Acts 7

Stephen’s speech begins the slow transition from dependence on the temple and towards a more global outreach. God does not dwell in temple buildings made with hands. Stephen is martyred.

As I write in every introduction:

The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.

At the end of each passage and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?

Links are provided for further study.

Let’s begin.

The Patriarchal Age (7:1-8)

And the high priest said, “Are these things so?”

2 And Stephen replied: “Men, brothers, fathers, hear me! The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham, who was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran 3 and said to him, ‘Leave your homeland and your relatives, and go to the land I will show you’ [Gen. 12:1]. 4 So then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God settled him in this land in which you now live 5 and gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, but ‘promised to give it as a possession even to his offspring after him,’ [Gen. 12:7] even though he had no child.

6 God spoke in this way: ‘It shall be that his offspring shall live as pilgrims in a foreign land, and they shall be enslaved there and mistreated for four hundred years. 7 And the nation of Egypt that shall enslave them I shall punish, God says, and afterwards they shall go out and worship me in this place’ [Gen. 13:13, 14]. 8 And he gave him a covenant of circumcision. And then Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac did the same to Jacob, and Jacob to the twelve patriarchs.”

Comments:

Before we get to the detailed commentary, here are some preliminaries.

Recall that Stephen was attacked and dragged before the Jewish high court (Sanhedrin) to be examined. His accusers said he had spoken blasphemous words against the law and the temple.

Here is the final pericope (puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section of Acts 6:

8 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs in front of all the people. 9 But certain members of the Freedmen Synagogue (as it was called), comprising Cyrenians and Alexandrians and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen, 10 and they were unable to counter the spiritual wisdom, which he was speaking. 11 So then they suborned men who said, “We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God!” 12 They stirred up the people and the elders and teachers of the law and attacked and dragged him away and led him into the council. 13 And they set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop speaking words against this holy place and the Law! 14 For we heard him say that this Jesus, the Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs which were handed down to us from Moses!” 15 Everyone sitting in the council, as they fixed their gazes on him, saw his face like a face of an angel. (Acts 6:8-15)

One more introductory comment before we go verse by verse or section by section. Scholars have noticed chronological compression and inexactitude with Stephen’s overall, summary speech. Stephen’s life was on the line. Luke did not hear this speech firsthand. He got it from someone. Was it Saul / Paul? Was it someone else? The problem was not with Luke’s record of it, but Stephen speaking under intense pressure, which we have not experienced.

I like what Longenecker says:

Stephen’s speech was not a scholarly exposition but a powerful portrayal of God’s dealing with his own people Israel, which mounted inexorably to a climax in unmasking the obstinacy and disobedience of the nation and its leaders in Stephen’s time. History knows few greater displays of moral courage than Stephen showed in this speech. And to dissect it on precisionist grounds evidences a lack of appreciation for its circumstances or an understanding of its basic truth. (comment on vv. 2-8).

Now let’s look at a table that mentions the problems and possible solutions. The Pentateuch is the first five books of the bible, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The LXX is the abbreviation for the Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent), the third-to-second Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Speech in Acts 7 Pentateuch Possible Explanation
7:2-3 God called Abram in 12:1 “before he lived in Haran” God called Abram when he was in Haran (11:31-32; 12:4-5) Gen. 12:1 says, “from your own country”; in Gen. 15:7 and Neh 9:7, God brought Abram from Ur
7:4: Abram left Haran for Canaan after his father’s Terah’s death Abram was born when Terah was 70 (11:26) and left seventy-five years later (12:4), long before Terah’s death at 205 (11:32) Abraham’s departure 12:5) is mentioned after Terah’s death (11:32); the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo read the passage the way Stephen did (Migr. 177), and the Samaritan Pentateuch allows it.
7:14 Seventy-five went to Egypt Seventy went to Egypt (Gen 46:27; Ex 1:5; Dt 10:22) The LXX and Qumran texts report seventy-five (Gen. 46:27; Ex 1:5); instead of adding Jacob, Joseph, and Joseph’s two sons to Gen 46:26 to a round seventy, the LXX that he has nine sons. Philo also notes the discrepancy (Migr. 200-2)
7:16 Jacob and “our ancestors” were buried in Shechem Though Joseph was buried in Shechem (Josh. 24:32), Jacob was buried in Hebron (Gen 49:29-32) Shechem’s ruins were now in Samaritan territory.
7:21 Moses’s training in Egyptian wisdom Not noted (although some Egyptian education could be assumed for a son of one of Pharaoh’s daughters) Often emphasized in post-biblical Jewish sources (Philo, Mos. 1:20-24)
7:23 Moses visited his people at age forty Exodus specifies only that he was grown (2:11) Later traditions divided Moses’ 120-year life into three 40-year periods
7:52 Angels mediated the law Missing in the Hebrew Bible A common Jewish tradition (cf. LXX Dt 33:2; Josephus Ant. 15:136; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2)
Keener, pp. 238-39, who gets the table from J. B. Chance, Acts (Smyth and Helwys, 2007), p. 110.

Luke / Stephen condensed, blended and telescoped the long story of Israel’s history, and this is a common literary technique of the time. We should focus on Stephen’s main message and his moral courage and not get distracted by demanding mathematical precision from a speech that is purposed to be a sweeping chronology (see Longenecker on vv. 2-8). Longenecker then points to Jewish writings that have conflations and inexactitudes of Jewish popular religions (comment on vv. 9-16). Stephen was simply fitting in to his own times. Wise words from Prof. Longenecker.

Peterson also has some good explanations for matching Stephen’s speech with the OT (pp. 270-75).

In their entirety, the above explanations are reasonable for any reasonable Bible interpreter—but not for the post-Enlightenment, postmodern critic who reads the ancient documents in bad faith, believing that Luke was a deceiver or a worthless historian. Ignore them.

Your faith in Christ and confidence in Scripture should not be so brittle that it snaps in two when these differences come up. They are normal for these times. Focus on the gist and main themes of this marvelous speech. Namely, the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem whom Stephen is addressing have a long and illustrious history, but as many ancient Israelites missed out on God’s purposes and best and broke the law, so also these Jewish leaders are missing out on their Messiah and violate the true meaning of the temple, which has served its purpose but points to the Messiah. They are becoming hard-hearted, and God is handing them over to their own sins and blindness, just as he did to the people of old.

1:

“Is this so?”: The high priest, who was still probably Caiaphas, since he continued in office until A. D. 36, asked powerful Stephen to confirm or deny those accusations. That is, are the accusations true? In effect he is asking Stephen whether he is leading Israel into apostasy, which was punishable by death (Deut. 13:1-5).

Quick Reference to Jewish Groups in Gospels and Acts

Now Stephen begins his speech. He is about to give a long summary, a sweeping speech, about the land (vv. 2-36), the law (vv. 37-43), and the temple (vv. 44-50). He is about to contradict the popular piety of his day (HT: Peterson, p. 245).

Recall that Jesus said not to over-think what you should say when you are summoned before a synagogue or local council, whether Roman or any other nation, for the Spirit would prompt you and give you the right words (Mark 13:11 // Matt. 10:19-20 // Luke 12:11 and 21:15).

Stephen was filled with boldness, not timidity. You can spot the Spirit surging through you by courage, not fear. No doubt he had one “butterfly” in his stomach, but he still stepped forward and delivered a strong, convicting word. You too can be filled with the Spirit—a power surge—many times in your life, for edifying the church or reaching the lost.

2-5:

“fathers”: it is a sign of respect for the elderly men sitting in the Sanhedrin. But towards the end of the long speech, he is about to lower the boom.

