Daily Reading for October 11 From Episcopal Café
PHILIP, DEACON AND EVANGELIST
Deacons have constantly been inspired by the story of the seven Greek men who were presented to the apostles who, in turn,
- ‘prayed and laid their hands on them’ (Acts 6:6).
Tradition has seen in these men, and in particular the most famous of them, Stephen, the forerunners and prototype of the church’s deacons. Ancient authority and nineteenth-century scholarship give to the idea of an original seven deacons the look and feel of authenticity. And yet Lightfoot himself was aware that the idea of deacons so early in the church’s life—and in this passage in particular—had been ‘much disputed’. A prominent contemporary voice here would be that of James Monroe Barnett, a long-standing champion of the diaconate, who closes his pages on the subject with the plain statement, ‘we must conclude that the Seven were not deacons’. This too has been the view which my own study of Acts 6 has demanded. . . .
Luke does not use a diakon-word again until Acts 6:1, where he refers to
- ‘the daily ministry/diakonia’
(which we have already met in the phrase of the modern translation, ‘daily distribution [of food]’). Then, in the same part of the story, the Twelve rededicate themselves to their original commission of
- ‘the ministry/diakonia of the word’ (Luke 6:4).
Luke then closes the scene of the Seven with the tell-tale phrase,
- ‘the word of God continued to spread’ (Luke 6:7).
With these touches Luke keeps us in mind of his major theme as he moves into the great preaching event in the brief career of Stephen, one of the Seven (Luke 7:2-53). With Stephen’s death immediately following, the theme of the progress of the Word re-emerges in the account of another member of the Seven, Philip, engaging in a mission to Samaria; Samaria is the first station outside Jerusalem and Judea according to the stages of the Lord’s programme outlined by Luke 1:8. This mission leaves Philip poised at Caesarea, the port leading to Rome (Luke 8:4-14, 26-40), which is Luke’s ultimate objective in the trajectory of the Word. . . .
What does this make of the Seven? It makes of the Seven a new group of preachers, directed at first to the needs of the Hellenists—note how happily the story ends at Luke 6:7:
- ‘the word of God continued to spread; the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem. . . ’
—and then, after the death of Stephen in Jerusalem, to the wide worlds beyond, as begun in Philip’s mission (Luke 8:5). Indeed the only other time we hear of Philip he is called simply
- ‘the evangelist, one of the seven’ (Luke 21:8).
From Deacons and the Church: Making Connections between Old and New by John N. Collins.