Luke makes a “cut-to-the-chase” type of move in the sixth chapter of Acts, bringing us to the climax of the first part of his account. The Judean and Galilean ministries of the Apostles probably represented the greater part of their work and the “fruits” showed it. After all, it was here where the Lord ministered. They were still reaping from the fields where he planted. However, the Lord’s command was: do not go to Samaria nor enter into the way of the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5). Nevertheless, he also commanded them to preach the Gospel everywhere (Mark 16:15). How did the Apostles obey his command—that is, how did they understand Jesus’ words, at least toward the beginning of their ministry?
Well if we are to believe the account of Peter’s vision in chapter ten, the disciples preached only to Jews immediately following Pentecost of chapter two. The Grecian Jews, i.e. those Jews who had resettled in Judea from the Diaspora, had different ideas concerning the Gospel. The Apostles lived in Judea and Galilee all their lives. They were probably never in a Gentile home, but not so the Hellenists, many, if not most, of them probably knew how pork tasted. So, “when the number of disciples was multiplied,” that is, the number of Grecian Jewish believers became sizable enough to create some waves of their own, there arose a dispute between them and their brethren, the Palestinian Jewish believers. The “widow” matter was merely the tip of the iceberg. It was what made the dispute work in their favor. They wanted to make decisions on their own, but were outnumbered by the Palestinian Jews. They had ideas of their own but were unable to implement them due to their minority and lack of leadership positions in the church. Now was their chance. They had a legitimate complaint, and they were pleased with the resulting decision of the Apostles (Acts 6:5). Finally, they were a viable force in the hand of the Lord, and they would see for themselves what the Lord would do through them.
The point of this is, in view of my present effort of developing a chronology time frame, how long would it take for the numbers of Grecian Jewish believers to multiply enough that they could cause their more liberal views concerning the Gospel felt among the more conservative group? When we consider the figures of 3000 in chapter two (Acts 2:41) and 5000 more in chapter four (Acts 4:4) and then multitudes in chapter five (Acts 5:14), we have to understand not every one of these new Hellenist Jewish believers remained in Judea. Some did, but most returned to being part of the Diaspora. This is how so many believers were found in Rome and throughout Italy when Paul sailed there. No one from Jerusalem had gone there to evangelize them. They were among the pilgrims who had gone to visit Jerusalem during one of the Holy Day seasons and returned home and brought the message of Christ to their local synagogues.
Those who remained in Jerusalem, however, kept growing until they were able to influence their more conservative brethren into letting them become a separate group providing for themselves and making their own decision. How long would it take for the Grecian Messianic Jews to grow this large?
Furthermore, we also need to consider the fact that a large number of believing priests were accumulating on their own. They joined themselves with the Apostles only after the Grecian Messianic believers left (Acts 6:7). Apparently, their ceremonial purity laws had issues with eating with their Hellenist brethren. So, Luke, in reality, shows us two additional groups who were growing besides the Palestinian Messianic Jews who followed the Apostles’ doctrine closely. It would have taken time for this to occur. Opinions aren’t developed overnight and neither is the realization that those opinions wouldn’t be implemented by the current leadership of the party. Alternatives have to be sought, if a friendly split would occur, and this is, indeed, what happened in chapter six. The Apostles anointed seven leaders for the new group and those leaders show every indication that they were evangelists and not deacons as is traditionally supposed.
In my opinion there is no compelling evidence for the understanding that it was only a matter of months between Pentecost of Acts chapter two and Stephen’s death in chapter seven and the persecution that followed. On the contrary, these things seemed to have occurred over a period of two or three years. The fact is prophecy seems to indicate exactly 3 ½ years, which I will talk about in another blog.