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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles

ANALYSIS

In this chapter we have an account of the election and ordination of the seven first Deacons to discharge certain functions specially assigned to them (1–6). The large number of conversions (7). The triumph of Stephen over his adversaries in disputation (8–10). The false accusations brought against him by false witnesses suborned for the purpose (11–15).

Commentary

1. “And in these days.” When the Apostles, after having been liberated from prison, were intrepidly preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ (c. 5:42), whereby the number of the faithful was increased.

“There arose a murmur.” The Greek word, γογγυσμος—means secret or whispering complaints. “Of the Greeks against the Hebrews,” by “the Greeks,” or Hellenists are meant, as opposed to “the Hebrews,” not Christian proselytes from among the Gentiles—there is no evidence that the Gentiles were as yet admitted into the Church—but converted Jews born and living outside Palestine, using the Greek language in their daily social intercourse with one another, and employing the Septuagint in their synagogues and public worship. These came up to Jerusalem for the Great Festivals.

“Hebrews,” natives of Palestine, who, in the ordinary concerns of life and public worship, used the Aramaic dialect of Palestine, termed in Scripture, the Hebrew language.

“For that their widows,” destitute widows were, specially marked out among the poor, in the infant Church, for special care and consideration.

“Were neglected,” overlooked, not treated impartially, or, as liberally as the Hebrew widows.

“In the daily ministration,” distribution of alms, contributed in common, according to the usage of the time, to provide the indigent with food, clothing and other necessaries of life.

2. “The twelve” Apostles. Matthias had been associated with the eleven.

“The multitude,” of the murmurers.

“It is not reason,” fitting or becoming. “Leave the word of God,” give up the preaching of the Gospel, which might be interrupted by their having charge of temporal affairs.

“And serve tables,” occupied with temporalities, money, food, clothing, &c.

3. “Wherefore,” to put an end to complaints, “look ye out among you,” select from among yourselves, from your own body, as to leave no ground for suspicion or complaint.

“Seven, men,” &c., who bear a well-known character for integrity.

“Full of the Holy Ghost,” as far as can be seen from external conduct men distinguished for piety emanating from the Holy Ghost.

“Wisdom,” prudence in the management of the duties appertaining to the office to be assigned to them.

“Whom we may appoint over this business,” of impartially distributing the alms destined for the relief of the poor—The people select or recommend; but, the Apostles retain the right of appointing.

4. “Continually.” The Greek word means, persevering assiduity, “to prayer.” The article, prefixed in the Greek, would show there is question of public liturgical prayer, of which the chief part was, the Holy and Eucharistic sacrifice. Prayer is a very necessary part of a Pastor’s duty, in order to secure for his labours the blessing of God, from whom must come the success and fruit of his labours. Manent itaque (says St. Bernard, Ep. cc. 1.) verbum, exemplum, oratio, major autem his est oratio nam et operi and voci gratiam et efficaciam promeretur.

5. “The saying,” advice or injunction. “Stephen,” who proved himself in every way fitted for this office. He was the first afterwards to seal with his blood, his testimony of Jesus Christ. Hence, regarded, as the first martyr, and deservedly placed first on the list. “Nicolas” is said by some, to have been the founder of the sect of Nicolaites, referred to in terms of condemnation (Revel. 2:6, 15.) This however, is denied by others.

“A proselyte of Antioch,” born of Gentile parents, he embraced Judaism, thus becoming a Jewish Proselyte. He afterwards became a Christian. The names are all Greek. But, as the Hebrews at this time, assumed Greek names, likely, some of the seven selected were from among the Hebrews at this time, assumed Greek names, likely, some of the seven selected were from among the Hebrew Christians.

6. “And they praying,” &c. By prayer and imposition of hands, the Apostles conferred on them the Sacred Order of Deaconship Although not de fide, it is theologically certain, that Deacons receive the Sacrament of Orders. The Council of Trent defines (ss. xxiii can. vi.) that besides Bishops and Priests, Ministers also (surely, these mean Deacons), belong to the divinely instituted Hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The qualities required in Deacons by the Apostles, “full of the Holy Ghost, wisdom,” &c., would show that their destination was something higher than mere secular ministrations. The same ceremonies are employed in their regard, as in the ordination of Bishops and Priests, viz.: imposition of hands and prayer. Deacons exercised spiritual functions, Stephen preached, Philip baptized, c. 8. Whenever St. Paul speaks of Deacons, he does so, in connexion with Bishops.

