10:34), (5) as a synonym for Scripture (John 12:34; 15:25), and (6) universal principles derived from Scripture (Matt 22:36-40; 23:23). In the apostolic narratives nomos refers primarily to the written words of Moses, but sometimes it is used to mean instruction of the Sages (Acts 22:3) or laws and regulations enacted by Jewish authorities (e.g., John 7:49; 8:17; 19:7; Acts 18:15; 23:29; 25:8), which is likely the intent here.
The charge of the critics allude to four pillars of first century Judaism: (1) Moses, the lawgiver, (2) God as revealed to Moses; (3) the Temple, and (4) the Torah, or more precisely the traditions of the Sages. In general the teaching of Stephen may have emphasized the insufficiency of traditions and Temple sacrifices to accomplish atonement in contrast to the atonement accomplished by Yeshua's death. Thus, Stephen was regarded as an enemy of Old Covenant theocracy and from this time the party of the Pharisees and Sadducees were united in bitter hostility against the followers of Yeshua (Gloag 221). The general charge of the false testimony is made specific in the next verse.
14 for we have heard him saying that, "this Yeshua of Nazareth, will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us."
for: Grk. gar, conj., a contraction of ge ("yet") and ara ("then"), and in a broad sense means "certainly it follows that; for." The conjunction has four uses: (1) explanatory, (2) expressive of astonishment, (3) causal and, (4) inferential. The first use is intended here. we have heard: Grk. akouō, perf. See verse 11 above. him: Grk. autos, personal pronoun. saying: Grk. legō, pres. part. See verse 2 above. that: Grk. hoti, conj. See verse 1 above. The conjunction is used here to introduce a quotation. this: Grk. houtos, demonstrative pronoun.
Yeshua: Grk. Iēsous, a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua ("Jesus" in Christian Bibles). Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y’hoshua ("Joshua"), which means "YHVH [the LORD] is salvation" (BDB 221). The meaning of his name is explained to Joseph by an angel of the Lord, "You shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). The English rendering of "Jesus" originated with the Mace New Testament in 1729. For more information on the meaning our Lord's name, his identity, and the history of translation of the name see my web article Who is Yeshua?
of Nazareth: Grk. Nazōraios, a rough transliteration of the place name Natzeret, Nazareth. Yeshua is frequently identified by his hometown. Nazareth was located about seventy miles northeast of Jerusalem in lower Galilee about halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. It lay in the hill country north of the Plain of Esdraelon. The hills formed a natural basin with three sides, but open toward the south. The city was on the slopes of the basin, facing east and southeast. A Roman road from Capernaum westward to the coast passed near Nazareth, over which Roman legions frequently traveled. The small town does not appear in the Tanakh at all and only came to prominence because of its association with Yeshua.
The translation of "Nazarene" in some Christian versions (e.g., AMP, HCSB, NASB, NJB) is misleading, because the English word could imply membership in a religious group (cf. Acts 24:5). However, for Yeshua the term always represented a connection with the town of Nazareth. The city of his youth did contain a hint of Yeshua's role as Messiah, since Nazareth is drawn from the root netzer (SH-5342), root or branch, a Messianic figure (Isa 11:1), which itself is derived from natzar (SH-5341), to keep, watch or guard, including to hide, to keep secret. Yeshua was hidden in Nazareth until the appointed time of his revelation.
will destroy: Grk. kataluō, (from kata, down and luō, loose), fut., to tear down, throw down, destroy or demolish; used of structures (Matt 24:2; LXX Ezra 5:12). this: Grk. houtos. place: Grk. topos. See the previous verse. The phrase "this place" alludes to the holy place or Temple. Yeshua, of course, did not say that he would destroy the Temple, but he did predict its destruction in his Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:2; Mark 13:2; Luke 21:6). Indeed, he spoke of a time in the future when Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies (Luke 19:43; 21:20). During the trial of Yeshua false witnesses made the same claim as stated here against Stephen (Mark 14:57-58). Of course, Yeshua "spoke of the sanctuary of his body" (John 2:21), not the Temple built by King Herod.
and: Grk. kai, conj. will change: Grk. allassō, fut., to change or alter, also to exchange. the customs: pl. of Grk. ethos, a way of doing things marked by recurring procedure, custom or practice. that: Grk. hos, relative pronoun. Moses: See verse 11 above. delivered: Grk. paradidōmi, aor., to convey from one position to another, in general "to hand over," used here of the verbal transmission of commands and rites. to us: Grk. hēmeis, pl. pronoun of the first person. No specific customs are named. The Pharisees justified their many legalistic rules by claiming they came from Moses, the so-called Oral-Law. The Mishnah declared,
"Moses received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Synagogue. The latter used to say three things: be patient in justice, rear many disciples, and make a fence round the Torah" (Avot 1:1).
Yeshua rebutted this claim, insisting the transmission came from themselves, i.e. their Sages (Matt 15:3; Mark 7:3, 8-9, 13). The written Torah, on the other hand, was not abrogated by Yeshua or the apostles (cf. Matt 5:17; 12:12; 15:2–3; 1Cor 7:19; Rom 7:12; 8:4). However, to these legalists any attack on their customs was an attack on the Torah as a whole.
