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There are three places in the New Testament where this title is found. One is that of the text under consideration. Another is 2 Cor. xi. 22. "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I." The third is Philip. iii. 5. "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews." He was circumcised the eighth day; which is a proof, he was born of parents, who were themselves Jews, and punctually obeyed the law of Moses. However this might have been, and he have been no more than the child of a proselyte: He therefore proceeds, and says, he was of " the stock of Israel," or the seed of Jacob: and particularly, "of the tribe of Benjamin," an honoured tribe, upon divers accounts, particularly, as Benjamin was one of the sons of Jacob by Rachel, his wife, as she is styled in the catalogue of Jacob's family, which went inte Egypt: but especially as this tribe had, in a great measure, preserved itself from idolatry. "An Hebrew of the Hebrews," or rather, "an Hebrew of Hebrews:" meaning, that he was himself a Hebrew, and descended from Hebrews.
As Paul was a Hebrew, though born out of Judea, at Tarsus in Cilicia, where the Greek tongue was used, we are fully assured, that by the Grecians, cannot be meant Jews, who used the Greek language.
From all these texts, therefore, now alleged from the Old and New Testament, it appears, the denomination, or character, of Hebrew, is the privilege of birth, not of choice, or acquisition, or accidental circumstance. All descendants of Abraham the Hebrew, by Isaac and Jacob, wherever they are born, and whatever language they use, are Hebrews. Nor can any other men be Hebrews, but only they who are descended from Abraham.
This, then, is the first consideration, tending to determine who these Grecians were. To whom we now proceed.
Grecians, or Hellenists, as in the original. The word Grecians occurs thrice in our English version of the New Testament: here, and ch. ix. 29. and xi. 20. But it is well known to the learned, that in the second of these places the Alexandrian MS. has Greeks: which also is the reading in the third text, not only in the Alexandrian manuscript, but likewise in the Latin Vulgate, and several other versions. Whatever are the readings, it is apparent, that the same persons are not intended in the third and last text, as in the two former.
Various have been the sentiments of learned men concerning the Grecians, mentioned here, and in ch. ix. 29. The most prevailing opinions are these two. Some hereby understand Jews born out of Judea, who spake Greek, and used the Greek version of the Old Testament in their synagogues. The other opinion is, that these Grecians were proselytes, or men of other nations, who had embraced the Jewish religion.
That the former are not here intended, has been, as I apprehend, sufficiently shown already. I therefore go on to support farther the opinion, that these Grecians were proselytes.
Which, I think, may be argued from the neglect they had met with. There arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected, Tapedεwpxvтo, were overlooked, passed by, omitted, in the daily ministration. There was no regard had to them. There were no allowances or distributions made to them.
This may have been owing to two reasons, because they were few in number, and because they were despised. There may be some reason to think it was chiefly owing to this last.
The Jews of this time knew very well how to pay respect to proselytes of distinction, as they did to Helena, queen of the Adiabenes, and her son Izates. But for the most part native Jews, descendants of Abraham and the patriarchs, must have been preferred to proselytes. I cannot conceive any reason why any Jews should have been neglected, barely because they were born out of Judea, and used the Greek language. But proselytes might be overlooked because they were reckoned much inferior to Israelites. Proselytes were admitted to eat the passover, and to communion with Israelites in all religious privileges. But they were far from enjoying equal civil privileges with the children of Israel. This must be apparent from what was before alleged from the thirty-fourth chapter of Jeremiah, and parallel places.
"The sons of Rachel, Jacob's wife: Joseph and Benjamin," Gen. xlvi. 19.
Seven different opinions have been taken notice of by some learned writers. Vid. Fabr. Bib. Gr. 1. 4. c. vi. T. III.
p. 226. et Lux Evangelii. cap. iv. p. 59, 60. et Wolf Curæ ad Act. vi. 1.
• Пlapedεwpuvтo.] despicerentur,' id est, negligerentur, et contemnerentur. Joach. Camer. in loc.
d See Ex. xii 48, 49. Numb. ix. 14. and other places.
I beg leave to take notice of some other things relating to them from the Old Testament. When the Gibeonites had beguiled Joshua, and the elders, and their deceit was known, "all the congregation murmured against the princes:" however, as they had " made a league with them, to let them live, and the princes of the congregation had sworn to them," they would not falsify their oath. They gave them their lives, but took from them their lands, and made them slaves, or little better. As it is said Josh. ix. 26, 27, "Joshua delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not. And he made them hewers of wood, and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the Lord."