The upshot of this passage is that Abraham lived a simple faith in God, as he moved from place to place. His only ritual was circumcision. He did not need a temple with religious customs piled on top of each other, as the Judaism of Stephen’s day practiced.

As for the inspiration behind Stephen’s anointed speech, recall that Jesus said not to over-think what you should say when you are summoned before a synagogue or local council, whether Roman or any other nation, for the Spirit would prompt you and give you the right words (Mark 13:11 // Matt. 10:19-20 // Luke 12:11 and 21:15).

Stephen was filled with boldness, not timidity. You can spot the Spirit surging through you by courage, not fear. No doubt he had one “butterfly” in his stomach, but he still stepped forward and is now delivering a strong, convicting word. You too can be filled with the Spirit—a power surge—many times in your life, for edifying the church or reaching the lost.

6:

“live as pilgrims”: The Greek word is paroikeō (pronounced par-oi-keh-oh), which means “live as strangers” or foreigners. The par- (para) prefix connotes “alongside.” (Compare the word parachurch.) So it literally means “to live off to the side.” By extension the offspring of Abraham was marginal in Egypt. See v. 29, below.

No matter where you live, either in your homeland or in a foreign country, God sees you and puts his call on you. He has not abandoned you.

7:

“the nation”: Egypt was added for clarity.

“I shall punish”: the Greek verb is krinō, and it does mean “judge” and “punish.” However, I prefer the concept of “enforcing justice” on a very bad nation that enslaved people. It is similar to the judgment that was imposed on the antebellum South. They were destined to lose the Civil War, so slavery could be uprooted at the great cost of humanity and material resources. But no condemnation on you today, South! You have changed for the better, especially your receptivity to the gospel and sound moral values.

“worship”: it is the verb latreuō (pronounced lah-true-oh), and it is related to serving, which can encompass worship (Acts 7:7, 42). But sometimes it is best to translate it as “serving” (Acts 24:14; 26:7). It is optional—up to you. Interpret it both ways: worship and serve.

8:

Circumcision was a sign that a man belonged to God’s Chosen People,

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Gen. 17:9-14, NIV)

And in the context of partaking of the Passover meal:

48 “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. 49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Exod. 12:48-49, NIV)

So no male can eat the Passover without being circumcised.

Finally, the newborn boy is to be circumcised on the eighth day: On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised” (Lev. 12:3).

Today, in Christ, circumcision is not required. However, if a Jew who converts to the Messiah intends to be a good witness to his Jewish neighbors, so he circumcises his sons, then there is nothing wrong with doing this. He is not under command and so is also free to not to circumcise, or he is free to do it.

What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?

GrowApp for Acts 7:1-8

A.. Abraham took a giant step of faith to leave his homeland. Did you take a big step of faith when you were saved and had to leave behind your unbelieving family or friends? What were the results?

Hebrews in Egypt (Acts 7:9-19)

9 And the patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and lifted him out of all his tribulation and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he appointed him leader over Egypt and his entire household.

11 Then a famine and great tribulation came upon all of Egypt and Canaan, and our ancestors did not find any food. 12 When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors the first time; 13 on the second time Joseph allowed himself to be recognized to his brothers, and it became clear to Pharaoh that this was Joseph’s family. 14 Joseph sent for and summoned his father and all his relatives, 75 persons, and 15 Jacob went down into Egypt. Both he himself and our other ancestors died, 16 and they were brought back to Shechem and buried in a tomb which Abraham purchased with a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

17 As the time of promise drew nearer, which God promised to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, 18 until ‘a different king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph’ [Ex. 1:8] 19 This king cunningly exploited our family and mistreated our ancestors by making them throw out their babies so they would not live to the next generation.

Comments:

The main message in Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin is that the ancient Hebrews—their ancestors and kindred and family and stock—lived a simple life without the multiplication of religious entrapments seen right outside the Sanhedrin’s council room in the temple. No doubt sacrificial animals bleated and mooed within hearing distance.

9-10:

“God was with him”: That’s the greatest promise of all.  When you succeed and your family grows jealous of you, realize that God is with you.

“tribulation”: in Greek it is the noun thlipsis (pronounced th’leep-sees, and be sure to say the p in ps). It can be translated as “affliction” or “oppression” or “hardship.”

“favor”: it is the Greek word charis (pronounced khah-rees or khah-ris) and has these meanings, depending on the context: graciousness, attractiveness; favor, gracious care, help or goodwill, practical application of goodwill; a gracious deed or gift, benefaction. In some contexts, it means “exceptional effects produced by divine grace,” in other words, empowerment to accomplish a task.

Let’s go deeper, by repeating part of what I wrote in the post Do I Really Know God? He Is Gracious. Mounce in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words teaches us about the Hebrew and Greek words. The Hebrew noun ḥen (pronounced khen) “describes that which is favorable or gracious, especially the favorable disposition of one person to another” (p. 302). The Greek noun further means “the acceptance of and goodness toward those who cannot earn or do not deserve such gain” (p. 303). The verb in Hebrew is ḥanan (pronounced khah-nan) and means to be gracious, “to show mercy favor, be gracious” (ibid.).

Here is a quick definition. God’s grace means he gladly shows his unmerited goodness or love to those who have forfeited it and are by nature under a sentence of condemnation.

Good news! We do not have to suffer condemnation for our past sins because God hands us his grace.

Here, however, it means “favor.”

What Is Grace?

Grace to You

Law versus Grace

“wisdom”: Let’s define it broadly and biblically. BDAG is considered the authoritative Greek lexicon, and it translates the noun sophia (pronounced soh-fee-ah and used 51 times) as “the capacity to understand and function accordingly—wisdom.”

So biblical wisdom is very practical. It is not like the wisdom of the Greek philosophers, which was very abstract. But let’s not make too much of the differences. In the classical Greek lexicon, sophia can also mean: “skill in handcraft and art … knowledge of, acquaintance with a thing … sound judgment, intelligence, practical wisdom.” In a bad sense it can mean “cunning, shrewdness, craft” (Liddell and Scott).

The adjective is sophos (pronounced soh-fohss and used 20 times) and according to BDAG it means (1) “pertaining to knowing how to do something in a skillful manner, clever, skillful, experienced”; (2) “pertaining to understanding that results in wise attitudes and conduct, wise.”

Leaders in Egypt were attracted to Joseph because of his wisdom.

Word Study: Wisdom

God’s favor will make a way for you too, for it can settle on you in tough times and raise or lift you up.

11-16:

Shechem was in Samaria, and Philip the deacon – evangelist will begin an evangelistic in the Samaria of his day, which the apostles Peter and John will endorse (Acts 8:4-25).

“great tribulation”: thlipsis megalē (see v. 10, and the adjective is pronounced meh-gah-lay), which can occur at any time in history. For other references to a “great tribulation,” see Matt. 24:21; Rev. 2:22; 7:14.

Matthew 24:4-35 Predicts Destruction of Jerusalem and Temple

This section is a speedy overview of the generations, hitting the highlights.

In v. 13, “the family of Joseph” could be translated as “Joseph’s racial background.” Parsons and Culy suggest this latter one.

17-18:

“promise”: it is the noun epanggelia (pronounced eh-pahn-geh-lee-ah), and it is used 52 times in the NT (and our word angel¸ meaning ‘messenger,’ is in it).

Let’s study this word more closely.

