In Acts 6.1 Hellenists (Ἡλλὴνισταί) are Greek-speaking converts from Judaism as distinct from Hebrews (Ἑβρα[symbol omitted]οι), converts from Judaism who spoke Hebrew or, rather, Aramaic. The word ‘Ήλλὴν (Greek) is used in the NT of Greek-speaking Gentiles (Acts 14.1;18.4; Rom 1.16; etc.) or Greek-speaking Proselytes. Hellenists were often more fervent in Judaism than the Hebrews. They not only made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, but maintained national synagogues in the holy city (Acts6.9). It is not surprising, then, that they provided both the greatest impetus and the fiercest opposition to Christianity.
Among the first converts on Pentecost were many Hellenists (Acts 2.5–11). Also the first seven deacons, all of whom had Greek names, were Hellenists. They were men of fiery zeal such as stephen (protomartyr) and philip the deacon, who spread the faith rapidly in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria (Acts ch. 6–8). It was Hellenists, too, who began the conversion of the Gentiles at Antioch (Acts 11.20), the base of St. Paul's missionary journeys. At the same time, Hellenists opposed Christianity in Jerusalem and throughout the Roman Empire (e.g., Acts 6.9; 9.29; 13.50). St. Paul, who qualified as both a Hellenist and a Hebrew (Acts 22.3; Phil 3.5), exemplified the roles of both persecutor and missionary of Christianity.
Bibliography: h. windisch, in g. kittel, ed., Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart 1935–) 2:508–509. m. simon, St. Stephen and the Hellenists in the Primitive Church (New York 1958). c. f. d. moule, "Once More, Who Were the Hellenists" Expository Times 70 (1958–59) 100–102.
[w. f. dicharry]