Acts 7:51 – A Stiff-necked Generation

In the conclusion to his sermon, Stephen claims the current generation is just as stiff-necked and rebellious as the Wilderness generation, and will therefore fall under the same judgment (7:51-53). The conclusion to Stephen’s sermon draws on themes found throughout the Hebrew Bible.

  • First, resistance to the apostolic message represents resisting the Holy Spirit. The people are called stiff-necked. The word appears only here in the New Testament and it appears 8 times in the LXX, usually in the context of covenant unfaithfulness (Ex 33:3, 34:9 and Deut 9:6). To be “stiff-necked” means to “be stubborn, obstinate, or rigid” (HALOT).
  • Second, they are also described as having “uncircumcised hearts.” This phrase is also associated with covenant unfaithfulness (Jer 9:25, Lev 26:41, Jer 6:10, Ezek 44:7, 9).
  • Third, the people are resisting the Holy Spirit. “Resistance” is a rare word in both the New Testament and the LXX, appearing only here and Num 27:14, where it describes the rebellion of the people in the Wilderness of Zin. The present generation has not accepted the word of God as it has been revealed to them.

Stephen therefore claims the leadership of Israel has the Law but they refuse to obey it. Is it true that Israel has not obeyed the Law? One might argue that they have kept most of it since they do the sacrifices correctly and practice the Works of the Law which sets them apart as Jews (Sabbath, circumcision, etc.) But as the prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus have all pointed out, the external doing of the Law means nothing if there is not a change of heart – sacrifice without obedience with worthless.

StephenStephen accuses the present generation of the same hard-headed resistance to the word of God which was demonstrated by the worst of Israel’s kings. Persecuting and killing the prophets who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. Those who persecuted the prophets would include Ahab and Jezebel in the northern kingdom, Manasseh in the south (who was reputed to have killed Isaiah and any other true prophet who challenged him), but also the temple authorities who persecuted Jeremiah. Jeremiah spoke against the Temple and was nearly killed, Jesus also challenged the Temple and was killed.

The most stinging part of this critique is that these prophets predicted the coming of the messiah and were silenced by the appointed authorities of the nation. Most likely the Sanhedrin would have agreed with Stephen on this point, the prior generations were corrupt – but not so the current administration.

This generation has done the same to the Righteous One himself! At this point Stephen joins the Apostles instating that the execution of Jesus was in fact killing the Messiah. That Stephen refers to Jesus as the Righteous One he is emphasizing the fact that he has suffered and died innocently, at the hands of the men assembled to hear this speech! Little wonder they react with such fury.

Finally, Stephen accuses the Sanhedrin (and that entire generation) receiving the Law, but not keeping the Law. They had the Law and the Prophets which testified to the coming of Jesus, yet when he came he was not accepted, but rather he was executed as a criminal. The speech is therefore not critical of the Law or the Temple; it is a stinging condemnation of the people who had received the Law in the first place.

34 thoughts on “Acts 7:51 – A Stiff-necked Generation

  1. Stephen’s sermon is the exact message that every church needs to hear. In all reality, sinners are the ones that put Jesus to death because we all are sinful and in need of a savior. It can be very shocking and some may want to deny it, but Christ needed to die in order to save the ones that He loved. God planned from the beginning of time (Genesis 3:15) that there would be a Savior to save His people. It is interesting that Stephen used so many bible passages from the old testament to depict the message of salvation. My pastor preached a sermon today on Hebrews 4, and He said that this was a book that was used to preach to the Jews. Hebrews 4 talks about the rest that we can have through Jesus Christ because we believe in Him. Stephen was very passionate about the love that He had for God, and He wanted to share the rest that He has in Him with others around Him. It is a joy and a comfort to belong to Jesus, and it is a great reason to share the good news with others.

