THE ACTS OF APOSTLES
Lesson 4: Chapters 7-8
The Church's Mission in Jerusalem and
the Church's Mission in Judea and Samaria
You promised us the gift of eternal salvation, and You promised us Your love and abiding presence, but You never promised that we would not face suffering in this earthly existence. We understand that You have revealed to us the full depth of the injustice and gravity of the suffering of the innocent in the humanity of Your Son when He united Himself to the suffering of mankind. In the suffering of Jesus, You revealed the dimension of the suffering of the innocent that can be transformed into a redemptive suffering "a suffering transformed and redeemed through the cross of Christ. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us, Lord, in our study as we read about the suffering and death of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, and the hope You gave him in his final moments of the glorified Christ coming to claim him as His own. It is a hope all Christians long to embrace. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ + +
does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else
he says: Follow me! Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of
saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my
John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, 26
In last week's lesson a synagogue in Jerusalem composed of Jews from Cilicia in Anatolia, Cyrene in North Africa, Alexandria, Egypt and parts of Asia Minor conspired to have him charged with blasphemy and arrested by the Sanhedrin.(1) Stephen was one of the seven men selected by the Jerusalem church and ordained by the Apostles to assist them in serving the community (Acts 6:1-6), especially those poor in the church who were Greek culture widows who depended on the community for their food. The Jewish Synagogue of Freedmen were infuriated with St. Stephen because of his influence over their congregation; he was filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). "Freedmen" were former Roman slaves who had been given their freedom and Roman citizenship. The leaders of the Synagogue of Freedmen, using false witnesses to accuse Stephen of blasphemy, had him arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court (Acts 6:9-14). When told to respond to the charges against him, Stephen gave one of the Bible's great summaries of Israel's history in proclaiming Jesus Christ the Righteous One sent by God (Acts 7:1-53).
Chapter 7: Stephen's Discourse in his Trial before the Sanhedrin
St. Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin in Acts chapter 7 is the longest speech in Acts of Apostles. Some scholars have raised the objection that it seems unlikely that such a long speech could be reproduced in the text of Acts and that Luke fabricated the discourse. But other Biblical scholars have responded that Stephen's speech shows a distinctive personality behind it that is entirely different from the five kerygmatic speeches of St. Peter or the one kerygmatic discourse of St. Paul or the accounts of St. Paul's conversion experience that are also contained in the Book of Acts. The discourses attributed to these three men show distinctive qualities, each different from those of the other two men. It is possible that each speech was recorded by a scribe. Levites were trained in a special shorthand called tachygraphos.(2) There were at least two such men within the apostolic circle who were privy to the speeches of Jesus, Peter, Stephen and Paul. According to tradition, the Apostle Matthew-Levi was a Levite and the disciple Barnabas was also a Levite (Acts 5:36). Joseph Barnabas traveled with Paul and was later replaced by men like St. Luke and others like the scribe Tertius (Rom 16:22) who became St. Paul's secretaries.
The charge of blasphemy against Stephen was a serious charge. If proved, the penalty was death by stoning. Jesus was condemned by the Sanhedrin for the same crime. At his trial, St. Stephen's discourse to the Sanhedrin is a pivotal moment in St. Luke's narrative of the history of the Church. In his survey of Israel's relationship with God, Stephen focuses on two points:
It is Stephen's intention to show that it is God's divine plan that there is a new order that must break away from the Old Covenant Temple to fulfill the mission to take the Gospel of salvation to the world.
Stephen will make his case concerning these two points by observations
He will conclude this discourse with a direct application of his observations (Acts 7:71-53).
Please notice that there are five discrepancies between St. Stephen's account and what is recorded in the Hebrew Pentateuch:
Stephen does not defend himself in his speech by denying that he has said the things for which he has been accused. Instead he defends the theology of the accusations against him and against the followers of Jesus who he presents as having legitimate reasons to teach as they do.
Acts 7:1-8 ~ Stephen's Summary of God's Covenant with the
In response to the charges brought against Stephen in Acts 6:13-14, the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas addresses Stephen:
1 Then the high priest asked, "Is this so?" 2 And he replied, "My brothers and fathers, listen. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was in Mesopotamia, before he had settled in Haran, 3 and said to him, Go forth from your land and from your kinsfolk to the land that I will show you.' 4 So he went forth from the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. And from there, after his father died, he made him migrate to this land where you now dwell. 5 Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but he did promise to give it to him and his descendants as a possession, even though he was childless. 6 And God spoke thus, His descendants shall be aliens in a land not their own, where they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years; 7 but I will bring judgment on the nation they serve,' God said, and after that they will come out and worship me in this place.' 8 Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision, and so he became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, as Isaac did Jacob, and Jacob the twelve patriarchs."
Stephen addresses those present in the court of the Sanhedrin respectfully as his kinsmen (as "brothers" who are equals and as "fathers" who are his superiors).
Acts 7:2b The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham
while he was in Mesopotamia, before he had settled in Haran ...
Question: What is Stephen's theological point concerning the call of Abraham?
Answer: The revelation of God to Abraham took place outside the land that became Israel in the world of the Gentiles. The God of Israel is the God of all men and women in the human family.
Stephen begins his survey of God's relationship with Israel by referring to the Patriarch Abraham who God called out of the pagan lands of Mesopotamia and out of a pagan worshiping family (Josh 24:2). He quotes from Genesis 12:1 when God called Abraham when he was living in Haran on the border of modern day Syria and Turkey (Gen 11:31-32), but Stephen identifies quote with the site of the call of Abraham in Mesopotamia which would be Ur of the Chaldeans, an event that happened years earlier (as noted in Genesis 15:7). He is correct in identifying the site of the first call Abraham received as the city of Ur on the Persian Gulf, but the passage he quotes refers to the repeat of that first call out of paganism and into the land God plans for his inheritance. This is the first discrepancy, but the point of the quote may not be where Abraham was living at the time but that God called Abraham when he was still in pagan lands and not when he had come to what will become God's holy land.
