Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, January 2, 2020

What's wrong with waiting on tables? (Acts 6:2)

If you translate word-for-word in Acts 6:2, you miscommunicate. The Apostles were not wanting to stop being waiters, they weren't asking to stop “waiting on tables.” They understand that their "service" is different." They understand that their "service" is different.


¶ Point well taken about literal translations potentially being misleading, and "waiting on tables" (implying being a waiter, such as at a restaurant) certainly sends the wrong message. ¶ There is more, though. Although "table" (τραπεζα) in the context of a group of people would naturally bring to mind the presence of food in either English or Greek, food is not explicitly mentioned. There is no mention of food (βρωμα, αρτος, etc.) anywhere. καθημερεια is just "daily business" or "daily concerns." διακονια means "service" and διακοονειν is just the verb form, "to be serving." Later, in verse 4, the apostles are concerned with διακονια of the λογου (word). So, there is a contrast, "serving tables" vs. "serving the word" such that, in context, there is serving the "word" vs. the pragmatic, daily needs of the people, the latter of which could include meals, but also many other things. In what way were the "widows" being "overlooked"? Are we thinking so simplistically to imagine it is only food? Don't they have other needs? ¶ The conclusion was that some reputable believers needed to be selected and commissioned to offload this "service" of the people from the apostles. We imagine traditional church pews facing a pulpit, but "tables" would have been a much more practical seating arrangement for small groups of people to sit down at and face each other while some reputable, commissioned believers (originally the apostles) went around and found out what their needs were, so that they could "serve" them. ¶ Read on. What does scripture next say these specially commissioned "Seven" do? Great "wonders and signs." Perhaps we should equally envision that they were going about healing sick people at those "tables," among other things. What happened to the food? It never talks about them "serving food." Perhaps there was food, among other things, but the text of scripture certainly does not go to the effort of explicitly talking about food distribution. That is just everyone's assumption, because the word "table" is used, and "serving tables" brings to mind a restaurant scenario in modern times.