PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS
|Stephen's Speeches||Stephen's Address: the Call of Abraham||Preaching and Martyrdom of Stephen||Stephen's Speech||Stephen's Speech|
|The Patriarchs in Egypt||7:2b-8|
|Israel Rebels Against God||7:35-43||7:35-38||7:35-43|
|God's True Tabernacle||7:39-43|
|Israel Resists the Holy Spirit||7:48-50|
|The Stoning of Stephen||Stephen the Martyr||The Stoning of Stephen||The Stoning of Stephen, Saul as Persecutor|
READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
A. Stephen's speech in Acts 7 is the longest recorded in Acts. It breaks the theological ground for Paul's (and the church's) understanding of the gospel's relationship to the Old Testament. Stephen's sermon answers the charges made against him, showing that
1. God has acted outside the Temple
2. God works with Gentiles
3. Jews have always rejected God's message, men, and now they have rejected the Messiah!
B. Stephen's defense affected Saul of Tarsus' heart and Paul's theology.
C. Stephen reveals the continuing covenant infidelity of the Jewish people and God's revelations outside the Promised Land and apart from the Temple in Jerusalem, which had become the focus of first century Jewish worship.
D. The Jewish people had regularly rejected God's spokesman and now they did it again. They had violently rejected Jesus of Nazareth and they were about to violently reject Stephen, His witness.
E. Stephen is charged by the same group with similar blasphemes as Jesus was. As he was being stoned Stephen said several things which mimic Jesus' words and actions on the cross. Was this an intentional literary device used by Luke? It seems so!
F. Stephen's perspective on the relationship between Jews and Christians will set the stage for the persecution (cf. 8:1-3) and ultimate splitting (i.e., a.d. 70 curse formulas) of these two groups. It is surely possible that God used Stephen, as He did Samson in the OT, to start a fight thereby forcing the spread of the gospel beyond Palestine.
G. Stephen's speech/defense/sermon has several details which differ from the Hebrew OT (he quotes from the Septuagint). Should scholars try to defend Stephen's sayings or allow them to be Jewish traditions or even historical errors? This question reveals the emotional and intellectual biases of interpreters. I believe that the Bible is true history, that Christianity stands or falls on the events of the Bible. However, the very beginning of the Bible (i.e., Genesis 1-11) and the end of the Bible (i.e., book of Revelation) are not "typical history"! As for the intervening accounts I think they are accurate and true. This takes into account that sometimes there are:
1. differences in numbers
2. differences in genre
3. differences in detail
4. rabbinical techniques of interpretation (ex. combining two or more texts)
These do not affect my affirmation of the historical accuracy or trustworthiness of biblical narratives. Stephen may have been recounting what he learned in Synagogue school or he may have modified texts to fit his purpose! To miss his message by focusing on one or two details shows our modern sense of historiography and not the first century's sense of history.
H. Basic Outline of Stephen's historical overview of God's dealing with Israel in chapter 7
1. the Patriarchs, vv. 2-16
2. the Exodus and Wilderness Wanderings, vv. 17-43
3. the Tabernacle and Temple, vv. 44-50
4. the application to them of his summary of the OT history, vv. 51-53
I. Stephen uses several OT references (quotes and allusions).
1. 7:3 – Gen. 12:1
2. 7:5 – Gen. 12:7 or 17:8
3. 7:6-7a – Gen. 15:13-14
4. 7:7b – Exod. 3:12
5. 7:8a – Gen. 17:9-14
6. 7:8b – Gen. 21:2-4
7. 7:8c – Gen. 25:26
8. 7:8d – Gen. 35:22-26
9. 7:9 – Gen. 37:10,28; 45:4
10. 7:10 – Gen. 39:21; 41:40-46
11. 7:11 – Gen. 41:54-55; 42:5
12. 7:12 – Gen. 42:2
13. 7:13 – Gen. 45:1-4
14. 7:14 – Gen. 45:9-10
15. 7:15 – Gen. 46:5; 49:33; Exod. 1:6
16. 7:16 – Gen. 23:16; 50:13
17. 7:17 –Exod. 1:7-8
18. 7:18 – Exod. 1:8
19. 7:19 – Exod. 1:10-11
20. 7:20 – Exod. 2:2
21. 7:21 – Exod. 2:5,6,10
22. 7:22 – Exod. 2:10
23. 7:23 – Exod. 2:11-12
24. 7:26 – Exod. 2:13
25. 7:27-28 –Exod. 2:14
26. 7:30 – Exod. 3:1-2
27. 7:29a –Exod. 2:15
28. 7:29b – Exod. 2:22; 4:20; 18:3-4
29. 7:32 – Exod. 3:6
30. 7:33-34 – Exod. 3:5,7-10
31. 7:36 – Exod. 12:41; 33:1
32. 7:37 – Deut. 18:15
33. 7:38 – Exod. 19:17
34. 7:39 – Num. 14:3-4
35. 7:40 – Exod. 32:1,23
36. 7:41 – Exod. 32:4,6
37. 7:42-43 – Amos 5:25-27
38. 7:44 – Exod. 25:31,36-40
39. 7:45 –Josh. 3:14ff; 18:1; 23:9
40. 7:46 – II Sam. 7:8ff
41. 7:47 – I Kings 6-8; II Chronicles 1-6
42. 7:49-50 –Isa. 66:1-2
Another good Scriptural summary of Israel's history is Nehemiah 9.
