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Seven, The

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

    Seven, The

    According to Acts 6.1–6, a dispute arose between “Hellenists” and “Hebrews” over the distribution of food to widows. The twelve decided that “seven men of good standing” be chosen to oversee the task. In some later Christian traditions this decision is understood as the institution of the office of deacon, though that title does not occur in the passage.

    This passage has traditionally been interpreted as reflecting tension between Jewish and gentile Christians. But recent scholarship has shown the fine line that existed between Jews and Greeks in this part of the world in the Roman period. Even Acts itself warns against too glib an approach to ethnic and religious identities. The “God‐fearers” in Acts (10.2; 13.16, 36) are just such a group who stand on the border between putative Greek and Jewish culture. It is more likely then, that both groups are Jewish Christians, the Hebrews being Aramaic‐speakers and the Hellenists perhaps originally from the Dispersion but now living in Jerusalem. The episode would thus reflect tension between them, a tension resolved by the establishment of a new form of leadership in some ways parallel to the twelve; two of the seven, Stephen and Philip, are active preachers just like the twelve (Acts 6:8–8.40). The narrative may also be inspired by the accounts of Moses' sharing of leadership (Exod. 18.123–27; Num. 11.16–25).

    J. Andrew Overman

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    Oxford University Press

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