God’s Word for You
Acts 6:8-10 The Synagogue of the Freedmen
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, December 5, 2019
8 Now Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
How long after the choosing of the seven did Stephen begin to perform miracles? We don’t know. Every now and then in the Bible, a group is set aside for a special ministry task, and we find a couple of other men doing the ministry work, too. For example, in the days of Moses when the seventy elders of Israel were prophesying out in the tent of meeting, two other men, Eldad and Medad, began to prophesy in the camp among the people (Numbers 11:25-29). Of the seven men chosen to distribute food, two also proclaimed the gospel. Stephen even performed miracles; probably healing miracles.
9 But members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—rose up and began to argue with Stephen. 10 Yet they could not oppose his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.
Certain histories claim that before its destruction Jerusalem had 480 synagogues. The historian Tacitus estimates that about six hundred thousand Jews were living there at the time, which would give each synagogue between two and three hundred grown men. One of these was the “Synagogue of the Freedmen” described here. Luke’s term for “freedmen” is actually a Latin word written with Greek letters: λιβερτίνων libertinon, which indicates men who had once been slaves but were now set free, or the children of such men. Many Jews were taken captive to Rome when Pompey conquered Jerusalem in 63 BC, and this synagogue likely was made up of some of these families who had now returned home, along with some others.
Luke does not say that Stephen was preaching, therefore we should be careful what we say about him and the ministry of the seven ‘deacons,’ especially those who are tempted to say that Stephen acted outside or beyond his call. This whole disagreement might have sprung from questions Stephen was asked or something that came up among the Jews of this synagogue.
Whatever way the incident began, Stephen was compelled to answer truthfully about Jesus Christ. His answers drew opposition and argument, but his grasp of the Scriptures was so firm and well-founded that they couldn’t refute anything he said. He was correct, again and again, with his answers and his replies to the things that they said. But a quality of many people is that even when proven wrong, they stand firm in their error and refuse to change. Those who are very powerful and those who are very foolish share a bad habit: they would rather change the facts to fit their views than change their views to fit the facts.
Jesus told his disciples: “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:18-20). His words applied also to Stephen, a man who was not one of the apostles and who was not called to be an apostle. But Jesus’ words applied to Stephen, and we can be confident that when we are called before opponents to the gospel for the sake of the gospel, the Holy Spirit will be with us, and will give us what we need to say. Trust in your Lord Jesus. He is with you always.
Pastor Timothy Smith