Acts 6:9-14 – Responses to Stephen’s Preaching

Craig Keener asks an intriguing question in his section on the arrest of Stephen. The crowds at the Temple held Peter and the Twelve in “high esteem” as they taught daily at Solomon’s Portico (Acts 5:13). When the High Priest sends guards to arrest them in Acts 5:26, they “were afraid of being stoned by the people” so they did not use force to bring Peter and John to the Sanhedrin. But where is the crowd when Stephen is arrested?

The Stoning of stephenKeener suggests the content of Stephen’s preaching is the reason people do not support him quite the way they supported Peter. Peter directly confronted the High Priest, but did not condemn the Temple or worship at the Temple. Luke is clear these are false charges (μάρτυρας ψευδεῖς), but it is possible Stephen preached something which could have been taken as blasphemy “against the temple and the Law.” He offers an example another prophetic voice who attacked the Temple during the First Jewish Revolt. Jesus ben Annanias publicly declared the Temple would be destroyed and was arrested and flogged (Josephus, J.W. 6.300-309, Keener 2:1322). Later Paul is under threat for challenging the authority of Artemis in Ephesus (Acts 19). To attack a central cultural symbol like the Temple will result in violent reprisals.

By way of analogy, a political commentator might offer a scathing critique of the President or Congress. They might question policies and decisions, accuse them (often falsely) of all sorts of “crimes and misdemeanors” in op-ed pieces or the daily talk shows. Most of the time Americans will tenaciously defend their right to free speech, even if they disagree with the content of the speech. But if a political commentator attacks the idea of America or burns a flag on TV, or crosses some politically correct line in the sand, their support will erode rapidly.

This appears to be the issue with Stephen. Everyone in Second Temple Judaism could complain about the High Priest, everyone thought the aristocracy is corrupt. But Stephen is saying the worship in the Temple is not acceptable to God (and perhaps has not been acceptable for a very long time). This is an attack at the most important cultural symbol in first century Judaism—the Temple.

The non-reaction of the crowds might reflect their belief that Stephen too far in his prophetic condemnation and they simply ignored him. (This is often the best strategy when a political commentator “goes too far,” just ignore him!) Another factor that should not be overlooked is the location of Stephen’s ministry, the Synagogue of the Freedmen. He is not teaching this in the Temple courts, standing with Peter in Solomon’s Portico and declaring the Temple is no longer a valid place to worship God. He is in a Hellenistic Synagogue.

I suggested earlier the Diaspora, Hellenistic Jews who worshiped in this synagogue may have been “more conservative” than those worshiping in the Temple Courts. At the very least, they appear to be far more sensitive to attacks on the Temple. Stephen does not have the tacit support of the Pharisees and priests in the Temple nor the popular support of the crowds who may have enjoyed Peter’s jabs at the High Priest and his cronies. He is attacking a central symbol of Judaism in front of the people most likely to violently defend those symbols.

To what extent is Stephen’s speech a kind of prophetic condemnation of the Temple? But does he actually speak out against the Law or Moses? It is hard not to read later Paul into this sermon, but we have to keep Galatians out of Acts 7. Just how far does Stephen push the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus?

23 thoughts on “Acts 6:9-14 – Responses to Stephen’s Preaching

  1. Important points raised, Phillip. I like that you are distinguishing between Stephen and other “Hellenists” and the core (and probably larger) group around James and The Twelve. Actually, James [brother of Jesus, not the Apostle, as some readers may not realize] may not yet have been “bishop” or presiding elder but was no doubt present, later shown to be law-observant, supportive of the Temple apparently to his death.

    You’re right to not casually interlace Paul’s Galatian remarks (and others) with the Stephen speech, but let’s not forget that the account by Luke IS well after Paul and Luke is obviously a fan of and influenced by Paul.

