Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. “But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. “But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
Definitions are important, at least they used to be. In the current cultural climate in the West, words don’t mean what they once did. I am not referring to slang terms such as dope, meaning not dope but “very nice.” I am thinking about terms like “man” and “woman,” “male” and “female,” which are no longer based upon biology, anatomy, chemistry or any structural science but rather upon philosophy. An acutely adept and accomplished 14 year old, closed-course, racecar driver, who has displayed incredible responsibility and discipline, is unable to transition to an elder teen, or to “change their age” in order to obtain an early driver’s license. Yet at eight years old, we allow one to transition from a boy to a girl. Problem; and no one wants to say this; it is impossible for one to change their gender. And this is the sad reality, plastic surgery and hormone supplements cannot change what one truly is. Therefore we see the suicide rate in the transgender community for those who have transitioned, equal to those who have not. Unfortunately, we saw another high-profile, transgender suicide this week. If you are transgender and have stumbled upon this missive and are contemplating suicide, please don’t. I can’t imagine the difficulties you face, from the hypocrites on both sides of the political spectrum and between the secular and religious. The truth is that no one understands, except Jesus. Please read the Gospels and see how Jesus came to save the marginalized and condemn the self-righteous. The church is as guilty of changing definitions as is the secular world.
By changing definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman, we are actually doing the transgender community a great disservice. Imagine the pain and torment of being trapped in the wrong body. Now imagine the excruciating pain and torment one must deal with after realizing that body parts and hormones actually don’t define one’s gender. Transition is only fleshly and hormonally deep.
My heart goes out to the transgender person, I can’t imagine their struggle. As my heart also goes out to all marginalized groups, who are promised political privlages by the party that in actuality does them a disservice by denying definitions. And even though the church is generally against transition surgery, my belief is that they don’t know why. Probably because of Deuteronomy and not Genesis. I would be very much for transition surgery, if it worked–It doesn’t; it can’t. Molecular biology deems it impossible as does the creation narrative. Nevertheless we must find out what does work but this will prove extremely difficult because it has been politicized. That is, we can’t discuss it or we are labeled, haters. Like the hole in the ozone, global warming and climate change, “the debate is over.” As always, all debate has been shut down by the enlightened and woke, as people continue to suffer. One major reason we can’t communicate is because we change definitions to divide and conquer, pitting all the marginalized people against each other. Yet somehow this house of cards continues to stand. Like the pro-abortion people who say, one comes from a fetus, but one was an adolescent, definitions have become meaningless, except the ones that the enlightened and woke have redefined.
The evangelical church doesn’t get a pass. To what could I compare this misuse of definitions within the context of evangelical discourse? As the dogmatic dispensationalists who argue that “this” means “that” when Jesus says, “this generation,” in Matthew 24, the world changes its definitions to suit its sentiments. A man is a man, by definition, one cannot change this. Nevertheless, this doesn’t negate the notion that some feel as though they are trapped in the wrong body. The problem is that it’s not only body and mind that define gender, it’s comes down to chromosomes, scientifically. And here is where I will get in trouble but I do it out of love and concern: being transgender is a problem, a problem that doesn’t go away with a sex-change operation and hormonal supplements. First, if it wasn’t a problem one wouldn’t need the solution of a sex change. As Millhouse confronted Bart about Bart’s dog eating his goldfish, only to have Bart try to convince him that he never had a Goldfish. To which Millhouse replied, “then why did I have the bowl Bart; why did I have the bowl?” Seeking a solution means that there is a problem. We see this in Acts 6. To understand the problem, we have to consider the context coupled with proper definitions.
Secondly, being called by the perceived, proper pronoun and the reassignment of body parts is not the solution. The only solution that I see is the same solution for us all, admission of deficiency and reliance on Christ. Much like the early church, we all must see our deficiency and find a Scriptural solution. Yet we seem to be at an impasse, based upon our dubious definitions. Defending definitions is doubly difficult in our dogmatic days. It’s not only about definitions but about considering the context.
Before we consider the context of Acts 6, we need to understand and accept a few definitions. Yet, we must also consider the context when defining some words. This may sound like the second cousin to circular reasoning but in order for us to see what the first century church saw, we must develop the definition, based on the context.
For example, hellenistic, at its base, simply means, that which is related to post, Alexander the Great, Greek language and culture. But when coupled to the context, we see that it takes a deeper meaning than simply, 1st century, Greek culture. Notice; “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews.”
We do the math. Hellenistic; referring to Greek language and culture of the time+Jews; referring to the tribe of Judah, Benjamin and some Levites but synonymous with descendants of Israel. Therefore, simply put, “Greek Jewish people.” But considering the context we see a contrast between them and the “native Hebrews.” What is Luke’s aspiration by contrasting the Hellenistic Jews with the native Hebrews? This will become evident as we continue.
Let’s look at Young’s Literal Translation; “And in these days, the disciples multiplying, there came a murmuring of the Hellenists at the Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily ministration.” By looking at a literal translation of the text, we see the importance of a contextual connection. This is a good demonstration for considering the context and not ripping verses out of context. Without careful consideration of the context, this verse essentially exclaims, “the Greeks were murmuring at the Jews.” Yet because of the context, some of which we have yet to consider, we know that the Greeks and the Hebrews present were both Jewish. We notice that later in the context Luke writes, “Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch,” but doesn’t refer to the Hellenistic or the Hebrews as proselytes. We know that “proselyte” is in his vocabulary simply by reading further in the context. The definition of proselyte, in this context is, a Jewish convert from another nation. Therefore we know that the Greek Jews were born Jews and not converts. They simply grew up in the Hellenistic culture and not the culture of Judea. These were at odds with the native Hebrews, as the NASB translation portrays the situation. We find then that definitions and context are not mutually exclusive but conclusive. What was the complaint about?