Acts 7:4-5, 8 So he went forth from the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. And from there, after his father died, he made him migrate to this land where you now dwell. 5 Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but he did promise to give it to him and his descendants as a possession, even though he was childless ... 8 Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision, and so he became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, as Isaac did Jacob, and Jacob the twelve patriarchs."
This is the second discrepancy. According to the Hebrew text, Terah was seventy years old when Abraham was born (Gen 11:26), and Abraham was seventy-five when he received the call to leave Haran (Gen 12:4). Scripture also records that Terah lived to be two hundred and five years old (Gen 11:32). Terah was therefore alive when Abraham left for Canaan and Terah lived in Haran for sixty years after Abraham's departure.
Question: What is Stephen's point concerning God's
covenant formation with Abraham, and how does what he says support the
theological point he made earlier?
Answer: The theological point is that God's activity is not limited to the land the Israelites believe is God's holy land, which means God is not tied to the land upon which the Temple stands. In fact the beginning of God's relationship with the physical father of Israel took place in foreign, pagan lands, and their covenant relationship was based on the sign of circumcision and promises including the ownership of the land that were not fulfilled in Abraham's lifetime.
The promises of the Abrahamic covenant are of central importance in Luke's Gospel and in Acts as can be determined by the frequent references to Abraham and his place in salvation history (see Lk 1:55, 73; 3:8, 34; 13:16, 28; 16:22-30; 19:9; 20:37 and Acts 3:13, 25; 13:26). Stephen connects himself and his audience with the Patriarchs by calling them "our fathers" (translated in the NAB as "our ancestors") six times (Acts 7:11, 12, 19, 38, 44 and 45). But notice at the end of his discourse when Stephen attacks his audience the language changes to "your fathers" (Acts 7:51-52).
The next section of Stephen's discourse focuses on Joseph son of Jacob. He set up this part of the discourse in verse 6 by referring to God's prophecy concerning Abraham's descendants and the Egyptian phase of Israel's history (see Gen 15:13-16).
Acts 7:9-16 ~ The Rejection of Joseph and Redemption
through Joseph son of Jacob
9 "And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into slavery in Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his afflictions. He granted him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, who put him in charge of Egypt and of his entire household. 11 Then a famine and great affliction struck all Egypt and Canaan, and our ancestors could find no food; 12 but when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there a first time. 13 The second time, Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent for his father Jacob, inviting him and his whole clan, seventy-five persons; 15 and Jacob went down to Egypt. And he and our ancestors died 16 and were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor at Shechem."
In this part of his discourse Stephen begins to lay the
groundwork for Israel's historically repeated rejection God's holy servants.
Question: What comparison can be made between the patriarchs' treatment of Joseph and the religious leaders' treatment of Jesus and His Apostles and disciples?
Notice that Stephen speaks of the double visit of Joseph's kinsmen in verses 12-13.
In the first visit they do not recognize him, but he knows them. It is only later in the second
visit that Joseph reveals his true identity and his kinsmen accept him and the salvation he was able to offer them.
Question: How might this part of Stephen's discourse apply to Jesus?
Answer: In Jesus' first Advent His kinsmen, they also did not recognize His true identity. But in His Resurrection Jesus reveals His true identity, and as Jesus continues to present Himself and His gift of salvation through the teachings of His disciples, His kinsmen still have the opportunity to "recognize" Him and be saved.
Acts 7:14-15 Then
Joseph sent for his father Jacob, inviting him and his whole clan, seventy-five
persons; 15 and Jacob went
down to Egypt.
Question: According to Genesis 46:26-27 how many men of Jacob's descendants migrated into Egypt?
Answer: Of Jacob's direct descendants, not counting the wives of Jacob's sons "numbered 66 persons, but counting Joseph, his two sons and Jacob the number was 70.
This is another apparent discrepancy that Stephen says 75 members of Jacob's family went into Egypt. According the Hebrew text the count was 70 men. However, Genesis 46:27 in the Septuagint does record that there were 75 members of Jacob's family who were in Egypt. The 75 may include daughters of Jacob (Rachel and Leah are already dead by the time the tribes migrated into Egypt); we know of at least one daughter, Dinah (Gen 34:1).
Question: How does Stephen's story of Joseph
demonstrate either of the theological themes of his address?
Acts 7:15b-16 And he and our ancestors died 16 and were brought back to Shechem and
placed in the tomb that Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons
of Hamor at Shechem.
Question: Where does Genesis 50:12-13 record that Jacob was buried?
Answer: According to that passage, Jacob was buried at Hebron in the cave tomb of Machpelah that was purchased by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite and not at Shechem.
Both Abraham and Jacob purchased burial sites in Canaan. However, Abraham purchased his plot of land from Ephron the Hittite in Hebron (Gen 23:10-19), while Jacob bought his land from the sons of Hamor at Shechem (Gen 33:18-20). But in accordance with Jacob's death bed request in Genesis 49:31, he was buried at Abraham's burial site at Hebron (Gen 50:13) with Abraham and his wife Sarah, Isaac and his wife Rebecca and Jacob's wife Leah (Rachel was buried outside of Bethlehem). The Jewish historian/priest Flavius Josephus also records that Jacob was buried at Hebron as does the non-canonical Book of Jubilees (Joseph, Antiquities of the Jews, 2:199-200; Jubilees, 45:15; 46:9-10). Joshua 24:32 records when the children of Israel conquered the land of Canaan that the bones of Joseph (not Jacob) were buried in Shechem in the cave bought by Jacob from the sons of Hamor. It may be that Stephen (or Luke) was confused, or there may be another reason for the discrepancy that we will discuss later. (4)
Acts 7:17-22 ~ The Israelites in Egypt and the Early Life
17 "When the time drew near for the fulfillment of the promise that God pledged to Abraham, the people had increased and become very numerous in Egypt, 18 until another king who knew nothing of Joseph came to power in Egypt. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to expose their infants, that they might not survive. 20 At this time Moses was born, and he was extremely beautiful [beautiful to God]. For three months he was nursed in his father's house; 21 but when he was exposed, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds." [..] literal translation, IBGE, vol. IV, page 339.
