2. The gospel spreads into Palestine, 6:1-12:25

ii] Stephen is arrested


Stephen, one of the seven appointed to administer the distribution of food to those in need, is also an effective evangelist, both in word and sign. His preaching prompts opposition from the synagogue of the Freedmen, but Stephen is well able to handle their verbal assaults. In an attempt to silence him, members of the synagogue organise false witness to progress a change of blasphemy against him, claiming that he speaks against Israel's traditions and the temple. Stephen is forcibly taken and brought before the Sanhedrin where a charge is laid and he is asked to defend himself.


The gospel draws out the tension between law and grace.


i] Context: See 6:1-7.


ii] Structure: Stephen is arrested:

Stephen, a powerful proclaimer, v8-10;

The plot and trial, 11-14;

Stephen's persona, v15.


iii] Interpretation:

Up to this point, the apostolic mission was framed within Israel's traditions and was firmly focused on the temple. Luke has reminded us a number of times that the apostles met regularly in the temple courts to exercise a ministry of the word, presumably in the terms of the proclamation of the gospel. Now, with the Hellenist Jews, there is a shift from the temple and Israel's religious traditions. The reaction to this shift is possibly driven more by issues of culture, than theology - Palestinian Jews had a low opinion of the Jews of the dispersion and their syncretic ways. None-the-less, the charge is specific, namely that Stephen speaks, not just about Jesus, but he speaks against the temple (that Jesus will destroy it, v12) and Israel's customs / the Law.

Given that Stephen and his associates are entrusted with the social needs of the Christian community, it is quite unexpected to find him now proclaiming the gospel both in sign and word. None-the-less, it is Stephen's witness and arrest that will change the course of the apostolic mission, while providing an "implied example to disciples .... to be faithful under trial, and trust the Spirit for a convincing testimony to Jesus", Peterson D. Witherington identifies ten parallels between Stephen and Jesus which serve to reinforce Stephen as a model of discipleship.

There is no evidence that Stephen actually spoke against Jewish traditions, nor the temple, but like Jesus, he was probably dismissive of their importance - his sermon in chapter seven evidences this perspective. Law / Moses is not the way a person stands right with God; it is by grace through faith in the faithfulness of Jesus. Nor is a knowledge of God found in the temple but in the "holy congregation." So, it is likely that the false testimony assembled by members of the synagogue of the Feedmen evidences Stephen's less than enthusiastic support for Israel's traditions. "Hellenists such as Stephen see the eschatological implications of Jesus' coming for the temple and the law more clearly than many other believers do initially", Bock.

Luke ends up contrasting Stephen with Jewish puritanism. He, a man "full of God's grace", stands as a member of "the holy congregation", while the members of the synagogue of the Freedmen, and later, the members of the Sanhedrin, stand as members of the temple, "this holy place", v13, so Dunn. The contrast reveals the inevitable transition from the one to the other, from temple to church, Jew to Gentile, Moses / Law to grace.

It is interesting to note that the fervent opposition generated against Stephen and his Hellenistic colleagues, comes from a Hellenistic synagogue(s). In psychological terms, not being quite kosher can prompt one to be somewhat puritanical, so proving how kosher one really is.

On the issue of source material, Barrett notes Luke's use of existing sources, and at the same time, his free composition of tradition, but he rejects the idea that it is possible to disentangle the two to form two separate stories. That it is possible to discern original source-material in the Acts of the Apostles simply indicates that Luke respects his sources. For more on this subject see Fitzmyer.


v] Homiletics: Equity and the gospel

Avi Silverberg, a weight lifter, recently tested the rules that allow a biological male, who identifies as a female, to compete in a female weight-lifting class. Of course, he won the competition, and sure made his point. Many people, asked to comment on the issue, didn't want to comment. Many younger people willing to comment tended to see no problem. Only a few were willing to argue that it was unfair for a biological male to compete in women's sports. The equity of equality has imbibed the Western world and the Judaeo-Christian ethic which once guided us is now viewed as bigotry.

Stephen was a forthright promoter of the faith, stirring up opposition from his fellow citizens by promoting views they found offensive. It was not just that he spoke about Jesus, the risen Lord, but that he engaged with the shibboleths of the wider society, religious traditions expressed in respect for the temple and the traditions of Moses. He depreciated them, in much the same way as Jesus depreciated them - salvation is by grace through faith, apart from works of the law. Yet, by violating religious sensibilities, Stephen provoked a violent response.

Christian ethics reflect the purity of God, but at the same time, the grace of God. This is best illustrated in the story of a women caught in sin, Jn.8:1-11; "Jesus said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go home, but sin no more.'" Explaining to believers how divine holiness and love interrelate is a difficult task; explaining it to unbelievers is near impossible. The old adage, condemn the sin, but love the sinner, works within the fellowship of believers, but not in the secular world. All they hear is condemn the sin.

It's somewhat bold to suggest that we not follow the example of Stephen, but then, if you don't want to be set upon by the mob, it may be a good idea. Remember, a description is not necessarily a prescription! So, next time you get caught up in a debate over biology, remember, no one was ever saved by biology. If you are going to be mobbed, let it be for the gospel, not biology.

