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Acts chapter 6

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What does Acts chapter 6 mean?

Acts 6 is an introduction to the first Christian martyr and the start of real persecution against the church. Well over five thousand men, not to mention women and children, have chosen to follow Jesus (Acts 4:4; 5:14). The Jewish leadership take notice; they arrest the apostles, command they stop teaching in Jesus' name, and beat them (Acts 5:40). Their punishment has the opposite effect they'd hoped for; instead of intimidated, the apostles rejoice, knowing that if Jesus' enemies are persecuting them, they must be doing something right (Acts 5:41).

This chapter has two short sections. Acts 6:1–7 describes some of the growing pains of the early church and how the leadership responds. Jerusalem is in Judea; the residents speak Aramaic and some Hebrew. But many of the Jesus-followers in Jerusalem are not locals. Some came for a short trip but found Jesus, then stayed so they could learn more from the apostles (Acts 2:9–11, 42). Others followed the custom of returning to Jerusalem to die in the land of their people. The travelers do not have access to their assets back home, and the elderly may have had to leave their local synagogues that provided support. Local believers pool their resources to provide for everyone (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32–37).

Those Jews, and consequently those Jews who had become Jesus-followers, who lived in countries and territories with more Romans and Greeks were called "Hellenists." The prefix Helle- means "Greece," and Hellenist Jews spoke more Greek than Aramaic. There were so many Hellenist Jews in Jerusalem that people travelling from different territories had their own synagogues (Acts 6:9). The Jesus-followers from Judea naturally knew their own widows and provided for them, but they didn't necessarily know the widows from the other synagogues, so the Hellenist widows didn't always get what they needed. When the apostles learn this, they appoint seven men to take charge of dispersing the food fairly. One of these men is Stephen.

In the second section (Acts 6:8–15), Stephen proves to be more than just an honest man "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5), he's also a great apologist who skillfully debates the Hellenist Jews who dispute the message of Jesus. These Jews cannot withstand his logic or the Holy Spirit working in his words, but they don't believe his message, so they incite men to falsely testify that Stephen speaks against Moses, God, and the temple. They accuse Stephen of the same charge of which the Sanhedrin accused Jesus: threatening to destroy the temple (Mark 14:58). Damaging a religious structure was against Roman law and punishable by death.

As we will see, Stephen's argument is much more subtle than his enemies accuse him of. He isn't saying he wants to destroy the temple. He's saying that the temple is not necessary to worship God. He's not wrong, but his unconventional way of looking at Jewish tradition leads to his status as the first Christian martyr (Acts 7).
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