And we are told, that Saul sought to slay them," or endeavoured to extipate them, in "his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah," 2 Sam. xxi. 2. Which shows, that they were not beloved, and that this zeal of Saul was popular. But it was resented in the time of David.
This sort of men were employed in the laborious works for building the temple. 1 Chr. xxi. 2. "And David commanded to gather together the strangers that were in the land of Israel. And he set masons to hew wrought stones to build the house of God." And 2 Chr. ii. 17, 18. "And Solomon numbered all the strangers that were in the land of Israel, after the numbering, wherewith David his father had numbered them. And they were found an hundred and fifty thousand, and three thousand, and six hundred. And he set threescore and ten thousand of them to be bearers of burdens, and fourscore thousand to be hewers in the mountains, and three thousand and six hundred overseers, to set the people to work."
The overseers I suppose to have been Israelites, the rest strangers or proselytes; as they are called in the Greek version of the Seventy, and in St. Jerom's Latin version. Many of these strangers may have been remains of the Gibeonites; but I presume there were others besides.
Nethinims are mentioned, 1 Chr. ix. 2. "Now the first inhabitants that dwelt in their possessions, in their cities, were the Israelites, the Priests, the Levites, and the Nethinims." They, and Solomon's servants, are often mentioned in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In the catalogue of the people that returned from Babylon it is said, Ezr. ii. 58. "All the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon's servants, were three hundred and ninety and two." So also Neh. vii. 60. and Ezr. viii. 20. "Also the Nethinims, whom David and the princes had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty."
These Nethinims had been given the Levites, to serve them. Afterwards Solomon appointed more for the like service. These must have been strangers or proselytes. It is not to be thought that David, or Solomon, or any king of Israel, with the elders, had power to give Israelites to the service of the Levites. As some Jews said to our Lord: "We be Abraham's seed, and never were in bondage to any man," John viii. 33. No, they were free-born, and high-born, in comparison of other men; though they were little concerned for the freedom of which our Lord was speaking. Says Patrick upon 2 Chr. ix. 2. Ezra gives a good account of the Nethinims, ch. viii. 20, where he informs us, they were given by David to the Levites (which is the original of their name :) as the Levites were given by God to help the priests: and therefore in all places they are mentioned with holy persons.'
I do not know whether these men may be called inferior clergy. They seem rather to have been servants to them. But however mean their original, or low and laborious their employ ment may have been; the people of Israel were indebted to them for their zeal for the house of God. Many of them readily returned from Babylon to Judea, and performed their part for upholding the worship of God at his temple.
As all the land of Canaan was given to the twelve tribes, the children of Israel, and many of the regulations in the law of Moses were in their favour; it was foreseen, that strangers, who joined themselves to them, and came to sojourn among them, would lie under some disadvantage. God therefore, who wisely made those appointments of the law of Moses, regarding the descendants of Jacob, in his great goodness, made provisions likewise for strangers, that they might not be abused.
The people of Israel, to whom the laws of Moses were delivered, are charged in this manner. Ex. xxii. 20. "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." Comp. Lev. xix. 33, 34. and Ex. xxiii. 12. "Six days shalt thou do thy
* Και συνήγαγε Σαλωμον παντας τες ανδρας της προσηλυτος, τος εν γη Ισραηλ. κ. λ. LΧΧ.
b Numeravit igitur Salomon omnes viros proselytos,' qui erant in terrâ Israël. Hieron.
work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thy ox and thy ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger may be refreshed:" see there ver. 9. Lev. xix. 9, 10. “And when ye reap the harvest of your land- -thou shalt not gather the gleaning of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard. Thou shalt leave them for the poor, and the stranger. I am the Lord your God." See also Lev. xxv. 5, 6. and 38. and Deut. xvi. 13, 14. “Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine. And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow that are in thy gates." And again, very particularly, Deut. xxvi. 11-13. "And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing, which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thy house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you. When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thy increase and hast given it unto the Levite, and the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled. Then thou shalt say before the Lord thy God: I have brought away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, according to thy commandment." These instances of kindness are strongly enforced, Deut. x. 17-19.
I shall add a text or two, somewhat different, though still to the like purpose. Deut. xii. 12. "And ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God, ye and your sons, and your daughters, and your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and the Levite that is within your gates. Forasmuch as he has no part, nor inheritance with you." And ver. 18. "Thou must eat them before the Lord thy God, in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, and the Levite that is within thy gates.' See also Deut. x. 9.