Just as in St. Paul's case (Acts 22:3), the biographical
details of birth, upbringing and education are included in Stephen's
description of Moses' early life. Stephen begins by placing the story of Moses
within the context of God's prophecy to Abraham concerning the liberation of
his descendants from their prophesied sojourn in Egypt (Gen 15:13-14), followed
by his summary of the first chapter of the Book of Exodus concerning Moses'
childhood. The comment that Moses was "beautiful" (literally "beautiful to
God") is to make the case that from birth Moses had a good spirit, he was
already selected as God's agent, and God's hand of protection was over him even
though he was born in a foreign land.
Question: What theological point can be made to the reference to Pharaoh's daughter?
Answer: When Moses' mother had to give him up, God arranged for a Gentile woman to rescue him. The works of God in salvation history and the people He uses to fulfill His plan are not limited to the children of Israel.
Acts 7:23-29 ~ The Israelites Reject Moses
23 "When he was forty years old, he decided to visit his kinsfolk, the Israelites. 24 When he saw one of them treated unjustly, he defended and avenged the oppressed man by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He assumed his kinsfolk would understand that God was offering them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26 The next day he appeared to them as they were fighting and tried to reconcile them peacefully, saying, Men, you are brothers. Why are you harming one another?' 27 Then one who was harming his neighbor pushed him aside, saying, Who appointed you ruler and judge over us? 28 Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?' 29 Moses fled when he heard this and settled as an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons."
Acts 7:23 When he was forty years old, he decided to visit his kinsfolk, the Israelites. According to Scripture and tradition, Moses' life was divided into three forty-year periods:
Acts 7:25, 27 He
assumed his kinsfolk would understand that God was offering them deliverance
through him, but they did not understand ... 27
Then one who was harming his neighbor pushed him aside, saying,
Who appointed you ruler and judge over us?
This understanding of Moses in verse 25 is entirely missing in the account in Exodus, but it fits the parallel Stephen wants to make to his story of Jesus and the first rejection of Jesus by His kinsmen that is attributed to their "ignorance" by Peter in Acts 3:17. Stephen is continuing his two theological points: that God is not limited to one land and the theme of the rejected delivered. In Moses he will identify the pattern of a double rejection that can be applied to Jesus. The first rejection of Moses was prior to his life in Midian. The rejection by his kinsmen is both verbal and physical in verse 27. The words of rejection are quoted verbatim from Exodus 2:14 LXX and will be repeated again in Acts 7:35 (Johnson, page 127).
Acts 7:29 Moses fled when he heard this and settled as an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons. Stephen relates that Moses leaves his kinsmen and makes a life in a Gentile land where God continues to bless Moses by giving him children.
Acts 7:30-38 ~ God sent Moses to deliver Israel
30 "Forty years later, an angel appeared to him in the desert near Mount Sinai in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sign, and as he drew near to look at it, the voice of the Lord came, 32 I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.' Then Moses, trembling, did not dare to look at it. 33 But the Lord said to him, Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. 34 I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Come now, I will send you to Egypt.' 35 This Moses, whom they had rejected with the words, Who appointed you ruler and judge?' God sent as both ruler and delivered, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This [one] (man) led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the desert for forty years. 37 It was this Moses who said to the Israelites, God will raise up for you, from among your own kinsfolk, a prophet like me.' 38 [This is the one] It was he who, in the assembly in the desert, was with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai and with our ancestors, and he received living utterance to hand on to us." [..] literal translation, IBGE, vol. IV, page 341.
Stephen summarizes God's call for Moses to become the savior
of his people in God's visitation to Moses at Mt. Sinai in Exodus chapter 3.
Question: Notice the reference to "holy ground" in verse 33. How does this quotation from Exodus 3:5-6 support Stephen's overall argument concerning God's divine Presence and the Jerusalem Temple?
Answer: It is God's divine Presence that make a place or person holy and not the physical land or structure.
Acts 7:35-38 This
Moses, whom they had rejected with the words, Who appointed you
ruler and judge?' [This one] God sent as both ruler and delivered,
through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This [one] (man) led
them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea,
and in the desert for forty years. 37 It
was this Moses who said to the Israelites, God will raise up for you,
from among your own kinsfolk, a prophet like me.' 38 [This is the one] It was he
who, in the assembly in the desert, was with the angel who spoke to him on
Mount Sinai and with our ancestors, and he received living utterance to hand on
to us (underlining added).
This is a dramatic turn in Stephen's discourse. He makes three declarative statements in verses 35-39. In verses 35-38 all the statements are hinged by the five times repetition of the demonstrative pronoun "this/this one" and the three relative pronouns which all point to Moses (Johnson, page 129).
Question: Why is the first declaration particularly
interesting? See Acts 3:22-23, 36, 38-39.
Answer: It matches the kerygmatic statement of Jesus' rejection and vindication by Peter in his first homily and has the same message.
We can also see the parallel of Jesus' mission to Moses' mission in that the one rejected by humans who is commissioned by God will be sent back by God but with greater power.
37 It was this Moses who said to the Israelites, God will raise up for you, from among your own kinsfolk, a prophet like me.' This is another reference to God's prophecy to Moses that at some point in salvation history a prophet like Moses will be sent to Israel (Dt 18:17-19). In quoting this passage Stephan is pointing to Jesus to whom the same passage was applied by Peter in his Sanhedrin homily in Acts 3:22-23. Stephen is saying Jesus is the new Moses whose coming Moses prophesied and who they have also rejected.
