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

iv] Stephen's martyrdom


Luke has given us a detailed account of Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin. Stephen's speech has caused an uproar, but when he speaks of seeing the enthronement of the coming Son of Man, they grab him and stone him to death.


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.


i] Context: See 6:1-7.


ii] Background:

Racism in Jerusalem: There is a touch of racial bigotry in the actions of the lynch-mob. The Aramaic 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 is the Hellenistic believers who take the brunt of the opposition, but it is they who progress the spread of the Christian faith.

Execution by stoning: The stoning-place in Jerusalem 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 to and stones him. Luke seems to imply that in the execution of Stephen the crowd doesn't wait for these niceties.


iii] Structure: The martyrdom of Stephen:

The arrest of Stephen, 6:8-15;

Stephen's apologia, 7:1-56:

The martyrdom of Stephen, 7:56-8:1a:

A lynch-mob takes over, v57-58;

Stephen is stoned to death, v59-60;

Saul approves of Stephen's death, 8:1a.


iv] 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 organised, 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 how, by the nation's constant rejection of the prophets, Israel now stands condemned.

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.

For the members of the Sanhedrin, 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. So, a lynch-mob takes over, obviously sponsored by the authorities, and this on the ground that Stephen has defamed the temple. In all this, "Saul approved of their killing him", 8:1a.


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

Text - 7:57

i] A lynch-mob 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.

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

kraxanteV (krazw) aor. part. "yelling" - having cried out aloud, screamed, yelled. 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", or instrumental, expressing means, "by means of ...."

oJmoqumadon adv. "all" - [they constrained = shut the ears of them and they rushed upon him] of one accord. Adverb of manner. Used by Luke in Acts to express unity of purpose. The NIV takes the preposition epi as spatial, "at him", "rushed toward him", Cassirer, but as Culy notes, it possibly expresses opposition, "against him", "at once they all attacked Stephen", CEV.


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

exw (ek) + gen. "out" - outside [of the city]. Local, expressing space, "outside", or possibly expressing separation, "away from."

eliqoboloun (liqobolew) imperf. ind. act. "began to stone him" - they were stoning him. The NIV takes the imperfect as inceptive, emphasising the beginning of the action.

martureV (uV ewV) "the witnesses" - [and] the witnesses [took off the garments of them]. Possibly being used here in a legal sense. If so, Saul is functioning as a quasi-prosecutor on behalf of the Sanhedrin, which, as indicated above, is functioning beyond its jurisdiction.

kaloumenou (kalew) gen. pres. pas. part. "named" - [beside the feet of a young man] being called [of saul]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "a young man", genitive by agreement, "who went by the name of Saul." The genitive "Saul" is adjectival, epexegetic, specifying the participle "being called" - typical naming convention.


ii] 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 approves of the execution.

kai "while" - and. Coordinating conjunction maintaining the flow of the narrative, "and so they stoned Stephen", Barclay.

eliqoboloun (liqobolew) imperf. "they were stoning him" - they were stoning [stephen]. The imperfect is durative expressing continued action, or possibly inceptive, indicating the beginning of the action, "they began to stone ....." Barrett argues that 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. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "Stephen"; "So, they stoned Stephen, who called on the Lord, saying", Moffatt. Sometimes treated as adverbial, temporal, "they kept stoning Stephen as he called out", Fitzmyer, although Culy argues that a genitive absolute construction would be used if a temporal sense was intended here.

legonta (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Redundant participle introducing direct speech; see legonteV, 1:6. Possibly classified as attendant circumstance expressing action accompanying the verbal aspect of Stephen's calling upon the Lord; "who called upon the Lord and said", or adjectival, as in the case of the participle "calling upon", "who called upon the Lord and who said ...."

kurie Ihsou voc. "Lord Jesus" - lord jesus. Vocative of address. 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).

mou gen. pro. "my" - [receive the spirit, breath] of me. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, "my spirit." The "spirit" is the being of a person; "Lord Jesus, please welcome me", CEV.


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

fwnh/ megalh/ dat. "-" - [he cried out] in/with a loud voice. The dative is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of Stephen's cry, or instrumental, expressing means, "by means of."

mh sthsh/V (iJsthmi) aor. subj. "do not hold" - [lord] may you not put, place [this sin]. Subjunctive of prohibition. Note that Stephen shows the same concern toward his murderers as Jesus did. An interesting question arises as to whether or not the Lord hears Stephen's prayer. Are Stephen's murderers forgiven? Given that there can be no forgiveness without repentance, the answer is surely Yes, if they repent (like Saul / Paul).

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

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

ekoimhqh (koimaomai) aor. pas. "he fell asleep" - 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, there is a sense where a believer is hid in Christ, asleep in him, ready to wake at His coming on the day of resurrection - safe in the arms of Jesus. This is a controversial area in Christian theology, and is reflected in the doctrine of "soul sleep", as taught by the Adventist church. The particular form of the doctrine taught by the Adventists, is rejected by mainline Christian denominations. "He fell asleep in death", Williams.


Acts Introduction


Exegetical Commentaries


[Pumpkin Cottage]