1. 9:6 – Genesis 1-11
2. 9:7-8 – Genesis 12-50
3. 9:9-14 – Exodus (the exodus)
4. 9:15-21 – Numbers (the wilderness wandering period)
5. 9:22-25 – Joshua (the conquest)
6. 9:26-31 – Judges
7. 9:32-38 – Samuel, Kings, Chronicles (the Monarchy)
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 7:1-8
1The high priest said, "Are these things so?" 2And he said, "Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.' 4Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. 5But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him. 6But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. 7And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,' said God, ‘and after that they will come out and serve Me in this place.' 8And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs."
7:1 "The high priest" This was Caiaphas. See note at 4:6.
7:2 "And he said" Stephen's defense is very similar to the book of Hebrews. He answered the charges in two ways: (1) the Jewish people had continually rejected Moses in the past and (2) the Temple was only one of several ways that God used to speak with Israel. This is a direct answer to the charges brought against him in 6:13.
▣ "Hear" This is the aorist active imperative form of the Greek word akouō. It is used in the Septuagint to translate the famous prayer of Judaism, the Shema (cf. Deut. 6:4-5). It is also used in the prophets to reflect the sense of "hear so as to respond" (cf. Micah 1:2; 6:1). It is difficult to be certain this technical connotation is present when these Jewish men express their Hebrew thoughts in Koine Greek words, but in some contexts like this it may be true.
▣ "‘The God of glory" This God of glory (cf. Ps. 29:3) appeared to the Patriarch Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1, 15:1,4; 17:1; 18:1, 22:1), thus beginning the Jewish people. See Special Topic at 3:13.
▣ "Abraham" Abraham was considered the father of the Jewish people. He was the first Patriarch. His call and subsequent walk with God are described in Gen. 12:1-25:11. In Galatians 3 and later Romans 4 Paul uses him as the paradigm of justification by grace through faith.
▣ "when he was in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran" Genesis 11:31 implies that Abraham was in the city of Haran when YHWH spoke to him. However, the time of God's contact with Abraham was not specifically stated. Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldeans (cf. Gen. 11:28,31), but later moved to Haran (cf. Gen. 11:31,32; 29:4) following God's command. The point is that God spoke to Abraham outside of the land of Canaan. Abraham did not own or possess any part of the Holy Land (cf. v. 5) during his lifetime (except a cave to bury his family, cf. Gen. 23:9).
The term "Mesopotamia" can refer to the different ethnic groups:
1. a people group in the northern area of the Tigris and Euphrates (i.e., "Syria between the Rivers")
2. a people group near the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates
7:3 "Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you" This is a quote from Gen. 12:1. The theological issue involved in this quote is when God says this to Abram:
1. while he was in Ur before he took his father Terah and nephew Lot to Haran
2. while he was in Haran and he waited until his father died to follow God south to Canaan?
7:4 "he left the land of the Chaldeans" Chaldea (BDB 505) may be the name of a district close to the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (see note at 7:2). It later came to refer to the nation which developed in this region, also known as Babylon (BDB 93). This nation also produced many scholars who developed mathematical formulas related to the movement of the night lights (i.e., planets, stars, comets, etc.). This group of wise men (i.e., astrologers) was also known by the name Chaldean (cf. Dan. 2:2; 4:7; 5:7-11).