    • Anna, good job on your discussion post this week. I noted that you thought it was interesting how many times Stephen used Old Testament Bible passages to tell the story of salvation. This is true, Stephen used several different passages such as Acts 7:42-43 and 7:49-50. However, I think there was a strategic reasoning behind why Stephen did this. Going back to the first short paper we had to write last week, I found that when the early Christians followers were living out their new faith they were also living out their past Jewish heritage as well. Why would their past Jewish heritage make Stephen want to include Old Testament Bible passages you ask? This is because Jewish heritage included the use/belief in the prophets prophecies. This is seen throughout the book of Acts such as when Peter quoted Joel in Acts 2:17-21 or King David in Acts 2:25-28; 34-35. Therefore, the point I am trying to make here is that I think Stephen knew believers were more likely to accept/believe in the story of salvation when it involved their ancestors, history, and fulfillment of prophecies.

      Also, I liked how you mentioned the great passion and love Stephen had for God. If you take a step back and think about it Stephen had some of the most tremendous faith in the Bible because he was willing to lay down his life for it (Acts 7:60). What an amazing type of faith to have right?

  2. It’s interesting to see these comparisons between Jews in the Old and New Testaments. Throughout much of the Old Testament it seems we only see all of the (countless) times that Israel messed up and God punished them, then took them back. Much of this consisted of idol worship. It happens over and over again in that order, so it really looks as if Israel was not a nation that really kept the law. However, in the New Testament, the problem we see with the Jews is actually that they keep the law almost too harshly. There seems to be a lot less idol worship and straying from their covenant with the Lord, but just a lot of self-righteousness and going through the motions. Maybe this doesn’t really depict so much of a change in the behavior of the nation of Israel or merely a change of focus on the personnel, from the unrighteous to the religious leaders. Either way, this contrast between Old and New Testament Israel is something I had never really thought of before.

  3. Stephen appears to be teaching whole hearted truth in this passage, but a truth that was not easy to swallow. The themes from the post above were indubitably aimed to resonate with the audience, to pierce directly through their comfort zone. I certainly agree that the resistance and rigidity of following the law does appear to show a routine, not a change of heart – and this was exactly what Stephen was driving towards.

    What I truly find interesting in this passage is that Stephen probably knew exactly how far to go before the people would be angry. But instead of caring for his own life, he boldly (almost cantankerously) targets the Jewish political and spiritual leaders – reminding them of what they have done. Whether or not they actually believed what he said, this certainly upsets them enough to stone Stephen. God certainly had a plan in this, impacting Saul/Paul to follow God’s plan, and to impact many others who may then have questioned why he was put to death, and the claims that he made.

    The other detail that was pointed out in our course notes about Messiah standing in judgment against the Jewish leadership was really a new perspective for me. At that moment, I am certain that all the pieces fit, that the false accusations were similar to Jesus’ accusations were an indication of Stephen’s worthiness to be a follower of Christ, and that Stephen was brought into the presence of the Lord at that very moment.

  4. Stephen is very bold for calling out the Jewish political and spiritual leaders and reminding them of what they had done to the one and only Messiah. This message seemed to have stuck a guilty conscience in them because they were so furious for the way he spoke out against them that they stoned him. I believe that there should be Stephen’s in the church today because there are many people who call themselves Christians but their hearts may not be truly set on winning souls for Christ. I’m sure that people today do not like to be told that they are doing something wrong but it needs to be done. Stephen was very bold for standing up for what he believed in even though it probably would cost him his life.

  5. Hi Cahara.
    You wrote about, QUOTE:
    “many people who call themselves Christians but their hearts may not be truly set on winning souls for Christ.”

    I don’t want to read too much into your very brief comment. But in my own church experience, I have noticed that many Evangelicals, including a church where I served, spoke about “The Great Commission and The Great Commandment,” in that order,
    rather than,
    The Greatest Commandment to Love God,
    and
    The Second Commandment to Love People, which includes a number of things, including “winning souls for Christ” as you might put it.

    Have you noticed this “Evangelical” tendency too, or is it just me?

