3.5 Acts -- Racial Tensions (Acts 6)
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had (Acts 4:32).
Well, not quite.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6:1).
The preaching of the Gospel was accompanied by miracles of healing, by controversy and by persecution. Peter gave other sermons, and he and John were summoned before the Sanhedrin, where they were threatened and flogged. But not all the conflict was external. The early church had a welfare program to benefit widows. A racial fault-line developed between Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking widows. These two groups had different linguistic and cultural backgrounds that brought them into conflict. The Greek-speaking Jews were strongly influenced by Hellenism and less observant of the Law. Even a common faith in Jesus as the Messiah did not overcome their mutual incompatibility. When the Hebrew side had a chance to favor their own widows at the expense of the Hellenists, they did so. The problem was serious enough that it came to the attention of the disciples (and of the Bible). Then the disciples copped out!
What they actually said was,
"It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables" (Acts 6:2).
What a classic dodge: "that's too trivial for us to deal with." Yet "waiting on tables" had divided the believers. What was that thing Jesus did with the towel and bowl of water a few months previously?
Anyway, they punted, and appointed seven men to handle the distribution, all of them with Greek names. This shows that the Greek contingent was very large, and that there were a lot of widows to feed. This incident also shows that people who are "born from above" still have issues to work through -- identity, citizenship, prejudice. There are some lessons here in Biblical peacemaking:
-- listen. The people in charge heard the complaint and didn't deny the problem.
-- appoint acceptable mediators. In this case, it looks like the larger congregation chose their representatives.
-- empower the weaker party. The men chosen to run the distribution all seemed to be members of the plaintiffs' racial group. This is unusual.
-- ratify the resolution. The larger assembly approved the process (Acts 6:5).
-- confirm. The apostles blessed the elected officers.