Text - 6:8

Stephen is arrested, v8-15: i] Stephen, a powerful proclaimer, v8-10.

de "now" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

caritoV kai dunamewV gen. "grace and power" - [stephen, full] of grace and power / authority, [was performing wonders and great signs in = among the people]. The genitive is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic / content, "Stephen, filled full of grace and power." In 6:3 the seven are "full of the Spirit and wisdom", and in v10 we are told that Stephen is imbibed with wisdom and the Spirit, so it is likely that being full of grace and power is much the same; they are the marks of a prophet who represents God in word and sign. "Grace" is used here as a general term describing divine favour which, for Stephen, shows itself in his words and wonders. "Power" refers to the outward manifestations of the Spirit's enabling, ie., signs and portents, so Barrett.


Like the apostles, Stephen is into proclaiming the gospel both in word and sign, and his words inflame members of the synagogue of the Freedmen. The Greek is somewhat unclear, so we may have the synagogue of the Freedmen and another four (distributive genitives), or possibly another two, so Barrett, or we may just have one synagogue made up of Jews of the dispersion from Cyrene etc. (partitive genitives) - the last option seems best. The name "Freedmen" may indicate they are freed slaves, but it is more likely a title relating to liberation, either theological or social.

twn gen. "-" - [certain ones] of the [from the synagogue]. The article serves as a nominalizer, turning the prepositional phrase, "from the synagogue of the Freedmen", into a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, partitive. The preposition ek, "from", expresses source. Stephen's opponents are some members from the synagogue of the Freedmen.

thV legomenhV (legw) gen. pres. mid. part. "as it is called" - being called [the synagogue of the freedmen]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "synagogue", "which is called the synagogue of the Freedmen." The genitive "of the Freedmen" is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic / identification, "the synagogue which goes by the name of Freedmen"

kai "-" - and [of the cyrenians and the alexandrians and]. At this point, we have a series of coordinating particles, but this the first, is probably epexegetic, specifying the membership of the synagogue; "the synagogue of Freedmen, comprising Cyrenaeans and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia", Cassirer. The identified regions are genitive, adjectival, partitive, "a membership made up of Cyrenaeans ...."

twn gen. "as well as the provinces [of Cilicia]" - of the [from cilicia and asia]. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase "from Cilicia and Asia" into a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, partitive. It is the repetition of this construction that prompts Barrett to argue for two groups; "There rose up some of those who belonged to the synagogue called the synagogue of the Libertines, both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and those who came from Cilicia and from Asia." As indicated above, one group is likely, as NIV.

suzhtounteV (suzhtew) pres. part. "who began to argue [with Stephen]" - [rose up] arguing with, debating with [stephen]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to rise up"; "rose up and disputed with Stephen", ESV, but possibly adverbial, final, expressing purpose; "What they meant to do was to engage in argument", Cassirer. The present tense is often treated as inceptive, "started a dispute with Stephen", Moffatt, as NIV. The sun prefix verb "to argue with" usually takes a dative, as with "Stephen" here.


Jesus promised his disciples that, gifted with wisdom by the Holy Spirit, they would know what to say when confronting the secular world, Lk.12:12, 21:15. Luke sees this fulfilled in Stephen. The Western text draws out the inability of Stephen's opponents to counter him, so providing a reason for their malice; "who could not withstand the wisdom that was in him and the holy Spirit with which he spoke, because they were confused by him with all boldness. Being unable therefore to confront the truth ......", Metzger.

antisthnai (antisthmi) aor. inf. "stand up against" - [and they were not able] to resist, oppose, contradict. Complementary infinitive completing the sense of the verb "to be able."

thn soqia/ (a) dat. "the wisdom [the Spirit gave him]" - the wisdom [and the spirit]. Both "wisdom" and "Spirit" serve as the dative direct object of the anti prefix verb "to oppose." As is said of the seven and Stephen, they are full of wisdom and the Spirit, ie., they exhibit the marks of a prophet - the combination of divine revelation along with signs and wonders. The NIV treats the two nouns as a hendiadys, a single idea expressed by two words joined by kai; "they were quite unable to put up any defence against the inspired wisdom with which he spoke", Barclay.

w|/ dat. pro. "-" - in = by / with which [he was speaking]. The dative is possibly instrumental, expressing the means by which he spoke, but both Culy and Kellum suggest manner is more likely; "with which he was speaking", ESV.


ii] The plot and trial, v11-14. Stephen's opponents put up some of their number to improperly claim that he has blasphemed God. We probably have an example of short-talk here, given that "blasphemous words against Moses" is a rather strange charge. The sense probably is that Stephen has blasphemed God by his statements concerning Israel's religious cult, namely the Law / traditions of Moses and the temple, cf., v13-14.

tote adv. "then" - then. Temporal adverb, sequential time.

legontaV (legw) "to say" - [they suborned = put up, induced, secretly instigated, bribed men] saying. The sense is clear enough, but the syntactical function of the participle is not. The NIV treats it as if an infinitive, introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Stephen's opponents "put up", namely, "men to say ...." - "men" serving as the accusative subject." The ESV treats it as adjectival, attributive, limiting "men"; "men who say."

oJti "-" - that. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of direct speech expressing what the men say.

lalountoV (lalew) gen. pres. part. "speak" - [we have heard him] speaking [blasphemous words]. Genitive complement of the direct object "him", standing in a double genitive construction and asserting a fact about the genitive direct object of the verb "to say."

eiV + acc. "against" - to, into = against [moses and god]. The preposition expresses movement toward, here an aggressive move toward, ie., opposition; "against".


