on Acts 6 :1
A murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews - Those who are here termed Grecians, Ηλληνισται, or Hellenists, were Jews who sojourned now at Jerusalem, but lived in countries where the Greek language was spoken, and probably in general knew no other. They are distinguished here from those called Hebrews, by which we are to understand native Jews, who spoke what was then termed the Hebrew language, a sort of Chaldaio-Syriac.
It has been remarked that Greek words ending in ιστης imply inferiority. Ἑλληνες, Hellenes, was distinguished from Ἑλληνισται: the former implies pure Greeks, native Greeks, who spoke the Greek tongue in its purity; and the latter, Jews or others sojourning among the Greeks, but who spoke the Greek language according to the Hebrew idiom. Pythagoras divided his disciples into two classes; those who were capable of entering into the spirit and mystery of his doctrine he called Πυθαγορειοι, Pythagoreans; those who were of a different cast he termed Πυθαγορισται, Pythagorists: the former were eminent and worthy of their master; the latter only so so. The same distinction is made between those called Αττικοι and Αττικισται, Attics and Atticists, the pure and less pure Greeks, as between those called Ἑλληνες and Ἑλληνισται, Hellenes and Hellenists, pure Greeks and Graecising Jews. See Jamblicus, De Vit. Pyth. cap. 18, and Schoettgen on this place.
The cause of the murmuring mentioned here seems to have been this: When all the disciples had put their property into a common stock, it was intended that out of it each should have his quantum of supply. The foreign or Hellenistic Jews began to be jealous, that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration, that they either had not the proportion, or were not duly served; the Palestine Jews being partial to those of their own country. This shows that the community of goods could never have been designed to become general. Indeed, it was no ordinance of God; and, in any state of society, must be in general impracticable. The apostles, hearing of this murmuring, came to the resolution mentioned below.
on Acts 6 :1
In those days ... - The first part of this chapter contains an account of the appointment of "deacons." It may be asked, perhaps, why the apostles did not appoint these officers at the first organization of the church? To this, question we may reply, that it was better to defer the appointment until an occasion should occur when it would appear to be manifestly necessary and proper. When the church was small, its alms could be distributed by the apostles themselves without difficulty But when it was greatly increased when its charities were multiplied; and when the distribution might give rise to contentions, it was necessary that this matter should be entrusted to the hands of "laymen," and that the "ministry" should be freed from all embarrassment, and all suspicions of dishonesty and unfairness in regard to pecuniary matters. It has never been found to be wise that the temporal affairs of the church should be entrusted in any considerable degree to the clergy, and they should be freed from such sources of difficulty and embarrassment.
Was multiplied - By the accession of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, and of those who were subsequently added, Acts 4:4; Acts 5:14.
A murmuring - A complaint - as if there had been partiality in the distribution.
Of the Grecians - There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to these persons, whether they were "Jews" who had lived among the Gentiles, and who spoke the Greek language, or whether they were proselytes from the Gentiles. The former is probably the correct opinion. The word used here is not what is commonly employed to designate the inhabitants of Greece, but it properly denotes those who "imitate" the customs and habits of the Greeks, who use the Greek language, etc. In the time when the gospel was first preached, there were two classes of Jews - those who remained in Palestine, who used the Hebrew language, and who were appropriately called "Hebrews"; and those who were scattered among the Gentiles, who spoke the Greek language, and who used in their synagogues the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint. These were called "Hellenists," or, as it is in our translation, "Grecians." See the notes on John 7:35. These were doubtless the persons mentioned here - not those who were proselyted from Gentiles, but those of Jewish origin who were not natives of Judea, who had come up to Jerusalem to attend the great festivals. See Acts 2:5, Acts 2:9-11. Dissensions would be very likely to arise between these two classes of persons. The Jews of Palestine would pride themselves much on the fact that they dwelt in the land of the patriarchs and the land of promise; that they used the language which their fathers spoke, and in which the oracles of God were given; and that they were constantly near the temple, and regularly engaged in its solemnities. On the other hand, the Jews from other parts of the world would be suspicious, jealous, and envious of their brethren, and would be likely to charge them with partiality, or of taking advantage in their contact with them. These occasions of strife would not be destroyed by their conversion to Christianity, and one of them is furnished on this occasion.
Because their widows ... - The property which had been contributed, or thrown into common stock, was understood to be designed for the equal benefit of "all" the poor, and particularly, it would seem, for the poor widows. The distribution before this seems to have been made by the apostles themselves - or possibly, as Mosheim conjectures (Commentary de rebus Christianorum ante Constantinum, pp. 139, 118), the apostles committed the distribution of these funds to the Hebrews, and hence, the Grecians are represented as complaining against them, and not against the apostles.
In the daily ministration - In the daily distribution which was made for their needs. Compare Acts 4:35. The property was contributed doubtless with an understanding that it should be "equally" distributed to all classes of Christians that had need. It is clear from the Epistles that "widows" were objects of special attention in the primitive church, and that the first Christians regarded it as a matter of indispensable obligation to provide for their needs, 1 Timothy 5:3, 1 Timothy 5:9-10, 1 Timothy 5:16; James 1:27.
on Acts 6 :1
6:1 There arose a murmuring - Here was the first breach made on those who were before of one heart and of one soul. Partiality crept in unawares on some; and murmuring on others. Ah Lord! how short a time did pure, genuine, undefiled Christianity remain in the world! O the depth! How unsearchable are thy counsels! Marvellous are thy ways, O King of saints! The Hellenists were Jews born out of Palestine. They were so called, because they used the Greek as their in other tongue. In this partiality of the Hebrews, and murmuring of the Hellenists, were the needs of a general persecution sown. Did God ever, in any age or country, withdraw his restraining providence, and let loose the world upon the Christians, till there was a cause among themselves? Is not an open, general persecution, always both penal and medicinal? A punishment of those that will not accept of milder reproofs, as well as a medicine to heal their sickness? And at the same time a means both of purifying and strengthening those whose heart is still right with God.