Acts 7

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The Stoning of Stephen

Verse 54: When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen (NRSV)

  • We shouldn't assume that Stephen was done with his speech. This is usually the point in a speech where repentance is offered, but he got cut off.
  • What Stephen said was decidedly more forceful and more radical than what the disciples had earlier said before the same court. He is more Greek and foreign than the decidedly Jewish disciples.
  • ”Gnashing of teeth” elsewhere in the Bible refers to great emotion, rage and sorrow especially.

Verse 55: But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (NRSV)

  • By emphasizing that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit, the author puts the Sanhedrin firmly in the position of prophet killer (Johnson 139).
  • We don't know whether Stephen knew he was going to die at this point or not, but this revelation is almost undoubtedly to give Stephen the strength to die as a believer should.
  • The vision is very similar as well to what Jesus told the same leaders would happen in Luke 22:69. Perhaps this is why the leaders recognized “son of man” to be referring to Jesus without having to think about it at all.
  • This is also of course referring back to Daniel 7:13-14, which is where Jesus was working from.
  • This is also the only time that Jesus is said to be “standing” at the right hand, normally he is sitting (Barrett 109).
    • No one really knows why Jesus is standing instead of sitting, which is a sign of power. But there are a lot of different theories.
      • One major theory is that Jesus is standing to welcome Stephen into heaven (Johnson 139).
      • Another theory is that this is an indication that Jesus has not been recognized as full God in the mind of Stephen.

Verse 56: “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (NRSV)

  • This is basically an identical statement as the last verse, but is repeated here probably to emphasize the vision.
  • Oddly enough, Stephen does not use Jesus' name when he is repeating the vision to the people around him.
  • This is the only time when someone other than Jesus uses the term “son of man” (NAC).

Verse 57: But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. (NRSV)

  • The leaders who heard this would have recognized the passage from Daniel, and possibly remembered Jesus' words about himself.
    • If Stephen had seen this, they had to admit that Jesus was the Messiah.
    • So the leaders assumed he was lying and making up a vision of God (NAC), which is horrible blasphemy.
    • This was definitely apostasy (leaving the teaching) but blasphemy {speaking against God} and therefore worthy of death (Barrett 146).
  • Even hearing blasphemy was a horrible thing, hence the covering of the ears.
  • There is wonderful irony that the leaders can't hear the truth, just like Stephen accused them of in verse 51 (Johnson 140).

Verse 58: Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. (NRSV)

  • There is question whether this is a mob, or a legal sentence of death being carried out.
    • The Sanhedrin probably didn't have the right to kill or they would have killed Jesus themselves.
    • But stoning was a traditional sentence of death from the Sanhedrin.
    • Sanhedrin stoning was about dropping the victim, and the first large stones, off a cliff which would then kill the victim almost instantly (NAC). This is not what happened with Stephen.
    • ”Were stoning” here is imperfect tense, which has a continuous or repeated aspect. That means it is saying that he wasn't stoned with a single stone and it took a little while.
  • The witnesses mentioned in this verse were the people who had heard Stephen blasphemy, and it was those people whose responsibility it was to stone him (NAC).
    • Whether Stephen is being stoned for what he was originally brought on charges with, or whether he is being stoned for what he just did is questionable.
    • This could indicate that Saul had not heard Stephen's words because he did not apparently qualify as a witness and therefore could not stone him, or that it was the original “false witnesses” that are here mentioned.
  • Here Saul noticeably breaks with his teacher Gamaliel, who advocated in Acts 5 that the Sanhedrin shouldn't kill the disciples but let it die out or succeed as God willed.
  • ”Young man” is a generic term and doesn't tell us a lot about Saul. The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says that “neanias” refers to someone from about the “24th to the 40th year.”

Verse 59: While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (NRSV)

  • The word for “stoning” here is the exact same as in verse 58, reinforcing the time it probably took Stephen to die.
  • Stephen is in contrast here to Peter. Peter died fought hard not to emulate Jesus' death. Stephen seems to be purposefully following in Jesus' footsteps in his own death.
    • Both asking for mercy for his killers, and giving up his spirit to God are remarkably similar to Jesus' statements.

Verse 60: hen he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died (NRSV)

  • The use of “sleep” for death is indicative of the disciple's faith in the resurrection and is common in early Christian thought (NAC).
  • ”Do not let this sin stand against them” is a more literal way of saying this. “Stand” probably refers to judgment where accusers would come in, and standing, testify against the defendant.
  • When dying, a condemned man was allowed to pray “may my death be an atonement for my sins.” And if they were falsely condemned they could add “excepting this sin” (Johnson 141).
  • It is remarkable that Stephen did not say anything about his own sins, but forgave others instead.

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