Remembering of course that chapters and verses aren’t part of the original texts, what we see at the beginning of chapter 6 makes sense as a new chapter. It shifts the tone and starts a new discussion. A fairly short chapter, it begins to expand the picture of ministry in the early Church to beyond that of the Apostles and their specific preaching/teaching/healing office.
This passage has drawn the attention of many scholars, trying to ascertain the precise nature of the office that these seven men were placed into. Debate continues to be ongoing (and is of particular note to me personally, having served in a helping office within LCC for 13 years; I’ve studied this passage a lot and will attempt to be succinct with the notes!), but the one thing all can agree on is that Luke records for us an account of the early Church responding to needs in its freedom to structure itself to care for those who need it, in body and soul. In a time of great growth in the numbers, more needed to be done than could be done by the Twelve personally.
The basic contention is over the scope of this office, commonly called “deacon”, that Stephen and the others were placed into. It’s called “deacon” because the word “serve” in 6:2 is in Greek the verb of the word for “servant”, diakonos. This word appears frequently in the New Testament, sometimes appearing in English as “serve/service” and sometimes as “minister/ministry”. (It’s also where we get this idea in civil government of “Minister of whatever-department”.) The big question is, “how wide or narrow is this service and what tasks fall under this office?”. Some will say it’s a narrow scope in sense of earthly helps within the Church, others will say it’s a narrow scope akin to an “assistant pastor”, and still others will say it’s wider, and involves both earthly and churchly help. All of this depends on how widely or narrowly one interprets the word diakonia (“service” or “ministry”) in this context.
6:1 “the daily distribution” is a key phrase in terms of scope. Some English translations add “of food” in an effort to make it clear that this is more earthly in scope, but that’s not in the original text. The original simply says “the daily diakonia”. Most see this as an earthly task, sometimes called something like “social ministry” or “works of mercy” - helping widows get what they need to eat each day. And some see it more narrowly as churchly service/ministry, i.e. what we Lutherans call “Word and Sacrament ministry”, perhaps with emphasis on the sacrament of Holy Communion.
6:2 Again, to “diakoneō tables” is set up in distinction to preaching. And again, some see it as more earthly providing for people, and some more as a narrow ministry/service that supports the ministry of the Word and prayer.
Either way, though, what’s clear is that these seven men would be assisting the Church (and specifically the Apostles), be qualified in specific ways (6:3), and set apart and commissioned by the Church (represented by the Apostles - 6:6) to be set into a formal office.
6:3 The Apostles say that they will devote themselves to “the diakonia of the word”, implying a specific kind of service/ministry that’s not what these men would be commissioned to do. We would generally describe “the ministry of the Word” in our Lutheran circles as preaching and teaching.
6:7 The result—and the most important point—of this organization and commissioning of men into this new office was the continued strengthening and growth of the Christian Church. It seems to especially have taken hold among the Jewish people, as even their priests were coming to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ.
Here we have the beginning of the account of Stephen's persecution, which will continue into chapter 7 and the aftermath into chapter 8.
6:8 One of the reasons for the debate about these so-called deacons and their specific work is that Stephen is described here as doing “wonders and signs” just like the Apostles were described as doing (e.g. 2:43, 5:12). He goes on to speak similarly to Peter on Pentecost, as he is brought up on false charges before the council (6:12-13).
6:13-14 It’s interesting that these charges begin with the same ones levelled at Jesus: the destruction of the temple, and then goes on to include the destruction of the Jewish customs.
6:15 The description here is fascinating; remember that the word that we often translate as “angel” in Greek simply means “messenger”. It may mean that there was some kind of “otherwordly” appearance here but it could also be more simple: that Stephen was fully at peace, filled with the Holy Spirit to speak in answer to these charges (again, remember that Jesus said to the Apostles that this kind of thing would happen, and now it’s happening to someone who the Apostles commissioned into this new church office). Or, maybe it’s both, and the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to communicate both with this one word.