We learned in our study of Acts, chapter 2, that the first suggestion of Pentecost, which means “fiftieth” (day), is found in Leviticus 23:15-17. The “two wave loaves” in this Levitical account were typical of the two classes of people in the Pentecostal church, namely Jews and proselytes. The fact that the Holy Spirit specifically instructed the people to bake these two loaves “with leaven” is evidence enough that He knew, beforehand, that leaven would be found in the Pentecostal church.
All agree that the word “leaven” means sour, or fermenting dough, but all are not agreed upon the scriptural interpretation of the word. This can be gathered only by tracing its use in the scripture.
The first occurrence of the word “leaven” is found in connection with the observance of the feast of the Passover—”Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day shall ye put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15). Here leaven is something to be “put away” by the saved people of the old covenant.
Under the new covenant, the Corinthian church was instructed concerning “leaven” as follows—”Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (I Corinthians 5:7-8). Here leaven is used as something which permeates the whole of that with which it is mixed, and as something that should be “purged out” of the ranks of the church.
The following list of scriptures also throw light on the meaning of the word “leaven” as it is used by the Holy Spirit—Leviticus 2:11, 6:17, and 10:12; Matthew 13:33, 16:12, and Galatians 5:9. A careful study of these references will prove that in every instance the word leaven is used in connection with, and symbolic of, only that which is evil.
The leaven in the “two loaves” of Leviticus 23:17 showed itself in deceit in the Pentecostal church, according to Acts 5:2. We see the leaven showing up again in Acts 6:1—”And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” Partiality was being shown in favor of the Hebrews. The widows of the Hebrews were being taken care of from the common purse, but the widows of the Grecians were being neglected.
Both the Hebrews and Grecians were Jews, but the Hebrews felt a little bit of superiority over the Grecians. This brought about the first contention in the Pentecostal church. The leaven had to be purged out. The Holy Spirit was present to deal with the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. He was also present to work out the differences between the Grecians and Hebrews.
Seven Men Chosen
“Seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” were selected from among the congregation to look after this business that was being neglected and to restore peace and harmony between the Grecians and the Hebrews. These men were chosen by the congregation and appointed by the apostles (Acts 6:3). We know that the majority of the congregation were Hebrews. We also know that the Grecian minority were being neglected and were complaining about it. It is a beautiful thing, therefore, to note that the seven men chosen to settle this matter and to keep it settled were every one Grecians. This fact is proven by their Grecian names as listed in verse 5. Such a move on the part of a church, made up largely of Hebrews who were being accused by the Grecians was undoubtedly the work of the Holy Spirit. This explains why the matter was quickly settled and why the church was so signally blessed immediately following the choice of the seven men.
These seven men were not called deacons. In fact, other than Stephen, Philip is the only one of them about whom anything is recorded (Acts 8:5 and 21:8).
After the choice was made by the congregation, the seven men were “set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6). The laying on of hands was in keeping with the law of Moses imposed upon Israel (Numbers 27:18-23).
When this was all done the Pentecostal church received great blessing—”And the Word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
The apostles were relieved of handling any of the business in the church and were able to give themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” The seven men, in addition to their administration of the business affairs in the church, were also privileged to preach the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stephen is a good example of this.
“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). When the Lord began to use this Spirit- filled man and work with him through wonders and miracles, the devil began to manifest his opposition. “Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake. Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against this place, and against God. And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, and set up false witnesses, which said, this man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law: for we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us” (Acts 6:9-14).
The testimony of Stephen was no different to that of Peter and the apostles. He brought to the attention of national Israel that the Holy Spirit was making another appeal to the chosen people concerning the kingdom which God had promised unto them. The nation met Stephen in stiff rebellion, just as they had rebelled against the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the days of old, and since Pentecost.
When they were unable to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which the man of God spake, “they suborned” witnesses against him. That is, they induced men to commit perjury, or swear falsely against him. This was the same method used by the Jews against Jesus Christ in the day of His trial.
We are going to see in the following chapter that the Holy Spirit gave this man, Stephen, a testimony that was never forgotten by some who heard him speak and beheld his countenance in the hour of his death.