Acts

7:54-60

2. The gospel reaches Judea and Samaria, 6:1-12:25

iv] Stephen's martyrdom

Synopsis

In chapter seven, Luke gives us a detailed account of Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin. Stephen quickly gets his audience offside, but when he speaks of seeing the enthronement of the coming Son of Man, they grab him and stone him to death.

 
Teaching

Jerusalem / Temple / Law, dispossessed by the victorious Son of Man now seated at the right hand of the Ancient of Days, confirms its state of loss by striking out in violence at "the man who first saw the wider implications of the church's faith and who laid the foundation on which the mission to the Gentiles was built", Neil.

 
Issues

i] Context: See 6:1-7.

 

ii] Structure: This passage, The martyrdom of Stephen, presents as follows:

The arrest of Stephen, 6:8-15;

The speech of Stephen, 7:1-53:

The martyrdom of Stephen, 7:54-8:1a:

The Sanhedrin reacts with anger, v54;

Stephen's final words, v55-56;

A lynch-mob takes over, v57-58;

Stephen is stoned to death, v59-60;

Saul approves, 8:1a.

 

iii] Interpretation:

The gospel preaching of the apostles and other members of the Christian fellowship in Jerusalem had increasingly inflamed the authorities and there was now a concerted effort to put a stop to it. Charges had been brought against Stephen and false witnesses organized, so he was in a precarious position. Stephen sets out to answer the charges by exposing Israel's failure to understand God's intentions as revealed in scripture. By surveying Israel's history Stephen reveals how Israel has failed to understand the function of the law and the temple, and thus how Israel now stands condemned. It is his announcement of Israel's murder of the messiah that prompts the lynch-mob into action.

Stephen's claim that God does not dwell in buildings made by human hands is not well received, but when he finally announced that he could see God in his heavenly dwelling-place, and that he could see the Son of Man, Jesus, standing at the right hand of the Father, then, at that point, the crowd goes ballistic. The issue concerns the dwelling-place of God (in the heavenlies and in creation, but not in the temple) and the unique character of God (devalued by the status accorded to Jesus as the Son of Man standing beside God). Although Stephen's words prompt a charge of blasphemy, there is no legal process whereby this change can be laid and answered. A lynch-mob takes over, possibly approved by the authorities on the ground that Stephen has defamed the temple. In all this, "Saul approved of their killing him", 8:1a.

 

There is a touch of racial bigotry in the action of the crowd. The Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jews of Judea tended to dislike the Hellenistic Jews of the dispersion. In the development of the Christian church in Jerusalem, both racial groups were present and as opposition grew against the developing Jewish sect of the way, it was the Hellenistic believers who took the brunt of the opposition, but it was they who progressed the spread of the Christian faith.

 

iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 7:54

The stoning of Stephen, v54-60: i] The Sanhedrin reacts with anger, v54. Under Roman law, an affront to the Temple was one crime the Jews could settle themselves by summary execution, by stoning, although properly by due process at law. It was the very charge they used against Jesus, but failed because the witnesses gave contradictory evidence. Stephen has just questioned the spiritual value of this building of stone, and so, as far as the crowd is concerned, he is showing contempt for the Shekinah glory of God (God's very presence). Stephen adds insult to injury when he accuses the crowd of being a stiff-necked people; a people opposed to God's will.

akouonteV (akouw) pres. part. "when they heard / when the members of the Sanhedrin heard" - The participle is adverbial, probably forming a temporal clause, as NIV.

dieprionto (diapriw) imperf. ind. pas. "they were furious" - cut through. This, and the following verb, is imperfect, possibly durative, expressing the extent of the rage, or inceptive, emphasizing its commencement, "they became enraged", Barrett. "They were angry", CEV.

taiV kardiaiV (a) "-" - in [their] hearts. The dative is local, expressing space / sphere. The phrase "they were cut through in their hearts" expresses deep emotion.

ebrucon (brucw) imperf. "gnash [the teeth]" - a way of expressing violent rage. Some suggest it involved a form of chattering teeth, or grinding teeth. In a fit of rage people tense their face and show their teeth, usually with numerous expletives. This is probably what was happening. "and furious", CEV.

ep (epi) + acc. "at [him]" - Here expressing reference / respect; "with respect to him / concerning him / about him."