▣ "Haran" Haran (BDB 357) is a city to which Terah, Abraham, and Lot moved (cf. Gen. 11:31-32). Another of Abram's brothers settled there and the place is called by his name (i.e., city of Nahor, cf. Gen. 24:10; 27:43). This city on the upper part of the Euphrates (i.e., tributary river, Balikh) was started in the third millennium b.c. and has retained its name until today. Just as a note of interest, Abraham's brother, Haran (BDB 248), is not spelled the same in Hebrew as the city.
▣ "after his father died" Many have seen a contradiction here between Gen. 11:26,32 and 12:4. There are at least two possible solutions.
1. Abraham might not have been the oldest son, but the most famous son (i.e., listed first).
2. The Samaritan Pentateuch has Terah's age at death at 145, not 205, as the Hebrew text.
See Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 378.
7:5 "He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him" This is an allusion to Gen. 12:7 or 17:8. The theological key is not only God's promise, but Abraham's faith in God giving him a descendant as well as a land. This faith is highlighted in Gen. 15:6 (cf. Gal. 3:6; Romans 4:3).
7:6 This predictive prophecy is stated in Gen. 15:13,14 and reaffirmed in Exod. 3:12. However, Exod. 12:40 has "430 years" instead of "400 years." The Septuagint (LXX) translates Exod. 12:40 as "and the sojourning of the children of Israel, while they sojourned in the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan was 430 years."
The rabbis have said that the number "400 years" starts with the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22. John Calvin has called the 400 years a round number. It may relate to four generations of 100 years each (cf. Gen. 15:16).
7:7 "And whatever nation" This is a quote from the Septuagint of Gen. 15:14. This is not meant to be obtuse, but is a general statement. The nation was obviously Egypt. Other nations, however (i.e., Philistia, Syria, Assyria, Babylon), would become Israel's oppressors and God will judge them also.
▣ "and after that" This full phrase is a quote from Exod. 3:12. Stephen is reciting a loose, running history of Israel.
This text asserts that Canaan and Jerusalem will uniquely become YHWH's special place. This fits the emphasis of Deuteronomy.
▣ "in this place" In the context of the quote from Exod. 3:12, this refers to Mt. Sinai (see Special Topic at 7:30), which is also outside the Promised Land and is the site of one of the major events in the life of Israel (the giving of the Law to Moses).
7:8 "covenant" See Special Topic at 2:47.
▣ "circumcision" This was practiced by all of Israel's neighbors, except the Philistines (Greek Aegean people). For most cultures it was usually a rite of passage into manhood, but not for Israel, where it was an initiation rite into the covenant People. It was a sign of a special faith relationship with YHWH (cf. Gen. 17:9-14). Each Patriarch circumcised his own sons (i.e., acted as priest for his own family). Robert Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 214, says the rite of circumcision connected the rite of blood-shedding with the act of circumcision. Blood was connected to covenant forming (cf. Gen. 15:17), covenant breaking (cf. Gen. 2:17), and covenant redemption (cf. Isaiah 53).
▣ "the twelve patriarchs" This usually refers to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but here it refers to Jacob's twelve sons, who will become the tribes of Israel.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 7:9-10
9The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, 10and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household.
7:9 "Joseph" This account is found in Gen. 37:11,28; 45:4. Stephen is trying to show that the Jewish people and their leaders have often rejected God's chosen leader (cf. Moses in v. 35).
7:10 This account is found in Gen. 39:21; 41:40-46.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 7:11-16
11Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food. 12But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. 13On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family was disclosed to Pharaoh. 14Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all. 15And Jacob went down to Egypt andthere he and our fathers died. 16From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
7:11 This account is found in Gen. 41:54-55; 42:5.
7:12 This account is found in Gen. 42:4.
7:13 This account is found in Gen. 45:1-4.
7:14 "seventy-five" This follows the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts, while the Masoretic Text has "seventy" (cf. Gen. 46:27; Exod. 1:5; Deut. 10:22). At first this seems like a manuscript problem between the LXX, which Stephen quotes, and the Hebrew text of Exod. 1:5. On further reflection it may be two ways of counting all the descendants of Jacob. The problem arises between Gen. 46:26 and 27:
1. the MT of verse 27 has two sons born to Joseph in Egypt, while the LXX has nine, which means that Ephraim and Manassah later had more children between them
2. in the Hebrew text Jacob and his wife are counted, but Ephraim and Manasseh's extra children are not counted
In the Greek text (LXX) Jacob and his wife are not counted, but the extra children of Ephraim and Manasseh are counted. Both are accurate, but they add up the descendants in different ways at different times in Jacob's life. The Hebrew texts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls also have "seventy-five persons" in Gen. 46:27 and Exod. 1:5. Philo of Alexandia was familiar with both numbers.
