The Seven in Acts 6 as a Ministry Team -- By: Phillip W. Sell

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 167:665 (Jan 2010)
Article: The Seven in Acts 6 as a Ministry Team
Author: Phillip W. Sell


The Seven in Acts 6 as a Ministry Team

Phillip W. Sell

Phillip W. Sell is Director of Supervised Ministries and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

Local churches often encounter problems and opportunities that require Christians to work together to accomplish a ministry mission. These groups of collaborating Christians are often called “ministry teams,” although other designations are sometimes used. Literature on ministry teams has proliferated in recent decades1 with helpful insight about teaming coming from the business world, where much manufacturing is done through work teams. While much of this insight from business environments is beneficial, it leaves many Christians suspicious that ministry teams are another way in which North American churches are following culture blindly. If Acts 6:1-7 is correctly understood, however, it becomes manifest that the basic elements of ministry team formation are modeled in an exemplary fashion by the apostles in the selection and empowerment of the Seven.

Throughout much of church history many have seen this passage as referring to the formation of the office of deacon. Pelikan asserts, “The selection of the seven deacons, with the allocation to them of certain duties that had previously fallen on the apostles themselves, has long been interpreted as the institution of the traditional threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter and deacon, with, at least eventually, various gradations of these offices such as archbishop, protopresbyter, subdeacon and the like.”2

Pelikan acknowledges that interpreting Acts 6:1-7 as referring to deacons probably did not become normative until the late second or third century.3 This pattern of interpretation persisted through the Reformation and well into the modern era. However, critical exegetes in recent years are reluctant to identify the Seven in Acts 6 as deacons or even protodeacons, simply referring to them as “the Seven.” The thesis of this article is that the ministry of the Seven should be seen as a pattern for temporary ministry-team formation4 rather than a passage that provides a pattern of ministry for the ongoing office of deacons in the church. This does not deny that the office of deacon in the local church is legitimate. The point is that this passage should not be...

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