In Greek, martyr
Heroes of the Faith –
Stephen, the First Christian Martyr
Acts 6:1-15, Stephen is Arrested.
Acts 7:1-29, Stephen Begins to Summarize the History of Israel.
Acts 7:30-50, Stephen Continues Summarizing the History of Israel.
Acts 7:51 – 8:2, Stephen is Martyred for the Faith.
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Acts 6:1-15, Stephen is Arrested. (1/18/2010)
My weekly cleaning crew is made up of one English speaker, one English speaker who is learning some cleaning-related Spanish, one Spanish speaker who is learning some cleaning-related English, and one completely bilingual speaker. First-century Judea had a similar mixture of Hebrew (actually Aramaic) and Greek speakers.
In the very early Church, all the Christians were Jews. They came in three slightly different flavors: Hebrew-speaking Jewish Christians, Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, and bilingual Jewish Christians. Although Greek-speaking Jews were probably in the majority overall, they were scattered all over the known world. The Hebrew speakers were concentrated in Judea and were greatly in the majority in Jerusalem. Sometimes there was a little tension between the two groups, probably mostly because of the language barrier, just as there is here in New Mexico. We’re going to read about Stephen, one of the Greek speakers, for a few days this week.
You may have observed by now that I don’t normally translate from Acts or Paul’s writing. The Greek is too difficult. By coincidence, however, our readings from Acts this week are the chapters I have to translate for Greek class this Friday.
Now, at that time, the number of disciples was multiplying, and some of the Greek Christians were muttering about the Hebrew Christians, because their widows were being neglected in the daily services [i.e., alms].
So the twelve called the multitude of disciples to a meeting and said, “It is not appropriate that we leave God’s message to wait on tables. So, brethren, y’all select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we will appoint for this business. And we will continue to pray and serve the message of God.”
Now, this speech pleased all the multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nikanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas (a proselyte from Antioch), whom they stood before the apostles. They prayed over them and placed their hands on them.
The word of God spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a great crowd of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Now, Stephen, full of grace and power, did wonders and great signs among the people. Certain ones of the synagogue (the one called Libertine, Cyrene, and Alexandrian) and from Cilicia and Asia debated with Stephan, but they were not able to stand up against the wisdom and spirit with which he was speaking.
Then they got men to say, “We have heard him saying blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, and they came and seized him and led him to the Sanhedrin. And they put forth false witnesses, saying, “This man does not cease speaking words against this holy place and the Law. For we have heard him saying, ‘This Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and will change the customs which Moses gave to us.’ ”
And all the ones sitting in the Sanhedrin looked at him intently and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Acts 7:1-29, Stephen Begins to Summarize the History of Israel. (1/19/2010)
After Stephen was arrested, he took the opportunity to give a speech to the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious body in Judea. He began by reminding them of their history, beginning with Abraham. He quoted scripture – some of your translations will have the quotations indicated by italics, and that’s what the italics below show, also. (Remember that in the King James and some other early versions, italics indicate words that are not in the original, like this: And it was in the time of the sheep shearing, and the shearers were tired.) You can see below that Stephen really knew his scripture and his history. Probably some of the religious leaders, at this point, were wondering why such a knowledgeable and devout person had been brought before them.
The chief priest said, “Is this true?”
Stephen said, “Gentlemen, brethren and fathers, listen. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran, and said to him, Come forth from your land and from your family, and come onto the land that I will show to you. Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans to live in Harran. From there, after the death of his father, he removed him to this land in which y’all now live, although he did not give him an inheritance in it, not one square foot, but he promised to give it to him and to his offspring with him for a possession even though he had no child.
“So God was saying that his offspring will be foreigners in a strange land and they will be enslaved in it and be ill-treated for 400 years. And the nation which they serve I will judge, God said, and after these things they will go forth and worship me in this place. And he gave him a covenant of circumcision. And thus he begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the 12 patriarchs.
“The patriarchs were jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt, but God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles and gave him grace and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he set him up as governor of Egypt and all his household. But there came a famine over all of Egypt and Canaan and great trouble, and our fathers could not find food. Jacob, hearing that there was grain in Egypt, first sent out our fathers. The second time, Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was shown to Pharaoh.
“Joseph sent word and called his father Jacob and all the family, 75 souls. Jacob went down to Egypt, and he died and our fathers died and were carried over to Shechem and buried in the tomb that Abraham bought for silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
“Even as the time of the promise that God swore to Abraham came near, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, until a different king rose up in Egypt who did not know Joseph. This one tricked our relatives and ill-treated our fathers to make them expose their babies so that they would die. When Moses was born – a beautiful child, in God’s opinion – he was nurtured for three months in his father’s house, but when he was put out, the daughter of Pharaoh took him and nurtured him as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of Egypt, and there was power in his words and deeds.