We are all the benefactors of modern scholarship when it comes to difficult texts or number problems like this one. There is a new type of biblical resource available today which targets these difficult texts. I recommend:
1. Hard Sayings of the Bible, IVP
2. More Hard Sayings of the Bible, IVP
3. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason Archer.
For a discussion of Acts 7:14-15 see #1 pp. 521-522.
7:15 This account is found in Gen. 46:5; 49:33; Exod. 1:6.
7:16 "to Shechem" From the Genesis accounts of (1) the burial of Joseph recorded in Josh. 24:32 and (2) the burial of Jacob recorded in Gen. 50:13, there seems to be a discrepancy in Stephen's sermon. The problem is (1) the city; it should be Hebron, not Shechem, or (2) the patriarch; it should be Jacob, not Abraham. However, Abraham and Jacob both bought land (cf. Gen. 23:16; 33:19). At Hebron Sarah and Abraham were buried (cf. Gen. 23:19; 25:9), as were Isaac and Rebekah (cf. Gen. 49:29-31) and Jacob (cf. Gen. 50:13). Although it is uncertain about a burial plot at Shechem, it is possible that Abraham had earlier purchased a field on his stop there in Gen. 12:6-7. Later Jacob redeemed that same piece of land (cf. Gen. 33:19; Josh. 24:32). This is obviously speculation, but Stephen appears to be very knowledgeable of the OT history and this would be the only way to reconcile the various accounts.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 7:17-29
17But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, 18until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. 19It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive. 20It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father's home. 21And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son. 22Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. 23But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. 24And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. 25And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, "Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?" 27But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? 28You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?" 29At this remark, Moses fled and became an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
7:17 This would refer to Gen. 15:12-16 (the Promise) and Exod. 1:7 (their large number).
7:18 "until there arose another king" This is a quote from Exod. 1:8. There has been and continues to be debate among scholars on the date of the Exodus. The identity of this Egyptian king is caught up in the disagreement. One could identify him as an Egyptian king from the XVIII dynasty (1445 b.c.) or from the XIX dynasty (1290 b.c.). One theory is to relate this Egyptian king to the first native Egyptian dynasty who overthrew the Hyksos (Semitic) rulers of Egypt. This would explain the use of heteros in v. 18. A native Egyptian would not want Semites, like the Hebrews, in large numbers in his territory, fearing another invasion like the Hyksos.
7:19 This account is found in Exod. 1:10ff.
7:20 "Moses was born" This account is found in Exodus 2.
▣ "was lovely in the sight of God" This is a Hebrew idiom of beauty (cf. Exod. 2:2). Even Josephus comments on Moses' beauty (cf. Antiq. 2.9.6).
7:21 This account is found in Exod. 2:5-6,10.
▣ "he had been set outside" This is the Greek term ektithēmi, which means "to expose" (cf. v. 19) or "place outside." The Egyptians forced the Hebrews to abandon their male children to the elements and wild beasts so as to control their rapid population growth.
NASB, NKJV"Pharaoh's daughter took him away"
NRSV, NJB"Pharaoh's daughter adopted him"
TEV"the king's daughter adopted him"
The term anaireō literally means "to lift up." Moses was literally "lifted up" out of the river and by this act, became the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter.
7:22 Moses had the best academic and military training available in his day at the court of Pharaoh.
▣ "he was a man of power in words and deeds" This must be a summary of Moses' later life because at his encounter with YHWH at the burning bush he claimed he could not speak well (cf. Exod. 4:10-17).
7:23-24 This account is in Exod. 2:11-12.
7:23 "he was approaching the age of forty" I think it was D. L. Moody who said Moses' life can be divided into three groups of forty:
1. for the first forty years he thought he was somebody (i.e., educated at Pharaoh's court)
2. for the second forty years he thought he had become a nobody (i.e., exiled to the land of Midian and learned the ways and terrain of the Sinai desert)
3. for the third forty years he found out what God could do with a nobody (i.e., led the people of God to the Promised Land)
7:25 This verse is Stephen's assumptions (possibly Jewish traditions); they are not stated in Exodus.
7:26-29 This account is found in Exod. 2:13-14.
7:28 The question expects a "no" answer.
7:29 "At this remark Moses fled" This account is found in Exod. 2:15,22. Moses' fear at killing an Egyptian shows that Pharaoh was not supportive of his being an adopted child of one of his daughters. Even so, Hebrews 11:27 is clear!
