Reflecting on Acts for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 6:1-7

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The continuing growth of the Church did not come without growing pains. As the number of disciples grew, so did complaints. The complaints ran along the lines of linguistic tensions within the community. The newer minority group, the Hellenists, were Diaspora Jews who spoke Greek, used the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) as their Bible, and had lived outside of Palestine but then had migrated to Palestine and were now members of the Jerusalem Christian community. The majority group were the Hebrews, Jews native to Palestine who spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew, and whose Bible was primarily the Hebrew Old Testament.

These ethnic complaints were precipitated by practical matters. The minority Hellenists complained that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food and financial assistance. Luke previously showed that within the community of believers those who had extra property sold some of it and presented the proceeds to the apostles, who distributed the money or goods to those in need (4:34–35). The Old Testament frequently urges care for those most vulnerable, especially widows and orphans. The prophets emphasize that justice and mercy to the poor are grave obligations of God’s people, more important than temple sacrifices (see Isa 1:11–18; 58:6–12; Amos 8:3–7).

The complaints from the aggrieved minority are not ignored by those in authority, the Twelve. They called together the community of the disciples to ensure the participation of the whole church in resolving the problem, and then announced their proposed solution. A most generous solution it is, for all the new officeholders they appoint have Greek names and thus apparently are members of the complaining minority group, the Hellenists. We have seen how the placing of goods for distribution “at the feet of the apostles” symbolizes the apostles’ authority (Acts 4:35, 37; 5:2). Now this newly appointed group of seven, all apparently Hellenists, share in the apostles’ authority over the community.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.