By" stranger," [and" stranger within thy gates, and the stranger that sojourneth with thee, [or] in thy land," I always understand proselytes, men circumcised according to the law of Moses: or, as they are now often called, "proselytes of the covenant, [or] of righteousness.' If the Levites are said "to have no inheritance," and are styled "Levites within thy gates,' as they are in some texts just cited, though there were allotted to them cities, with their suburbs, out of the inheritance of the other tribes, as is manifest from Numb. xxxv. 1-8. and Josh. xiv. 1-5. all strangers, though circumcised, and admitted to full communion in all religious ordinances, may well be called "sojourners, and the strangers within thy gates."
Once more. As God, in his laws, delivered to the children of Israel, was not unmindful of the stranger: so likewise does David remember them in his devotions. Ps. cxv. 9-13. “O Israel, trust thou in the Lord. O house of Israel, trust thou in the Lord. Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord. The Lord will bless the house of Israel: he will bless the house of Aaron. He will bless them that fear the Lord, both small and great," cxviii. 2—4. “Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth for ever. Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth for ever. Let them that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth for ever." Ps. cxxxv. 19, 20. "Bless the Lord, O house of Israel. Bless the Lord, O house of Aaron, Bless the Lord, O house of Levi. Ye that fear the Lord, bless the Lord." These men, who fear the Lord, mentioned after all the divisions of the people of Israel, I suppose to have been strangers, or proselytes. Hereby we are led to understand St. Paul's address in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia. Acts xiii. 16. Acts xiii. 16. "Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience." And ver. 26. " Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent." Here, by them that feared God, must be meant proselytes. For that none were present, but such as were Jews, either by birth or religion, appears from ver. 42. and what there follows.
Proselytes are mentioned among the hearers of St. Peter's first sermon, preached at Jerusalem, after our Lord's ascension. Acts ii. 10. I suppose, proselytes to be meant by Grecians. here, ch. vi. 1. and ix. 29.
Who they were, we cannot say exactly. But there might be many such men in Judea, and in other countries all over the world, where the Jewish people resided. Some of them may have been descendants of such as had joined themselves to the people of Israel in former times: and others may have been new converts to the Jewish religion.
I have imagined, that proselytes now living in Judea, who were poor, may have been chiefly, or for the most part, servants of the Roman governors, or of their officers: who having come into Judea with their masters, were converted to the Jewish religion: and, when their masters returned home, got leave to stay behind. Having renounced gentilism, they could not expect very agreeable treatment from their friends and relatives at home. And though they had not the prospect of any considerable advantage in Judea, yet they might; hope for civilities among those, whose religion they had embraced. Besides, new converts have a great deal of zeal. Some of them might conceive a particular affection for the land of Israel, and the city of Jerusalem, where was the temple.
Beside these servants of Roman officers, who had resided in Judea, probably, there were others, who had served Jews out of Judea: who, having for some reasons left their masters, chose to come, and seek subsistence in Judea, not being willing to serve heathens.
There might be also divers other persons of different stations, who being converted to Judaism, preferred Jerusalem to all other places.
Nicolas, chosen to be one of the seven, a proselyte of Antioch, now at Jerusalem, was, very probably, a man of good substance. And it is observable, that Helena, queen of the Adiabenes, not long after her conversion went to Jerusalem. And she must have often visited that city, or resided there very much. For she was there, when her son Izates' died. And several of the brothers, and sons of Izates were shut in at the last siege of Jerusalem.
That therefore is my third and last argument, that these Grecians were proselytes: forasmuch as upon their complaints a proselyte was chosen to be one of the seven, to preside in the daily ministration, even Nicolas of Antioch. The rest, I presume, were Hebrews, that is, Jews by birth, descendants of the patriarchs. Some of whom may have been born in Judea, others of them out of it, but were now at Jerusalem.
It is not sufficient reason to believe that any of the rest were proselytes, or that all the rest were Jews, who were born in other countries, because their names are Greek. For several of our Saviour's disciples had Greek names, though they were all men of Galilee: as Philip, and Andrew, and Thomas called Didymus, and Simon, called also Cephas, and Peter, by which last name he was generally called, and best known.
That Stephen was a Jew by birth, is highly probable from the whole of his speech before the council, and particularly from the beginning of it. Acts vii. 2. "Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia."
Philip, the second of the seven, was a person of great eminence, who preached the gospel in Samaria, and wrought there many miracles. Acts viii. 1-5. Who also converted the chamberlain, and treasurer of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. There cannot be any reason to make a doubt, whether Philip, so eminent an evangelist, of an order next in authority and dignity to Christ's apostles, was of the seed of Israel. It would be altogether absurd to suppose, that one so early employed in such signal services for promoting the gospel, was only a proselyte.