    What else is pertinent that readers and/or your students should look at is the similarity of Stephen’s position (as read between the lines as well as in the text itself) to Paul’s shown in both his writings and in Acts 21 when he has to defend against what appear to be pretty accurate reports from his preaching/teaching in the Diaspora (often to Jews along with Gentiles).

    In Acts 21: 20-21 we read, “…how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs” [per Torah, such as Sabbath and dietary laws].

    When one reads the rest of this situation, along with other Acts passages on James and his actions, reputation, position toward the Temple and the Law, etc…. all collaborated by Paul also… one is very hard pressed to conclude other than that James and the Jerusalem Jesus-following leadership did NOT see the death/resurrection of Jesus as ending the role of the Temple or the Torah. And this goes back to my recent comment on another post here that the NT accounts of major miracles at the death of Jesus, and powerful symbolic “statements” such as “rending of the veil” (a massive and very obvious, important artifact) make no sense as historical events… only as after-the-fact theological symbols inserted for effect.

    Let me add here that such an understanding does not at all undercut all forms of Christian faith… not now, nor has it for a couple centuries for many Christians.

    But it IS important to use this kind of discernment in order to build one’s faith on a solid and “real” foundation, not a misleading one such as that relying on “historical evidences” for God supposedly making a clear demarcation between an “age of Law” and an “age of Grace” (or similar concepts), and the obsolescence of the Temple 40 years before it was destroyed. It is STILL the ethical/moral/spiritual teachings of Jesus, as emphasized by his brother and the Apostles, that are core to guiding Christians, not other theological abstractions that were not ever “revealed” to them… nor in actuality to us.

    • Howard,
      Great insights, especially that last paragraph.
      To take one example,

      Did Jesus and the Original 11 Apostles Jesus appointed (minus Judas), who walked with Jesus personally for His entire 3 1/2 years of ministry up to His Ascension, know what an “Apostle” is? Or was it never “revealed” to them, so they needed another man who came later, who never knew Jesus personally when Jesus walked the earth, to write some letters and explain it to them, and to us?

  2. Stephen’s speech is dripping with condemnation of Temple worship, at least at face-value. Stephen displays the way that God was with the people throughout history, first in the tabernacle and then in the Temple. He describes how the prophets before them were persecuted at speaking out against how Temple worship was performed. Yet, his sole purpose is not to speak out against the Law or against Moses, but rather against those religious leaders present in the Temple. You can almost hear the fire in his voice as he exclaims, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51). He goes on to boldly convict the men of the crime of betraying and murdering the Messiah. Not only does he state that, but he drives the point home saying they have received the law, but have not obeyed it (7:53), the very thing they strived for daily and were zealous after. Stephen is extremely bold when proclaiming Jesus Christ as Messiah and pushes the implications of His death and resurrection to the extent of convicting the men of the crime–we see this in verse 56, when he announces that He sees Jesus “standing”, the position of judgement as we discussed in class. Knowing that fact alone illuminates this passage to so much more meaning and understanding. Stephen was condemning the men, not merely the worship in the Temple.

  3. Yes,
    “To attack a central cultural symbol like the Temple will result in violent reprisals.”

    Phillip, you wrote elsewhere QUOTE:
    “It seems as though much of Christian theology since the Reformation is based on Romans and Galatians, and rightly so since Paul is the main interpreter…”

    How does a “Bible-believing Evangelical Christian” deal with an attack on the man who is the “main interpreter” of his theology, namely PAUL?

    The Evangelical “Mexican Hat Dance”

    Sin is always specific, not general.
    The “Hat” is, “What were Paul’s sins?”

    The music starts, with a cheery blast of trumpets in a melody that is familiar to most North Americans- the “Mexican Hat Dance.” (The national dance of Mexico, taught in Mexican public schools since 1921, and officially named “El Jarabe Tapatio.”)

    A couple in rather elaborate traditional costumes begins the dance. The man throws his huge sombrero hat on the floor, and the couple dances around it, but never steps on the hat. (The “Hat” is, “what were Paul’s sins?”) Here are the basic steps- (there may be one or two other basic steps, but they are very similar to these.)

