In a previous post, “The Acts of Jesus Christ through his disciples,” I mentioned briefly that there’s a section in the first half of the Book of Acts in which Luke does not focus on the service of the Apostles (the Twelve) nor does he focus on the service of Paul.
This section is Acts chapter 6 through Acts chapter 9.
In the first five chapters of Acts, the Apostles (the Twelve) are certainly in the foreground, either as a group or individually (Peter in Acts 2), or in pairs/groups (Peter and John in Acts 3-4).
However, when we get to Acts 6, the Apostles (the Twelve) take a back seat for a four chapters. Yes, the Twelve are found in the first half of Acts 6, but the focus of the passage is on choose others to serve. In fact, the church does the work of finding seven to serve.
Interestingly, in response to the service of these seven, Luke says, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7 ESV) We’ve already found this kind of summary or result statement in Acts 2:47. This statement (Acts 6:7) is important because it follows Luke’s report that others (not the Apostles) were serving.
The second half of Acts 6 and all of Acts 7 focuses on the service of Stephen. Acts 7 is especially important, because Luke places a full recounting of the history of Israel and how that history relates to Jesus Christ on the lips of Stephen, not one of the Apostles. In fact, this is the longest speech given by anyone in the Book of Acts.
In Acts 8, we see the Apostles (the Twelve) again, but they are mentioned in the context of Philip’s service. Philips proclaims the gospel in Samaria, then to an Ethiopian eunuch. In between these two stories, we see the apostles traveling to Samaria. It is interesting again that Luke has Philip (not the Twelve) first proclaiming the gospel in Samaria and to an Gentile (though perhaps a proselyte). This is especially important given Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8.
The beginning of Acts 9 focuses on Saul/Paul and his conversion. God uses another disciple (Ananias) who is not one of the Twelve, nor is he one of the seven chosen in Acts 6. Ananias plays an important role in Saul’s conversion/discipleship. Later, when Saul comes to Jerusalem, it is another disciple (Barnabas – not one of the Twelve or the seven) in introducing Saul to the church.
At the end of this section, Luke writes another one of his summary/result statements:
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31 ESV)
This statement appears before Luke’s focus returns to the Apostles (the Twelve) in Acts 9:32.
What can we make from this section in Acts where the Apostles (the Twelve) seem to disappear from the scene (or at least slide into the background)? For me, this shows the importance of the service of everyone in the church. God did not only work through the Apostles. Instead, God worked through the whole church, and as a result, the word of God increase and the church multiplied.
What do you think about Acts 6-9?