“When he was 40 years old, it came upon his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. Seeing one of them suffering unjustly, he defended him and took revenge for the one who was oppressed, striking the Egyptian. He thought his brethren would understand that God was giving them deliverance through his hand, but they didn’t get it. The next day, he showed himself to some of them while they were fighting, and he tried to make peace between them, saying, ‘Gentlemen! You are brethren. Why are you injuring each other?’ But the one injuring his neighbor pushed him away and said, who made you prince and judge over us? Will you kill me, as you did the Egyptian yesterday? At this statement, Moses fled and became a stranger in Midian, where he had two sons.
Acts 7:30-50, Stephen Continues Summarizing the History of Israel. (1/20/2010)
A long time ago, a fellow who was reviewing a technical paper of mine taught me a lot about the process. First he said what a privilege and honor it was to be selected to review this fine work, which was probably going to win a Nobel prize (I exaggerate, but not a whole lot). I was convinced that he was a man of intelligence and discernment. He then proceeded to rip the paper to shreds, but since I had already recognized his intelligence and discernment, I took his comments very seriously.
Stephen used a similar technique in his speech before the Sanhedrin. We saw yesterday, and the Sanhedrin saw, that Stephen was a man of intelligence and discernment who was thoroughly familiar with the scriptures (remember that the italics indicate direct quotes), and that he held the patriarchs in high regard. Stephen continued his speech about the heroes of the faith with a discussion of Moses, David, and Solomon. At this point, however, he begins to introduce a new theme: the children of Israel’s rejection of the great hero Moses, and God’s resulting displeasure.
“After another 40 years, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness near Mt. Sinai, in a bush that was burning on fire. Seeing this, Moses was wondering about the sight, and when he went over to see it, the voice of the Lord said, I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses began to tremble and didn’t dare to look, but the Lord said to him, Take your shoes off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have certainly seen the ill-treatment of my people in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and I came down to rescue them. And now, come – I will send you to Egypt.
“This was the Moses they denied, saying, “Who appointed you prince and judge?” This one God sent as both a prince and a deliverer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This one led them out, doing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, at the red sea, and in the wilderness for 40 years. This is the Moses who said to the children of Israel, God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brethren. This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel speaking to him – and to our fathers – at Mt. Sinai, and who received the living words to give to us, whom our fathers did not want to obey, but pushed away and turned back in their hearts to Egypt, saying to Aaron, Make us gods who will lead us. For this Moses, who led us out of Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him.
“And in those days they made a calf and brought sacrifices to the idol and were delighted in the works of their hands. Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of the heavens, even as it is written in the book of the prophets:
You didn’t bring me slain animals and sacrifices
For 40 years in the desert, did you, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
And the star of your god Raiphon,
Images which you made to pray to,
And I will remove you beyond Babylon.
“Our fathers who came later had the Tent of Witness in the wilderness, made just like the model the one speaking to Moses showed to him. Our fathers brought it with Joshua into the possession of the nations, whom God drove out before our fathers, until the days of David. He found favor with God and asked to design a tabernacle for the house of Jacob. But Solomon build him a house, although the Most High does not live in anything made by human hands, as the prophet says,
Heaven is my throne,
And the earth is my footstool,
What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord,
Or what is the place of my rest?
Didn’t my hand make all these things?”
Acts 7:51 – 8:2, Stephen is Martyred for the Faith. (1/21/2010)
Probably you are familiar with the saying, “Now you’ve stopped preachin’ and gone to meddlin’!” It means that you have stopped making general statements that I agree with – people shouldn’t drive too fast – and started making statements that apply specifically to me – you saw me driving too fast last Sunday right outside the church parking lot, which I shouldn’t do.
Stephen preached at length about the early heroes of the faith – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the patriarchs, and Moses. Everybody in the Sanhedrin was probably nodding in agreement. Then Stephen started talking about the way that the children of Israel resisted Moses. Probably some people in the Sanhedrin kept nodding, and others started narrowing their eyes a little. But then, Stephen started meddlin’! He said that his listeners were exactly like their forebears: resisting the person sent by God to deliver them. Now all of them were offended.
At the last, though, he had a vision of God and Jesus at the right hand of God that they considered to be blasphemous. They seized him, took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. With his last breath, he forgave them. Stephen was a true hero of the faith.
More Heroes of the Faith
“You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit – you are just like your fathers! Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed the ones who foretold the coming of the righteous one, and now you have become the betrayers and murderers! You who received the Law delivered by angels have not kept it!”
Hearing this, they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But being filled with the Holy Spirit and looking intently into heaven, he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. He said, “Look! I see the heavens opening, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
They shouted and covered their ears, and they rushed with one mind upon him and cast him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. They stoned Stephen, who called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Kneeling down, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.” After he said this, he died.
Now, Saul was pleased by his death. And at that time there was a great persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. But some devout men carried Stephen away and made a great lamentation over him.
Copyright 2010, 2012 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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