  6. In Acts 7:51 Stephen calls the people stiff-necked people who are just like there ancestors who are constantly resisting God and the Holy Spirit. He parallels them with the time when they wandered in the wilderness with harden hearts because they would not follow and listen to God. I love how in Stephens speech he brings back the huge experiences that the Jews had gone through with Egypt and wandering in the wilderness. He calls the people to not make the same mistake as their ancestors made. This speech technique is very good because he is appealing to something that goes close to home for the people they had been taught since they were young and they all knew it clearly. The people do not listen and they gnash at their teeth and are furious with the words of Stephen because he accuses them of killing the Messiah. Stephen exclaims that they are just like their ancestors who resist the Holy Spirit. Thinking about this situation today we can parallel it with knowing the right thing to do and yet be do the opposite. We reject instruction in our lives and choose to live for our own passions and desires. This experience of the stoning of Stephen is very important to go back and read and to check our hearts to make sure we are not making the same stupid errors as the people who killed him.

  7. Stiff-necked individuals are people who just keep doing what their past families would do. They follow in their footsteps. Not accepting who God is and what His truth says. Instead they stay hard hearted and they resist knowing God and disclaim His truth. The people are stubborn in their own ways and the fall to worldly desires rather than spiritual desires. They are unfaithful to all people, unfaithful to themselves and they are unfaithful to God. Even though they have heard the word of God and they have heard of His glory, they turn their heads to His truth. “Sacrifice without obedience is nothing” when we sacrifice our lives to Christ and when we give our all to Him and we do nothing with it we end up being nothing. Constantly people have become hardened and have pushed God away. They have rejected who he is. When we understand the value of Christ and the life changing commitment it brings, our hearts will never go back to their old ways. As people with soft hearts we need to encourage the hard heart individuals. Stephen proclaims this issue and shares that person of their disobedience to God, innocent lives will be taken away.

    • Miranda,
      I agree, stiff necked people are people who just keep doing what tradition tells them. They are judgmental at any form of change, and they are stubborn into changing. I think the Sanhedrin wanted to keep to their tradition because many times, reputation is what people hold to. When someone breaks tradition, many rebuke it. I think the Sanhedrin and those unaccepting of the Messiah was stubborn and not looking into what was prophesied in the past times. I think as a result of sin, it is just natural to turn the other way to something new because we like things to stay the same. In Stephen’s speech, he does a good job pointing out that they are being stubborn and unaccepting. Stephen doesn’t just say it, but proves it with men that God used and showed what had been prophesied.

  8. Though the actual word “resistant” is only used a few times in scripture I would say its a good description of the Biblical Jewish people. Whether it’s refusing to take the promised land, rebelling against God in the judge cycle or the religious/political Jewish elites maintaining their wealth and power out of selfish ambition instead of them being servants to the less fortunate. All through scripture, there is rebellion, refusal, and resistance to God’s plan. I would say that it only makes sense, unfortunately, that the Jews of the time would still be doing things like keeping the law but ignoring the heart change. When Stephen confronts them with the fact that they were not even following the law correctly (7:53), a response of anger is not necessarily uncharacteristic. The one thing that they clung to with all of their strength they did not even do right. Mostly because of the tightness of their grip. Through clinging to the practice of the Law they lost the meaning, and I think that is partly what Stephen’s speech is about. He desires them to move away from that kind of behavior.

  9. I do not think it is surprising the way people responded, and I think it is so interesting to think that if Stephen said this in one of our churches today, what would happen. Becoming a Christian does not make everything simple and easy, so for these people to hear what he had to say, it makes sense why they were so upset. I think we can use this as a reminder, of how we respond to any correction in our own life. I think we can learn from what Stephen preached and how his audience reacted, and hopefully adjust our ideas to better fit the ways of the Gospel, and what God would hope for us.

    • I think you made a really good observation that if Stephen was in one of our churches today and said the things that he did, we would not know what would happen. It’s crazy to think about the response that the church would have to the words of Stephen. So often people from outside of the Christian faith think that Christians have it all together and are perfect people, when in fact they need correction in their lives just as much as those who are not believers. Even though the consequences of Stephen were not good, we are able to learn from his boldness and to shape our faith with that sort of boldness.

