Hellenist Jewish Christians & Palestinian Jewish Christians

In biblical times from 1200 BCE, the Holy Land was often called Palestine.  This geography, comprised of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, was controlled at various times by the Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, and Roman empires.  The Ottomans controlled it after Rome, but it was finally taken by the Arabs in CE 634.     — from britannica.com

Beginning with Acts 6:1, Luke makes reference to Palestinian Jewish Christians.  These religious people lived in Palestine, that is, the regions occupied by Israel and Judah during Old Testament times.  Obviously, they were Jews who had converted to Christianity during the time of the writer Luke, i.e. the first century AD.

Luke draws our attention away from the Palestinian Jewish Christians to give us a glimpse of another group of Jewish Christians–the Hellenistic Jewish Christians, who were responsible for breaking across the borders of Judaism and proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles.  Luke’s book of the Acts of the Apostles is all about proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles.

Prominent among this liberal wing in the church was Stephen who, because of his views, became the first Christian martyr.

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Hellenistic | ˌheləˈnistik |adjective       relating to Greek history, language, and culture from the death of Alexander the Great to the defeat of Cleopatra and Mark Antony by Octavian in 31 bc. During this period Greek culture flourished, spreading through the Mediterranean and into the Near East and Asia and centering on Alexandria in Egypt and Pergamum in Turkey.                            –from New Oxford American Dictionary

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In Acts chapter 6, the Hellenistic Jewish members of the Christian community were murmuring because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.

To understand why these widows were discriminated against, it is essential for us to know the situation that pertained between the Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews.  The Jews who lived in the land of Palestine viewed with suspicion their kinsmen who lived outside the land.  There was a difference in language.  A large number of the Jews who lived outside Palestine adopted Greek as their language, while those in Palestine spoke Aramaic.  Many of the customs which were observed by Palestinian Jews were considered not important by the Hellenists.  Since the Jews outside the land would associate freely with the Gentiles, their brothers in Palestine had deep feelings of resentment against them because they suspected that the Hellenists had compromised their religious principles for financial gain.

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Aramaic | ˌerəˈmāik |  noun     a Semitic language, a Syrian dialect of which was used as a lingua franca in the Near East from the 6th century BC. It gradually replaced Hebrew as the language of the Jews in those areas and was itself supplanted by Arabic in the 7th century AD.

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When these two groups of Jews were thrown together in the church, it is evident from what occurred in chapter 6 that the Palestinian Jewish Christians had not suppressed their prejudices.  They resorted to discrimination against the widows of the Hellenists, and a crisis ensued.

The Jews had a great reputation for their welfare work with the poor and the widows.  When the Jews became followers of Christ, they continued the practice to which they were accustomed so that by the time of the Pastoral epistles, the widows were a recognized group in the church.

No one could be quite so destitute as a widow, and to be discriminated against by a prejudiced group made her plight worse.  In order to remedy the situation, the twelve apostles summoned the body of the disciples.

Chapter 6 reports that the apostles did not consider it appropriate to give up their preaching mission to serve tables.  Tables may have two meanings.  they could be dining tables which were used for the common meal of the Christians or tables which were set up to dole out money.  The latter was probably meant here.  The apostles felt strongly that they should not take up their time with the administration of funds for social service.  Consequently, they advised the congregation to select seven men to take care of this emergency situation.

The seven selected by the congregation all had Greek names, so we assume that they represented the Hellenistic Jewish Christian community.  One way to assure the Hellenistic widows of daily support was to choose representatives who would be on their side.

—Commentary on the text of Acts 6 and the explanation of the discrimination against the Hellenist widows is from Broadman Bible Commentary

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