Acts Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern
1. Around this time, when the number of talmidim was growing, the Greek-speaking Jews began complaining against those who spoke Hebrew that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution.
Talmidim. See Mt 5:1N.
Greek-speaking Jews... those who spoke Hebrew. The Greek words are "Ellenistan" and "Ehmious" ("Hellenists" and "Hebraists"), and their precise meaning is debatable. The emphasis could be less on language than on culture, or even on geography — whether these Jews were native to the Diaspora or to Eretz-Israel. And even if the primary referent is language, some believe that Hebrew was no longer commonly spoken in Yeshua's time and that Aramaic, the related Semitic language originally spoken in Babylon and learned by many Jews during the Babylonian Exile, is what is meant. While it could be either or both, I am convinced that Hebrew was still widely spoken in New Testament times; see Mk 5:41N.
The division between Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking (or culturally Greek and culturally Hebrew) Jews dates from the conquest of Eretz-Israel by Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. He and his successors introduced the Greek language and Greek culture into the lands they ruled. While Hellenistic influence produced such fruits as the Septuagint, Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, "Hebraists" considered the "Hellenists" to have developed an adulterated Judaism which had assimilated elements of the pagan cultures around them — although the Judaism of the Hebrew-speakers had not avoided these influences either. The Maccabean Revolt (see Yn 10:22N) contains elements of intra-Jewish struggle related to this issue. In any case, groups which are different from each other can usually find excuses for deprecating each other.
2. So the Twelve called a general meeting of the talmidim and said, “It isn’t appropriate that we should neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables.
To serve tables. Understand this phrase as metonymy: "to see that widows' needs are met," or: "to occupy ourselves with financial and administrative matters."
3. Brothers, choose seven men from among yourselves who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will appoint them to be in charge of this important matter,
4. but we ourselves will give our full attention to praying and to serving the Word.”
5. What they said was agreeable to the whole gathering. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Ruach HaKodesh, Philip, Prochoros, Nikanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas, who was a proselyte from Antioch.
What they said was agreeable to the whole gathering, including the Hebrew-speakers, who apparently joined in protecting the interests of the Greek-speakers, for all seven appointees have Greek names. On "Nicholas" see Rv 2:6N; on "proselyte" see Mt 23:15N and notes cited there.
6. They presented these men to the emissaries, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
Laid their hands on them, conferring the duties and privileges of their office; see Mt 21:23N on "s'mikhah" ("laying on of hands").
7. So the word of God continued to spread. The number of talmidim in Yerushalayim increased rapidly, and a large crowd of cohanim were becoming obedient to the faith.
On the growth of the Messianic Community see 2:41N.
A large crowd of cohanim ("priests"; see Mt 2:4N) were becoming obedient to the faith. Although most of the cohanim are presented in the New Testament as being opposed to Yeshua, this was not true of all. There were holy men in the priesthood such as Z'kharyah the father of Yochanan the Immerser (Lk 1:5-25, 57-59).
There is a theory that the cohanim who came to believe in Yeshua were not part of the establishment but those who had become disenchanted with it and had gone off to join the Essenes in Qumran. The reasoning is that the theology of the Dead Sea Scrolls is much closer to the New Testament than that of the 7z 'dukim who controlled the Jerusalem priesthood. But the theory lacks New Testament evidence to support it. Moreover, since the activity of the Messianic believers had not yet spread to other parts of the Land than Jerusalem, it seems more likely that the cohanim becoming obedient to the faith at this time were those who made it their business to be in Jerusalem, rather than retreat to the desert. For God can reach the hearts even of people whose usual ties and associations might be expected to lead them to an opposing stance. At 15:5 we are also informed of believing P'rushim.
8. Now Stephen, full of grace and power, performed great miracles and signs among the people.
9. But opposition arose from members of the Synagogue of the Freed Slaves (as it was called), composed of Cyrenians, Alexandrians and people from Cilicia and the province of Asia. They argued with Stephen,
Synagogue of the freed slaves. People with similar cultural and social backgrounds often choose to worship together. The freed slaves were probably Jewish Cyrenians, Alexandrians and people from Cilicia and the province of Asia who had been captured and enslaved by the Romans, or their descendants; General Pompey, who captured Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E., took a number of Jews prisoner and released them in Rome. Some, however, may have been Gentile converts to Judaism; the phenomenon of proselyte zeal is familiar in all religious communities.
