Dysfunctional Challenges

From the beginning in Acts 2, the number of saints in Jerusalem grew from an initial infusion of 3,000 gospel obedient members—some of whom were traveling visitors for the Passover/Pentecost feast who later went home—to well over five thousand men three to four years later who were local residents (See At 4:4). These members were meeting in homes throughout the metropolitan area of Jerusalem at the time Luke inscribed the historical statement of Acts 4:4. If the 5,000 men of Acts 4:4 could be doubled to include the same number of women, and then conservatively add about two children per family, then by the time Luke made the statement there could have been well over 20,000 individuals of the church of Jerusalem within three or four years after the events of Acts 2.

Since there were no church buildings, civic halls, or public schools in which these Christians could meet on Sunday morning, of necessity they met in their homes. (The meetings outside in the temple courtyard of Acts 5:42 were evangelistic, not worship assemblies of the saints). The point is that the saints were meeting in homes throughout the city by the time of the dysfunctional distribution to widows that is recorded in Acts 6:1-6.

If we would suppose there were an average of about twenty-five people who could meet in any particular home in Jerusalem, then this would be an approximate number of 800 assemblies of the disciples in different homes throughout the city. Because of our experience with the disciples meeting in homes, people of like mind often gravitate to those with whom they feel comfortable. For example, those who speak a common language naturally gravitate to those house churches where a common language is spoken.

This would only be natural. In a small social environment the most inner feelings of one’s heart can be expressed only in one’s native language. And when there is only an average of about twenty-five people in the group meetings in Jerusalem, it was simply a natural thing that there be a common language that was spoken in each small house assembly.

We have found that most Bible interpreters forget this very important historical setting of the early church in all the cities of the Roman Empire where there were Christians. Because Bible interpreters have ignored the house assembly context and function of the early disciples, they often do not understand completely contexts as Acts 6 in the historical setting of the times.

When we step into the historical context of Acts 6, the Grecian Jews who spoke Koine Greek were meeting in homes that spoke primarily the Greek language. These were Jews who evidently grew up in Greek-speaking areas outside Jerusalem, but later migrated to the metropolitan area of Jerusalem. And since they were probably migrants to the area, then they were possibly living in the lower economic suburbs of the city because they were not connected to the established financial heritage of the local resident Jews, which Jews spoke Hebrew, or Aramaic.

Those local resident Jews who spoke Hebrew, or Aramaic, were meeting in homes that spoke the common local language, possibly homes that were in the upper economic or established suburbs of the city.   Because the approximate 800 assemblies were conducted throughout different suburbs of the city, we would certainly assume that none of the members of the 800 assemblies knew all those who met in all the assemblies. This would especially be true if the house groups were located in different economic suburbs of the city. It would simply be unreasonable to think that all the members knew the approximate 20,000 plus individuals of the church of Jerusalem during the three to four years since the beginning in Acts 2. This would particularly be true because of the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem, especially since Luke makes the point of growth when he introduced the problem of the neglected widows (At 6:1).

In small groups people naturally have a tendency to bond closely with one another. Those of a common language and culture simply gravitate to one another, and subsequently bond around their common means of communication. There is nothing abnormal about this. It is simply the way God made us. We can imagine, therefore, how difficult it would have been for many of the disciples in Jerusalem, who did not share a common language or culture, to know those of different languages or cultures. This would especially be true if there were new converts in many different suburbs of the city, and thus, many new assemblies in the city since the initial Pentecost three to four years before.

This would be a particular challenge for those groups in the upper economic, or locally cultured suburbs of the city, to know those of the lower economic suburbs. There were simply too many groups and too many differences for all the saints to know all the saints. This seems to be the historical setting that led to the dysfunction that is recorded in Acts 6. The Grecian Jewish widows were being “neglected in the daily distribution of food” because they were not known by the groups who were taking care of their own widows (At 6:1).

We do not know all the reasons for this neglect, but for some reason the lack of fair distribution was occurring among the disciples in Jerusalem after three or four years from the beginning of the church in Acts 2. Understanding how the early church solved the problems does give us a great deal of information concerning how the early disciples allowed the gospel to move them as an organic body. The occasion also provides us with a “mission textbook” on urban evangelism.   Jerusalem was a typical multiple cultural city of the ancient world. The organic function of the church in the city, therefore, provides a great deal of information on how the organic body of Christ should function in urban centers.

[Next in series, September 16]




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