    What were Paul’s sins?

    STEP 1) Paul said; “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” [1 Timothy 1:13]
    (Response- Those were Saul’s sins, before Jesus called him. What were Paul’s sins as a Christian? )

    STEP 2) Paul said; “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.” [1 Timothy 1:15]
    (Response- Sin is alwasy specific. What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

    STEP 3) Paul said; “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23]
    (Response- Again the same question; What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

    STEP 4) Paul said; “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.” [Philippians 3:12-13]
    (Response- They say third time’s a charm. Same question; What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

    STEP 5) Paul said; “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do- this I keep on doing.” [Romans 7:15-19]
    (Response- One more time! This is getting boring. Same question; Specifically, what were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian based on specific verses of the Bible? )

    STEP 6) LOOP- REPEAT steps 1 through 5, until your dance partner gives up, the audience gets bored, or the music stops. The rule is- never step on the “Hat,” just keep dancing around it.

    • Warning.
      The following parable is probably too convoluted for most people. It is for people who are very familiar with the Book of Acts in particular, and Paul’s letters too. Maybe this “Reading Acts” blog is the most likely place in the world to find people who would “get it”?

      In conversation with “Bible-believing Evangelical Christians”, if anyone says anything “critical” about Paul – anything Paul said, did, or wrote – the immediate knee-jerk reaction in most cases is to “defend Paul” with statements like the following :

      “Paul wrote that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
      “It’s the inerrant infallible Word of God, because “All Scripture is God-breathed.”

      However, as YOU all know, Paul did not write Acts. Luke wrote the Book of Acts. So the follow-up question to a “Bible-believing Evangelical” is ,
      “When Luke wrote down Paul’s biography in Acts, are you saying that every word Paul SAID was also “the Word of God” and everything Paul DID was also done “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” and without error?”

      Usually that will end the conversation. If they do respond, it will be just one brief vague comment like “no one is perfect, Paul must have made some mistakes in his life too…..” And then they will change the subject.

      We have been trained, brainwashed really, to think it’s a sin to ever say specifically “Paul was wrong” about anything. Not just in what Paul wrote, supposedly “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit”, but also everything Paul said and did, recorded by Luke in Acts. We have been trained to believe the voice of Paul, without any other witnesses, “simply because Paul said so”, and ignore the voices of Jesus and everyone else.

      Acts is not a Gospel, centered on the perfect actions and words of Jesus. But Acts is a narrative, like other narratives in the Bible, revealing the sinful actions and false words of the imperfect people in its pages, like David’s adultery and murder, Peter denying 3 times he knew Jesus, and Paul… by the way, what about Paul?

      Parable of the Wacky New Religion

      “SNAKE WORSHIPPER” and “PAULIST” make plans to start their own wacky new religion, “based on the Bible”.

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: I think people make too big a deal about Jesus. Who do they think he is- God? Do they think Jesus is the only way to be saved? The Bible says, “So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. ”[Numbers 21:9] People are saved by looking at a snake. What do we need Jesus for? We should just keep it simple.

      PAULIST: Right on! Who needs a “Jesus Movement?” I say what we really need is a “Paul Movement!” But as to your comment, I think Christians would say that the salvation referred to there was only temporary salvation from snake poison, for the Israelites at a particular time. And it pointed to the future, to Jesus dying on the cross to save us from our sins.

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: Don’t confuse the issue with facts! That verse is my favorite verse in Scripture. It says it right there in black and white. So my personal interpretation of this one verse is the trump card that negates all other verses of Scripture about salvation. Are you questioning the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures?

      PAULIST: Of course, you must be right! If you quote one verse out of context, insist that it means something that contradicts other verses of Scripture, and then accuse me of questioning the inerrancy of Scripture if I disagree with your personal interpretation, than you must be correct. How foolish of me. Please continue.