10. but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by which he spoke.
11. So they secretly persuaded some men to allege, “We heard him speak blasphemously against Moshe and against God.”
To allege, "We heard him speak blasphemously against Moshe and against God."
What would have been the content of the alleged blasphemy? The two most likely possibilities: (1) Yeshua is greater than Moshe (see 3:22-23N), (2) the Torah has been changed (see vv. 13-14&N).
12. They stirred up the people, as well as the elders and the Torah-teachers; so they came and arrested him and led him before the Sanhedrin.
13. There they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and against the Torah;
14. for we have heard him say that Yeshua from Natzeret will destroy this place and will change the customs Moshe handed down to us.”
Against this holy place, the Temple, where the Sanhedrin (v. 12) met. For we have heard him say that Yeshua... will destroy this place. To show how such a misunderstanding could arise see Lk 21:5-6 and Mk 14:57-59, where, although Yeshua did not say that he personally would destroy the Temple, he did correctly predict its destruction; also Yn 2:19-22&NN, where he used the term "temple" metaphorically to speak of his own body but was thought to be referring to Herod's structure. Likewise Stephen's words could be taken in a way he did not intend (see 7:44-50).
Against the Torah. Elsewhere I have explained how Messianic Judaism recognizes that the Torah is eternal, and Yeshua did not abrogate it (2:42N; Mt 5:17N, 12:12N, 15:2-3N).
But what of the more specific charge, that Stephen said Yeshua... will change the customs Moshe handed down to us? I. Howard Marshall, a Christian scholar, is correct in stating,
"The customs are no doubt the oral traditions giving the scribal interpretation of the law; these were regarded as stemming from Moses, just as much as the written law was. An attack on the oral law was thus tantamount to an attack on the law as a whole." (Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 130) The first words of Mishna Pirkey-Avot are:
"Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and handed it down to Y'hoshua, and Y'hoshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets handed it down to the Men of the Great Synagogue. They said three things: be deliberate in judging, raise up many talmidim, and make a fence around the Torah." (Avot 1:1)
The Torah spoken of in this quotation is the Oral Torah; thus handed down it is regarded as unchangeable. Even the "fence" of rules and customs which the rabbis are instructed here to continue producing in order to prevent inadvertent violation of the Written Torah is thought of as already contained "organically" in what Moshe received from God on Mount Sinai:
"Every interpretation of the Torah given by a universally recognized authority is regarded as divine and given on Sinai, in the sense that it is taken as the original divinely willed (gottgewollte) interpretation of the text; for the omniscient and all-wise God included in His revealed Torah every shade of meaning which divinely inspired interpretation thereafter discovered.... Therefore, every interpretation is called derash, 'searching1 for what God had originally put there.... Every interpretation given by the scholars of the Talmud, Moses had received on Mt. Sinai, for he had received the Torah, and the interpretation was contained in it, not mechanically, but organically, as the fruit of the tree was contained in the seed from which the tree had grown...." (Saul Kaatz, Muendliche Lehre und Ihr Dogma, Berlin, 1923, p. 48, as quoted in George Horowitz, The Spirit of the Jewish Law, New York: Central Book Company, 1973, p. 92).
Nevertheless there is in Judaism a persistent strand of thought which says that when the Messiah comes he will expound the Torah more fully and even change it. Here are three quotations to this effect from the Midrash Rabbah, redacted in the 6th-12th centuries but containing material which is much earlier, some of it predating Yeshua. The First is from Genesis Rabbah 98:9 (on Genesis 49:11, "his foal and his colt"):
"When he comes about whom it is written, 'Lowly and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass' [Zechariah 9:9, cited at Mt 21:2-7&N, Yn 12:15], he will compose for them words of Torah... and point out to them their errors |in understanding Torah].... Rabbi Chanin said, 'Israel will not need the teaching of king Messiah in the future, because it says, "Unto him [the Root of Yishai] will the Goyim seek" (Isaiah 11:10) — the Gentiles and not Israel.' If so, why will the Messiah come, and what will he do.? He will come to gather the exiles of Israel and to give them thirty mitzvot."