Using the false witnesses, Stephen's opponents stir up a lynch-mob who seize him and take him before the Sanhedrin.

te "so" - and. Coordinating conjunction. Culy suggests that Luke has used te here instead of kai to closely link the events outlined in v11-13; tote .... te ... kai ..... te ...., "then .... and ..... and ..... and ...."

epistanteV aor. part. "-" - [they aroused the people and the elders and the scribes and] having come upon [him they seized him and they brought him into the council]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to seize"; "they came upon him and seized him", ESV.


Although the Law of Moses viewed false testimony seriously (Ex.20:16, Deut.19:16-18), law of itself, does not curtail sin, it just makes sin more sinful. Luke specifically identifies the false accusation as speaking kata, "against" "this holy place", namely the temple (2Chr.6:20-21), and the Law of Moses. Note that the charge against Stephen is very similar to the one against Paul, cf., 21:28. As already noted, Stephen's sermon in chapter 7 indicates that he obviously did, at least, depreciate the value of both the temple and the law.

legontaV (legw) pres. part. "who testified" - [and they placed = set up false witnesses] saying. The participle, being accusative, is best treated as adjectival, attributive, limiting "false witnesses", so Culy; "who said" None-the-less, as Kellum notes, it does still fulfil its Semitic idiomatic function of introducing direct speech. "They brought in some men to tell lies about him. 'This man', they said, ......", TEV.

lalwn (lalew) pres. part. "[never stops] speaking" - [this man is not stopping] speaking [words]. The participle functions as if a complementary infinitive, completing the sense of the verb "to cease, stop"; "this man never ceases to speak words ....", ESV.

kata + gen. "against" - against [this holy place and the law]. Here expressing opposition, as NIV.


The charge against Stephen is made even more specific. The false witnesses claim that Stephen is out-and-about telling people that Jesus intends to destroy the temple and will "radically alter the customs which Moses handed down", Barclay. Stephen may have spoken of a relocation of the divine presence, the Shekinah Glory, from the temple to God's new-covenant people now gathered with the glorified Christ, a reality evident in the outpouring of the Spirit, but the specific charge of destroying the temple is simply a repetition of the false charge used against Jesus. It is unlikely that Stephen, along with his Hellenist associates, proclaimed a law-free gospel, but he may have addressed Christ's fulfilment of the law, identifying its power to expose sin in order to reinforce faith, rather than the notion that it has the power to make holy. Yet, the specific charge of "changing the customs (a euphemism for "laws"??) of Moses" is probably something more than depreciating the Mosaic Law; the slur probably implies that Stephen is disrespecting Mosaic law / tradition, even speaking against it, possibly teaching "the transitory character of the Mosaic ceremonial", Bruce Gk.

gar "for" - for. More reason than cause; explaining the charge in more detail.

legontoV (legw) gen. pres. part. "say" - [we have heard him] saying. The participle serves as the genitive complement of the direct object "him", standing in a double genitive construction and stating a fact about the object "him", the genitive of direct object after the verb "to hear."

oJti "that" - that [this jesus]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what they claim to have heard Stephen say.

oJ NazwraioV (oV) "of Nazareth" - the nazarene. Standing in apposition to "this Jesus."

hJmin dat. pro. "to us" - [will destroy this place and will change the customs which moses delivered over] to us. Dative of indirect object.


iii] Stephen's persona, v15. Luke tells us that the members of the Sanhedrin observe that Stephen exhibits an aura. The descriptive term "the face of an angel" is drawn from the OT, eg., the young men in the furnace, Dan.3:92. Probably describing the radiance exhibited in the face of a person who acts / speaks on behalf of the divine, eg., Moses, Ex.34:30, Jesus, Lk.9:29. In medieval art, an aura is usually depicted as a halo.

oiJ kaqezomenoi (kaqezomai) pres. "who were seated" - [and all] the ones sitting [in the council]. Taking panteV, "all", as an adjective, rather than a substantive, "everyone", the participle serves as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb "to see."

atenisanteV (atenizw) aor. part. "looked intently" - having looked intently [into him, saw that the face of him]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "to see"; "fixed their eyes on him and saw that his face shone like the face of an angel", Moffatt.

wJsei "was like" - [was] as, like [the face of (belonging to) an angel]. The comparative particle is used here as a comparative adverb modifying an assumed verb to-be.


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