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: So that’s it. Just look to the serpent and be saved. Never mind about Jesus.

      PAULIST: But the Bible tells us: “He (King Hezekiah) broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.” [2 Kings 18:4] So Christians would say that this snake had become an idol, which the godly King Hezekiah destroyed.

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: Bah! Hezekiah was like Judas, who betrayed the true salvation! We snake worshippers know better. We must restore true worship.

      PAULIST: OK. If that is your personal interpretation of one verse of Scripture, then you must be correct. But my favorite verses of Scripture are from Paul writing to the church in Corinth: “In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” [1 Corinthians 4:15-16]

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: But Christians would remind us what the Bible says: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach… They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi’. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father”, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher’, for you have one Teacher, the Christ (or Messiah).’” [Matthew 23:1-3, 7-10]

      PAULIST: Don’t confuse the issue with facts! Those 2 verses from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians are my favorite verses in Scripture. It says it right there in black and white. So my personal interpretation of these two verses is the trump card that negates all other verses of Scripture. Are you questioning the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures?

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: Of course, you must be right! If you quote two verses out of context, insist that they mean something that contradicts many other verses of Scripture, and then accuse me of questioning the inerrancy of Scripture if I disagree with your personal interpretation, than you must be correct. How foolish of me. Please continue.

      PAULIST: So that’s it. Paul is our father, and we should “be like Paul”. Paul also testified about himself without any other witnesses: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” [1 Corinthians 11:1] So that has to mean that to “be like Paul” is the same thing as to “be like Christ”, and Paul lived a perfect life as a Christian, everything Paul did was 100% correct and everyone around him was wrong, and Paul is our perfect model for life and ministry. Unless all men speak well of Paul and everything Paul ever did, said, or wrote about himself, they are heretics who are denying the inerrancy of Scripture. What other possible interpretation could there be?

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: Yes of course! That is the only possible choice. Well since we’re starting our own wacky new religion, we need some of the trappings of religion. How about a slogan and a rallying cry?

      PAULIST: I’ve got it! “There is no god but the serpent, and Paul is his prophet”! Our rallying cry can be “Paul is great!”

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: That has a familiar ring to it somehow…

      PAULIST: We’ll make people take a religious pilgrimage once in their lives- we’ll call the pilgrimage the “Journey of Paul”. It will go from Galatia (present day Turkey) to Antioch (present day Syria) and to Jerusalem, so we can “be like Paul” and do the things Paul did.

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: Tell me more.

      PAULIST: In Galatia, the pilgrims will go and circumcise some young men, [Acts 16:3] and then yell at them “You foolish Galatians” [Galatians 3:1] because they got circumcised.

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: But in the Bible, Paul taught passionately, over and over, that Christians should never be circumcised under any circumstances, and Jesus said “Anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” [Matthew 5:22]

      PAULIST: What are you, a liberal? Only liberals criticize Paul. Conservatives have an instant, airtight justification for everything Paul ever did or said. If you criticize Paul that means you’re a liberal who is attacking Jesus.

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: Of course- carry on.

      PAULIST: At Antioch, the pilgrims must have a sharp disagreement and part company with whomever they are with. [Acts 15:39] If they are married, they must get divorced. If they have children, they must disown them. If they are with friends, they must separate.

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: But in the Bible, Paul wrote to Timothy “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer without anger or disputing.” [1 Timothy 2:8]

      PAULIST: Paul meant for that to apply to everyone else except him. Paul is an exception. Paul is always the exception to the rule. If Paul disputed, he must have been right. Remember in the inerrant Scripture, Paul testified about himself “follow my example”.

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: Yes of course.

      PAULIST: Luke records Paul as saying “compelled the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem.” [Acts 20:22] So since Paul said this about himself, that has to mean it was true, and we should “be like Paul.”