The strange thing about the lie is that it rests on a false premise. These legalists did not believe that Yeshua had been raised from the dead. Since Yeshua was supposedly dead, how was he going to destroy the Temple and change customs of Moses?
15 And having looked intently toward him, all the ones sitting in the Council meeting saw his countenance as the countenance of an angel.
And: Grk. kai, conj. having looked intently: Grk. atenizō, aor. part., to fix one’s eyes on some object continually and intensely; gaze, look intently. Gill suggests this steady gaze was to observe whether Stephen's countenance altered, his tongue stammered, or he trembled in any part of his body, neither of which appeared. toward: Grk. eis, prep. him: Grk. autos, personal pronoun. all: pl. of Grk. pas, adj. the ones: pl. of Grk. ho, definite article but used here as a relative pronoun. sitting: Grk. kathezomai, pres. mid. part., to sit down, be seated. in: Grk. en, prep. the Council meeting: Grk. sunedrion. See verse 12 above. saw: Grk. horaō, aor., to perceive physically with the eye, or in a fig. sense to experience something or to have extraordinary mental or inward perception.
his: Grk. autos. countenance: Grk. prosōpon is used to mean (1) the face, by which someone is identified; (2) the countenance or visage projected by someone; and (3) a personal presence or the act of appearing before someone. The second meaning is intended here. as: Grk. hōsei, adv. has two applications: (1) to denote a comparison; as, as if, like; or (2) when used with numbers and measures to mean, about or approximately. The first meaning applies here. the countenance: Grk. prosōpon. of an angel: Grk. angelos means one sent, a messenger, whether human or heavenly (BAG). In the LXX angelos renders Heb. malak, which means messenger, representative, courier or angel (DNTT 1:101f). The decision to translate malak or angelos as angel or messenger (of a human) relies primarily on the context. The term in this context is clearly intended to mean a heavenly messenger. See my web article The Host of Heaven.
All Bible versions translate both mentions of prosōpon as "face," but this may be misleading. The Council members had never seen an angel and there were no depictions of angels allowed in Jewish culture. It's not like one Council member turned to another and said, "You know, he looks just like what I've always imagined that an angel looks like." Gill interprets the comparison as meaning there was such a calmness and serenity in Stephen's face, which showed his innocence and unconsciousness of guilt; and such a beauty and glory upon it, that he looked as lovely and amiable as the angels of God, who when they appeared to men, it was in very glorious and splendid forms. Perhaps his face shone as did Moses, when he came down from the mountain (Ex 34:29-30) or Yeshua at his transfiguration (Mark 9:2).
Clarke similarly says, "Sayings like this are frequent among the Jewish writers, who represent God as distinguishing eminent men by causing a glory to shine from their faces. Rabbi Gedalia said that, 'when Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh, they appeared like those angels which minister before the face of the Lord; for their stature appeared greater, and the splendor of their faces was like the sun, and their eyes like the wheels of the sun; their beard like clusters of grapes, and their words like thunder and lightning; and that, through fear of them, those who were present fell to the earth.' The like is said of Moses, in Devarim Rabba, fol. 75. that 'when Sammael (Satan) came to Moses, the splendor of his face was like the sun, and himself resembled an angel of God.'"
Gloag suggests that Stephen perhaps had a glimpse of that heavenly world he was about to enter and his face lighted up with joy, that the Spirit so filled his soul as to impress a heavenly glory on his countenance (224).
Ant.: Flavius Josephus (c. 37–100 A.D.), Antiquities of the Jews (Latin Antiquitates Judaicae). trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Barker: William P. Barker, Everyone In the Bible. Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.
Bruce: F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1954.
Clarke: Adam Clarke (1762–1832), Commentary on the Holy Bible. 6 vols. J. Emory and B. Waugh, 1831. Online.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DM: H.E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Co., 1955.
DNTT: Colin Brown, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Zondervan Pub. House, 1975.
Flusser: David Flusser, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, Adama Books, 1987.
Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.
Gloag: Paton James Gloag (1823-1906), A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Acts of the Apostles, T&T Clark, 1870. Online.
HBD: Holman Bible Dictionary. ed. Trent C. Butler. Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1991. Online.
HELPS: Gleason L. Archer and Gary Hill, eds., The Discovery Bible New Testament: HELPS Word Studies. Moody Press, 1987, 2011. (Online at BibleHub.com)
Jeremias: Joichim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Fortress Press, 1975.
Metzger: Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd ed. United Bible Societies, 1994.
Moseley: Ron Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. Lederer Books, 1996.
Mounce: William D. Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. 2011. Online.
MPNT: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
Neil: James Neil, Palestine Explored. James Nisbet & Co., 1882.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Tarn & Griffith: Sir William Tarn & G.T. Griffith, Hellenistic Civilization. 3rd Edition. Edward Arnold Publishers, Ltd., 1952.
Thayer: Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Harper Brothers, 1889.
Wright: N.T. Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part One: Chapters 1-12 (The New Testament for Everyone). Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.
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