... was with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai... actually it was God who spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:12, 25:1). However, the visual form under which God appeared and spoke was often referred to as "an angel of God" or God Himself (for example Gen 16:7, 13; Ex 14:19, 24f; Num 22:22-35; Judg 6:11-18) so there is no major problem with this statement.
Acts 7:39-43 ~ Israel's Second Rejection of Moses'
39 "Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, Make us gods who will be our leaders. As for that Moses who led us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.' 41 So they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifice to the idol, and reveled in the works of their hands. 42 Then God turned and handed them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings for forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? 43 No, you took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship. So I shall take you into exile beyond Babylon.'" [..] literal translation, IBGE, vol. IV, page 341.
Stephen identifies this event as the second rejection of Moses by his people. The rejection of Moses that led to the sin of the Golden Calf was not only a rejection of Moses but a rejection of God Himself and His divine plan for Israel when the Israelites were seduced by images of false gods. The quote in verse 42 from the book of the prophets refers to the combined works of the twelve Minor Prophets. The citation is from the Septuagint (LXX) translation of Amos 5:25-27 but with a few small alternations.
Question: How is the double rejection of Moses, the
savior sent by God, by his kinsmen a parallel event to the rejection of Jesus
as Savior and Redeemer?
Answer: First the Jews rejected Jesus as the Savior sent by God when they sent Him to be crucified, and now they continue to reject His deliverance in the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus' disciples and Apostles.
Acts 7:44-50 ~ The Question of the Dwelling-Place of God
44 "Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the desert just as the One who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Our ancestors who inherited it brought it with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out from before our ancestors, up to the time of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. 47But Solomon built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: 49 The heavens are my throne, the earth is my footstool. What kind of house can you build for me? says the Lord, or what is to be my resting place? 50 Did not my hand make all these things?'"
The desert Sanctuary was a portable structure that was not
bound to one place. The purpose of the Tabernacle was to give Israel visible
proof of God's divine Presence and to teach His people about worship through
the practice of a defined liturgy. In verse 49 Stephen quotes directly from
Isaiah 66:1-2 LXX with only a few modifications, like moving "says the Lord"
from the end of the citation to the middle.
Question: How does Stephen use this quote to support the second part of his theological argument?
Answer: The Temple cannot be perceived as the one focal point for the worship of God. God Himself, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, said that no structure made by human hands can hold Him. God cannot be confined to one place or one people.
Stephen's second theological point that he has been building throughout his discourse is the historical and theological roots of Israel as a nation deny that the land and the Temple are required for the presence of God among His people nor is the Temple necessary for their salvation. God cannot be confined to a structure made by human hands (1 Kng 8:27; Ps 24:1-2; and Is 66:1-2). With the coming of Jesus Christ, Israel had visible proof of God's divine Presence among His people. Jesus, the rejected Savior, is the only means of Israel's salvation. Jesus Christ is the true temple of God, and the Holy Spirit filling the soul of the believer in the Sacrament of Baptism makes the Christian the dwelling place of God among mankind (see CCC 1197 and 1265).
Acts 7:51-53 ~ Stephen's Conclusion
"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it."
In verses 51-53 there is a shift from the third person to the second person. Stephen addresses the Jews collectively in the same language used by God and His servant Moses (Lev 26:41; Dt 10:16; 30:6; 31:27). No longer summarizing history, Stephen is now challenging his opponents directly concerning their rejection and murder of Jesus.
Question: What accusations does he make against them?
He presents their rejection of Jesus the Messiah as part of the historical cycle of rejection of God's servants in the history of Israel.
Question: How are Stephen's charges against the religious
authorities similar to Jesus' judgment His generation in Matthew 23:33-24:2?
What was the climax of Jesus' judgment?
Answer: These are some of the same charges Jesus made against the religious leaders in Matthew 23:33-39 and 24:2 when Jesus prophesied "your house," the Temple, "will be abandoned and desolate" (Mt 23:38) and "there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down" (Mt 24:2).
Acts 7:54-60 ~ The martyrdom of St. Stephen
54 When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." 57 But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. 58 They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them"; and when he said this, he fell asleep.
The vision of St. Stephen in prior to his martyrdom gives
all believers the hope of heaven.
When Stephen finished his discourse, he had a vision of the resurrected Jesus coming in glory; it is a vision that is a fulfillment of Daniel 7:13 and Psalms 110:1. In Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin He alluded to these same two Old Testament passages when He said: But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God (Lk 22:69), after which Jesus was condemned to death by the High Priest. Stephen affirms that prophecy Jesus made in front of them at His trial (also see Mt 26:64 and Mk 14:62). The difference is that Stephen sees Jesus "standing" instead of "seated." Perhaps Jesus is standing because He is coming for Stephen. Alluding to these same two messianic passages has the same effect on the leaders of the Sanhedrin as it did when Jesus alluded to the same passages. The members of the Sanhedrin were filled with rage.
57 But they
cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. 58 They threw him out of the city, and
began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a
young man named Saul.
