Acts 6:1-7:50 – Choosing of the Deacons and Stephen’s Death


Acts 6:1-7:50


Stephen is chosen as one of seven servants (diakanoi), often called “deacons,” to oversee the ministry of food-service among Greek-speaking members of the Jerusalem congregation. He is singled out by opponents of the Jesus movement, framed as a blasphemer, and martyred.


This passage gives a glimpse of additional internal community struggles that spill over into wider public life. The group of Hellenist widows in the Jerusalem assembly were somehow not receiving their fair share of daily food. The “Hellenist” or Greek-speaking Jewish wing of the community was culturally distinct from the “Hebraic” or Aramaic-speaking group.

To address the problem of neglecting the Hellenist widows  the whole community chooses seven men of “good standing,” full of the Holy Spirit, and all with Hellenist-Jewish backgrounds to oversee the daily food ministry, with special attention to caring for all widows. It is the first experience of  expanding community leadership to meet the needs of the growing diverse constituents.

Stephen heads the list of this seven-member “diaconal” benevolence committee. His ministry, however, extends beyond food service, as important as that work is in itself. Stephen is also empowered by the Spirit to work signs and wonders and speak with wisdom about Christ. As a result, he draws the attention of some antagonists who falsely accuse him of blasphemy against God, Moses, and the temple. After a mock trial before the high priest and a lengthy defense speech from Stephen (7:2‒53—the longest speech in Acts), a mob drags him away and stones him to death. Stephen thus becomes the first  martyr for Christ. This terrible act introduces the persecution carried out against followers of Jesus in various localized areas. In Luke’s two-volume narrative, Stephen acts in parallel with Jesus (Luke 23:34) by calling upon God to forgive his persecutors, even as he dies at their hands (Acts 7:60). The Spirit’s power flowed through Jesus and now flows in the same way through his followers.