When the Eunuch had been baptized, "the spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the Eunuch saw him no more. But Philip was found at Azotus; and passing through, he preached in all the cities, till he came to Cæsarea," ver. 39, 40. There he seems to have settled. For there he was, when St. Paul came to Jerusalem in the year fifty-eight, as we learn from Acts xxi. 8-10. “And the next day we came to Cæsarea. And we entered into the house of Philip, the evangelist, which was one of the seven, and abode there."
Stephen suffered martyrdom soon after he was chosen. Philip likewise, as we perceive, not long after removed from Jerusalem. Indeed, the seven seem to have been appointed upon occasion of a particular emergency. However, the other five, or some of them, may have stayed at Jerusalem, and may have continued to officiate in the service, to which they had been ap pointed. And moreover, others may have been chosen in the room of Stephen, who died, and of Philip, who removed.
Dr. Whitby upon Acts vi. 1. objects against our opinion from ch. ix. 29. where it is said,
Jos. Ant. 1. 20. ii. 6.
b Ib. iii. 3.
De B. J. 1. 6. vi. 4.
"That Paul disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him."
Which, as he
argues, shows they must be Jews by birth, and not only strangers of other nations come hither. For how dared they to kill a Jew among the Jews, without bringing him to their tribunals?'
Which is an argument of no moment. For I presume, that neither had a Jew by birth a right to assassinate a man without any trial. And, generally, such things must have been disliked. But a proselyte might attempt it as well as another. And considering, how unpopular a person Paul now was, the killing him might be passed by, and overlooked, or even approved of, by whomsoever it was done. Proselytes were as likely, as any men, to be bigoted in their sentiments, and to practise violence against those who differed from them. What sort of men most of the proselytes of that time were, may be concluded from what our Lord said to the pharisees without reserve. Matt. xxiii. 15. But there were some of a better temper, who believed in Jesus after his resurrection, and joined themselves to his apostles, when the profession of his name must have exposed them to difficulties.
To me it seems, that there is great propriety in St. Luke's style, calling the Jews, who were of the seed of Israel, Hebrews, and proselytes, Hellenists, Grecians, or, perhaps Hellenes, Greeks, from their origin. For I have sometimes been much inclined to think that to be the true reading in this text, as well as in the rest. And Dr. Ward says, p. 155. That the word • Exλvisa, Hellenists, is used only by St. Luke in this book, and is not perhaps to be found in ' any other writer so ancient.' Indeed, I believe, it is not to be found in Josephus. And the uncommonness of the word may cause a suspicion, that it is the invention of some Christian; though it is ancient. For, in this text, it is in the Alexandrian manuscript. And the word may be seen in Chrysostom.
Any, who are pleased to consider all that was before said, concerning the word Hebrew, are able to judge, whether there is not some special propriety in St. Luke's style, according to this interpretation. A Hebrew, denoting a Jew by ancient descent, must be fitly opposed to Grecians, or Greeks, thereby understanding proselytes, who were Jews, by religion only, and not by birth.
The opinion, for which I argue, has been espoused by many learned men, as Beza, Basnage, and Pearson. Which last has asserted it with great strength, and neatness, in a few words. Insomuch, that it may be thought somewhat strange, that this opinion has not been generally received, without farther dispute. I have enlarged, being desirous to establish and illustrate it to the best of my power.
AGE 159. Diss. xxxviii. The term Holy Ghost, in the New Testament, denotes both a person and a power.'
P. 159. That it often denotes a power, cannot be questioned, as where the apostles and other Christians at that time, are said to be filled with the Holy Ghost. But that it signifies also a person, seems evident from the following passages among others.'
That Dissertation concludes in this manner, p. 161. We meet with xagua Oes, "the gift of • God," Rom. vi. 23. and xapie Xpse, the "gift of Christ," 2 Tim i. 6. according to some copies: though others have it Ore," the gift of God," as it is in our version. And agreeably to all analogy xaрioμaтa Ayıs ПVEUμRTOs must signify "the gifts of the Holy Spirit,' in a per⚫sonal sense since that word is never used otherwise, but of persons in the New Testament, where the donor is mentioned.'
a In Act. Ap. hom. 14, p. 111. tom. IX.
b In Act. 1.
'EXAVES, sive Gentiles fuerint, etsi jam religione facti Judæi, et totius legis impletionem in se suscipientes, tamen a Judæis seu Hebræis, stirpe et genere ab Abrahamo deducto superbientibus, inferiori loco habebantur. Unde neglectus viduarum, et ex eo neglectu murmur, seu yoyyvoμos twr 'Eλλy50. Pearson Lect. 3. in Act. Apost. num. v.