The members of the Sanhedrin covered their ears as a sign that they were scandalized by what they considered his blasphemy, but they also fulfilled what God told Isaiah concerning those so filled with corruption that they were incapable of hearing or seeing acts of God's holy prophet (Is 6:9-10). So infuriated were the members of the Sanhedrin that they condemned Stephen despite the fact that false witnesses were used to accuse Stephen of blasphemy (Acts 6:11, 13-14). According to the Law if it is proved that false testimony was given in a trial, the false witness is to suffer the same fate as what would have been the fate of the accused. In a death penalty case, the fate of false witnesses was death (Ex 20:16; Dt 19:16-21). These men who profess to love the Law of God were willing to break the Law by condemning Stephen with false witnesses. They are also willing to defy Roman law that denied provincial governments the authority to condemn someone to death (see Jn 18:31; only Rome had the power of life and death over the provinces they ruled). The Sanhedrin condemned Stephen to death by stoning "the punishment for blasphemy under the Law of Moses (Num 15:36; Lev 24:14). Like Jesus, Stephen is taken to an unclean place outside the city gates (Dt 17:5). Present at the execution was an officer of the court named Saul. He will soon experience his own vision of the resurrected Christ "it will be an experience that will transform this young man in to the great evangelist St. Paul.
59 As they
were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out
in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them"; and when he said
this, he fell asleep.
Those false witnesses in Acts 6:13-14 are the ones who laid their cloaks at Saul/Paul's feet and began to stone Stephen. According to the Law those who witnessed against the one condemned in a death-penalty trial are the commanded to cast the first stones in an execution by stoning (Dt 17:7).
Stephen entrusts his spirit to his Lord and Savior just as Jesus did in His last words from the Cross before His death when He said Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Lk 23:46); and then Stephen cries out words of mercy for his murderers just as Jesus did from the Cross when He said: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34). Then "he fell asleep." Christians understood that death was not permanent ""falling asleep" was the term that came to be used for the time between physical death and entrance into eternal life and/or the period between physical death and the bodily resurrection of the dead at the Second Advent of Christ (1 Cor 15:6, 18; 1 Thes 4:13, 15; 2 Pt 3:4).
|His opponents could not withstand his wisdom.||
No one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day
on did anyone dare to ask him any more questions (Mt 22:46).
And they no longer dared to ask him anything (Lk 20:40).
Also Mt 22:46; Mk 12:17; Lk 20:19, 26, 40.
|... but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke (Acts 6:10).|
|His enemies conspired against him to arrest him.||
For the chief priests and the Pharisees had given
orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should inform them, so they might
arrest him (Jn 11:57).
Also Mt 26:3-4; Mk 14:1; Lk 22:2; Jn 11:47-53, 57.
|They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, accosted him, seized him, and brought him before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:12).|
|They brought forward false witnesses.||The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus ... (Mt 26:59). Also Mt 26:59-62; Mk 14:56-57.||They presented false witnesses who testified ... (Acts 6:13).|
|The charge of blasphemy was made against him.||He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy ... (Mt 26:65-66). Also Mt 26:65-66; Mk 14:56-57; 64.||Then they instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God" (Acts 6:11).|
|There was a petition of mercy for the executioners.||Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34).||Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them ... (Acts 7:60).|
|He asked God to take his spirit.||Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46).||As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59)|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2012|
There is no more complete answer as to why a just God allows the innocent to suffer than the answer that is offered up to humanity in the saving work of Jesus Christ. In addressing the question of human suffering and reflecting on this mystery, John Paul II wrote: Christ has opened His suffering to man ... Man, discovering through faith the redemptive suffering of Christ, also discovers in it his own sufferings; he rediscovers them through faith, enriched with a new content and meaning (Salvifici Doloris, 20). Stephen was the first Christian martyr. He was buried by devout brother Christians who mourned his death (8:2).(3)
How can the discrepancies in Stephen's discourse that do not agree with the traditions recorded in the HebrewTorah of Moses be explained? Is it possible that Stephen is not relating traditions of the Israelites but traditions of the Samaritans? It has been suggested by some scholars that Stephen was a Samaritan. If he was a Samaritan it would explain why he said that Abraham didn't leave Haran until after Terah's death. According to the Samaritan text of Genesis 11:32, Terah died when he was one hundred and forty-five years old which would make his death in the same year that Abraham left for Canaan. It was either a textual error in the Samaritan Torah or an intentional editorial correction so that Abraham was not a bad son who abandoned an aged father. Then, according to Stephen, Abraham was buried at Shechem. We know that the five pagan peoples who became the Samaritans (2 Kng 17:6, 24-33), altered the text of the Torah/Pentateuch when they adopted the worship of Yahweh from the exiled Israelites of the Northern Kingdom in the late 8th century BC; for example the Torah adopted from the Northern Kingdom read that the site of God's Temple was to be on Mt. Gerizim and not Jerusalem and that Abraham was buried at Shechem in Samaria and not Hebron in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and its Jerusalem Temple. If Stephen was raised on the Samaritan Torah, it would be the tradition he would refer to. It may also explain the anti-Temple tone of verses 47-50 and the flow of the narrative to the spread of the Gospel to Samaria in the following chapters.
St. Stephen's discourse is a pivotal moment in salvation
history. Like Moses, Stephen makes the accusation that they are a people only
circumcised in body and not in their hearts (Dt 10:16). Once again Jesus, "the
Righteous One" (7:52) has been presented to the religious leaders of Israel,
and once again they, the "uncircumcised in heart and ears" who "oppose the Holy
Spirit" (7:51) like their fathers, have rejected Jesus the promised Messiah
sent by God. Ironically in their injustice to God's servant St. Stephen, their
rejection of his witness to Israel's deliverer Jesus Christ, and their murder
of Stephen who is another of God's holy prophets, they will have opened the
door of salvation to the wider world of the Gentiles and closed the door to
limiting the worship of God to the Jerusalem Temple. The next step in the
marching orders Jesus gave the Apostles at His Ascension is about to be
fulfilled (Acts 1:8). Events like this gave rise to the saying "the blood of
the martyrs becomes the seeds of faith for the growth of the Church."
The tomb of St. Stephen is located beneath the Church of St. Stephen outside the walls of Jerusalem.(4)
Chapter 8 The Gospel Messsage Expands Beyond Judea
Acts 8:1-3 ~ Persecution of the Church in Jerusalem
1 Now Saul was consenting to his execution. On that day, there broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him. 3 Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment.