It primarily means that promises made to the patriarchs recorded in the OT are now fulfilled in Yeshua ha-Meshiach or Jesus the Messiah (here and Acts 7:17). Abraham would have many descendants (Gal. 3:14-29). David received the promise of a special descendant fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 13:22-23). Paul goes on to say the Jesus’s resurrection is proof of the good news that he preaches (Acts 13:32-33). John proclaims that the promise is connected to eternal life—which is begun to be lived down here and then never ending in heaven (1 John 2:25). All the promises in the OT are ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20).

3. Titles of Jesus: The Son of David and the Messiah

Another use of promise is the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Luke 24:49, Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending the “promise of the Father” to them (Acts 1:4). And it is fulfilled in Acts 2:1-4, where the Holy Spirit descends on the 120 in the upper room. Peter tells his audience that this is the promise of the Father (Acts 2:33). Paul links the promise of the Holy Spirit to the blessing of Abraham (Gal. 3:14). And believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit of the promise (Eph. 1:13).

Questions and Answers about Spirit-Inspired Languages

Are ‘Tongues’ the Sign of Baptism with Spirit in Acts?

Still another use of the word promise is that it forms the foundation of righteous living. Paul appeals for purity on God’s promises (2 Cor. 7:1). Children are told to honor their parents because the Fifth Commandment has a promise in it (Eph. 6:2; Exod. 20:12). Paul writes to Timothy that godliness is profitable both in this life and the next because of the promise of life (1 Tim. 4:8). The author of Hebrews encourages believers to persevere (hang in there) because of God’s promises (Heb. 4:1; 10:36). Don’t doubt, Peter says, that God will keep his promise of the second coming, even though some mock (2 Pet. 3:4, 9) (Mounce, pp. 541-42).

“promised”: the Greek is the verb homolegeō (pronounced ho-mo-leh-geh-oh, and the “g” is hard as in “get”), which is a compound: hom– = same, and log– = speak. It can mean “confess” in the sense of “agreeing and speaking” or “speaking agreement.” BDAG says it means, depending on the context: (1) “to commit oneself to do something, for someone, promise, assure”; (2) “to share a common view or be of common mind about a matter, agree”; (3) “to concede that something is factual or true, grant, admit, confess”; (4) “to acknowledge something, ordinarily in public, acknowledge, claim, profess, praise.” The promise to Abraham is that his descendants would grow as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:5; 22:17; 26:4). Sometimes it takes a long, long time before God’s promise is fulfilled. In fact, let’s hope it gets fulfilled while you are still alive! If not, be assured it is still living on in the next generations.

What Is Biblical Confession?

19:

“exploited”: it comes from the Greek word katasophizomai (pronounced kah-tah-soh-fee-zoh-my). It contains soph- in it, which means “wisdom” or “wise”; however, the prefix kata– has the connotation of “down,” as if by moral degradation in this case. So the large Greek word means to “take advantage of by trickery or craftiness.” NASB: “took shrewd advantage”; ESV: “dealt shrewdly”; NIV and NKJV: “dealt treacherously”; Message: “exploited mercilessly.”

“throw out”: it comes from the Greek verb ektithēmi (pronounced ek-teeth-ay-mee) and literally means “place out(side)” and by extension “abandon” or “expose.” “Throw out” is better connected to the literal meaning.

“live to the next generation”: it is an interesting Greek verb zōogoneō (pronounced zoh-ah-gah-neh-oh or zoh-oh-goh-neh-oh), which literally means “give life” or “birth life” or “make alive” or “keep or preserve alive.” The tag-on “to the next generation” is hidden in the verb because it extends the generations by keeping the babies alive.

This verse is not about abortion because we don’t leave infants out to expose them, as they did back then. Today we throw away babes before they are born. Abortion is a bad business. If you had one (or more), God forgives you on your repentance. Abortions do not disqualify you from joining the kingdom of God and receiving his acceptance.

What the Bible Really Says about Abortion and Prenatal Life

Spiritual Sonograms: God Loves You and Your Baby

GrowApp for Acts 7:9-19

A.. God was with Joseph and favored him. How does it strike you that God is with you and shows you favor?

B.. Verse 19 speaks of disposable children. Has God called you to speak out about needy children?

Early Life of Moses (Acts 7:20-29)

20 In due season, Moses was born, and he was extraordinary to God. He was brought up in his father’s household for three months. 21 But when he was abandoned, the daughter of Pharaoh drew him out and brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in word and action.

23 As the time of forty years drew to a completion, it came up in his heart to visit his brothers, the sons of Israel. 24 And when he saw an injustice being committed against one, he defended him and exacted punishment on the oppressor, killing the Egyptian. 25 He thought his brothers would understand that God through his hand was giving them deliverance, but they did not understand. 26 The next day, he saw men fighting and intended to bring them together in peace, saying, “Men, you are brothers. Why do you injure each other?” 27 But the aggressor against his neighbor shoved him aside and replied, “‘Who appointed you ruler and judge over us? 28 You don’t intend to kill me in the same way you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’” [Ex. 2:14] 29 And with that comment, Moses fled and became a foreigner in Midian, where he fathered two sons.

Comments:

The main point in this section of Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin is that even Moses killed an Egyptian. He miscalculated criminally. He was a fugitive. But God can still use a man like that. But stop idolizing an imperfect human.

20:

“season”: it is the Greek noun kairos (pronounced ky-ross or ky-rohss), and many believe it has a quality of time built into it, more than just one moment after another. Call it a “season.” Compare that to chronos (pronounced khrah-noss or khroh-nohs) in v. 23, which marks time by one thing after another.

“extraordinary”: it can be translated as “beautiful”; the phrase “before God” has been omitted because it just means “very beautiful,” which I translate as “extraordinary.” But you may certainly say, “he was beautiful to God.”

21-24:

“abandoned”: See v. 19 and look for “throw out.” The same Greek verb is used.

There is nothing wrong with getting a good education. Renewalists need to be on the forefront of this sphere of life.

“wisdom”: see v. 10 for more comments.

“As the time of forty years drew to a completion”: that is a literal translation. Most translations simplify things as “when he was forty years old.” Rabbis divided Moses’s 120 years into three periods of forty years.

“an injustice”: It is the Greek verb adikeō (pronounced ah-dee-keh-oh). The dik– stem means “just” or “right” and the a– in front negates it. It means “to commit or do an injustice or wrong”; and “damage, injure or hurt.” Most translations go for the latter ones.

Bock on God’s visitation in Luke-Acts: “The idea of a visit is important in Luke-Acts, as God visits his people (through a deliverer in Luke 1:68, through a prophet in Luke 7:16; in a missed opportunity for Israel in Luke 19:44; of visiting Gentiles in Acts 15:14” (comment on vv. 23-25). Renewalists believe that God visits his people even today.

25-28:

Moses killed an Egyptian. Does this mean he had a temper? Murder is a long way down the road of vice and brokenness. But God could still use him. Do you see any application in your life?

Don’t try to accomplish the justice of God by fleshly or sinful methods. People will turn against you and reject your cause. Wait on God for his timing and seek him for his methods and plans to put things right.

“deliverance”: it is the noun sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times). Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times).

Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG, which many consider to be the authoritative lexicon of the NT, defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”

The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in passive mood it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).

Another rarer verb is diasōzō (pronounced dee-ah-soh-zoh and used 8 times), and the prefix means “through.” Here are the occurrences: Mark 14:36; Luke 7:3; Acts 23:24; 27:43-44; 28:1, 4; 2; 1 Pet. 3:20. It means what the regular verb does, but often to be rescued through and up to the very end, like Paul’s ship landing on Malta after going through the storm.

As noted throughout this commentary on Luke-Acts, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.

All of it is a package called salvation and being saved.

