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Stephen Seized and Called Before the Sanhedrim
Summary —The Complaint of the Grecians. The Choice of Seven Deacons. Many Priests Converted. Stephen Preaches Christ with Power. His Controversy with the Jews. The Charge of Blasphemy. Brought Before the Sanhedrim.
1. In those days. About that time. It may have been several years after the planting of the church. The believers had become very numerous in Jerusalem. Arose a murmuring of the Grecians. “The Grecians” were not Greeks, or Gentiles, but foreign Jews, who were born and brought up out of Palestine, and spoke the Greek language. This class of Jews was found in almost every city where Paul preached. See Acts 13:14–16. The Hebrews were Jews of Palestine. They held themselves superior to the foreign Jews, and something of this spirit showed itself in the church. Their widows were neglected. There was “distribution to all men, as every man had need,” not to those who did not need, but to the needy, and the dependent widows would especially need care.
2. The twelve. This language shows beyond doubt that Matthias was recognized as an apostle. Called the multitude. The masses of the church. And said. That it was not proper that the apostles should give their time to these matters instead of preaching. And serve tables. To look after the distribution of food.
3. Look ye out. Be it noted that the church was called upon to choose these men. The apostles did not assume the right. There is no warrant here for pope or bishops assuming the right. The apostles guide the choice by describing the kind of men that must be chosen. Seven men. Why seven is only a matter of conjecture. Of honest report. Men whose reputation was a guarantee that they would handle the trust faithfully. Full of the Holy Ghost. Whose lives indicated the fruit of the Spirit. Of wisdom. Prudence and judgment would be essential. Whom we may appoint. Ordain. The people selected under apostolic direction; the apostle inaugurated into office.
5. They chose Stephen. He is specially described on account of the glory of martyrdom that so soon followed. Philip. Distinguished as “Philip the evangelist.” He gave the gospel to Samaria, converted the eunuch, and afterwards lived and labored at Cæsarea (Acts 21:8). The others are not again mentioned. Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch. A Gentile (Greek) of the great city of Antioch, who had been converted to Judaism and been circumcised. This is the meaning of “proselyte” in the New Testament.
6. When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. The scriptural method of inducting into office. The prayer and imposition of hands was an appeal to God to give the necessary gifts rather than their impartation. See Num. 27:23; Gen. 48:13. There has been some discussion whether these seven were deacons, and whether this is the origin of the deacon's office in the church. They are never called deacons, but the Greek word rendered to serve (verse 2), is the verb form of which the word deacon is the noun. The usual view is that they were deacons.
7. A great company of the priests were obedient. There was harmony and progress after the trouble was adjusted. The seven became preachers and greatly aided. Not only vast multitudes of the people, but even many of the priesthood obeyed. The priests were very numerous. Ezra 2:36 says that 4,289 priests returned from Babylon, and they must have been much more numerous at this time. The faith. The Gospel, which is faith in and obedience to Christ.
8. And Stephen … did great wonders. He is the first gospel preacher, not an apostle, whose work is named. He is also the first, not an apostle, under the new dispensation, to work miracles. Philip, also, of the seven, possessed miraculous power (Acts 8:6). Both received the imposition of apostolic hands. This seems to have been necessary to impart this power (Acts 8:15, 17, 19). See also Rom. 1:11. As far as we know, it was limited to apostles, and to those whom whom the apostles laid hands.
9. There arose certain of the synagogue. This was the ordinary place of worship where Jews met on the Sabbath. The Rabbins say (Talmud) that there were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem. Of the Libertines. “The Freedmen.” Thousands of Jews had been carried away captives and sold into slavery by Pompey in 63 b.c. These, or their children, were mostly freed at a later period. Those of them who returned to Jerusalem had a synagogue of their own. The Cyrenians. A synagogue of. See Revision. See note on Acts 2:10. The Cyrenian Jews who returned to the city of their fathers, like those of other countries, had their own synagogue. Alexandrians. Jews from the great city of Alexandria in Egypt, where they were said to be almost one-third of the population. Of Cilicia. Of this synagogue the brilliant disciple of Gamaliel, born at Tarsus of Cilicia, was no doubt a member, and one of the most active opposers of Stephen. See 7:58. Of Asia. The Roman province in Asia Minor of which Ephesus was capital. Disputing with Stephen. These synagogues were all composed of “Grecians,” foreign Jews. Stephen's name is also Grecian, and he probably preached especially to his own class. 440
11. They suborned men. Induced men to give perverted testimony. They determined to silence Stephen. Heard him speak blasphemous words. This was the charge against Christ. It is likely that, like Paul, he plainly preached that the Old Covenant had given place to the New, and that God's people were no longer under Moses, but under Christ. This was perverted into blaspheming Moses.
12. They stirred up the people. By their misrepresentations. Thus far the gospel seemed to enjoy great popular favor. It was needful to arouse their hostility. This could be done by perversion of what was preached. The Pharisees, apparently neutral since Pentecost until now, were aroused by Stephen's attack on legalism. The elders, and the scribes. See notes on 4:5. Brought him to the council. The Sanhedrim.
13, 14. Set up false witnesses. False, in that they perverted what he said, so as to give it a meaning not meant. Against this holy place. The temple. He may have said that it would be destroyed (see Matt. 24:2). And the law. He probably said what Paul so often said. See Gal. 3:24, 25. The next verse shows the tenor of his preaching. He no doubt did preach the end of the Jewish dispensation and the reign of Christ, but he neither blasphemed Moses nor God.
15. Fastening their eyes on him. To see what effect the charges had on him. One of those who thus looked was Saul of Tarsus. It was probably from him that Luke obtained his account of this trial. As it had been the face of an angel. His face was radiant, either with his own divinely inspired peace and joy, or shining with a supernatural splendor. I incline to the first view, for had the latter been the case it would have awed the Sanhedrim, and probably suspended their proceedings. 440
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