The seven deacons were appointed to take care of the needy in the church. God taught His children to help the widows (Ex. 22:22; Deut. 14:29; Isa. 1:17; Luke 18:3). In the infant church, the communal economy required some kind of organized management of the common account that had been formed (Acts 4:32). And it was necessary to distribute the aid every day because of the pressing needs.
The protest among the Hellenists
In the early church, the Palestinian Jews were in the majority. And the needy among the Hellenists were overlooked probably because of differences in language and customs. So, the Hellenists protested for their lack of support as the sudden growth in membership depleted the church’s resources.
The job of distribution occupied the apostles’ time and it was not “proper” that they should spend so much of their time dealing with material and business matters. The twelve apostles recognized their main responsibility was to minister the word of God through preaching and teaching.
Appointing the deacons
The disciples took measures to handle the problem. And they followed the model set by Moses (Ex. 18:25), and like him, they delegated authority to others to carry on the project of charity. So, they called the believers to appoint special men to take care of the charity (Acts 6:2).
The apostles instructed that these chosen men should be filled with the Holy Spirit. They should be men of honesty, efficiency, and acceptable to their fellows (1 Tim. 3:1–14; Titus 1:5–11). They must be able to look after the spiritual wants of the poor; they are to show prudence, discretion, economy, and wisdom in their work (1 Cor. 12:8).
The seven deacons
As a result, the believers chose the following seven men: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas (Acts 6:5). And, the apostles prayed and laid hands on them to appoint them for their task (v. 6). The seven were to minister material blessings while the twelve were to be left free to minister to the spiritual needs of the people. Later, the church made rules for the care of its widows (1 Tim. 5:3–16).
Jewish literature confirms that the apostle called seven individuals to manage public business in Jewish towns (Talmud Megillah 26a, Soncino ed., p. 157). In some churches, as at Rome, the number of deacons was later fixed at seven (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History vi. 43. 11). We also read that the council of Neo-Caesarea (A.D. 314; Canon 14) called for seven deacons in a locality. And many Bible commentators think that the seven men chosen in acts 6 parallel the “elders” mentioned in Acts 11:30; 14:23 and forward.
In His service,