Acts is about salvation of entire households and meeting in those saved households (2:2, 46; 5:42; 8:3, but be careful of persecution in 8:3! 10:2; 11:14; 16:15, 31, 34; 20:20; 21:8).

What Does ‘Salvation’ Mean?

What Is the Work of Salvation?

How Do We Respond to God’s Salvation?

29:

“with that comment”: this phrase comes from one Greek noun logos (pronounced lah-goss or loh-gohss). It usually means “word.” But it is very versatile, and it always carries in it “reason” and “rational.” It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.

I say it can be expanded to include an account or a story, because they have order and sequence and logic built into them. Here I translated it as “comment.”

Renewalists are (or should be) people of the logos (John 1:1). Even when God speaks a reason-defying promise, like Moses leading the children out of Egypt, Moses still had to go through the daily routine of living. For us today, when God promises a logic-defying calling and result, then Renewalists still have to obey traffic laws and stay within budgets at the grocery store, while they wait for God to fulfill his promise. So there is both a reasonable and spiritual side of the Spirit-filled life. Be balanced.

“foreigner”: it is the Greek adjective paroikos (pah-roi-koss or pah-roi-kohs). Note the prefix par– (para), which usually means alongside (consider our word parachurch). Translators usually have “foreigner,” “sojourner,” or “alien.” One could say “pilgrim,” too. See v. 6, above.

Moses lived in a new country, off to the side, so to speak. He was marginalized, from the palace to the back side of the desert. Never forget that when you are marginalized and circumstances shove you off to the side, God sees you. He can redeem your situation, whether he placed you there or you put yourself there. You can learn some lessons and grow your character. He is preparing you for his next “big thing.” Let’s hope your desert season won’t last forty years!

GrowApp for Acts 7:20-29

A.. Moses was first accepted then rejected. He was a foster child. How has God redeemed your life from rejection?

B.. Were you a foster child or know someone who was? What is your or his story of redemption?

The Call of Moses (Acts 7:30-34)

30 “And so when forty years reached their completion, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flaming fire of a bush, in the desert of Mt. Sinai. 31 When Moses saw this, he marveled at the sight. When he approached to master the mystery, there was the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ [Ex. 3:6]. Moses was trembling and did not dare to master the mystery. 33 The Lord said to him, ‘Take the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. 34 I have clearly seen the mistreatment of all my people in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and I have come down to take them away [Ex. 3:5, 7, 8, 10]. Now come, let me send you to Egypt.’”

Comments:

In Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin, he reminds his listeners—the most powerful court and council in the land, the temple caretakers—that Moses experienced the presence of God in the wilderness before Sinai, at that time, no holy mountain, sanctified by God. Holy ground is not restricted to the temple right outside the door to the council room. It could be in the desert. What need is there of a temple built by Herod? God can reach people outside the religious rituals and ceremonies. He is preaching a streamlined Jesus Movement.

30:

“appeared to him” could be translated “was visible to him.” The call of God can be delivered to our hearts in the remotest places and the most miraculous forms. Moses had a burning bush. You might receive an angel or a still small voice in your spirit. More likely you will receive a growing, can’t-shake-it-off, biblical, and lasting conviction.

“an angel of the Lord”: he was the preincarnate Christ, because Exod. 3 goes on to call him God and the LORD, the sacred name of God.

Who Was the Angel of the Lord?

31:

“sight”: the noun horama (pronounced as it appears and where we get our word panorama). It is mostly translated as “vision,” or it could be a supernatural sight (Matt. 17:19; Acts 10:3, 17, 19; 18:9). You’ll know it when you see it, with no room for misinterpretation. And Renewalists believe that visions still happen today. They get them all the time. It’s biblical. But our visions must be submitted to the written word because our vision may not be right, but self-serving. In contrast, Scripture has stood the test of time. Your dream or vision has not.

“Master the mystery”: The Greek verb is katanoeō (pronounced kah-tah-noh-eh-oh). Noeō is what the mind does: it thinks, perceives, understand, gain an insight, considers, takes note of, thinks over; thinks or imagines. Now add the prefix kata– to it, and it means what F. F. Bruce called “master the mystery” or intellectual domination of a mystery or supernatural event like a burning bush that is not consumed. I chose his rich and wonderful suggestion. However, the standard definition encompasses “notice,” “observe,” “look at, contemplate,” “consider, notice in a spiritual sense.”

See the post:

Dreams and Visions: How to Interpret Them

32:

“master the mystery”: same Greek word, and when the voice of God went through his ears and hit his mind, he changed his mind and did not dare master the mystery or intellectually dominate the vision or sight.

“trembling”: The body is allowed to react when it experiences the manifest presence of God. Renewalists have experienced his presence and have had similar physical reactions. Do they sometimes act in the flesh or sinful nature? All humans do at times. But the bodily reaction in Moses was true—it actually happened—and now for Renewalists it is biblical.

33:

“sandals”: the Greek word could mean generic footwear, but considering the time of Moses, most translators have “sandals.” It could more fully be translated as (by context) “the sandals from your feet” or “the sandals of your feet,” or more plainly “your foot sandals.” It seems some translations understand that the sandals are for the feet, so they just have “sandals.” Makes sense.

“holy ground”: Sacred space is important for Renewalists. Wherever it may be for them, a walk in the country or a prayer closet at home or a prayer mountain with a chapel on top, the main point is to spend time with God.

34:

“I have clearly seen”: “Seeing, I have seen.” Doubled up synonyms is Hebraic. It is best to translate it as something strong, like “clearly” or “plainly” or “certainly,’ or “indeed.”

“I have sent”: the Greek verb tense is aorist, which means it happened at a point of time in the past. However, in some forms of the tense (subjunctive), it has a future force, so all translations that I have read say, “I shall send you to Egypt,” except the Message paraphrase, which uses the present tense: “I’m sending you back.” But I like to keep the aorist in the past tense, for it has the flavor that communicates that God’s call is a done deal, a fait accompli. “I have sent you back” even before you accept my call or even before you take the first step back to Egypt. Yes, people can say no to God’s call, because their strong human free will is God’s gift too, but then he will keep wooing and courting the stubborn man or find someone else. But God’s call, in his eternal mind, is done. God operates on a different timeline from ours.

GrowApp for Acts 7:30-34

A.. Moses dare not “master the mystery” of who God really was. He had to take off his sandals. Have you ever received a biblical revelation or insight into who God was in his holiness and purity? What was this like for you?

Israel’s Wandering in the Wilderness (Acts 7:35-41)

35 “This is Moses whom they rejected, saying, “Who appointed you ruler and judge?” This is the one whom God sent as ruler and deliverer with the hand of an angel who appeared to him in a bush. 36 This is the one who led them out, doing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the desert for forty years. 37 This is Moses who spoke to the descendants of Israel: ‘God shall raise up a prophet like me from among your brothers’ [Deut. 18:15]. 38 This is the one who was in the assembly in the desert with the angel speaking to him at Mt. Sinai, even with our ancestors; this is the one who received the living word to give to us.

39 But our ancestors did not want to become obedient to him, but on the contrary they pushed him away and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who shall go before us. For this Moses, who has led us from the land of Egypt, we don’t know what became of him’ [Ex. 42:1]. 41 And they made a calf in those days and brought sacrifices to the idol and began to celebrate the works of their hands.

Comments:

Stephen’s main message before the Sanhedrin is that Moses was the gold standard, and the ancient Israelites did not listen to him. Moses also prophesied that God would raise up a prophet like him, who, it is implied, was Jesus. Would the Sanhedrin listen to Moses? Of course not. Finally, the High Council knew they had pushed for his execution by the Roman government. Stephen drives the point home.