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: But Luke, who was personally traveling with Paul to Jerusalem at that time, also wrote “Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” [Acts 21:4]

      PAULIST: What are you, a left-wing liberal heretic who is attacking Jesus and the Bible?

      SNAKE WORSHIPPER: OK. Lets just keep true to our foundations as a religion. Just look to the serpent and be saved. Paul is our father, and we should “be like Paul”.

  4. I think it is telling that the Jews who heard Stephen speak “secretly persuaded” some to speak out against him and accuse him of blasphemy (6:11). Obviously Stephen was speaking in a way that offended the Jews, but to go so far as to kill him required manipulation of the truth as far as what he actually said. Since we don’t know specifically what he was preaching that angered the people in the first place, it is important to look at what he said in response to their charges. Rather than condemning the Law and the Temple, Stephen accused the Jewish ancestors (as well as the Jews in his own day) of following the Law in practice only and not in spirit. In stoning Stephen, the people were once again attempting to silence the Spirit of God (6:10) rather than accept the convicting message and return to fellowship with God.

  5. When reading this story, the reader can come away with the fact that Stephen offended and left the Jews feeling irate. If you read this passage in the Bible, you see that people were influenced to speak against Stephen. As many times as I have read this story, I never realized that the same exact thing that happen to Stephen, is the same thing that happened to Jesus. I know that in real life people say things, and it may get twisted by the media to make it sound different from what the person really meant; however, Stephen must have really said something disrespectful to cause the Jews to want him killed. Stephen preached against the law by preaching to the Jews about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Stephen basically preached that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the law was done away with, and the way to gain salvation was to believe in Christ. Even though this might have been offensive to the Jews, Stephen was only speaking the truth like Jesus did. A scripture that comes to mind when thinking about this story is Mark 13:10; it says “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” That scripture came to mind because this must have been what Stephen thought when he was preaching. He did not care if he offended the Jews; he preached what was right, which was the truth.

    • Karlion, you wrote QUOTE:
      “Stephen preached against the law by preaching to the Jews about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Stephen basically preached that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the law was done away with….”

      Maybe I have missed something. Could you share which verses of which chapters have led you this conclusion?

      As I look ahead to the actual text of Stephen’s speech, he ended with criticizing those who “received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.” [Acts 7:53] That doesn’t sound to me like Stephen was “preaching against the law” or saying that “the law is done away with,”, but rather the opposite.

  6. I see this speech as if it were someone who knows the simple truth Jesus came to fulfill the law, not because the law needed to be finished but because man could not keep it. Whether it was the tent for Moses or the temple in that day the truth came out, the physical places were truly for the people not really God. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24. We try to put God in a box or temple, but the truth is God cannot be confined both in understanding or in a single room. The crowd acted in a way that said they were scared of anything challenging their truth, and in their ignorance they did not worship God. I find it interesting that people always try to win an argument not with facts but attacking a persons character. Jesus himself came from a line of liars, murders, a prostitute, and even sexually immoral people. The question shouldn’t be whats his sin, or what is his angle. If a man is from God the messenger isn’t the important part, its the sender.

  7. It seems that the difference between Peter’s speech and Stephen’s speech is that Stephen stirred up the members of the Synagogue instead of the High Priest. In verses 10 and 11 of chapter 6 we can see that those offended did not have the ability to stand up to Stephen’s wisdom, so they secretly rounded up the support of the people around them. As far as public relations goes I would argue that most people are safe to say what they like, as long as it does not affect those who are listening personally. Your example of scrutinizing someone in the political office is a good example of this. We can typically share some sort of disagreement that we have with the POTUS without being deeply ridiculed. But once the scope is turned onto “the people” instead of a figurehead, things can turn for the worst. Especially if you go directly to those people and tell them their whole take on something is wrong. That is what Stephen experienced. He denied the legitimacy of the outworking of the law that was practiced by the Jews and put the blame of Christ’s death on them as well. Given the nature of Stephen’s speech, I would imagine it was not too difficult to drum up support for getting rid of him. Whether or not Peter purposefully kept his scrutiny to a figurehead I am not sure. But it seemed to have worked out slightly better for him.