Food, of course. Notice that the first division in church history wasn’t about doctrine or prophecy, speaking in tongues or whether or not the bread and wine were literally Christ’s body and blood. Notice it was none of these things but about the Greek widows being overlooked at mealtime. Notice also that it was a direct result of “growing pains.” “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.”
The followers of Jesus were multiplying but the apostles were not. We may jump to the conclusion that there were many followers and not enough leaders but that is not how the church is intended to function–all are followers, all are servants. We know this because we consider the context coupled with definitions. Consider what the apostles said; “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.” Serve tables is the English translation of the transliterated Greek, “diakonein trapezais.” This is where we get the word “deacon.” The church didn’t need leaders due to the exponential growth but needed servants. The apostles needed to dedicate their time to prayer and the word of God. The growing church needed this. However, due to the amount of widows, both literally and figuratively, table waiters were also needed, literally.
Wait a minute, am I really saying that deacons are actual table waiters but widows are both figurative and literal? I am because I consider the context and definitions, coupled together with the genre and an expository exegesis of examples. Notice; “a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.'”
We must understand Luke’s aspiration to his audience concerning the word “widow” and how it is used in the New Testament. Let’s go to one extreme, the figurative; “As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’” We see that the figurative language used in Revelation is to convey that one thinks they have everything that they need, like a queen compared to that of which they truly have, deficiency, like a widow. To the literal extreme we see the story of the Widow’s Mite, where “a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent,” into the offering.
Paul wrote to Timothy; “Honor widows who are widows indeed;” leading the reader to understand that there is a difference between one whose husband has died and one who has true deficiency in life. This is precisely those to whom Luke points in Acts 6. We all know women who have lost their husbands but have no problem serving themselves food. In fact, many widowed women raise a family, working and serving without the help of a husband. In such cases though, as a church, we should do more for them. We should pay special attention to the single mothers but this is not to whom Luke is referring. The proof is in the context.
“But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” Seven is symbolic and synonymous with completion, but also the literal number of the first deacons and we’re even given their names. Nevertheless, consider the amount of disciples–only seven men are to be chosen? The context is clear, the deacons are for the deficient. The damaged, doubting and disabled. Yes, we notice that while miracles abound at the hands of the apostles, the early church still lived in the real world where we watch widows, while in deficit, are nonetheless a vital part of the christian community, deserving of service. And each person has a role to fill. To the apostles, the word of God and prayer, figuratively feeding the flock and to the deacons, table waiting, literally feeding the fledglings followers of the flock.
The context confirms this, clear as day. These were not fully-functional followers who needed service but truly needy people being overlooked by their brethren because they were speaking Greek. It was a real problem which required a real solution. Rather than use their miraculous powers or taking the mega-church pastor approach, where the apostles would have said to them, “name it and claim it; you want food, speak food into your stomach;” they appointed table-waiting deacons, which is redundant.
To beat the proverbial dead horse: these widows, who were not converts to Judaism but blood descendants of Jacob and believers in the resurrection of Jesus, who were being overlooked at chow time and who needed help, literally. But the Hebrew of Hebrews looked after their own rather than serve both sects, who while supposedly one, created a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy that exists to this day in the heart of the dogmatic dispensationalists. Although the Hellenistic and Hebrew Jews were both born Jews, there was a division. And now that Jesus has made the believing gentiles fellow heirs with believing Jews, as Paul has put forth in the illustration of the olive tree, those of us who believe that which has been written, are labeled “replacement theologians” by the dogmatic dispensationalists whose discourse displays division in the divine drawing of the olive tree. The church didn’t replace Israel, it is Israel. At this point in the context, all we see is Israel in the church, whether Hellenistic, Hebrew, which is actually Aramaic, and proselytes. Believing gentiles joined the Jewish church, they didn’t replace them. I don’t know why this is hotly debated or hard to understand. Oh to return to the days when the only omission and division was over food.
To eradicate this omission and division, the apostles told the congregation to pick seven men who would ensure that everyone was fed. Due to growth, the closest thing we have seen to a perfect church is becoming more perfect as it grows less perfect. That’s how God works. Strength perfected in weakness, the first shall be last, the servant is the greatest. Jesus turned everything upside down. I wonder when we will actually grasp this. Even some of the Law preaching priests got it, considering the context.
“And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
Without the King James, or any other New Testament, the word of God kept on spreading, even to the priests. Yes, those priests. Notice the context, in Jerusalem the church was growing at an exponential rate. We remember Jerusalem, who kills the ones sent to her. At Jerusalem the church was formed. By the Jewish apostles the church was formed around a Jewish Messiah, who called Jewish priests to him, along with Hellenistic Jews and Jews native to Judea along with proselytes. Does this sound like the end of the world to you or the beginning of birth pangs? Obviously, I am getting way ahead of myself.
Nevertheless the picture is starting to develop. We must be careful though to not over develop the picture by not placing said picture in the stop-bath of the context. We don’t want to read into the Scripture but draw out the picture that it paints. We also desire application to our age; Service by the ones given much to the marginalized and deficient. Expect the word of God to spread by spreading it. You can even leave your King James at home. When problems arise, solve them Scripturally, but admit that they are problems. Love the marginalized of the world, Jesus does. Understand that Matthew 5-7, as spoken by Jesus on the mountain, supersedes everything found in Deuteronomy or the rest of the Law. That is, we are all so incredibly guilty that we deserve the hellfire. Be like Jesus, be moved with compassion and not dogmatically derived division. It changed the world more than once, I truly believe it can happen again, much more than I believe that the gospel will eventually fail.