35-38:

Stephen uses the pronoun “this one” several times here and adds the name Moses twice: “This is Moses!” Or “this Moses!” Stephen is rubbing it in the Sanhedrin’s faces—this is the one, but he was rejected and refused! And by history and tradition so do you do the same thing to him, Sanhedrin!”

“angel”: this is probably the preincarnate Son of God, according to the context (Exod. 3). An angel, both in Hebrew and Greek, is really a messenger. Angels are created beings, while Jesus was the one who created all things, including angels (John 1:1-4). Renewalists believe that angels appear to people in their dreams or in person. It is God’s ongoing ministry through them to us.

Here is a multi-part study of angels in the area of systematic theology, but first, here is a summary list of the basics:

Angels:

(a) Are messengers (in Hebrew mal’ak and in Greek angelos);

(b) Are created spirit beings;

(c) Have a beginning at their creation (not eternal);

(d) Have a beginning, but they are immortal (deathless).

(e) Have moral judgment;

(f) Have a certain measure of free will;

(g) Have high intelligence;

(h) Do not have physical bodies;

(i) But can manifest with immortal bodies before humans;

(j) They can show the emotion of joy.

Bible Basics about Angels

Angels: Questions and Answers

Angels: Their Duties and Missions

Angels: Their Names and Ranks and Heavenly Existence

Angels: Their Origins, Abilities, and Nature

Moses was rejected even though he had the mighty call of God on him, issued by the angel at the burning bush.

“Rejected”: It can also mean “denied.” When people reject you, God puts his hand on you. He never rejects you.

“wonders and signs”:

“Wonders”: Teras (pronounced teh-ras). It is often translated as “wonders” and is always in the plural. Only once does it appear without “signs,” in Acts 2:19, where wonders will appear in the sky. Wonders inspire awe and worship of God through Christ who performs the wonders. They testify that God in his kingdom power is here to save and rescue people.

“Signs”: Sēmeion (pronounced say-may-on). In the plural it is mostly translated as “signs” or “miraculous signs.” A sign points towards the loving God. Signs are indicators of God breaking into his world, to help people and announce that he is here to save and rescue them and put things right.

For the phrase, see Acts 2:22, 43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 7:36; 8:13; 14:3.

For nearly all the references of those two words and a theology of them, please click on:

What Are Signs and Wonders and Miracles?

“deliverer”: the Greek word lutrōtēs (pronounced loo-troh-tayss) appears only here in the NT. It means “redeemer,” but translators have “deliverer.” In other words, Moses was the human instrument by whom God would punish the Egyptians for punishing his people, and then God would take them out of slavery. God was redeeming his people through Moses.

Stephen implies that Moses’s prophecy about another prophet whom God will raise up alludes to Jesus. Did the Sanhedrin see it? Maybe some got an inkling.

 39-41:

“did not want”: it is the frequent verb thelō (pronounced theh-loh), and it means “wish,” “will,” “want,” “desire” or “is willing.” Here it describes ancient Hebrews who had a significantly free will, which is a gift from God. All humans have this gift, and so they too can resist God’s call for salvation and obedience to his commands.

“but on the contrary”: This is phrase comes from one Greek conjunction alla (pronounced as it looks), which means a sharp contrast.

“they pushed him away”: It is the same word used in v. 27. They rejected God, and this put them in a dangerous position. In v. 42, he will turn his back on them and hand them over to their own vices.

These three verses are a strong indictment. Stephen is not holding back! The Sanhedrin’s fathers—their ancestors—turned away from God and made a golden calf. Worst of all, they threw a party, a celebration, before the thing they made. This all happened while Moses was on Mt. Sinai communicating with the angel of the Lord! In v. 41, “the works of their hands” prepares the way for the criticism of the temple, which was “handmade things” (v. 48). Don’t turn a holy thing—the temple—into an idol.

GrowApp for Acts 7:35-41

A.. The ancient Israelites wandered around in the wilderness and became disobedient and wandered away from their dependence on God. The wilderness symbolizes our life down here on earth. Are you praying that you will persevere (hang in there) as you journey through your personal wilderness?

Stephen Denounces Jewish Apostasy (Acts 7:42-43)

42 So God turned away and handed them over to worship the hosts of heaven, just as it is written in the book of the prophets:

You did not bring me offerings and sacrifices,

for forty years in the desert, did you, house of Israel?

43 You put up the shrine of Molek,

And the star of the god Rephan,

The images which you made for you to worship;

So I will deport you beyond Babylon” [Amos 5:25-27].

Comments:

42-43:

“God turned away and handed them over”: In the Old Covenant, the Chosen People  (except a remnant) broke the covenant so flagrantly and so often that God handed them over to their hearts’ desires. It is not the case that he caused their hearts to follow false gods and break the first two of the Ten Commandments. Just the opposite. He sent prophets to warn and turn them back to him. But they persisted, and finally he let them go—handed them over—to pursue their vices and suffer their own self-inflicted consequences: deportation beyond Babylon.

“worship” see v. 7 for a closer look. Often human worship and service can go in the wrong direction. Never be afraid to point this out to yourself and to others (when appropriate). Jesus is the only way.

Molek (or Molech): two options: he was a host of heaven, or he was the bloodthirsty Canaanite deity who demanded that people sacrifice infants to him, and sometimes the Israelite kings did this. Go to biblegateway, and type in either spelling, and see what awful hits your get. Even Solomon built an alter to this god (and another god).

GrowApp for Acts 7:42-43

A.. There are all kinds of false gods. Some worship gods of New Age. Others worship the god of materialism. Still others worship promiscuity. These verses teach you not to do this. How can you ensure that you worship only the one true God?

The Tabernacle and the Temple (Acts 7:44-50)

44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of testimony in the desert, just as the one speaking to Moses commanded to make, according to the pattern which he had seen. 45 And our ancestors, after inheriting it, brought it out with Joshua, while taking possession of the nations which God drove out from before our ancestors until the days of David. 46 He found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling-place for the descendants of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built a house for him. 48 However, the Most High does not live in things made with hands, just as the prophet says:

49 Heaven is my throne,

And earth is the footstool for my feet;

What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,

Or which place for my rest?

50 For did not my hand make all of these things?” [Is. 66:1-2]

Comments:

The main point in this section of Stephen’s preaching to the high court of Israel is that God ordained a temporary home, and then David through Solomon built a permanent one, which Herod later augmented and improved. But as Isaiah says, God does live in manmade things. So the temple right outside the High Court’s council room is unnecessary for true worship (cf. John 4:21-24).

44-50:

The word father is used often here, which I translated as “ancestors” or it could be “forefathers.”

“testimony”: The Greek word is marturion (pronounced as it looks), which is related to our word martyr. A martyr is one who “witnesses” or “testifies.” Only later does it acquire the meaning of dying for one’s testimony.

“favor”: Here it means acceptance or favor before God. See v. 27 for a closer look.

“feet … hand”: The words are anthropomorphic, which is a big word for speaking of God in human terms. He does not literally have hands or feet. He is spirit (John 4:24). But humans need a simple way of interpreting who God is on their level.

“drove out before him”: God did not necessarily want the Canaanites dead, though he commanded this to happen, if necessary. Rather, God said they must be driven out, for they were too far gone in their degraded and sex-obsessed and bloodthirsty gods to be converted.

“descendants of Jacob”: it is literally “house of Jacob,” and “house” speaks of dynasty or descendants.

Also, the ancient Israelites did not have the fullness of the Spirit as Stephen has now, so their message was limited in power. Conversions didn’t happen back then as they do today.