What had previously been harassment by the Jewish religious authorities now becomes fierce persecution of the Christians. The estimated date for Stephen's martyrdom is c. 35/36 AD. Pilate was removed from his office as governor of Judea in 36 AD and was recalled to Rome. According to the 4th century Church historian, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, quoting from earlier accounts, Pilate gained the enmity of the Emperor Caligula and was forced to commit suicide (Church History, II.7). This account is also repeated by the 10th century historian Agapius of Hierapolis (Universal History, 2.2). If Pilate was recalled suddenly and his replacement had not yet arrived, this could have made the Sanhedrin bold enough to arrange Stephen's execution. We know the same set circumstances occurred in the martyrdom of St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, in 62 AD, after the death of the Roman governor Porcius Festus but before Lucceius Albinus took office (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9).(5)
Saul not only consented to the execution of Stephen, but he began to be the agent in charge of hunting down Christians. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul (7:58b) suggests that he may have been the officer of the Sanhedrin in charge of the execution. He will also be the officer in charge of arresting Christians, under the orders of the high priest who is the president of the Sanhedrin, and bringing them to trial for as far away as Damascus (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2; 22:4-5; 26:10-11). The question is, after his conversion, did Stephen's discourse before the Sanhedrin and Stephen's death have an effect on Saul/Paul's theology? Paul's epistles will reflect some of the theological content of St. Stephen's discourse that he must have heard on the day of Stephen's martyrdom.
Question: After Stephen's martyrdom, what happened to
the Jerusalem community and what became of the Apostles? What does this
suggest about those who received the main force of the persecution? See Acts 8:2.
Answer: Many members of the Church were scattered through Judea and Samaria, but the Apostles continued to remain in Jerusalem. It is possible that the main force of the persecution was against the Hellenists like Stephen and the other deacons.
Part III: The
Mission in Judea and Samaria
(Philip's Work in Samaria)
Acts 8:4-8 ~ Philip Proclaims the Gospel in Samaria
4 Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Thus Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured. 8 There was great joy in that city.
It apparently took Stephen's martyrdom and the increased persecution to send the disciples out of Jerusalem to fulfill Jesus' command to spread the Gospel. This is the second stage in the expansion of the Church; the third will start with the founding of the church in Antioch (Syria) in Acts 11:20. Philip went to Samaria to proclaim the Gospel. Samaria was the capital city of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel, but after the Assyrian conquest in the 8th century BC, the entire conquered territory came to be known as Samaria. Samaria was at this time a Roman province north of Judea that was under the direct power of the Roman governor whose residence was in Caesarea Maritima on the coast. The Samaritans were not friendly with the Jews, and the Jews despised the Samaritans who they considered to be either apostate, half-breed Jews or heretic former pagans who perverted the Law of Moses. They did not worship at the Jerusalem Temple but at their own temple on Mt. Gerizim (Jn 4:20, 22; 2 Kng 17:6; 24-33), and they only accepted their revised version of the Torah of Moses as canonical Scripture and none of the other sacred Hebrew texts.
The people of Samaria welcomed Philip, his signs and his message for they too were expecting the coming of the Messiah (Jn 4:25). You may recall in Luke 9:51-53 that the people of a certain Samaritan village would not welcome Jesus or the disciples because they were on their way to Jerusalem. Now that Jerusalem has rejected Jesus' emissaries, and the Jerusalem Temple authorities have declared their enmity toward Christians, the Samaritans are ready to welcome them.
Acts 8:9-25 ~ Simon Magus ("the Great")
9 A man named Simon used to practice magic in the city and astounded the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. 10 All of them, from the least to the greatest, paid attention to him, saying, "This man is the Power of God' that is called Great.'" 11 They paid attention to him because he had astounded them by his magic for a long time, 12 but once they began to believe Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, men and women alike were baptized. 13 Even Simon himself believed and, after being baptized, became devoted to Philip; and when he saw the signs and mighty deeds there were occurring, he was astounded. 14 Now the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the Apostles' hands, he offered them money 19 and said, "Give me this power too, so that anyone upon whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." 20 But Peter said to him, "May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money. 21 You have no share or lot in this matter, for your heart is not upright before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your intention may be forgiven. 23 For I see that you are filled with bitter gall and are in the bonds of iniquity." 24 Simon said in reply, "Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me." 25 So when they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem and preached the good news to many Samaritan villages.
The work of sorcerers/magicians/witches and forms of divinization (foreseeing the future) were common in the ancient world. Pagan peoples sought out such people to influence the gods in their favor or to curse an enemy, or to divulge the future. The power of such people was believed to come from their manipulation of the spiritual world. The Law of Moses forbade the practice of sorcery or seeking the works of such people (Lev 19:26, 31; Dt 18:10-12). The penalty for an Israelite seeking out such a person was excommunication (20:6), and the penalty for someone exercising such powers was death (Lev 20:27). The Samaritans worshiped Yahweh in their own understanding and apparently believed Simon's powers came from God.
Question: What is the difference between the miracles
of the Apostles and the works of men like Simon Magus? See Acts 3:11-13 and
Answer: The miracles of the Apostles are made in the name of Jesus and are not their own works but the works of God working through them. None of their miracles of Jesus or the Apostles and disciples sought power over time, history or the free will of other human beings.
Acts 8:14-17 Now
the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they
sent them Peter and John, 15 who
went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for it had not yet fallen upon any of
them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them and they
received the Holy Spirit.
In these verses there is a distinction between baptism "in the name of Jesus" and the reception of God the Holy Spirit that completes and perfects baptism. The same distinction is found in Acts 10:44-48 and 19:1-9. The laying on of hands by the Apostles Peter and John on those baptized by Philip confirms the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the problem was that the baptism by Philip was not given in the Trinitarian formula as prescribed by Christ in Matthew 28:19 or perhaps the new mission needed to be certified by the Church leadership.