  8. I find the example of Americans that you used very helpful. If an American is bashing the president on live television, people might chuckle or even agree with that person. However, if this is taken further into terms of burning an American flag (like you said), there are serious consequences. It is a tad humorous to me that Stephen gave his boundary-pushing speech in an environment where the people are going to be the most sensitive to the subject. This isn’t directly correlated, but it reminds me of churches today and how at a Christian Reformed Church, for example, something as simple as loud music or wearing jeans can be offensive to them as opposed to a more upbeat, contemporary church. I find it to be no coincidence that he chose this environment to put his foot down. I grew up in a CRC, and I can just imagine the Hellenists reactions to Stephen lecturing them on how they are “stiff-necked” and how they can’t contain God within the four walls of the Synagogue. “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool, What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord…” (Acts 7:49). This proves that “no human-made structure can contain God” (Jipp, 71). They are not giving God acceptable and honest worship and he is telling them like it is. I find it very brave of him to speak so bluntly, but I know that would not fly in a conservative church today. I don’t think I could speak so boldly unless I was going to move far, far away following the service.

  9. I don’t think Stephen “condemned” the temple at all. After reading his speech in Acts 7, it seems to me that he was rather calling out the wrongdoings of the Temple leaders. He went through much of the Jewish history, which the temple leaders undoubtedly knew. All of the times that the people of Israel went astray from worshiping God. He was essentially saying, “Hey, you guys are just like the people at the base of Mt. Sinai.” Turn from your ways because you guys are doing the wrong thing. This would make the temple leaders upset, because they are supposed to be the holiest people, right? The Holy Spirit had come, but they resisted it. Stephen calls them “uncircumcised in heart” (7:51). I agree, it seemed largely that the people didn’t care. That is why in Acts 6 it says that people had to instigate others to get the negative reaction wanted so that Stephen might even be brought before the counsel. Stephen pushes the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus pretty hard. Without it, the Holy Spirit doesn’t come, and they were in the time of the Holy Spirit.

    • The extent of Stephan’s speech of prophetic condemnation of the Temple is direct and full of attacks to the priesthood and formation of religious beliefs. The Temple was a place that sought to self-glorify the leaders of the law. Stephen speaks against the Law that the leaders of the Jewish faith had made it into something that made the law reflect men’s ideas and thoughts. This meant that the leaders of the law sought to act closer to God when the reality is many were further away from the truth and life that was being preached by the apostles. In addition, Stephen speaks that the leaders of the Law lack the understand and presence of the Spirit of God which had come and presented itself to them. As Stephen in Acts 7 states those that came before Christ were also persecuted and the men of the nation rejected those that God the Father had sent to speak of the Messiah who would restore. Stephen calls out the leaders of the law and states you killed the Messiah, Christ the Redeemer of the nation of Israel. The leaders reject the idea that they killed the Messiah because the implications of the death of Christ who mean that they would be in trouble for rejecting Christ and God in their hearts and lives. Thus, to sentence Stephen to death to quiet the current situation and insults that he was proclaiming that lead to a bloodthirsty execution of the life of Stephen and the glory of God shown to Stephen in the last moments on earth with the devotion and commitment to live for Christ and die for Christ namesake.