In the New Covenant, in contrast, the church is not commanded or even permitted to wage war on pagans or unbelievers.

“Judaism never taught that God actually lived in the Jerusalem temple or was confined to its environs, but spoke of his ‘Name’ and presence as being there. In practice, however, this concept was often denied. This would especially divine activity was refused by the people in their preference for God’s past revelation and redemption, as symbolized in the existence of the temple” (Longenecker, comment on vv. 48-50)

Schnabel summarizes this passage perfectly:

Stephen emphasizes that it is not he who denigrates the temple but the Jewish leaders, who debase the temple by thinking they have God at their command. They fail to use the temple as a place for a dynamic encounter with the living God. He is not the one who speaks against God but the Jewish leaders, who offend God by failing to understand his transcendence of which the temple is only a sign, and by failing to grasp the full extent of what God demands from them—which now includes, most critically, believing in Jesus as the one who rules on David’s throne at God’s right hand and who fulfills God’s promises for the last days. This is Stephen’s point, the main point of his speech, as the following verses demonstrate. (comment on vv. 48-50).

Bock: “Here Stephen is simply saying that the temple cannot contain God’s presence. There is more to God and God’s presence than this one locale. There is a danger in making too much of the temple” (comment on vv. 48-50).

A theme in Acts is to take down temples, whether pagan or the holy one in Jerusalem.

Paul is preaching to the Athenians, where there is the beautiful temple to Athena on the acropolis and other beautiful temples on lower levels.

24 God who made the universe and everything in it, he is Lord of heaven and earth, and he does not live in handmade temples; 25 neither is he tended by human hands, as if he needed something. He gave everyone life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24-25)

Here is Demetrius the silversmith denouncing what Paul had been proclaiming in Ephesus:

26 And you observe and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in nearly all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and led astray a large crowd, saying that the gods who come about by the hands do not exist! 27 Not only does this endanger our line of business, to come to be discredited, but also the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be considered worthless, and she herself, whom all of Asia and the world worship, is about to be brought down with her majesty!” (Acts 19:26-27)

All pagan temples and shrines and church buildings throughout all human history will be wiped out at the Second Coming, for the church will be his holy dwelling place.

The Church Fulfills and Replaces Old Testament Temple

Since the church replaces the OT temple, then how much more does the church replace all temples, particularly the pagan ones!

GrowApp from Acts 7:44-50

A.. The church replaces and fulfills the temple. God’s presence lives in you. How does this biblical truth ensure that you live a holy life?

Stephen Denounces Sanhedrin’s Hypocrisy (Acts 7:51-53)

51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised of hearts and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit, as your ancestors did, so do you also! 52 Which one of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murders you have now become! 53 You who received the law as the decrees of angels, but you have not kept!”

Comments:

Stephen, the first Christian martyr, drives home his point with harsh (but true) words.

His point:

The Sanhedrin = the Ancient Israelites

The conviction of God fell on them, particularly when he cried out that he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Stephen died with dignity and full of the Spirit, as he imitated his Lord in asking for their forgiveness.

51:

The context of these words matters. It is not a good idea to speak like this to your family or a clerk at the local coffee shop or your colleague at your job or a postal worker. Jesus used harsh language (Matt. 23:29-37), but he did so against religious leaders who kept oppressing people with heavy religious burdens, not against ordinary people (Jesus used harsh language). Stephen is now doing the same thing.

“resist”: The Greek is antipiptō and is used only here. It can also mean “oppose.” The Spirit can be resisted, which, in my opinion, means the grace and call of God for salvation can also be resisted. People do not stride into God’s kingdom unassisted or without God’s grace and Spirit wooing them, and, yes, God calls and woos everyone who hears the gospel and his Word, but they can certainly resist his call throughout their lives, while others respond. Salvation is God’s initiation and wooing. Resistance to it is man’s free will.

As to the OT background, here is a relevant verse:

10 Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them. (Is. 63:10, NIV).

This one is about Moses:

14 for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you [Moses] disobeyed my command to honor me as holy before their eyes.” (Num. 27:14, NIV)

52:

“the coming” It is a Greek noun eleusis (pronounced eh-lew-sis); it is used only three times in the NT and all in Luke Acts: here, Luke 21:7 and 23:42. It was firmly entrenched in the Greek writing of Judaism, as meaning the coming of the Messiah. So the Jews who were about to kill Stephen recognized the term. It convicted them.

In Stephen’s times it was widely believed that prophets were persecuted and died as martyrs. There is plenty of evidence for persecution, notably Jeremiah, but the martyrdoms of prophets, for example, Isaiah, is based more on tradition long afterwards they lived than on contemporary evidence.

“the Righteous One”: the term has a Messianic designation: Acts 3:14; 22:14; 1 John 2:1; Luke 23:47; Matt. 27:19, 24; and in the OT: 2 Sam. 23:3; Is. 32:1; 53:11; Zech. 9:9. In literature outside the Bible it is the same: 1 Enoch 38:2 and 46:3. In Is. 53:11, the servant of the Lord will be the righteous one. All in all, this is high Christology.

Do I Really Know God? He Is Righteous and Just

The Sanhedrin remembered that they are the ones who pushed the Roman authorities to execute Jesus. Those are tough words, just like Peter preached too (Acts 5:30). Boldness from the Spirit.

53:

Now that’s irony. The Sanhedrin honored and treasured the law. They believed that angels delivered it. But they did not keep it.

“angels” see v. 38 for more comments. Many Jews believed that angels superintended the transference of the law to Moses. They were intermediaries.

I like Polhill’s summary here:

Overall one gets the impression that Stephen realized his defense was a lost cause from the start. He would never secure his acquittal without compromising his convictions. He determined to use the situation as one last opportunity to share those convictions, one last chance to appeal to his Jewish contemporaries to abandon their pattern of rejection and accept the Messiah God had sent them. This is why Luke made constant reference to his being filled with the Spirit (cf. Luke 21:12–15). It took courage and inspiration to do what he did. Ultimately his speech was not a defense at all but a witness. (comments on vv. 52-53)

Don’t compromise your convictions just to please the authorities. Hold fast to Jesus, your living conviction.

GrowApp for Acts 7:51-53

A.. Stephen knew that he would not be let off with a warning, so he went all in and preached a hard message to these religious leaders. How do you not compromise your convictions when they are severely challenged?

The Sanhedrin Reacts and Stephen Sees Jesus (Acts 7:54-56)

54 When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But since he was full of the Holy Spirit, when he fixed his gaze on heaven, he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Look! I see the heavens opening wide and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

Comments:

54:

“they were infuriated”: It comes from the Greek verb diapriō (pronounced dee-ah-pree-oh), which literally means “saw through” (as in “sawn in two”). It shows the hearts and consciences were stung and cut. The apostles did not hold back before priests and especially the mighty Sanhedrin. This boldness is a theme in Acts 2-7.

“Ground their teeth”: it could be literal, but more likely it just stands in for rage. Consider our “throw a fit”: do we literally throw something called a fit?

55:

“fixed … gaze”: it comes from the verb atenizō (pronounced ah-teh-nee-zoh) and also means “stare intently or intensely.” Luke is fond of it: Luke 4:20; 22:56; Acts 1:10; 3:4; 3:12; 6:15; 7:55; 10:4; 11:6; 13:9; 14:9; 23:1. Then Paul uses it twice: 2 Cor. 3:7, 13.