▣ "and became an alien in the land of Midian" God appeared to Moses at the burning bush in the land of Midian (cf. Exodus 3-4) and revealed His law to him at Sinai in the land of Midian (cf. Exodus 19-20), which shows that God was not limited as to where He revealed Himself. This same emphasis on God revealing Himself apart from the Temple in Jerusalem is seen in Acts 7:36, 44, 48, and 53.
▣ "became the father of two sons" This account is found in Exod. 2:22; 4:20; 18:3-4.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 7:30-34
30After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. 31When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: 32"I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob." Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. 33But the Lord said to him, "Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. 34I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt and have heard their groans, and I have come down to rescue them; come now, and I will send you to Egypt."
7:30 This account is found in Exodus, chapters 3 and 4.
▣ "an angel" In the OT text this angel is really YHWH. See full note at 5:19. Notice how this angel is characterized.
1. Exod. 3:2, "the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire"
2. Exod. 3:4, "when the Lord (i.e., YHWH) saw that he turned aside to look"
3. Exod. 3:4, "God (i.e., Elohim) called to him from the midst of the bush"
See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at 1:6.
▣ "Mount Sinai" See Special Topic below.
7:32 This account is found in Exod. 3:6.
▣ "fathers" In both the Hebrew text and Greek translation (i.e., Septuagint) the word is singular. In every other occurrence of the phrase it is plural. God knew Moses' slave father.
7:33 This account is found in Exod. 3:5. Moses approached the bush out of curiosity, not religious devotion.
The exact reason for taking off his shoes is uncertain.
1. shoes might be polluted (i.e., animal dung)
2. taking off shoes might be a sign of intimacy or familiarity (i.e., at home).
3. a cultural practice of the Patriarchs or Egyptian ritual
7:34 This account is found in Exod. 3:7. For me this verse is so theologically significant for this reason: YHWH heard their prayers, saw the affliction, and responded. He came down to rescue them, but notice His rescue was effected through human instrumentality. God sent a reluctant Moses. God has chosen to deal with humans through humans!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 7:35-43
35This Moses whom they disowned, saying, "Who made you a ruler and a judge?" Is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. 36This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, "God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren." 38This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. 39Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, 40saying to Aaron, "Make for us gods who will go before us; for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egypt—we do not know what happened to him." 41At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, "It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? 43You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon."
7:35 "This Moses whom they disowned" God's people regularly reject God's spokesperson (cf. vv. 51-52). This may even be the purpose of v. 27!
▣ "with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush" Again God came to an Israelite outside the Promised Land. God's activity was not limited to any locality. Much of Israel's history occurred outside Canaan and before the Temple in Jerusalem. All through the Israelites' history God's leaders were rejected by their peers (cf. vv. 9,27-28,35,39). This is a recurrent theme.
This angel is depicted as deity (cf. Exod. 3:2,4). This divine physical manifestation can also be seen in Gen. 16:7-13; 22:11-15; 31:11,13; 48:15-16; Exod. 13:21; 14:19; Jdgs. 2:1; 6:22-23; 13:3-22; Zech. 3:1-2. However, it must be stated that "the angel of the Lord" is not always a divine physical manifestation; sometimes he is just an angel, a messenger, (cf. Gen. 24:7,40; Exod. 23:20-23; 32:34; Num. 22:22; Judg. 5:23; II Sam. 24:16; I Chr. 21:15ff; Zech. 1:11; 12-13).
7:36 This is a summary of God's miraculous power (i.e., Moses' staff) through Moses and Aaron.
7:37-38 This is a Messianic quote from Deut. 18:15. Stephen is identifying God's presence during the Exodus and Wilderness Wandering Period as both God's angel and God's special successor of Moses (i.e., the Messiah, the Prophet). Stephen is not depreciating Moses, but truly listening to Moses!
7:38 "congregation" This is the Greek term ekklesia, but it is used in the sense of assembly, not church. See Special Topic: Church at 5:11.
▣ "the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai" Rabbinical theology asserted that angels were mediators between YHWH and the giving of the Law (see note at 7:53). It is also possible that the angel refers to YHWH Himself (cf. Exod. 3:21 compared to 14:19; and also Exod. 32:34; Num. 20:16; Jdgs. 2:1).
7:39 "our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him" Stephen is connecting the dots of OT rebellion. His implication is that the Jews have always rejected God's leaders, and now they have rejected the Messiah.
▣ "repudiated him" This account is found in Num. 14:3-4.