St. Peter is the Church's first Vicar and will become Bishop of Rome. St. John the Apostle will fill the office of Bishop for communities in Asia Minor. The "original minister of confirmation is the bishop" (CCC 1312), and this is the spirit of the mission of Sts. Peter and John in Samaria.
Question: How does the Church define the difference
between the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation? See 1315-17.
Answer: In the Sacrament of Baptism one receives the Holy Spirit, but the Sacrament of Confirmation perfects Baptismal grace by rooting the Christian more deeply in divine filiation (son-ship) through the Holy Spirit, incorporating the Christian more firmly into Christ, strengthening the bond with the Church, associating the believer more closely with the Church's mission, and gives the spiritual strength to bear witness to the Christian faith through words and deeds. Both Baptism and Confirmation "imprints a spiritual mark or indelible character on the Christian's soul" (CCC 1317) and it is for this reason that the Sacrament can only be received once in a person's life.
Acts 8:18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the Apostles' hands, he offered them money...
Simon was impressed with the power of God the Holy Spirit working through Philip and the Apostles Peter and John.
Unfortunately he was more impressed with the opportunity for personal power than he was in the gift of salvation generated by that power.
Question: What is the sin of trafficking in holy things that gets its name from this incident?
Answer: It is the sin simony, the trafficking in holy things,
Acts 8:20-23 But Peter said to him, "May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money. 21 You have no share or lot in this matter, for your heart is not upright before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your intention may be forgiven. 23 For I see that you are filled with bitter gall and are in the bonds of iniquity."
In verses 20-23 Peter severely rebukes Simon and calls him to repent and confess his sin. Peter tells Simon: "For I see that you are filled with bitter gall and are in the bonds of iniquity." The words "bitter/bitterness" and "gall" are also found together in Deuteronomy 29:17 where the warning is given not to apostatize by turning away from the true faith, and verse 19 warns the Lord "will never consent to pardon such a person," which is probably what Peter refers to in 8:22. Simon asks Peter to pray for him but we are not told if he truly repented. The story of Simon's transition from sorcerer to baptized Christian is also told in Eusebius' Church History (II.1.10-12) and contains an epilogue. According to Eusebius, quoting from earlier Christian sources, St. Peter will meet Simon again years later in Rome where Simon has been practicing his magic and his own heretical form of Christianity with great success. He will oppose Peter and will be defeated by him (Church History, II.13.3-15:1). Several Church Fathers identify Simon Magus as the founded of the heretical Gnostic movement.
We have had two examples of faith and commitment in Barnabas
and Stephen and two examples of failures within the New Covenant Church in Ananias
and his wife Sapphira and Simon the magician. All of them professed a belief
in the risen Christ as Lord and Savior and received the Baptism of the Holy
Spirit. It has been suggested that in the case of Ananias and his wife and in
the case of Simon that their professions of faith were false, but there is
nothing in the text of Acts to suggest this was the case. In fact Acts 8:13
records that after his baptism that Simon was devoted to Philip.
Question: What lesson can we learn from the fall from grace of Ananias and his wife Sapphira and Simon the magician? See CCC 1439. What is the significance of St. Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 1:18 (literally "to us who are being saved")?
Answer: Although Christ conquered the eternal consequences of both sin and death, both sin and the physical consequence of death that results from sin, is still in the world and still affects all living things "including Christians. Christian conversion and repentance is a continuing process of renouncing sin and turning back to God in order to be "saved" by Christ from the consequences of sin and to receive His gift of eternal salvation. Therefore, salvation is not a one-time event; salvation in Christ is a journey in which we continually renounce sin and continue the process of "being saved."
25 So when
they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, they returned to
Jerusalem and preached the good news to many Samaritan villages.
After the success of their mission in Samaria, the Apostles Peter and John continued to proclaim the Gospel in Samaritan villages on their return to Jerusalem. This is the last time we will hear about St. John's work with the Church in Acts.
Acts 8:26-40 ~ Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
26 Then the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, "Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route." 27 So he got up and set out. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and was returning home. Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 The Spirit said to Philip, "Go and join up with that chariot." 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 He replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him. 32 This was the Scripture passage he was reading: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth." 34 Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, "I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth and beginning with this Scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him. 36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?" 37 [And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may. " And he said in reply, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God"].* 38 Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but continued on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip came to Azotus, and went about proclaiming the good news to all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
* The some of the oldest manuscripts of Acts omit this verse.
Acts 8:26-28 Then
the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, "Get up and head south on the road that
goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route." 27 So he got up and set out. Now there
was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is, the queen of
the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to
worship, 28 and was returning
Notice that it is by divine intervention that Philip is sent to proclaim the Gospel to an Ethiopian Gentile. At this time in history, Ethiopia was a region in northeastern Africa south of Egypt and bordering on the Red Sea; it is a region that once bore the name "Nubia." The eunuch was a "God-fearer" who served as the treasurer in the court of the Queen Mother, whose title was "the Candice." It was the custom in ancient royal courts that men who served the royal women were eunuchs "surgically emasculated men who could not reproduce. A "God-fearer" was Gentile who professed belief in the God of Israel and had adopted some Jewish theology and religious practices but had not submitted to circumcision (if male) or to all the rites associated with conversion; to become a full proselyte required circumcision of men and a ritual baptism by emersion for men and women (Acts 10:1; 13:16, 26, 43; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:6-8).(6)
This man had probably made the journey to Jerusalem to present his sacrifices at the Temple. It was a Temple from which he was excluded and a covenant into which he was prevented from entering because of his physical condition. He stands in sharp contrast to Simon Magus. They were both powerful and successful men. However, seeing the power of the Holy Spirit generated through the Apostles, Simon was drawn back into his old life and sought personal power through professing belief in Christ. The eunuch, on the other hand, sought truth and when he heard it he recognized it and responded in faith, repentance and baptism. We also see in God sending Philip to the Ethiopian that it is God's plan that the spread of Christianity must expand beyond the confines of Judaism and into the greater Gentile world.
