Hello everyone, and thanks so much for coming back. I spent the last couple of days re-editing my previous posts. Oh my goodness, there were a lot of typos, and other mistakes I found, wow, my apologies. Under the hood of a ‘70 Plymouth Roadrunner with a 440, I’m right at home (and no I don’t own one, I wish). Behind the keyboard of a computer, I’m totally and completely out of my element, thanks to all of you that have stayed with this study, and have put up with my very poor writing abilities, again thanks. We left off last post where many in Jerusalem and all the region of Judaea, were hearing the Gospel and believing, and the Congregation was growing well into the thousands. So let’s continue on.
The Apostles appoint the first ministers to oversee the Congregation.
In Acts chapter 6, the chapter begins with a problem that arose in the Congregation, that would naturally arise in any large body of people, and that’s governance. The 12 Apostles were very busy spreading the Gospel, and teaching about Christ, therefore, they were not easily accessible to oversee much of the average day to day distribution of the food to the congregation, and it was not equally proportioned out among the believers. Also they were not there to give aid and attendance to the widows, and elderly, and anybody really, who needed aid or relief of some kind.
Acts 6:1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
The Grecians here are the Jews that came out of Egypt, and were commonly called a Hellenist, or Greek speaking Jew, and were of the Jewish diaspora. Later I will be covering the diaspora in detail in this study. But the complaint here was there were certain widows in the congregation that were not getting their fair portion of the food. The Hebrews would have far outnumbered the Grecians, so not properly dividing the food would be a problem, without oversight.
Acts 6:2-3 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. V3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
And then in verse 5 it list the names of the first seven ministers of the Congregation of Jesus. Out of that list of seven men, was a man named Stephen, a man described as full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost. Unfortunately, a man who had become one of the congregations first ministers, also became the congregations first martyr.
Stephen, our first martyred brother.
Acts 6:9-15 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. V10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. V11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. V12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and brought him to the counsel. V13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: V14 For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. V15 And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
Now I want to spend a little time on this event, because this marks the first attack by satan on the Congregation, and Stephen’s bravery, and love for his Lord, our Lord, deserves a better understanding of just what went on that day, and why. Let’s begin with Stephen himself.
Stephen – Not much is known about Stephen’s origin. Because Stephen is a Greek name (Stephanos), and because the appointment of the ministers occurred in response to complaints by Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, it is generally assumed that Stephen was himself a Hellenist Jew (that is, a Greek-speaking Jew). However, a tradition arising in the fifth century claims that Stephen’s original name was Kelil, an Aramaic word that means “crown,” and he was called Stephen because Stephanos is the Greek equivalent of his Aramaic name. In any case, Stephen’s ministry was conducted among Greek-speaking Jews, some of whom were not open to the Gospel of Christ.
The synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians.
We see in Acts 6:8-10 that Stephen’s ministry was really quite remarkable, in the sense that he was full of faith and power, and by these he did great wonders and miracles among the people. But not only these did he do, but in verse 10 it talks about how he had much wisdom, and when he spoke or taught, they could not resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. Who are they? Let’s take a look at this opposition to the early congregation. Let’s start with the Libertines.
The Libertines- This word is from the Latin word libertines, which signifies a freedman, that is , one who, having been a slave either by birth or capture, has obtained freedom; or one born of a parent who was a freedman. ( ATS Bible Dictionary).
There are two major theories on their origin, these are the theories.
- The “synagogue of the Libertines” stands connected with the Cyrenians and the Alexandrians, both of whom are African origin; it is therefore supposed by some, that the Libertines were of African origin also.
- The word denotes Jews who had been taken captive by the Romans in War, and carried to Italy; and having there been manumitted (released from slavery), were accustomed to visit Jerusalem in such numbers as to erect a synagogue for their particular use; as was the case with Jews from other cities mentioned in the context.
Cyrenians and the Alexandrians- The Cyrenians were from Cyrene. Cyrene was an Ancient Greek city on the North African coast near present-day Shahhat, a town located in north-eastern Libya. The Alexandrians were from the major city of Alexandria in Egypt, where many of the Hellenist Jews were from.
Cilicia and Asia- Cilicia, a maritime province in the southeast of Asia Minor, boarding on Pamphylia in the west, Lycaonia and Cappadocia in the north and Syria in the east. Its capital, Tarsus, was the birth place of Paul. Asia, that is Asia Minor or (usually) only its western shore, embracing Mysia, Lydia, Phrygia, and Caria, corresponding closely to Turkey today.
So why go over all this? Well as we can see this is no small number of people that Stephen went up against. In fact to many really to fit in one synagogue. So perhaps there were as many a five separate synagogues, as some speculate, and that on the day of Stephen’s stoning they all came together to charge him. Charge him with what? The very accusations they brought up against Jesus. In Acts 6:11 it says “then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.” Now the word suborned means; to instruct privately, instigate, to bribe or induce (someone) unlawfully or secretly to perform some misdeed or commit a crime. So these men had no real case against Stephen, just like they didn’t have a case against Jesus, they bribed men to make a false statement, or to be a false witness, just like they did Jesus. Because just like Jesus, they couldn’t resist against what either of them said, because it was TRUTH. With Jesus it was spoken by God, with Stephen it was spoken through the Holy Spirit. And this is where I wanted to go with this. I want to show you the amazing parallels, between Jesus’s death, and the first martyr Stephen’s death. It is amazing, and really should be understood by all.
I will be taking excerpts from an article I read, where the author J.R Miller did a wonderful job showing the parallels between Jesus’s death, and Stephen’s death, and I also will be adding my own thoughts and scripture to this. The article was written in 1909, whether it is an excerpt from a book, I cannot tell, the site doesn’t say, or if it did, which book it came from, but I would imagine it does. The title is Stephen the First Martyr, and can be found at gracegems.org. Stephen deserves his story to be told, to the greatest extent possible, in my eyes he was a brave man, who loved his Lord Jesus, very, very much. And with that I need to get some rest, so next post we will jump right into that article, so until next time, May the Lord bless your search for truth, leaving no stone unturned.