7:40-41 This account is found in Exodus 32. This was not idolatry, but the creation of a physical image of God. It later turned into fertility worship.
7:41 Stephen interprets the golden calf as an idol and uses this historical event to introduce a quote from Amos 5, which implies that Israel, even as far back as the Exodus and Wilderness Wandering, was idolatrous and rebellious.
7:42 "God turned away and delivered them up to serve" Verses 42 and 43 are quotes from Amos 5:25-27 where Amos asserts that Israel was always offering sacrifices to foreign gods. It was a regular, and early, pattern of their history (cf. Josh. 24:20). This reminds one of the drastic statements of rejection in Romans 1:24,26,28.
▣ "the host of heaven" This refers to Assyrian and Babylonian astral worship (cf. Deut. 17:3; II Kgs. 17:16; 27:3; II Chr. 33:3,5; Jer. 8:2; 19:13). There are several textual problems between the Hebrew text (MT) of Amos 5:25-27, the Greek text (LXX) and Stephen's quote:
1. the name of the star god. The MT has kywn or kaiwann, the Assyrian name for the planet Saturn. The LXX has rypn or raiphan, which may be repa, the Egyptian name for the planetary god of Saturn.
2. the Hebrew text (MT) and the Greek text (LXX) have "beyond Damascus," while Stephen quotes "beyond Babylon."
There is no known manuscript of Amos that has the reading. Stephen may have been combining the Assyrians exile, of which Amos speaks, with the later Babylonian exile of Judah, but substituting the place of exile.
The worship of astral deities began in Mesopotamia, but spread into Syria and Canaan (cf. Job 31:26,27). The archaeological discovery at Tell El-Amarna, which included hundreds of letters from Canaan to Egypt in the 14th century b.c. also uses these astral deities as place names.
▣ "in the book of the prophets" This refers to the scroll that contained the twelve minor prophets (cf. 13:40). The quote in vv. 42-43 is from the Septuagint of Amos 5:25-27.
The next phrase in v. 42 is a question that expects a "no" answer.
7:43 "Moloch" The Hebrew consonants for the word king are mlk (BDB 574). There are several Canaanite gods whose names are a play on these three consonants, Milcom, Molech, or Moloch. Moloch was the chief fertility god of the Amorites to whom children were offered to ensure the health and prosperity of the community or nation (cf. Lev. 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31; I Kgs. 11:5,7,33; II Kgs. 23:10,13,14; Jer. 7:31; 32:35). A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In the New Testament, vol. 3, p. 93, says Moloch was "an ox-headed image with arms outstretched in which children were placed and hollow underneath so that fire could burn underneath." The mention of the term Molech in Lev. 18:21 in context of inappropriate sexual unions, has caused some scholars to assume that children were not sacrificed to Molech, but dedicated to him as temple prostitutes, male and female. The concept fits in the general practices of fertility worship.
▣ "images" See Special Topic following.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 7:44-50
44Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. 45And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. 46David found favor in God's sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: 49"Heaven is My throne, And earth is the footstool of My feet; What kind of house will you build for Me?" says the Lord, "Or what place is there for My repose? 50Was it not My hand which made all these things?"
7:44 This account is found in Exodus, chapters 25-31; 36-40. These detailed plans of the tabernacle were revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The NT book of Hebrews talks about a heavenly tabernacle or sanctuary (cf. 8:5-6; 9:11,23) of which the earthly one was a copy. As Stephen dealt previously in this chapter with the charge of chapter 6 that he was against Moses (cf. 6:11), now he begins to deal with the second charge that he was against the Temple (cf. 6:13).
▣ "the pattern" See Special Topic at 7:43.
7:45 This covers a period of time from the conquest (either 1400 or 1250 b.c.) to the time of David (+ 1011 b.c. to 971/70 b.c., Harrison; 973 b.c., Young; 961 b.c., Bright).
7:46 This reflects II Samuel 7, which is such a significant passage. It is the divine establishment of the Davidic kingship.
7:47 "Solomon who built a house for Him" This account is found in I Kings 6-8 and II Chronicles 1-6.
7:48 This statement is similar to Solomon's statement in I Kgs. 8:27 and II Chr. 6:18.
7:49-50 This quote is taken from the Septuagint of Isa. 66:1-2. T he point is that even Solomon recognized that a building could not contain the God of creation!
