By Tyson Thorne

June 11, 2014

FirstDeacons large

The Acts of the Apostles hits the ground running at the start and doesn’t let go for the first five chapters. From the ascension of Jesus to an angelic prison break with plenty of threats, arrests, healings and exorcisms in-between to keep the reader enthused every event and miracle seems bigger than the last. Until… The first 7 verses of Acts chapter six allows us to catch our breath. While on the surface this appears to be about a bunch of bickering blue-haired widows, the passage contains a few noteworthy elements.

For starters it’s the last section that demonstrates the very Jewish nature of the early church. Luke has shown through the mentioning of feasts, the early church teachings located at the Temple in Jerusalem, and the encounters with temple authorities that the early church was first a movement within Judaism. Even Peter’s sermons explain much from the Torah about Jesus. And this is the last example of that nature. From Acts 6.7 forward Christianity is jumping from a Jewish sect to a world movement.

Second, this passage reveals the first structuring of authority within the early church. For all our complaints about the modern church, the early church had its problems too. The Greek speaking Jewish widows felt they were not being as well looked after as the Hebrew speaking Jewish widows were. Was there any validity to the accusation? The passage never indicates one way or the other, which I think is telling. Luke was a practical man who rarely mentions himself as being a part of the action he describes. In his humility it is possible that while he believed the perception of the Hellenist widows was a misperception, nothing would be gained by his saying so. The importance of this event isn’t due to the occasion anyway and has everything to do with the apostle’s response, and that response was to create another tier of leadership. Next time we’ll delve into the importance of the office of Deacons in detail, as there isn’t time left in this post to do so properly.

The third noteworthy element is our second progress report found in verse seven. Remember that the book is structured by progress reports and when you see one you know the emphasis of the book is about to change. In this report we are told that the number of followers (called disciples most of the time by Luke) “increased greatly.” How many is “greatly”? That’s hard to say. By modern church standards even five percent growth would be large but at this time I’d presume 25%, maybe a third. The last time I tried calculating the number of believers in the early church it was around 10,000 so we’re now looking at maybe 13,000 followers? Not bad for a movement that officially began at Pentecost, only a few weeks before. Perhaps even more interesting than the numbers is that Luke tells us many Jewish priests joined their ranks, which really had to concern the Temple rulers. And we all know that when the Sadducees get upset, terrible acts result. What comes next is terrible in the extreme.

While these seven verses may appear to have little relevance in light of the events leading up to them, they are in fact a moment of preparation before the next storm ensues.

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