 
v55

ii] Stephen's final words, v55-56. As far as Luke is concerned, Stephen does actually see a vision. It is the fulfillment of Jesus' words in Mark 14:62, where he says "you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Almighty, and coming with the clouds of heaven." The "one like unto the Son of Man" is prophesied by Daniel, Dan.7:13f. He comes to the Ancient of Days and receives an everlasting kingdom. He is also spoken of in the Psalms, Ps.110, where he approaches the throne of God and is invited to sit at his right hand - a position of rule and authority. This then is Stephen's vision. Jesus has entered the throne-room of the living God and received eternal rule and authority. Therefore, the new age of eternity has begun and "all peoples, nations and languages should serve him." By implication, the exclusive Temple-worship of the Jews is now redundant. Note how Luke has Jesus standing at God's right hand, rather than sitting. Is Jesus standing to welcome Stephen the martyr, or is he standing as advocate before God on Stephen's behalf? In the end, we don't know, but the image is an interesting one.

de "but" - but, and. Here serving as an adversative, as NIV.

uJparcwn (uJparcw) pres. part. "[Stephen]" - being. Along with atenisaV, "having gazed, stared", attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb eiden, "he saw." Possibly adverbial, causal, so Culy; "but since he was full of the Holy Spirit."

plhrhV pneumatoV aJgiou "full of the Holy Spirit" - This Lukan term often reflects Old Testament usage where a person is spiritually inspired by the divine to perform some action, often related to prophecy / revelation. Here Stephen's perception is inspired and so he catches a glimpse of heavenly realities in vindication of his proclaimed words.

atenisaV (atenizw) aor. part. "looked up" - focused staring, gazing. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "he saw", as NIV; "he gazed into heaven and saw."

eiV "to [heaven]" - to, into. Possibly just meaning that Stephen looked heavenward, up into the sky, "fixed his gaze on the sky", rather than actually "gazed up into heaven", Barclay.

qeou (oV) gen. "[the glory] of God" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive, but possibly attributive, "the glorious God", Culy. The divine presence, the shekinah glory, usually associated with the divine presence in the temple, but here in heaven.

eJstwta (iJsthmi) perf. act. part. "standing" - having stood. The participle serves as the complement of a double accusative object complement construction; "saw ... God and Jesus (object) standing ....(object complement)." That Jesus is standing rather than sitting may indicate that he is functioning as Stephen's advocate.

ek + gen. "at [the right hand]" - Here technically expressing separation, "away from", but expressed as a locative; "at".

 
v56

idou "Look" - behold, pay attention, look, take note of this.

dihvoigmenous (dianoigw) perf. pas. part. "open" - having been opened up. This participle, with the conjoined participle eJstwta "standing", serve together as object complements in a double accusative object complement construction; "I see (verb) the heavens (object) having been opened = opening (object complement). Stephen witnessed the realization of Jesus' claim that he fulfills Daniel's prophecy concerning the eternal authority of the Son of Man, Dan.13:7. Jesus is the one who comes to the Ancient of Days in the clouds of heaven and takes up his throne beside him, Mk.14:62. So, Stephen has witnessed the enthronement of Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth. Stephen's testimony is blasphemy if not true, but if it is true, then let every knee bow before the universal lordship of Christ.

estwta (iJsthmi) perf. part. "standing" - having stood. The participle, as above. The perfect, expressing completed action with abiding results, displays Christ's ongoing authority. The Son of Man standing, rather than sitting, is an unusual posture and, as noted above, may imply Christ's role of advocate on behalf of Stephen.

ek dexiwn "at the right hand [of God]" - The preposition ek taking a locative sense here, "at"; as above. Describing a position of authority.

 
v57

iii] A lynch-mod takes over, v57-58: "The blasphemer is not culpable unless he pronounces the Name itself", Klousner. Stephen certainly did not declare the Name, and anyhow, the Sanhedrin did not have the authority to pronounce the death penalty for blasphemy. The best they could do with Jesus was pronounce him guilty and look to Pilate to pass judgement. Yet, the Sanhedrin could pronounce death on anyone who desecrated the Temple, and Stephen had certainly made a few negative comments in that direction, but in all likelihood, his crime did not warrant the death penalty. Whatever the legal points at law, the mob takes over. The stoning-place was a pit some four meters deep. The criminal is pushed from behind by one of the witnesses against him and he falls into the pit face down. If he dies at this point, the execution is completed. If not, the second witness goes into the pit and drops a stone on his heart. If he still lives, the crowd sets too and stones him. Luke seems to imply that the crowd doesn't wait for these niceties.

sunesconv (sunecw) aor. "they covered [their ears]" - they stopped their ears, covered their ears. Literally, held their ears together so they couldn't hear.