Do these verses imply an argument for the inclusion of Gentiles? If so, it seems somewhat veiled. However, Solomon himself saw the temple as a place for the world to come to YHWH (cf. I Kgs. 8:41-43). It was the Greek-speaking Jews (i.e., the seven in Acts 6) who saw and proclaimed the worldwide mission even before the Apostles recognized this aspect of Jesus' teachings (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Stephen may have been asserting this by implication in v. 50.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 7:51-53
51"You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."
7:51 "You men" Stephen turns from the rebellion of Jewish leaders and people in the past to the current leaders and people in the temple hearing his message. They were and they are rebels against YHWH!
▣ "a stiff-necked" Stephens alludes to Moses' characterization of the children of Jacob/Israel (cf. Exod. 32:9; 33:3,5; 34:9; Deut. 9:6).
▣ "uncircumcised in heart" This Hebrew idiom means unfaithful, disloyal, and untrustworthy (cf. Lev. 26:41; Jer. 9:25-26; Ezek. 44:7). This is the opposite of Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4!
▣ "and ears" This idiom refers to their unwillingness to hear and respond to God's messengers (cf. Jer. 6:10).
▣ "are always resisting the Holy Spirit" This is very similar to Isa. 63:10. God's love and faithfulness were extolled in Isa. 63:9,11-14, but the people's reaction was faithlessness!
7:51b-52 This is the strong condemnation of the current Jewish leadership, just like the ancient Israelite leadership! The ancient people of God had killed God's messengers and now they have killed the Messiah (cf. 3:14; 5:28).
7:52 "Righteous One" This is used as a title for Jesus in 3:14 and 22:14. See fuller note at 3:14 and Special Topic: Righteousness at 3:14.
7:53 "as ordained by angels" This refers to the rabbinical interpretation of Deut. 33:2 from the Septuagint in which God gave the law to Moses through angelic mediation which seems to be confirmed by Gal. 3:19 and Heb. 2:2.
▣ "yet did not keep it" Stephen opened his defense with "hear" (BDB 1033) which may reflect the Hebrew Shema, "hear so as to heed" (cf. Deut. 6:4). Stephen and later James (Jesus' half brother ) both assert "be doers of the word not merely hearers" (cf. James 1:22-23 following Jesus, Matt. 7:24-27; Luke 11:48; John 13:17; as did Paul, Rom. 2:13).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 7:54-60
54Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." 57But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" 60Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep.
7:54 "they" This must refer to the members of the Sanhedrin (cf. 6:15).
NASB"cut to the quick"
NKJV"cut to the heart"
NRSV"they became enraged"
TEV"they became furious"
NJB"they were infuriated"
This is an imperfect passive indicative. It is literally "cut to the heart" (cf. 5:33). Stephen's message really got to these leaders, but instead of repenting, they turned, as always, to rejection and murder (cf. 5:33).
▣ "gnashing their teeth" This is a sign of rage (cf. Job 16:9; Psalm 35:16; 37:12; Lam. 2:16).
7:55 "Holy Spirit. . .God. . .Jesus" Notice the mention of the Triune God. See Special Topic at 2:32-33.
▣ "Being full of the Holy Spirit" The concept of being filled with the Spirit for proclamation of the gospel is unique to Acts (i.e., plēroō, cf. 2:4; 4:8,31; plērēs, cf. 6:3,5,8; 7:55; 11:24). See full note at 5:17.
The biblical truths related to the Spirit are characterized as:
1. the person of the Spirit (cf. John 14-16)
2. the baptism of the Spirit (cf. I Cor. 12:13)
3. the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22-23)
4. the gifts of the Spirit (cf. I Cor. 12)
5. the filling of the Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18)
Of all of these, Acts focuses on #5. The early church leaders were empowered, apparently again and again, to boldly and powerfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Stephen's case the effectiveness of his sermon cost him his life.
▣ "gazed intently" Luke is very fond of this term (cf. Luke 4:20; 22:56; Acts 1:10; 3:4,12; 6:15; 7:55; 10:4; 11:6; 13:9; 14:9; 23:1). Stephen looked up, as was typical of the Jewish manner of prayer, but instead of praying, God allowed him to see into heaven itself.
▣ "saw the glory of God" Notice that Stephen is not said to have seen God, but His glory. No one could see God and live (cf. Exod. 33:20-23). Job believed he would see God (cf. Job 19:25-27; Acts 7:55). Jesus promises that one day the pure in heart will see God (cf. Matt. 5:8). See SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY (DOXA) at 3:13.
