HELLENIST

During the last three centuries BC, Greek culture and language spread across the whole of the eastern Mediterranean region (see GREECE). Many Jews no longer spoke their native language, Hebrew, nor the related language, Aramaic, that had largely replaced it. The language they spoke was Greek, and because of this they were known as Hellenists (from the word hellas, meaning Greece). Within Palestine, however, there were still many Aramaic-speaking Jews. Inevitably, tension arose between these and the Hellenists.

In the early Jerusalem church the Greek-speaking Jews complained that their widows were being unfairly treated in the daily distribution of food. To solve the problem the church chose seven officials whom the apostles appointed to oversee the matter. It appears from the names of these officials that they were Hellenists (Acts 6:1-6). When the Jerusalem Jews began to persecute the Christians, the Hellenist Christians were driven from Jerusalem. They preached the gospel wherever they went, to non-Jews as well as to Jews, and were the chief cause of the church’s early expansion. Hellenists in many provinces became Christians, along with many God-fearing Greeks (Acts 8:1,4; 11:19-21; 13:43; 14:1; 17:1-4,10-12; 18:5-8; see also DISPERSION; PROSELYTE). Meanwhile the Aramaic-speaking Jews back in Jerusalem became a source of further trouble to the church (Acts 21:20-21,40).

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