  10. In Acts 7, Stephen is being bold. At this point, I imagine him frustrated and at the point where he cannot keep quiet any longer. He is addressing the Sanhedrin, as a defense to the council. His speech goes through the time of Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Israel’s abandonment of faith.
    Change of heart or follow the law. This is what Stephen focused on in his defense, the idea that you can have the knowledge of the Law, uphold the majority of the Law. At the same time, your heart is not changed, you do things with the wrong truth, wrong motivation or reasoning. It happened back in the life of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Israel, and Stephen evens goes further to say it is the people today as well (Pohill, 2093). He accused many at this point, but the council themselves were okay, because the prior generations were corrupt, but not the current administration.
    Then, He went a step further, Stephen then brought up the persecution of Christ, and killing the Messiah. He presents the truth that Jesus was innocent and died, because of them. By the end, those in the room probably had smoke coming out of their ears. Stephen said what no one else did, his boldness and honesty got him in trouble. He stated that they received the law, but they did not keep it. They would not accept the coming of the Messiah and then choose to execute him (Long). Although Stephen was showing them the truth, they again denied it and stoned him to death Stephen for his boldness and defense.

  11. I think the biggest thing the Jewish leaders were missing was the authenticity behind their faith. Long said “sacrifice without obedience with worthless”. This compares interestingly to James 2:17 which claims that faith without words is dead.In order for our faith to be prevalent it needs to be accompanied by genuine actions that speak to our heart. Genuine and authentic actions and relationships are the foundation of Christianity. 1 Corinthians 16:14 gives us the courage to do everything out of love. Jipp reflects on Peter’s response at Pentecost to the treatment of the Righteous One by drawing in a theme of condemnation and the opportunity for repentance from the Nation of Israel (48).

    It is interesting how “stiff-necked people” are almost described as a hereditary trait. Since oral tradition was common in Ancient Biblical times this would make sense if all the generations heard the same thing their ancestors done and just naturally acted on in without considering their own religious experiences. 2 Timothy 1 also talks about a spiritual trait that flows generation to generation but this one has a positive spin and the characters are being commemorated for their faith. There seems to be a distinct difference from the attitudes of the early church and believers compared to the Jewish religious leaders.

  12. I think that Stephen hit the officials right in their sweet spot. Stephen attacked their own self worth not the law like you stated. Comparing them to the Old Testament people who killed the prophets back then announcing the coming of the Messiah. Stephen comparing the officials to Jezebel is kind of telling them that they are lower then scum and don’t listen to God at all, and in not listening to him and killing the messiah they rejected God just like the people in the wilderness. I would also go to say that even though Stephen is trying to get the people to understand all they do is gnash their teeth and cover their ears and yell. I think that this shows how stiff necked and stubborn these people are. I also think it shows how prideful the officials have become in their position and law. They are so proud of who they are and how they have “kept” the laws that it had blinded them to the reality of Jesus Christ. Their own thoughts of who the Messiah was supposed to be also blinded the people. They may have been following the law to the best of their ability but they didn’t have the faith written on their hearts. Their hearts had become hardened to the thought of Jesus Christ. True God used this as a stepping stone for the Gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit. But the officials were so caught up in their own pride that they put a man to death.

  13. Long writes about Acts 5:51 in which Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaims that the people of the nation of Israel are “stiff-necked people” with “uncircumcised hearts and ears” who “always resist the Holy Spirit” for rejecting the Messiah. Imagine what Stephen would say if he were addressing the nation of the United States of America today! We are described as a “post-Christian” nation since we have turned so far from the foundational Judeo-Christian beliefs upon which our nation was founded. Long writes, “sacrifice without obedience is worthless” and similarly James 2:17 says, “faith without deeds is dead.” I would argue that the United states, as a whole, has neither sacrifice nor faith, obedience nor deeds. Imagine how our Heavenly Father is grieved by our rejection of His Son, the Savior He sent to die for us. Non-believers reject “the Righteous One” while many believers daily fail to live up to the sacrificial godly lives we are called to live in order to spread the Gospel.

    Polhill (p. 2095) notes “the repeated rejection of God’s will is the point of his story” which was a harsh but truthful conclusion, and this could be said of the United States of America today. Long concluded “it is a stinging condemnation of the people who had received the Law in the first place.” As I read the Book of Acts, my observations lead me to draw comparisons between Israel’s rejection and America’s rejection of the Righteous One. Learning the history of the spread of the Gospel through the Book of Acts will hopefully help the Church to avoid the mistakes of the past.

