What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. .6. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. (NRSV)
Acts 6:1-6 touches on two important issues on the development of the early Church: the beginning of the creation of a church hierarchy and bureaucracy (regardless of whether this text can be related to the appearance of deacons in the second century) and the various social roles of the early Church as both a religious community centered on ritual and as an alternative social network. It also touches on the earliest sectarian division in the Church, between “Hellenists” and “Hebrews.” Finally, it introduces the character of Stephen, soon to become the focus of the next two chapters of Acts and the first martyr.
Acts 6:1-6 was taken by the Patristic tradition as the establishment of the deaconate (suggested by Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, 14, and overtly stated by Bede, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 6.3, both quoted at Martin 70). However unreflective of the Church organization of the mid-first century date that interpretation is likely to be, this pericope does establish the laying on of hands as an element of the ritual of ordination. The passage, however, is more likely to reveal traces of two other historical events is considerable importance. The first is the split between “Hellenists” and “Hebrew” that lies just under the surface layer of the text, in its record of the establishment of separate Church leaders for the “Hellenist” community. This is the first clear indication of division entering into the originally unitary Jesus movement as geographical, sociological, and perhaps even doctrinal differences led to the development of separate communities.