Thursday, September 26, 2013

Acts 6:1 - A Conflict Between the Disciples of Jesus

In those days, as the disciples were multiplying, the Hellenists among them complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily support. (Acts 6:1)

(1) In those days - This marks the beginning of a new context.

(2) as the disciples were multiplying – “disciples” is the term used in the Gospels as reference to the personal followers of Jesus.

(3) the Hellenists -- The noun twn ellhnistwn (TON HELLENISTON) occurs here for the first time in Greek literature. Its formation indicates its basic meaning to be “one who affects Greek ways” (thus it would most naturally refer to non-Greeks).[i] A Geek lexicon states: Hellenist; a Greek-Jew.[ii] Three times every year, Jews came from many lands to participate in Temple rituals; many came from the lands of the Greek-speaking dispersion. Hellenists attended synagogues where the scriptures were read and the prayers recited in Greek.

Hellenistic Judaism was a form of Judaism in the ancient world that combined Jewish religious tradition with elements of Greek culture. One of the primary issues between Hellenists and other Jewish groups was circumcision. Hellenists viewed it as a disfigurement of the body. The main centers of Hellenistic Judaism were Alexandria (Egypt) and Antioch (Northern Syria—now Turkey), both founded at the end of the 4th century BCE.[iii] Even in Jerusalem such synagogues were to be found, as is evident from the verse below:

Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. (Acts 6:9a)

Archaeologists discovered an inscription written in Greek in the southern part of the City of David from 1913-1914.[iv] It is currently on display in the Israel Museum. The inscription mentions a priest by the name of Theodotus (which means “god gave” in Greek) who established a synagogue that is dated to the last hundreds of years of the Second Temple period (30 BCE – 70 CE). The inscription gives us a peek into the nature of a Second Temple synagogue during a period when the synagogue was used as a place to read the Bible and learn about God’s commandments, and not for prayer as it is today. Additionally, the inscription refers to the presence of a facility with water which is either a bath house or a mikvah (ritual bath), as well as guest rooms probably used by Jewish pilgrims who made their way to Jerusalem and required a place to wash and rest during their journey.[v] Below is a translation of the inscription:

Theodotus, son of Vettenus, priest and archisynagogue, son of an archisynagogue, grandson of an archisynagogue, built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and the teaching of the commandments, and guest-house and the rooms and the water supplies for the lodging of strangers in need, which his fathers founded and the Elders and Simonides.[vi]

Another Theodotus, a Greek historian,[vii] noted that there was an important difference between synagogues in Israel and those outside the land. The central focus of all synagogues was to teach the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy. Synagogues in Israel, however, were not houses of prayer.” [viii] In the land of Israel there was only one House of Prayer -- the Temple. Synagogues in Judea, Samaria and Galilee werehouses of study,” not “houses of prayer.”

(4) among them complained against – this is a conflict between two groups of disciples of Jesus.

(5) the HebrewstouV ebraiouV (TOUS HEBRAIOUS) these were the Hebrew and Aramaic speaking Jews who followed the traditional understanding of the Torah, which was read and discussed in Hebrew in their synagogues.

(6) because their widows were being overlooked in the daily support – The Hellenists disciples complained to the apostles because they believed their widows were not receiving the daily support, apparently food in this context. The word translated support is th diakonia (TE DIAKONIA), which is the same word that “deacon” comes from.

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[i]  The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary © 1990 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Grand Rapids, MI; p. 8
[ii] A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon  © 1972 Oxford at the Clarendon Press, Great Britain; p. 216b
[vi] (CIJ 1404; Deissmann, LAE, pp. 439-41)
[viii] Josephus, Life 277, 280, and 293

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