“Being full of the Holy Spirit”: huparchōn … plērēs pneumatos hagiou (pronounced hoo-pahr-khone play-rayss pneu-mah-tohs hah-gee-oo, the p in pe- is pronounced, and the g in hah-gee-oo is hard, like “get”). The first Greek word is strong—being. It expresses present tense. “full” means that he overflowed, and Holy Spirit does the filling. So Stephen’s life in Acts begins with the fulness of the Spirit (6:5, 8) and ends with it, here. It does not seem Stephen “leaked,” but there is no way that the “great wonders and signs” he did was done without a super-surge of the Spirit in his life. Renewalists believe this is for believers today, and it can be continuous or a surge or infilling can happen anytime the minister or believer needs it. Flexibility is needed in our teaching and interpretation of Scripture and our daily experiences.

We should see the fullness of the Spirit as including prayer languages. Paul, after all, writing later, said he spoke in his Spirit-inspired languages more than the Corinthians did (1 Cor. 14:18). He said he wanted everyone to pray in their spiritual languages (1 Cor. 14:5) and not forbid this wonderful gift (1 Cor. 14:39).

Therefore, Luke does not need to link the fullness or baptism of the Spirit with prayer languages in every verse that talks about this fullness. It would be like Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, intervening to tell his readers on every other page, “Don’t forget! We’re on a whaling ship!” In Acts, Luke omits some of these details, but that is how all four Gospels and Acts are presented to us: elliptical. But the entire context of Acts is Spirit-empowered and Spirit-filled. The entire book is very charismatic. Luke expects us to fill in the ellipses with the power of the Spirit and manifested gifts, like prayer languages.

It is like the anointing of Jesus at his water baptism with the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove (Luke 3:31-22; 4:18-19). From then on, Jesus worked miracles of nature and healing and demonic expulsion in the third Gospel, and Luke does not have to announce every time Jesus did those things: “Remember when I wrote that Jesus was anointed with the Spirit? He worked that miracle based on those verses!” Rather, Luke expects us to fill in those omissions with the power of the Spirit. Likewise, in the many cases of Christian witness from town to town in Acts, Luke expects us to fill in the omissions with the same empowerment because of Acts 2:1-4. And so Luke-Acts is all very charismatic, which is normative for the church throughout its history. Spirit-filled empowerment and anointing continues.

It is similar to his omitting water baptism in key places. Often he does say that new converts got baptized: Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 35-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; 19:5), Yet in other cases water baptism is not brought up for new converts: Acts 9:42; 11:21; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 17:12, 34). Luke expects us to fill in these omissions. All during Paul’s (and Barnabas’s) first missionary journey, many conversions are recorded, but not one water baptism is said to be done, but we know that they took place because this was standard practice. Luke intends that we assume this happened. This is why I have nicknamed him Luke the Omitter. or Luke the “Condenser.”

For a fuller discussion “full,” see this post:

Baptized, Filled, and Full of the Spirit: What Does It All Mean?

For systematic theology:

The Spirit’s Deity and Divine Attributes

The Personhood of the Spirit

Titles of the Holy Spirit

The Spirit in the Life of Christ

The Spirit in the Church and Believers

“fixing his gaze”: it comes from the Greek verb atenizō (pronounced ah-teh-nee-zoh) and means “stare intensely.” Don’t lose your sight of heaven.

56:

“Son of Man”: this phrase appears in Acts for the first time and comes from Daniel 7:13-14, which means the Messianic and powerful Lord, but it also comes from Ezekiel and refers to a human, Ezekiel himself (e.g. 2:1). Jesus was both Lord and man.

4. Titles of Jesus: The Son of Man

“standing at the right hand of God”: Jesus stood up to welcome the first martyr, and when you die, whether by martyrdom, or natural or accidental causes, he will stand to welcome you too.

15. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Ascended into Heaven

17. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Is Seated at Right Hand of Father

Bruce:

In short, the presence of the Son of Man at God’s right hand meant that for his people a way of access to God had been opened up more immediate and heart-satisfying than the temple could provide. It meant that the hour of fulfillment had struck, and that the age of particularism had come to an end. The sovereignty of the Son of Man was to embrace all nations and races without distinction: under this sway there is no place for an institution which gives religious privileges to one group in preference to others. (comment on vv. 55-56)

“Particularism” means that the proclamation of the gospel was limited only to Jerusalem and the Messianic Jews. Stephen’s speech is about to launch the church and the gospel to all points around their (known) world.

Polhill is excellent about why Christ is envisioned as standing:

The standing position may thus depict the exalted Christ in his role of judge. If so, Stephen’s vision not only confirmed his testimony, but it showed Christ rising to render judgment on his accusers. They, not he, were the guilty parties. In Dan 7:14 the Son of Man was given dominion over “all peoples, nations, and men of every language.” If this is a further implication of Stephen’s Son of Man vision, it ties in well with his understanding of God as not being bound to one nation or people.90 It is a vision of the boundless reign of Christ, which was soon to begin with the Samaritan mission of Stephen’s fellow Hellenist Philip. (comment on 7:56)

There are parallels between Stephen’s trial and that of Jesus. Luke writes of Jesus’s trial:

66 And as morning came, the elders of the people, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law gathered together and led him before their council. 67 They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you would in no way believe. 68 If I were to ask you, you would in no way reply. 69 ‘From now on the Son of Man shall be sitting on the right hand of the power of God.’ [Ps. 110:1] 70 All of them said, “Are you, therefore, the Son of God?” And he said, “You are saying that I am.” 71 Then they said, “Why do we still need witnesses? For we ourselves have heard it from his mouth!” (Luke 22:66-71)

Then the Sanhedrin voted to put Jesus to death. Stephen will likewise undergo a martyrdom in the next section of Scripture.

Luke, through Stephen’s true story and martyrdom, confirms Jesus’s prophecy. Jesus really was exalted at the right hand of God.

Bock:

For the careful reader of Luke-Acts, Stephen’s testimony is of Jesus’s complete vindication by God. This claim leads to Stephen’s martyrdom. So the issue that led to Jesus’s execution, his claim to be able to sit at God’s right hand (Luke 22:69) also leads to Stephen’s death. This christological point and belief, embedded in the allusion to the Son of Man and to Jesus’s trial scene, reflect the difference between the new community and the Jews who stone Stephen. The parting of the ways between Judaism and what became Christianity centered on the status the believers in the new faith assigned to Jesus. Stephen’s vision and the crowds’ violent reaction exemplify the differences. (comment on vv. 55-56)

GrowApp for Acts 7:54-56

A.. Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit when he was about to die. How do you prepare for your (eventual) death?

Stephen Is Martyred (Acts 7:57-8:1a)

57 Then they shouted with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and rushed at him in a group. 58 When they dragged him outside of the city, they began to stone him. The witnesses laid aside their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they kept stoning Stephen who called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 He fell to his knees and called out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge this sin to them!” After he said this, he fell asleep. 81a And Saul gladly approved of his murder.

Comments:

57:

“rushed”: it comes from the verb hormaō (pronounced hor-mah-oh) and is usually translated as rushed (Matt. 4:32; // Mark. 5:13; // Like 8:33; Acts 7:37; 19:29). The noun hormē (pronounced hohr-may) means a “psychological state or strong tendency, impulse, inclination, desire” (BDAG, p. 724). The noun is used only here and in Jas. 3:4 (“pilot”). Yes, we get our word hormone from this word!

“as a group”: it could be translated as “with one single purpose.” Once again homothumadon (pronounced hoh-moh-thoo-mah-dohn) is a favorite of Luke (Acts 1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; here; 12:20; 15:25; 18:12 [negative]; 19:29, and then one in Rom. 15:6). It is a compound word: hom-, meaning “same” and thum-, meaning “soul” or “mind” or “spirit.” In earlier Greek literature it meant a heroic and excellent fighting spirit. But here it means “angrily united in soul and spirit.”