  14. I think that the Jewish leaders in Acts and the New Testament are often viewed negatively. This is understandable, as they deny Christ as the Messiah, kill him, and act out against many other Christians. Yet, I think we are so fast to ridicule and judge the Jewish Leaders that we forget to place ourselves in their shoes to try and understand what they must have been thinking. Long asks the question “Is it true that Israel has not obeyed the Law?” The Israelites were doing their best at what they believed they were called to do. Yet, we see they were not doing what they were truly called to do when Jesus explains that the attitude of the heart is more important than the physical completion of the law. When Stephen accuses the leaders of being “stiff-necked” in Acts 7:51, he is correct in doing so. The Jewish leaders were so close-minded and unopen to listening, learning, or understanding who Jesus was and what he taught. They had carried out the same laws and traditions for hundreds of years, so this kind of change threatened their way of life. What they did not realize was the new life being promised to them was better. Stephen knew the Jewish leaders had not kept the law and prophets because they disregarded how it pointed to Jesus being the Messiah; yet, the Jewish leaders were confident they were keeping the law and prophets entirely. This dispute not only cost Stephen his life, but also the lives of those judging him, for they were too “stiff-necked” to hear the truth.

  15. In this post, the “stiff necked generation” that Peter brings up is discussed and the theme of their disobedience to God through resisting the Holy Spirit is evident throughout history and is increasingly evident in today’s world (even within the church). I think that we see a lot of stiff-necked people in the world today in a lot of different ways. The first way I can think of is the most obvious, those who don’t believe and receive the gospel, but reject it blatantly and willingly: in turn resisting the Holy Spirit. This action of rejection is a “stubborn, obstinate, rigid” act intentionally made because of an inability to accept truthfulness as it is placed in front of a person directly. We have the free-will to choose, but those who don’t choose truth inherently choose to be stiff-necked hard-hearted people. I also immediately think of the church and the stiff-necked people that reside within the church being stubborn, like Israel, in their ways resisting the change that is obviously biblical and divinely revealed to us as believers through the apostles. Not only are there people in the church that won’t accept the change that was brought by apostles, but there are people who are so stubborn in their ways that they cannot even be bothered to simply hear other arguments or propositions about biblical topics. This post brought a lot of different examples of stiff-necked people to mind that we can all acknowledge and be aware of, and we need to somehow change their hearts and minds. The question now is can we achieve this change in the way Peter attempted, or should we try different methods?

  16. At the end of Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, he claims that the current generation of Jewish people is stiff-necked, comparing them to the generation that wandered in the wilderness. This results in Stephen concluding that this generation will fall under the same judgment as the generation who wandered in the wilderness. The term “stiff-necked” is only references once in the new testament but eight times in the Septuagint, meaning to be stubborn or rigid. The Jews of the New Testament are also described as having “uncircumcised hearts”, which is associated with covenantal unfaithfulness.
    As Long notes, one might argue that the Jewish generation and leaders of the time did follow the law and sacrifices which separated them from the gentiles. This would stand in opposition to Stephen’s claim of lack of following and obeying the law. Yet, as John the Baptist and Jesus recognized and pointed out, following the law is meaningless if the attitude of the heart remains unchanged. The resistance of the generation of Jews, according to Stephen, was the same as the previous generations which killed the prophets. Similarities become apparent when comparing Jeremiah and Jesus, who both challenged the Temple, resulting in the near-death of Jeremiah and the actual death of Jesus Christ. The prophets prophesied about the coming Messiah and the Jewish leaders and community killed them. Then, Once the Jewish Messiah arrived, the Jewish nation preceded to kill their own Messiah. This displays how the sinfulness and unfaithful hearts of the Jewish people led to them denying God’s prophets and His Messiah, yet God did not abandon Israel. His love for His people and the world caused Him to give us grace and forgiveness, desiring through His son whom we crucified, salvation and freedom.

