Q: #495. Who were the Hellenists (Grecians) in (Acts 6:1)(Acts 9:29)(Acts 11:20)?
A: When Alexander the Great (356 – 323 B.C.) was attempting to “conquer the world,” he expected the places he conquered to adopt and love the Greek culture. Many Jews were a part of the lands he conquered, and many did indeed choose to adopt the language, customs, and culture of the Greeks. Those Jews (or anyone) who did so were called “Hellenists” (or “Grecians”), which simply means “to adopt the Greek way of life.” Even though they weren’t “born” Greek, they chose to live as Greeks.
On the other hand, there were also Jews who refused to become Hellenists. They chose to keep the Hebrew customs and culture, as their forefathers did. They continued to speak Hebrew / Aramaic, and strictly follow the Torah. Hellenistic Jews did not feel the need to follow the Hebrew way so strictly. They were not as concerned with “keeping the law,” and following the ways of their forefathers. They were more tolerant and open towards Gentiles as well.
As one might expect, these differences often resulted in conflict between the Hebraic Jews and the Hellenistic Jews. Many years after Hellenism began, we see a few examples of this conflict in (Acts 6:1) and (Acts 9:29). However, in (Acts 11:20-21), we see that “a great number (of Hellenists) believed, and turned to the Lord” after hearing the Lord Jesus preached.
It should also be noted, that the beginning and rise of Hellenism occurred during what Christians often call the “Intertestamental Period.” This was the period of time between the events of the Old and New Testament, and is generally considered to be a little over 400 years. They are called the “400 silent years” because there was no prophetic word from God during this time.
However, during this time, as time passed (several generations), many Hellenistic Jews lost their ability to speak or read their native Hebrew language. Partly because of this, King Ptolomy II (after Alexander the Great had died) requested that 70 (possibly 72) Jewish scholars translate the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. The result of this work was called the Septuagint, the oldest translation of the Old Testament in the world. This translation became very popular, and scholars say that a number of New Testament quotes of the Old Testament were actually taken from the Septuagint. (Of course, the Hebraic Jews chose to use the traditional Old Testament written in Hebrew.)