▣ "Jesus standing at the right hand of God" Jesus being at God's right hand is an anthropomorphic idiom (see Special Topic at 2:33) for the place of divine power and authority. The fact that Jesus was standing shows His interest and care for the first Christian martyr.
God revealed Himself to Stephen in the form and manner that Stephen could receive. This does not mean to imply
1. that heaven is "up"
2. that God is sitting on a throne
It does mean to convey Jesus' care and concern. We must be careful of culturally conditioned anthropomorphic language as the source of doctrine. Modern western readers' trying to take every passage literally as a way to show trust or devotion to the Bible is an unfortunate cultural trend. God truly reveals Himself to His creation, but He does so in earthly ways and forms in which they can understand. There is surely an element of accommodation. Fallen, finite, human creatures are not able to fully comprehend the spiritual realm. God chooses things in our cultural and experiential world to use as analogies and metaphors to communicate to us. These are surely true, but not exhaustive.
7:56 "Son of Man" Stephen obviously is identifying Jesus with the "Righteous One" of 5:52. His hearers would not have missed this Messianic affirmation. The term "son of man" has two OT usages:
1. it was a common phrase for a person (cf. Ezek. 2:1; Ps. 8:4)
2. it was used of the divine personage (i.e., Messiah) in Daniel 7:13-14 and Ps. 110:1
Therefore, it had connotations of both humanity and deity. This is why Jesus used it as a self-designation and also because it was not used by the rabbis who tended to use OT titles in exclusivistic, nationalistic, and militaristic ways. This reference by Stephen is one of only two uses of this phrase outside of the words of Jesus (cf. John 12:34).
7:57-58 These hearers believed that Stephen had blasphemed by asserting that Jesus was the coming Son of Man (cf. Dan. 7:13). For these monotheistic (see Special Topic at 2:39) Jews this was just too much! They did to Stephen what Moses mandated for blasphemy (cf. Lev. 24:14-16; Deut. 13:9; 17:7). Stephen's affirmation is either true or he is a blasphemer worthy of death! There can be no middle ground about the claims of Jesus (cf. John 14:6-9).
7:57 "rushed at him with one impulse" This is the very term used so often by Luke to describe the unity of the early disciples (cf. 1:14; 2:46; 5:12; 15:25). The Sanhedrin was unified in their anger and rejection of Stephen (also see 18:12, where the Jews of Achaia reject Paul and 19:29 of the anger of the pagans of Ephesus against Christians).
7:58 "driven him out of the city" No one could be killed inside Jerusalem because it was "holy" ground!
▣ "stoning him" It is often stated that the Jews under Roman occupation did not have the right of capital punishment. This shows that that is not always true. Mob violence could not be stopped quickly.
▣ "a young man named Saul" In Jewish circles, one was considered young up to age 40. This is our first encounter with Saul of Tarsus by name, later to become Paul the Apostle. Paul heard Stephen's OT survey and possibly had heard him earlier in the synagogue of the Cilicians in Jerusalem (6:9). One wonders whether this began Saul's period of doubt, which he tried to deal with by persecuting Christians.
7:59 "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" This is an aorist middle imperative. Notice that Stephen believed that he was going to heaven to be with Jesus (cf. II Cor. 5:6,8) and not to hades (i.e., the holding place of the dead like the Hebrew sheol, see Special Topic at 2:27). Stephen may have witnessed Jesus' crucifixion, or at least had heard about it in detail because he uses two similar phrases (i.e., vv. 59 and 60, cf. Luke 23:34,46).
It is interesting to note that Stephen prays to Jesus, as did the disciples in 1:24. However, in the rest of the NT prayer is made to the Father in the name of the Son.
7:60 "falling on his knees" Stoning was not always a quick experience. The text implies it took several minutes.
▣ "he cried out with a loud voice" This also mimics Jesus' experience. These words were as much for the crowd as for YHWH. These words must have echoed in Saul's ears.
▣ "he fell asleep" This is a biblical metaphor for death (ex. Job 3:13; 14:12; Ps. 76:5; II Sam. 7:12; I Kgs. 2:10; Jer. 51:39,57; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 13:36; I Cor. 15:6,18,20; I Thess. 4:13; II Pet. 3:4). This does not affirm the doctrine of "soul-sleep."
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.
1. What is the purpose of Stephen's statement?
What did it show about the Jews?
Why were they so enraged?
2. How was Jesus like Moses, verse 37?
3. Why is the quote from Isaiah 66:1-2 in verses 49-50 so important?
4. What was so significant about Stephen's vision of Jesus?
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