  17. There are two things that stick out to me in Stephen’s speech. One being that as sinners we are responsible for the death of the Messiah. He died so that we can have eternal life. The other being how loving and gracious our God is. When you read through the Old Testament there is an ongoing cycle of the Israelites sinning against God, Him punishing them, them asking for forgiveness, and God giving them redemption. Stephen talks about how the current generation was just as stiff-necked and sinful as their ancestors. Their ancestors persecuted the prophets who prophesied the coming of the Messiah and the current generation persecuted the Messiah that had been prophesied about (Long). Stephen did not speak out against the law; he spoke against those who had been given the law and did not let it change their hearts. “The external doing of the Law means nothing if there is not a change of heart – sacrifice without obedience is worthless” (Long). They had rejected the Messiah just as their ancestors had rejected the prophecies of the Messiah. According to Deuteronomy 18, those who reject the Messiah “Shall be destroyed from the people.” Even though He was rejected and sinned against by us, God still loves us and shows us grace. He sent His son to die on the cross for our sins and He has given us power to do ministry through the Holy Spirit so that everyone may know about the free gift of salvation.

  18. Why is it not surprising that people have not changed since the time of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7? Can we truly say that people would not have put Jesus to death today, just as they did in the New Testament? Of course, we can’t, because there are “stiff-necked” people who reject Jesus and resist the Holy Spirit coming upon them. Stephen “accused his Jewish listeners of killing the prophets and now rejecting their ultimate God-sent deliverer… It was not Stephen but his accusers who were the ultimate rejecters of the law. In rejecting their God-sent deliverers, they rejected God himself” (Polhill, 2095). The way that Stephen gets his point across is through mostly reciting the Old Testament stories of God’s people rejecting God and their need for being saved, and it reflects onto those that he is preaching his sermon to. These people get so angry that they even go onto stone Stephen for him speaking such blatant truth (7:54). The Old Testament stories that Stephen cites and the story of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 shows just how much the generations today are like the angry people that Stephen preaches to. So many people, whether in the church or not, reject the Savior and the Holy Spirit, becoming so “stiff-necked” and caught up in their own “truths.” Sometimes I wonder when people are going to change and realize that they are in need of a Savior and I remember that until Jesus comes back to redeem the earth, we will live in an imperfect world, sadly full of people who are rejecting Christ and the Holy Spirit.

    References:

    Crossway Bibles. (2016). Esv Study Bible: English Standard Version.

  19. It is so important to understand how realistic it still is for people to act as these “stiff-necked” Jews during the time of Stephen’s ministry. It is also important to recognize the continuity between the Jews at this time and the Israelites as they rebelled in the wilderness of Zin (Long, p. 43). This word meaning “stiff-necked” or “resistance” is mentioned in Acts 7 but also in Numbers 27:14. This continued theme, this reiteration of focus on people resisting the Holy Spirit, is so important to understand and remember. People both in the Old and New Testament rejected the testimony of the Messiah. After Jesus had appealed to the temple, the Jews still rejected Him. The Messiah was standing in front of them, and they ignored his gift. Peter spoke to a large audience of about 3000 Jews who converted and believed the miracle of the Messiah. However, with Stephen, the Diaspora Jews were not nearly as recipient to the message of the Messiah. In fact, they stoned Stephen and killed him because they were so dismissive and rejective of the gospel message. I find it interesting how applicable this is today. There are so many people around us every day that reject the gospel message because they are without as much evidence as they would like to have, or the gospel message may seem too impossible to be true. In all honesty, Stephen’s approach seems more aggressive than people today would be recipient of. On one hand, this approach would be considered necessary and some people would take it well. On the other hand, Christians should meet people where they are (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, ESV) in order to tell them of the gospel of Christ. There are so many people who “resist” the Gospel – as Christians, it is our duty to tell everyone about this good news, regardless of who we meet.

  20. The question has not obeyed the law, is supported by like you said both “John the Baptist, and Jesus have all pointed out, the external doing of the Law means nothing if there is not a change of heart”. Already mentioned in this blog post, we see that Stephan is pointing out the past mistakes of Israel, kicking out, killing, and banishing God’s prophets Even the “present” day Sandgredrin at the time of Stephan that “ most likely the Sanhedrin would have agreed with Stephen on this point, the prior generations were corrupt”. The proof in the pudding that needs to be revalved is that this current generation is corrupt and not obeying the law. Jesus brings to light in Matthew 5, the differences of “what they have heard” about the law, and what God actually wants from them. Examples would be, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). This is just one example of how Israel was not obeying the law. They had their own spin off of the law, Jesus came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). As the blog post mentioned, Jesus cares about the internal, doing the external without a change our heart is worthless. James also talks about this a lot about this. James talks about faith versus deeds. There is no faith without the internal change of heart, with an outflow of deeds because of that change of heart. God wants both from us. Going through the motions without an internal change, like Israel has been doing for generations, is not obeying the law. As Jeremiah said, ““This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.I will be their God, and they will be my people” ( Jeremiah 31:33). The new covenant that Jesus gave us will put the law in our hearts and our minds, not just through mindless actions.