  10. Stephen in no way condemned the Temple, in my eyes at least, for all he did was preach, and likely preached of Jesus being Lord and that the Lord was not residing in a Temple, specifically to be worshiped there, but rather the Lord resided in heaven in his kingdom. Stephen also did not preach against the Law and therefore did not blaspheme against the Law that the Sanhedrin had been pretending to follow, but in actuality Stephen preached most likely the good news of Jesus and they did not like it. I would support that by using the context of the chapter in which this incident is recorded, for Acts 6:11 says, “Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” Secretly persuaded gives me the same feeling that the word gossip gives me, it is just plotting together to come up with some material to be used to slander and persecute or damage someone else. The reasoning for this gossip and the lie is because Stephen spoke with such wisdom, being a mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, and the Sanhedrin members could not contradict or argue him because they could not fight and win against the Spirit, so they decided to lie in order to imprison or kill him instead. In 6:13 scripture even says that they, “produced false witnesses,” with the duty to testify against Stephen and lie, saying he had always been talking about abandoning the Law and that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy that place (the Temple). These were in the end all false accusations and lies, and they led to Stephen being seized and put on trial, and eventually resulted in Stephen being the first martyr.

  11. This post brings up an interesting point and one that I had not thought of before. For Stephen to be preaching against the temple and temple worship, was to tell them quite literally they were doing everything wrong. The temple was central to their work and worship and was a key part of the nation’ history. This is after all the time period which we refer to as “the second temple period”.
    I find it interesting that the crowds are not mentioned in the passage. In addition to the suggestions mentioned in this post, several other possibilities came to mind. First, his sermon was quite long. I couldn’t blame anyone for getting bored and walking away part way through. Second, was this a common occurrence at the Synagogue of the Freedmen? Perhaps this was a normal event and the crowds didn’t see any reason to stop and listen to yet another preacher. Third, maybe a small crowed did gather but Luke didn’t write about them. What is the likelihood that a group did gather and follow them to watch the stoning? If they weren’t valuable eyewitnesses or key players in the story Luke may not have written about them.
    In response to the questions at the end of your post, I would say that Stephen is not really speaking against the Law or Moses. What he does speak against are the people and how they continue to resist the Holy Spirit (7:51-53). He does speak of the temple and how God does not dwell in houses made by hands (7:46-50). This must have been infuriating to the audience because, if they were paying attention, they were just reminded of the tabernacle in the wilderness. Stephen does not seem to speak against the law either but instead reprimands the people for not keeping the law (7:53). To me it seems rather clear that what Stephen is getting at is the people’s rejection of Jesus as the messiah. However, I am viewing it inside the larger narrative of the book of Acts and the entire Bible. It does seem reasonable that any good Jew would be extremely offended by Stephen’s words regarding the temple, not to mention how he rebuked them and called them out. It may be worth noting that those looking to destroy Stephen thought it would be a good idea to claim that he was speaking against Moses, the holy place, and the law (6:9-14). Perhaps they heard just enough to be sorely offended and convicted. And they knew just enough to provide a semi accurate accusation and provide a framework for the council to hear his sermon through.

  12. According to the question of Craig Keener ‘’where is the crowd when Stephen is arrested?’’ and also said “the High Priest was afraid of being stoned by people’’. What Craig questioned was quite confusing. In fact, it is simply to demonstrate why. First, when Peter and John were in the temple (Act 4), it’s in a different day. We are not quite sure if the same people were there when Stephen was there. Think about the restaurants now, it is open every day, but we only go when we need it, not everyday. Also, the Speech that Stephen and Peter gave was the same. There is no difference, they are speaking the same about the Messiah, but rejected by Israel and to repent for their sins to get forgiveness. But there are some differences between them. During the early church, people put their faith by seeing the sight. Peter got the crowd’ attention by the sight (healing the lame man), But not Stephen. The crowd and the leader of Jew are eye witnesses that Peter and John are the disciples of Jesus and see them with Him all the time. So they can not deny what they say. There is no way to say they are wrong for the evidence. But Stephen has none of it. The Stephen doesn’t go against Moses’s law, He just explains the plans of God from the beginning and it has been fulfilled. Much the same as what Peter did.

