1. And in those days, the number of the disciples increasing, there arose a murmuring of the Greeks against the Hebrews, for that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
In those days; i.e., when the Apostles were fearlessly continuing their preaching, in spite of the threats, imprisonments, and scourging they had suffered from the Sanhedrin.
A murmuring of the Greeks, etc. The Greeks here mentioned were Hellenists, that is, converted Jews who, living outside of Palestine among the Greeks, or Greek-speaking peoples, used the Greek language in their business and intercourse with others. The Hebrews were natives of Palestine who had been converted to Christianity, but who spoke Aramaic. This latter class of converts naturally looked down upon the former because of their pagan language and associations, and there consequently seems to have been some unfairness in dealing with them, in distributing to them food and other necessaries of life. Widows were a peculiarly destitute class among the Jews, and so were objects of special care in the infant Church.
2. Then the twelve calling together the multitude of the disciples, said: It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
The preaching of the Gospel was the prime duty of the Apostles, and this they could not sacrifice for the work of serving at table, of distributing food or clothing, or the like.
3. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
The Apostles left it to ‘the body of the faithful to choose the deacons, so that they might select those who would be agreeable to all, and who would devote themselves to common interests. Seven in number were chosen, perhaps because the city of Jerusalem was divided into seven parts; or because there were seven different groups or churches in the city; or because there were seven days in the week. At any rate, we know that seven was a sacred number among the Hebrews. These seven were required to be (a) men of recognized integrity of life; (b) full of the Holy Ghost, i.e., men whose external life showed the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and His gifts; (c) men of wisdom and prudence in dealing with others. The faithful were allowed to choose these seven deacons, but the Apostles retained the right to confer on them authority and formal appointment.
4. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
5. And the saying was liked by all the multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch.
Stephen . . . and Philip, etc. Stephen, the first to give his life as a martyr for Christ, was above all full of faith and the Holy Ghost. Outside the New Testament we have no further information concerning these seven deacons. From their Greek names it would seem that they were all Hellenist Christians, except Nicolas, who was of pagan origin; at least, all were of Jewish birth, whether Greek-speaking or Palestinian, except Nicolas of Antioch in Syria. St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 1. 26), St. Epiphanius (Adv. Haer. i. 25), St. Augustine (De Haers. v), and others say that the deacon Nicolas afterwards lost the faith and became the founder of the heretical sect known as the Nicolaites; but Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. iii. 20), Clement of Alex. (Strom, iii. 4), and Ignatius of Antioch (Ad Trail.) think otherwise.
6. These they set before the apostles; and they praying, imposed hands upon them.
They praying imposed hands. The Sacred Order of deaconship was conferred on the seven candidates by this prayer and imposition of hands; by it they were consecrated and given authority to preach the Gospel and take part in the ministry of the Church (1 Tim 4:14; 5:22) 2 Tim 1:6). The imposition of hands was a ceremony used in the Old Testament to consecrate a person or thing to God (Exod 29:10, 15; Lev 1:4; Num 8:10) and to communicate or transmit authority (Num 27:18; Deut 34:9). This ceremony, therefore, combined with liturgical prayer, was the form of ordination by which the deacons received the authority and grace to perform their sacred duties; and these duties were not only to serve at table, look after the poor, and other temporal affairs, but to preach the Gospel, assist at the celebration of the Eucharist, and distribute Holy Communion. The same ceremonies of prayer and imposition of hands were observed in the ordination of priests and Bishops. Just what were the nature and wording of the prayers used for ordination in early times we learn not from Scripture, but from tradition.
It is not de fide, but theologically certain, that deaconship is a Sacred Order. This we gather from the Council of Trent (Sess. xxiii. can. vi), which says that, besides Bishops and priests, ministers also belong to the divinely instituted Hierarchy of the Catholic Church.