St. Luke, no doubt, does not distinctly state, that Deaconship was a Sacred Institution. He only makes the exercise of the ministry of relieving widows, the occasion of describing the institution of Deacons. However, he does not confine their functions to this exclusively, though, indeed, it was a great exercise of Christian charity.

7. “The word of God,” &c. The preaching of the Gospel was attended with great success, of which St. Luke gives a signal example in the conversion of a “great multitude of Priests,” doubtless, the most determined opponents of the Gospel. These joined the Church, “obeyed the faith,” which requires obedience of the haughty intellect and stubborn will of men. (2 Cors. 10:5, &c.)

8. By a sudden transition, St. Luke gives the history of Stephen, first on the list of those selected for Deaconship, and describes the events which led to his death, “full of grace,” the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and especially the gift of “fortitude.”

9. “Now there arose,” stood up to resist him.

“Synagogues of the Libertines. (For the meaning of “synagogue.” See Matthew 4:23, Commentary.)

“Wherever a sufficient number of Jews could be found in the several Provinces to form a congregation they had their synagogue, and sometimes more than one in towns. Jerusalem alone, in the time of our Lord, is said to have 480 synagogues. The foreign Jews resorting to Jerusalem either for doctrine or business purposes, or for studying the Sacred and religious ordinances, had, each nation, their synagogues, to which they resorted for religious purposes.

“Of Libertines.” By these are commonly understood manumitted slaves, or freedmen who were brought to Rome as prisoners of war, and thus reduced to a condition of slavery, particularly in the time of Pompey. Some of these slaves, on becoming freedmen and receiving their liberty, returned to their own country and formed a synagogue of their own, called of the Libertini or Freedmen, which their descendants frequented afterwards.

“And of the Cyrenians.” Jews from Cyrene in Africa, who had a synagogue of their own.

“And of the Alexandrians.” Jews from Alexandria.

“Cilicia,” its capital Tharsus, was the native city of St. Paul. Hence, it is by no means unlikely, that this distinguished disciple of Gamaliel was among the disputants here referred to.

“Asia.” Pro-Consular Asia. Cicero pro Flacco says. “Asia vertra, ut opinor, Constat ex Phrygia, Myria, Caria, et Lydia.”

10. “Not able to resist,” or advance any solid reply in refutation of his reasoning.

“The wisdom and the spirit,” the wisdom of the spirit, that spoke through him, as his organ.

For “spirit that spoke,” the Greek is, the spirit by which he spoke, under whose influence he spoke “non vos estis qui loquimini,” &c. (Matthew 10:20).

11. “Then they suborned,” &c. Unable to reply to the arguments of Stephen, they become enraged, and determine on his destruction by having recourse to violent measures. In their fury, they put forward wicked men for this purpose to make false charges against him. “against Moses,” their divinely commissioned Legislator, “and against God,” by whom Moses was commissioned. Blasphemy against Moses was chiefly levelled against God Himself.

12. “The ancients,” the members of the Sanhedrim. The more easily to accomplish their object, and gratify jealous revenge, the enemies of Stephen created a popular movement against him.

“Brought him to the Council,” the Sanhedrim, the great Council of the nation, supreme in matters of religion (Matthew 26:3–57). Probably, an extraordinary meeting was summoned for the occasion.

“Running together, they took him.” Suddenly coming on him, probably when engaged through the city in the duties of his office.

13. False witnesses,” who not only quoted whatever Stephen might have said relative to the cessation of Jewish rites and ceremonies, which was, surely to take place; but, perverted them to a false meaning, never intended by St. Stephen, thus acting the part of “false witnesses.”

14. St. Stephen only gave expression to the utterances of our Lord Himself. Our Lord never said He would destroy the temple. He only predicted its destruction by the Gentiles, on account of the crimes of the Jews.

“And shall change.” Utterly abolish the Jewish ritual observances in regard to festivals and sacrifices. Our Lord predicted these would cease: Stephen went no farther. A similar false charge was alleged against our Lord Himself, at His Passion by suborned witnesses (Matthew 26:61).

The Jews were particularly sensitive in regard to everything that affected the Law of Moses.

15. “Looking on him” steadfastly, curious to see what reply he would make to charges so grave.

“As if it had been the face of an angel.” His face reflected a majestic beauty truly heavenly. “Abundantia Cordis” (says St. Hilary, Hom. in Steph.) “transierat in decus corporis et in facie pulchistudinis candor, splendorque animi ejus exundabat.” His countenance was such as angels present when they appear in human form. It was radiant with glory and heavenly splendour, displaying candour and a calm reliance on God’s Providence. The obstinate hearts of his furious persecutors were but little affected or moved by it.








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