The passage goes on to derive the number thirty from the thirty pieces of silver of Zechariah 11:12 (cited at Mt 26:15, 27:9). There follows a discussion of whether the thirty commandments are for the Gentiles or for the Jews. Leviticus Rabbah 9:7 (on Leviticus 7:11-12) says that
"Rabbis Pinch&s, L'vi and Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Menachem of Galatia, 'In the Coming Time all the sacrifices will be abolished, except the thanksgiving offering. All the prayers will be abolished, except the thanksgiving prayer,'"
which is the next-to-last prayer of the Shmoneh-Esreh. See MJ 13:15—16&N. Ecclesiastes Rabbah on Ecclesiastes 11:8, "All that comes is vanity," simply states,
"The Torah which one learns in this world 'is vanity' in comparison with the Torah of the Messiah,"
Raphael Patai has summarized material relating to the Messianic alteration of the Torah in the chapter "New Worlds and a New Tora," in The Messiah Texts (Avon, 1979). He quotes the 9th-century Alphabet Midrash of Rabbi Akiva:
"In the future the Holy One, blessed be He,... will expound to [the pious] the meanings of a new Tora which He will give them through the Messiah." Drawing on this tradition the Midrash Talpiyot (с. 1700С.Е.) explains that the "new Tora"
"means the secrets and mysteries of the Tora which have remained hidden until now. It does not refer to another Tora, heaven forfend, for surely ihe Tora which He gave us through Moses our Master, peace be upon him, is the eternal Tora; but the revelation of her hidden secrets is called 'new Tora.'"
It then explains that the very same letters found in the Torah of Moshe will be rearranged, and that in this way the "new Tora" will be the "unchanged" Mosaic Law. Another writer, L'vi Yitzchak of Berditchev (c. 1740-1810) is quoted as offering the same explanation. Also an undated Yemenite midrash is cited: "In the future the Holy One, blessed be He, will seat the Messiah in the supernal Yeshiva, and they will call him 'the Lord,' just as they call the Creator.... And the Messiah will sit in the Yeshiva, and all those who walk on earth will come and sit before him to hear a new Tora and new commandments and the deep wisdom which he teaches Israel.... [A]nd the Holy One, blessed be He, will reveal... rules of life, rules of peace, rules of alertness, rules of purity, rules of absti nence, rules of piety, rules of charity.... And no person who hears a teaching from the mouth of the Messiah will ever forget it, for the Holy One, blessed be He, will reveal Himself in the House of Study of the Messiah, and will pour his Holy Spirit upon all those who walk the earth, and His Holy Spirit will be upon each and every one. And each one in His House of Study will understand the Halakhoi [laws, rules] on his own, the Midrashot [studies, interpretations, legends) on his own, the Tosafoi [annotations, often referring to the 12th—14th-cenlury commentaries on the Talmud and Rashi] on his own. the Aggadot [stories, folk tales] on his own, the traditions on his own, and each one of them will know on his own [compare Jeremiah 31:32-33(33-34)]... And even the slaves and the slave-women of Israel who were bought for money from the nations of the world, the Holy Spirit will rest upon them, and they will expound on their own."
These texts do not "prove" that normative Orthodox Judaism necessarily expects a new Torah when the Messiah comes, but they do show that such expectations have been accepted within an Orthodox Jewish framework during a period covering at least 1,500 years. If this stream of thought existed in the first century as well, it is not unreasonable to expect Yeshua the Messiah might rightfully "change the customs handed down to us by Moshe."
Yet such changes, whether according to Orthodox Jewish understandings of Torah or according to the explanations of Torah offered in this commentary, take place within the Jewish framework of thought which says that there is but one eternal Torah given to Israel. It is this one eternal Torah which the Messiah expounds and applies, and even his "changes" are organically contained within it. For more, see Mt 5:17&N, 1С 9:21&N, Ga 6:2&N.
15. Everyone sitting in the Sanhedrin stared at Stephen and saw that his face looked like the face of an angel.
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