Racism Theology

Justice is a Gospel issue: Affirmative action – Acts 6:5

And what they said pleased the whole gathering, 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. (Acts 6:5)

If the opening verses of Acts 6 demonstrate the apostles’ listening and empowering approach to resolving the racial conflict that emerged at that time, verse 6 emphasises this approach.

“What they said please the whole gathering” or “Everyone liked this idea”. The Passion version adds: “The Aramaic can be translated “This proposal appeared beautiful.”’ Notice how the apostle’s empowering approach turned the situation around from a negative conflict into a positive experience. Not only that, but it helped form a consensus. Once again, we can’t avoid the implication that it also demonstrates a degree of democracy in their approach. However, the church is a heavenly Kingdom and therefore not an earthly bureaucracy.

The heart behind all this is empowerment, the apostles are giving everyone a “voice”, but not necessarily the final “say” (see verse 7). That said, it is likely that they voted, which would mean that everyone gets a say, but not necessarily the final say or not necessarily a say about everything. What is most important is that people must be given an opportunity to be heard. Perhaps the Acts 6 conflict situation began because there wasn’t enough listening in the first place (see v1).

“Full of faith and the Holy Spirit” – First, a quick grammatical note, the Greek kai rendered “and” could also be translated as “likewise”, according to Strongs. Full of the faith and likewise the Spirit.

What’s in the names?

Prayer leader Pete Greig, biblical scholar PJ Williams and New Testament expert Craig Keener point out that there is a consensus that the list of seven Greek names here demonstrates that the apostles deliberately weighted the group in favour of Hellenists – the oppressed and under-represented group – in order to make sure they were represented.

Specifically, Keener observes: “Many Diaspora Jews had Greek names, but most Galileans and Judeans did not. All seven of these men, however, have Greek names; they were not only Hellenists (v1), but are very obviously Hellenists. Elites often repressed complaining minorities; here the apostles graciously put trustworthy members of the offended minority into leadership roles. Many Gentile converts to Judaism lived in Antioch.”

And therefore, having begun with listening, validation and empowerment, the apostle now demonstrate deliberate representation – what is otherwise known as affirmative action. Whatever you call it, perhaps the most important thing is that throughout the chapter the apostles take action.

By taking this particular affirmative and empowering, the apostles are effectively communicating that Hellenist lives matter, which has obvious applications for the contemporary church. Furthermore, the fact that ethnicity is identified in the passage amongst the New Testament church counters arguments that there is no such thing as race and ethnicity for Christians.

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