kraxanteV (krazw) aor. part. "yelling" - crying out aloud, screaming, yelling. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "they covered"; "they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears", AV.

fwnh/ megalh/ "at the top of their voices" - with a loud voice. The dative is best treated as adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their "yelling".

oJmoqumadon adv. "all" - of one accord. Adverb of manner. Used by Luke in Acts to express unity of purpose.

wJrmhsanv (oJrmaw) aor. "they [all] rushed" - they rushed, ran. They immediately went for him; "attacked", CEV.

 
v58

ekbalonteV (ekballw) aor. part. "dragged him" - having thrown out, cast out. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "they were stoning him"; "they dragged him out ... and stoned him."

exw (ek) + gen. "out of [the city]" - Expressing esparation; "away from."

eliqoboloun (liqobolew) imperf. ind. act. "began to stone him" - they stoned. The NIV takes the imperfect as inceptive, emphasizing the beginning of the action. Under the law stoning was the appropriate punishment for blasphemy against God or his dwelling place (the temple), although the action of the crowd on this occasion by no means complied with the law.

martures (uV ewV) "the witnesses" - Possibly being used here in a legal sense. If so, Saul is functioning as a quasi prosecutor with the Sanhedrin functioning in excess of its jurisdiction.

kaloumenou (kalew) pres. pas. part. "named" - being called. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "a young man."

neaniou (iaV ou) gen. "young man" - A person aged between 25-40 years of age.

 
v59

iv] Stephen is stoned to death, v59-60: Like Jesus ("Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"), Stephen hands his psyche into the gentle arms of Jesus, and at the same time he prays for mercy toward his executioners. Luke then describes his death in beautiful and peaceful terms. In 8:1a Luke tells us that Saul is present and that he approves of the execution.

eliqoboloun (liqobolew) imperf. "while they were stoning him" - they were stoning [Stephen]. The imperfect is durative expressing continued action. As Barrett notes this imperfect verb is repeated from v58 indicating that v58b is a parenthetical note. So, it picks up on the account of Stephen's martyrdom; "they dragged him out of the city and stoned him ...... So, the crowd continued to stone Stephen ......"

epikaloumenon (epikalew) pres. part. "prayed" - calling upon ("the Lord Jesus" - assumed object). The participle is probably adverbial, temporal, "they kept stoning Stephen as he called out", Fitzmyer, but possibly adjectival, attributive, descriptive of Stephen "who called out to the Lord Jesus."

legonta (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant, expressing action accompanying the verbal aspect of Stephen's calling upon the Lord; "called upon the Lord and said."

kurie Ihsou "Lord Jesus" - Prayer is now addressed to Jesus - a significant theological move; "the work in heaven is now shared between God ("the Ancient of Days") and the one at his right hand", Bock (of course, theologically we are bound to hold that both the Father and the Son have eternally shared in the reign of the godhead).

to pneuma (a atoV) "[my] spirit" - the spirit [of me]. "Lord Jesus, please welcome me", CEV.

 
v60

qeiV (tiqhmi) aor. part. "then he fell on [his knees]" - having fallen on [the knees]. The participle is adverbial, probably temporal, as NIV.

fwnh/ megalh/ dat. "-" - [he cried out] in/with a loud voice. The dative is functioning adverbally, expressing the manner of Stephen's cry.

mh sthsh/V (iJsthmi) aor. subj. "do not hold" - may you not put, place. Subjunctive of prohibition. Note that Stephen shows the same concern toward his murders as Jesus did. An interesting question arises as to whether or not the Lord hears Stephen's prayer. Are Stephen's murderers forgiven? The answer, of course, is yes, if they repent!

autoiV dat. pro. "against them" - Dative of interest, disadvantage.

eipwn (legw) aor. part. "when he had said [this]" - having said [this]. The participle is adverbial, temporal, as NIV.

ekoimhqh (koimaomai) aor. pas. "he fell asleep" - An interesting use of the word, given the brutality of Stephen's death. The word is used a number of times to describe the death of a believer. Rather than dead and gone, a believer is hid in Christ, asleep in him, ready to wake at His coming on the day of resurrection. This is a controversial area in Christian theology. The doctrine of "soul sleep", held by the Adventist church, is an extension of this idea, although the doctrine, as presented by the Adventists, is rejected by mainline Christian denominations. "He fell asleep in death", Williams.

 

Acts Introduction

Exposition

 

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