Reading through Acts 6, I find most commentaries concluding that the 7 Grecian Jews (that is, Jews of the Diaspora who resettled in Jerusalem) whom the apostles anointed were the first deacons of the Church. However, I have to wonder how the ‘deacon interpretation’ began. Notice what the Scriptures say:
Acts 6:1-7 ASV Now in these days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. (2) And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables. (3) Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. (4) But we will continue stedfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word. (5) And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus a proselyte of Antioch; (6) whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands upon them. (7) And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
It seems to me that the murmuring was done for different reasons than the Grecian widows being slighted, because Acts 4:34-37 clearly shows no one lacked among the early believers at Jerusalem. In fact most of the money probably came from the Grecian Jews, because they tended to be in better financial condition than the Palestinian Jews. Why would the Jewish believers neglect the very body of people from whom most of the love gifts came?
One thing is certain, the murmuring that developed resulted in creating two distinct groups who began meeting side by side, for when persecution did arise, it is only this group, not the Apostles who had to flee Jerusalem (cp. Acts 8:1). I believe that it was because of differing but honest directional goals concerning the Gospel two distinct groups formed. I don’t want to say a “split” occurred or that what we find in Acts 6 are two denominations of the Faith, but I believe we do have two different organizations that had fellowship together in much the same manner as two churches of the same denomination in Christianity today who meet in the same city. The Grecian Jewish believers tended to their business and the Palestinian Jewish believers tended to theirs, and both ministered in the word of God. The fact is, when these men are again referred to in Acts 21:8, they are called “the seven” like the apostles were often referred to as “the twelve.” The seven seemed to have similar gifts as the apostles, and they preached being filled with the Holy Spirit.
The context seems to point to these men heading up a separate organized and fully functional body of believers right alongside of the Palestinian Jewish body of believers there in Jerusalem. Notice also, that as soon as this occurred, immediately a great body of priests who believed joined themselves to the apostles (Acts 6:7). No doubt, these priests were of the sect of the Pharisees who are mentioned later. They would have had “ceremonial” issues with the Grecian Jewish believers, but if the Grecian Jewish believers were at this time worshiping as a separate organized body, these priests would have felt free to keep company with the disciples who practiced similar ceremonial cleansing rites at Jerusalem. Understanding these two points, concerning two fully functional organized bodies of believers at Jerusalem and that the body of priests who believed had fellowship with only one of these bodies of believers, helps us to fully appreciate what takes place in the next few chapters.