  13. You explain the difference in responses between Stephen’s and Peter’s speeches well. However, it almost sounds like Stephen made the mistake of accidentally targeting the wrong audience with his message. If this is the case, then the persecution that breaks out following the stoning of Stephen is all Stephen’s fault. The church of the followers of Christ have to suffer all because Stephen messed it up for them.
    Now although this may be the case, I don’t actually take this view. Tensions between the Apostles and the leaders of the various religious traditions of Judaism were already at their breaking point. Even if we take into account the possibility that Stephen’s ministry to the Synagogue of the Freedmen and Peter’s speech before the Sanhedrin were happening at roughly the same time, it is still conceivable that Stephen’s speech was only the straw that broke the camel’s back. The teachers of the law were looking for any opportunity to get rid of the followers of Jesus who were condemning them in their own temples. They tried but couldn’t with Peter and John. But Stephen was not so fortunate as to have the crowd supporting him.

  14. Perhaps part of the Hellenist response was their experience through the diaspora. For those who were much more conservative they may have seen the destruction of the Temple as the reason they had lost favor with God in the past and as “good Jews” they seek to honor and glorify God as they best know him. Stephen himself “attacking” temple worship would likely be as offensive to them as attacking God himself due to his presence being with them through the tabernacle and the temple being seen as the holiest site where one could reach God. As Polhill points out in the ESVSB Stephens speech being similar in critique of the temple like Jesus was likely to lead to the false witness that others brought relating to Stephen (Polhill 2093). Perhaps the Holy Spirit as well did not press upon Peter in his sermons earlier in Acts to be critical of the temple as God still had work in store for him to do. Such as writing to letters that we consider Scripture today. Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit would allow God to speak through himself so that the message of the Gospel would go across this boundary of being willing to die for the truth. This incident of martyrdom to come following his arrest may have been a story to pave a way for Christians in the early Church to be inspired and willing to die themselves for the truth, something that Christians in America have not yet had to face.

  15. I think that for Stephen to be preaching against the temple and temple worship, was to tell them quite literally they were doing everything wrong. The temple was central to their work and worship. Which this was a key part of the nation’ history. This is after all the period which we refer to as “the second temple period”.
    I find it interesting that the crowds are not mentioned in the passage. In addition to the suggestions mentioned in this post, several other possibilities came to mind.

    Also, the Speech that Stephen and Peter gave was the same. I did not find many differences, they are speaking the same about the Messiah, but rejected by Israel and to repent for their sins to get forgiveness. But there are between them there are some differences. During the early church, people put their faith by seeing the sight. Peter got the crowds attention by the sight (healing the lame man), But not Stephen. The crowd and the leader of Jew are eyewitnesses that Peter and John are the disciples of Jesus and see them with Him all the time. So, they cannot deny what they say. There is no way ideally to say they are wrong for the evidence. But Stephen has none of it. Stephen does not go against Moses’s law, He just explains the plans of God from the beginning, and it has been fulfilled. Much the same as what Peter did. Overall, these two were seen as committing blasphemy and not honoring Moses Law.

  16. It does not appear that Stephen ever speaks out against the Law or Moses. In fact, he goes back and highlights several of the familiar heroes of the Old Testament whom everyone present for his speech would resonate with. He then shows that it was the same God who spoke to those prophets that is giving the authority of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit. This speech is a prophetic condemnation as he speaks on behalf of the Holy Spirit and of God when he identifies to the Hellenistic Jews present that it has been them (and their ancestors) that have continually rejected God and the prophets of old as well as the Holy Spirit now. He shows in a way that the present period is another milestone on the list of moments in history that God moved and made a change through different prophets, the biggest catch being that they are to blame for trying to oppose God’s will. He even makes Old Testament references when he calls them “stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Polhill, 2095). A very harsh, yet prophetic word given to the Jews here in Acts 7.

    A side note as well, I think this is also prophetic in the sense that it is another clear time where we see someone speaking on behalf of God and affirming the trinity. He refers to Jesus as the “Righteous One” (7:52) whom they murdered all the while they were resisting the Holy Spirit like their forefathers.

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