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Bible: What Does Acts 7:39-58 Teach Us About Stephen?

Updated on September 15, 2016

The Martyrdom of Stephen


The Golden Calf Incident

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Acts 7:39-58--Stephen's Defense Continued

Stephen Reviews the "Golden Calf" Incident and Israel's False Worship

Now Stephen begins his transition to a vigorous confrontation with his audience by referencing Israel’s past rebellion against Moses—a conflict which resulted in the “Golden Calf” incident (vv. 39-41; cf. Ex. 32:1, 23).

He adds that the LORD turned away from Israel at that time, abandoning them to worship various “gods” (v. 42).

To support that assertion, Stephen borrows from “the book of the Prophets,” which probably refers to “either the twelve minor prophets, which were reckoned in the Jewish canon as a single volume; or in a wider sense, the whole body of the prophets.”

This book contains a message that God had sent to past enemies who worshiped illegally and opposed His law; these He judged by giving them up to practice vanity.

Stephen, employing the LXX rendition of Amos 5:25-27, indicates that false worship will lead to chastisement (vv. 42-43).

[See Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New Testament, 219 for explanations of Moloch and Rephan].

Solomon the King


A Recounting of the History of the Wilderness Israelites and the Reigns of David and Solomon

Wilderness Israelites, Stephen reminds the Jews, had “the tabernacle of witness,” which Moses constructed according to God’s pattern (v. 44; cf. Ex. 25:40).

[The nation of Israel possessed the right system of worship, but many individuals among them chose the wrong path.]

This structure the nation passed down from Joshua, through the Judges, to the time of David when the favored king sought to “find” God a dwelling (vv. 45-46; cf. 2 Sam. 7:1-13).

The task of building this “dwelling” David left for his son Solomon to execute (v. 47).

Seeking to place the facts in proper perspective, Stephen chooses an Isaianic quotation in which the Creator, the Lord of heaven and earth, enumerates the insufficiency of the marvelous temple that Solomon, the mighty king of Israel, had built for Him (vv. 47-50; cf. Is. 66:1-2).

Saul, the Pharisee of Pharisees


Cameo Appearances

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The Identity of the Son of Man

Who is the Son of Man?

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Stephen Indicts the Jews for Their Disobedience

Having established God’s greatness and Israel’s rebellion, Stephen finally indicts his audience, calling them “stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears” (v. 51a).

[“Stiff-necked” means being stubborn like a donkey, while “uncircumcised in heart and ears” signifies that they maintained a spiritual barrier that prevented them from obeying the word of God.]

He blames them for mimicking their fathers—people who continually resisted the Holy Spirit, and persecuted and murdered those who prophesied of Messiah (“the Just One”)—and for betraying and murdering the Messiah Himself (vv. 51b-52).

Stephen’s bottom line: Although God delivered His law to Israel via special messenger, the nation (now the Jews) has not obeyed it (v. 53).

Stephen's Enemies Turn on Him and Stone Him to Death

Obviously, Stephen’s words do not sit well with the leadership, for the Jews denounce him bitterly (“gnashed at him with their teeth”) [v. 54].

Seemingly oblivious to their threats, the Spirit-filled man suddenly beholds the glorified Christ standing at the place of honor in Heaven.

Stephen also informs his enraged inquisitors not only about what he sees (“the heavens opened”), but about Whom he sees (the Messiah, the Son of Man) [vv. 55-56].

[Ryrie here records some precious remarks about Jesus as high priest (New Testament Study Bible, 220).]

In a cascade of united hatred, the Jews cry out loudly, stop their ears, rush upon Stephen, throw him out of Jerusalem, and hurl rocks against him until he dies (vv. 57-58a).

While they are stoning him, however, Stephen, imitating Jesus, asks the watching Son of Man to receive his spirit and not to charge his murder to their account (vv. 59-60; cf. Lk. 23:34, 46).

Before recording Stephen’s last words, Luke inserts his first mention of Saul: a young man at whose feet the Jewish leadership had cast their robes (v. 58b).

© 2013 glynch1


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