  21. The question I am going to be answering is, “Is it true that Israel has not obeyed the Law?” This is interesting considering how many passages there are backing up the fact that the original law was modified over time going from Old Testament to New Testament and overall the fact that the law did not stand as high of importance to God as it did with a change of the people’s hearts. As Professor Long has said, “the external doing of the Law means nothing if there is not a change of heart – sacrifice without obedience is worthless. Some passages that back up my point about the law not holding as high of importance are Romans 7:6 where it states, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” I think a keyword in this passage is the term “released” and also the part where it says “not in the old way of the written code keyword being “old” really emphasizing that we are not bound by the old law anymore. We also see through the passage in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that the old law does not hold significance anymore. I usually would not include such a big passage of scripture but I think having the entirety of it really encompasses the meaning behind it and backing up my statement that the Old Testament law does not hold the significance that it used to. It states, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” The key part in this is when he says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. No longer is it only on a piece of paper, but instead, as he says on our hearts to portray a deeper, more significant meaning. I think Stephen was emphasizing more of where their hearts were not exactly them following the actual written law. Because if we were looking at the written law we could say yes they followed it but when it came to following Jesus whole heartily we see through many accounts of them doubting the Lord and his goodness which I think is where Stephen was getting at.

  22. It is no secret that the Sanhedrin hated Stephen. Moments before his death he was calling the people out for disobeying the law, which is a big accusation. Stephen’s speech started calm and put together but after a while, it was time for him to become bold in the spirit. Luke says that Stephen “was full of the Holy Spirit ” (Acts 7:55), which is clear proof that he was being led by the Holy Spirit in his words in actions. Since his words were from that Holy Spirit that also means the Holy Spirit knew the hearts of his audience and only prepared the things they needed to hear (Acts 5:51 notes.
    He begins to come off like a reproving prophet, saying “You stiff-necked people”. Stephen was most likely at the point of complete frustration. The people had heard the law and flat out ignored it. Not only did they ignore it, but they are responsible for the death of the Messiah. The death of the person who came to save them. So Stephen is now being completely honest and letting the people hear his true emotions.
    In the same way today, we are living just like the people of the Sanhedrin. We have God’s word and we can actively see him in our life yet we still choose to ignore him. He gave his life for ours and died nailed on the cross yet we still push him aside. Just as the Sanhedrin let things and people distract them from God we do the same. We put more faith in celebrities, or our cell phones, or modern-day romance rather than faith in Christ who can and will fulfill our every need.

  23. The phrase that stands out to me from this passage is “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51). Hearing this makes me realize how stubborn people sound when they do not accept what Stephen has said and what they have witnessed. This was something that made the people listening quite upset and arguably so. “Stephen concluded with a direct attack on Israel for rejecting the Messiah” (Polhill 2095). Stephen makes a reference to Old Testament language. Maybe to make his point using something that the people would be familiar with. He took it a step further and accused them of being the ones to kill their Messiah like their ancestors had done with the prophets. “Stephen accused his Jewish listeners of killing the prophets and now rejecting their ultimate God-sent deliver the Righteous One” (Polhill 2095). Although people today were not around during the time of Stephen’s speech, some of his message still affects us today. “Stephen claims the current generation is just as stiff-necked and rebellious as the Wilderness generation and will therefore fall under the same judgment” (Long). Some Christians today would agree that people reject the Bible and Jesus like those who were the recipients of Stephen’s speech would. There are people who reject the Holy Spirit and do not believe in God. Although Christians might see this as stubborn given all what the Bible says and how we are led by conviction of the Holy Spirit, people still have free will to choose what they believe.

