The word of God continued to spread throughout Jerusalem, based on what we read in previous chapters about the 120, the 3000, and the 5000. This chapter shows us that the church was not born fully grown or mature, “but under the guidance of the Spirit, it creates new structures to fulfill its mission.”[i] This chapter revolves around the use of gifts in the daily distribution of food over against studying of the word, or as the text shares, “neglecting the word of God to wait on tables.” The Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) complained against the Hebrews (Greek and Aramaic-speaking Jews) because they felt their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. “The Hellenists were monolingual and attended Greek-speaking synagogues in Jerusalem prior to becoming Christians, while the Hebrews were bilingual and attended synagogues where Aramaic and Hebrew were the languages of liturgy and prayer.”[ii] Now we have a new Christian community struggling to become one, that transcends language and culture.
The twelve Apostles called the whole community together to discuss the issue. “The writer Luke consistently minimizes the actual internal struggles of the church, as we know from a comparison with Paul’s letters. Luke wants us to see the church in harmony, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, as instructed by the Apostles.”[iii] The community decided to seek out seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and wisdom, and appointed them to the task of waiting on tables. This would give the Apostles the opportunity to devote themselves to prayer and study the word. The people chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, along with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch. The apostles prayed and laid hands on them (sounds like a Commissioning service).
Two “orders” of ministry emerge, one devoted to worship and the ministry of the word, and the other to administering the benevolence program of the church. This passage later became the model and scriptural point of contact for the ministry of bishops, elders, and priests as ministers of the world and sacrament, and deacons as ministers of the church administrative and benevolence program.[iv]
It is important to note, “In the gospel of Luke, Luke told the story of Jesus in such a way as to emphasize women among Jesus’ disciples, he has yet to portray any women in leadership roles in the early church.”[v]
After this, the word of God continued to spread, and the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem. Also, many of the priests became obedient to the faith. The focus then turns to Stephen. He (and Phillip) did great signs and wonders among the people. Although Stephen waited on tables, he continued to spread the message of the Christian faith. Some of the people who belong to the Synagogue of Friedman “(descendants of Jews taken as slaves to Rome by Pompey…who returned to Jerusalem and have their own synagogue), the Cyrenians and Alexandrians (from North Africa), and others from Cilicia and Asia (part of what is now Turkey),”[vi] began to argue with Stephen. However, they could not withstand his wisdom and the spirit when he spoke. The began to secretly instigate some men to say they had heard Stephen speak against Moses and God. They gaslighted the people, the elders, and the scribes. They confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council.
The lie had been set in motion, as they set up false witnesses to say that Stephen never stops saying things against the holy place and the law. They twisted his words saying they had heard him say” that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” As readers, we know the allegations are false, “however the people in the story do not.”[vii] The council looked intently at Stephen and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. “Stephen, like Jesus, is transfigured before them, yet the transformation does not result in their conversion or deliverance.”[viii]
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for showing us how the early church structures began to be created and developed. When growth happens, we have to be willing to expand and call new leaders to the table. We all have a place to serve. Show us how to use our gifts for the building of the church, so that we might be one. In Jesus name, Amen.
[i] Boring and Craddock, pg. 385.
[ii] Ibid., pg. 386.
[iii] Ibid., pg. 385.
[iv] Ibid., pg. 386.
[vi] Ibid., pg. 387.