Acts 8:30-31 Philip
ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, "Do you understand
what you are reading?" 31 He
replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" So he invited Philip to get
in and sit with him.
People often claim to having read the whole Bible or a Bible book. But the question is did they understand what they were reading and often the answer is that they do not or their understanding is very limited. The Ethiopian knew he did not understand, and he was willing to be instructed.
Acts 8:32-33 This
was the Scripture passage he was reading: "Like a sheep he was led to the
slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his
mouth. 33 In his
humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life
is taken from the earth."
The passage the Ethiopian was reading was from Isaiah 53:7-8 LXX from the fourth song of God's Suffering Servant. The recognition that this passage was fulfilled in Jesus' Passion had a profound influence on the early Church (see Jn 12:38; 1 Pt 2:21-25; Rom 10:16).
Acts 8:34-35 Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, "I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?" Then Philip opened his mouth and beginning with this Scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him. Phillip taught the Ethiopian just as Jesus taught the Church after the Resurrection "showing how the prophecies of the prophets were fulfilled in Him and how this passage was fulfilled in Christ's Passion. Responding in faith and belief, the man immediately asks to be baptized.
Question: What is the prophecy of Isaiah that is
fulfilled in the Ethiopian official's baptism and entrance into the New
Covenant in Christ? See Is 56:1-7.
Answer: Isaiah prophesied that in the Messianic Age that even eunuchs will be admitted to the covenant and will be called sons of God.
Acts 8:39-40 When
they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and
the eunuch saw him no more, but continued on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip came to Azotus, and went about
proclaiming the good news to all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Philip came to Azotus, and went about proclaiming the good news to all the towns until he reached Caesarea. With his mission completed, God snatched up Philip out of the desert and sent him on his way. Philip continued proclaiming the Gospel as he traveled from Azotus (Greek name of the ancient Philistine city of Ashdod) and up the coast of the Mediterranean to Caesarea where he made his residence and brought his family (Acts 21:8-9).
Question for reflection or group discussion:
How can Christians proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an age of religious pluralism as efforts to suppress the ability of Christians to express their faith outside of their assemblies of worship is growing? What lessons can we learn from Acts as we struggle with this present issue? What does Peter's challenge to the religious authorities mean to you when he said it was necessary to obey God above the demands of men who stood in opposition to God's divine plan (Acts 4:19; 5:29)? What would be the reaction to Stephen's discourse in a court of law today? Are you willing to take the stand of Peter and Stephen in proclaiming Jesus Lord and Savior?
1. The accuracy of the information in Acts concerning a Jewish presence in the Anatolian province of Cilicia during this period can be verified by secular records. Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria records a statement of Judean king Herod Agrippa I to the Roman emperor Gaius Caligula (ruled 37-41 AD) that the city of Jerusalem was responsible for founding numerous colonies throughout the Mediterranean world, including cities in the Anatolian regions of Cilicia as well as Pamphylia, Asia, Bithynia and Pontus (Philo, Legatio ad Gaium, 281-282). Philo's testimony is supported by Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD) who referred to Alexander the son of Tigranes, a Jewish convert who was the king of Armenia, and who was appointed King of Ketis in Cilicia by the Roman emperor Vespasian (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.140-141). In addition, the fourth-century Church Father Epiphanius of Salamis recorded that the Romans commissioned a Jewish tax official to collect the taxes from the Jews living in Cilicia (Against Heresies, 30.11). That the Roman emperor appointed a Jew as a ruler of this Roman province and several centuries later appointed a Jew to collect Roman taxes are probably indications of a large Jewish presence in the region.
2. Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew D'Ancona, Eyewitness to Jesus, page 135-36. The Hebrew term was sofer macher, the term used to describe the scribe Ezra in Ezra 7:6. In the LXX it was translated as grammateus tachy "hence tachygraphy. The Greek word oxygraphos is a synonym for tachygraphos.
3. Shechem is located 40 miles north of Jerusalem in what was the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Hebron was located 20 miles south of Jerusalem in what was the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
4. St. Stephen's tomb was lost and forgotten until it was discovered by a Christian priest named Lucien in 415 AD. St. Stephen's church, where his relics are preserved today, was built over his tomb just beyond Jerusalem's Damascus Gate and was dedicated in 460 AD. St. Stephen's feast day is December the 26th.
5. The High Priest Annas (Hanan in Hebrew) son of the former High Priest Annas and brother-in-law of High Priest Joseph Caiaphas (Lk 3:2; Acts 4:6) took advantage of this lack of imperial oversight to assemble a Sanhedrin that condemned James Bishop of Jerusalem and then had him executed by stoning in 62 AD. Josephus reports that Annas's act was widely viewed as an act of judicial murder and offended "those who were considered the most fair-minded people in the City, and strict in their observance of the Law," who went as far as to petition Albinus, the new Roman governor, about the matter. In response, King Agrippa II replaced Annas as high priest with Jesus son of Damneus in 62 AD.
6. Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher (55-135 AD), noted the difference between a God-fearer and a proselyte: Why do you act the part of a Jew, when you are a Greek? Do you not see in what sense men are severally called Jew, Syrian, or Egyptian? For example, whenever we see a man halting between two faiths, we are in the habit of saying, "He is not a Jew, he is only acting the part." But when he adopts the attitude of mind of the man who has been baptized and he had made his choice, then he both is a Jew in fact and also is called one (cited by Arrianus Bishop of Ionia, Dissertationes, 2.9.19-20)
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2013 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for Acts 7-8 (*indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):