  24. Stephen’s speech remains just as relevant today as it was when he first gave it. In all generations, there will be those who claim to follow God, and who receive His Word, yet do not live lives that represent Christ well. This thought is also affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 when He proclaims that many will argue on Judgement Day that they were believers, but they will be turned away as they did not do the Father’s will. Similarly, there will always be individuals repeating the same mistakes of the past, but refusing to identify themselves with people from the history books; thinking themselves to be more refined or evolved. For example, many Americans use tactics from and believe in the causes of Communism, though they continuously feel the need to tell others that there’s is “the real version”, and that previous versions were just organized by flawed or corrupt people. However, they have not refined their views, they only forgot history… much like the Pharisees that Stephen is preaching to. Just as we must use history to protect systems of government that encourage human flourishing, Stephen used Old Testament language like “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised” to try and reveal the Pharisees for who they really were (Polhill, 2008, p. 2095). The Pharisees – despite what they thought of themselves – had killed the Messiah just as the previous generations had killed many Prophets and men of God (Long, 2019; Polhill, 2008, p. 2095).

  25. I had always found the phrase stiff-necked rather amusing. I once tried calling my mother that when she shot down one of my many schemes as a child. While I would not recommend using this phrase on the women who birthed and raised you, I do think Stephan used this term rather brilliantly for a few reasons. Tying in with the rest of his sermon’s theme throughout chapter 7, Stephan brings in a stinging Old-Testament reference. “A stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears…” refers back to the wilderness generation of the grumbling and unfaithful Israelites. This is not only a reference that all Jewish people would understand, it is also one that would likely make a lot of people mad. Pohill shares “he was no doubt led by the Spirit, who knew the heart of Stephan’s listeners, to make this accusation. Using the OT languages, he accused them of being stiff-necked people…” (Pohill 2095).
    This is powerful imagery for the people to hear at that time. As easy as it can be to look back in history and see what and where people of the past went wrong or messed up, it can be difficult to actually see some of the same patterns in our individual lives. This is what Stephan challenged the people with. By comparing them with a past generation of grumblers, murders, and spiritually blind people Stephen is not afraid to call out the hypocrisy in Israel’s generation at that time. Stephen is bold enough to share the whole truth with the Jewish people, even if it turns favor away from him.

  26. I believe that many people go and read this story, and don’t understand the significance of what Stephen is saying here. It’s so easy to turn and look at those who had stoned Stephen and say that they were out of line, or they overreacted, but honestly, they would have understood fully the stinging condemnation that he gave. Everything about the temple, and about Moses aside, and just focusing on the section about them killing the messiah and missing the point, is intense! We may not fully understand the emotion because we are on the way “backside” of this, but for generations these people have been awaiting the messiah, and prophets are pointing to him, and they missed it by murdering Jesus like he was a criminal. That has some weight to it! I admire the boldness and confidence that Stephen preaches with here, and it inspires me to learn to teach with as much reliance on the Spirit as he did. The only thing that both confuses and frustrates me, is why they covered their ears and gnashed their teeth. I understand that this would have been a “hard pill to swallow”, but the intensity of this confuses me. They were pushing back and denying the spirit, but It blows me away how confident and well Stephen speaks, and they get so mad they go out and stone him. I understand the miscommunication, and the other factors involved, but their “fighting against the truth motive” seems a little extra.

  27. In Stephen’s speech, he refers to his audience as “stiff-necked”. Not only that but as mentioned in this blog post, he compares them as “just as rebellious as the Wilderness generation and will therefore fall under the same judgement” (Long). What this is telling us, is that Stephen believes that these people are going to be judged by God in the same ways as the people in the Wilderness generation. In Acts 7:51-53, it is getting at this. “Stephen concluded with a direct attack on Israel for rejecting the Messiah” (Polhill, 2095). In the notes of the ESVSB it is telling us that not only did Stephen call the people of Israel stiff-necked, but he fully meant it to be an attack on them. That was a harsh way for him to conclude his sermon. He is trying to make the point that the leadership of Israel is not following the Law, that they should be.

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