58:

“in the process of stoning him”: it is in the imperfect tense, which denotes a continuous action. A violent way to die, but I trust the Lord took his spirit into heaven, so he felt no pain (v. 59-60).

“witnesses”: an execution needed witnesses who were also the executioners. It is the same word used of the disciples who witnessed the resurrection and ascension of their Lord. Different contexts, but at least the meaning of the word is clearer!

Bruce sees an undersigned coincidence here. (An undersigned coincidence happens when two or more tiny textual tidbits mutually confirm the other, even though they appear in widely different texts or books of the NT.)

The young man called Saul, who guarded the clothes of the chief executioners, will play an increasingly important part in the record of Acts, as a leading champion of the cause which he is now opposing. Saul was his family name as an Israelites; he is better known in history by his Roman cognomen Paullus (Paul). It may be regarded as an undersigned coincidence that while Luke alone informs us that his Jewish name was Saul, he himself claims to have belonged to the tribe of Benjamin [Rom. 11:1; Phil. 3:5]. His parents thus gave him the name of the most illustrious member of that tribe in the nation’s history—the name of Israel’s first king, Saul. (comment on vv. 57-58).

In briefer terms, Luke records Paul’s family name (Saul) here in Acts, while Paul tells us he belonged to the tribe of Benjamin that gave Israel its first king—Saul.

59:

“kept stoning Stephen”: imperfect verb tense, as in v. 58.

It is good that Stephen was mentioned right after Saul was. Who has the better character at this stage in Saul’s life? Stephen did. But if God can convert and save Saul, he can do the same for you, regardless of what you’ve done.

When he called out, he was not motivated by pain, but so that he could be heard by the mob that was killing him.

“Receive my spirit!”: This reflects Jesus’s words in Luke 23:46. “Jesus cried out loudly and said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit!” On saying this, he expired.”

Clearly Stephen heard stories about the crucifixion that happened just a few years ago. The difference: Jesus committed his spirit to his Father; Stephen committed his spirit to Jesus. This is, once again, high Christology.

Now what about the Sanhedrin allowing this execution. Was it a simply mob rule, or did the Sanhedrin overstep their limits and look the other way? Longenecker says that Stephen’s martyrdom occurred I the mid-30s AD, and Pontius Pilate, who was stationed in Caesarea on the coast, was not in town, and his governorship was beset by increasing troubles, which diverted his attention. He would not intervene and investigate (comment on vv. 57-58).

60:

He proclaimed forgiveness on his executioners. It is always a good thing to proclaim it on those who sin against us. Jesus: “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34).

“fell asleep”: it is a common expression for death for the godly ones (Gen. 47:30 [LXX], Deut. 31:16 [LXX]; John 11:11; Acts 13:36; 1 Cor. 7:39; 11:30; 15:6, 51; 2 Peter 3:4). A peaceful word used for a violent death!

8:1a:

“gladly approved”: The Greek is the verb suneudokeō (pronounced soon-eu-doh-keh-oh). The prefix sun– (or syn) means “with”; eu means something positive; and dok– means to think. So the NASB translates it as “hearty agreement.” Most translations, however, have the ordinary “agreed” or “approved” or “consented.” I prefer to keep the eu-, as the NASB does, but my word is “gladly.” Saul gladly approved of Stephen’s execution. Sad. Deceived. Wrongheaded.

The Law of Moses is drawing to a close by means of the new Jesus movement. According to Acts (so far), only Stephen enjoys enough vision and foresight to see it. He will pay for it with his life.

GrowApp for Acts 7:57-81a

A.. Stephen died an honorable death. He saw the risen Jesus which assured him that he would go to heaven. Do you really believe that when you die, this life is not the end but you will be ushered into heaven?

B.. How do you guarantee that heaven is your new home?

Observations for Discipleship

Stephen really knew Scripture. It challenges us to do the same. There is no substitute for just reading it and going deeper by studying it.

Stephen’s speech or peroration was hard-hitting. You can know when the Spirit surges through you with extra power and anointing when you have boldness, which overrides your natural cowardice. Yes, Stephen’s speech was hard, but accurate. Sometimes this needs to be said.

As noted above, however, don’t speak like this to your family or coworkers or the pastor of your church, and others. Stephen did this to the religiously powerful who oppressed people and who egged on the Roman authorities to execute Jesus—the very ones who were in the Sanhedrin or the Jewish high council or court (Sanhedrin), just a few years back. You on the other hand live a much better life.

Renewalists believe the Spirit can fill a believer over and over again. Peter was filled at least three times (Acts 2:4, 4:8, 31). This repeated infilling means a surge of power for service in the church and outside the church. It is the anointing or overflow of the Spirit. This refilling does not mean Peter “lost” his salvation—far from it! It just means he needed to be re-empowered for service.

In Stephen’s case, he was full of the Spirit when he was introduced (Acts 6:4, 8) and when he was stoned to death (Acts 7:55). That fact is bookends to his life. Luke surrounded this section of his book purposely with the Spirit’s power. However, it is my belief that Stephen was filled with the group of disciples who met in a place that was shaken and were filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:31). Stephen, after all, was well known and attested by the Jesus community. When did he first get filled with power and faith and the Spirit? Why not in Acts 4:31? So it is possible that his fullness in the Spirit in 6:4 was either a continuation from 4:31, or he was refilled in 6:4. But since the text is silent as to his conversion and initial infilling, let’s move on to what we do know.

Is this conclusion a step too far when it is built on silence (what a text does not say)? Not really. Consider this. Recall that Saul / Paul was filled with the Spirit, but his receiving his Spirit-inspired language is not mentioned (Acts 9:17-18), yet he often prayed in the Spirit, that is, in his prayer language (1 Cor. 14:18). Further, the Corinthians believed and were baptized, but they were not recorded as receiving the Spirit and the gifts of speaking in their prayer language or prophesying (Acts 18:8). However, they exercised those gifts often (1 Cor. 12-14), no doubt because Paul taught them about those gifts and prayed for them to receive them, during his eighteen months that he ministered to them (Acts 18:11). The same could be said for Stephen. The first seven chapters—the entire book of Acts—is charged with electricity, the super-surge of the Spirit, the gifts of prayer languages included.

In any case, we are supposed to learn something about those two bookends holding up Stephen, as follows.

In those two chapters about Stephen he seems never to have lost his power surge or initial infilling, whenever that was, for he was also full of faith and power and did great signs and wonders throughout his life. So whether a man or woman is filled over and over again or maintains a high level of the Spirit’s fullness day by day, we should not put God in a box and tell him what he can nor cannot do. He still fills us today and works signs and wonders through faith and power and the Spirit. There is nothing inherent in Acts that says any of this stopped. The book goes on for 28 chapters, and we’re living in Acts 29, following the same teachings and experiences displayed here.

It is very moving that Jesus stood up to welcome his first martyr. It seems heaven is just another dimension, not a place on another planet. There is a thin veil between our visible, temporary world, and the eternal, invisible world—invisible to us, not to those who live there right now, like your dearly loved ones who died. When you die, let’s hope he will stand up and welcome you into his presence.

Finally, Luke portrays Stephen’s martyrdom as achieving these benefits (Keener, p. 259):

1.. His basic message outlines a theology that could function in the diaspora.

2.. His message provokes persecution, which scatters and spreads the church (8:4)

3.. A theological seed was sown in a hearer that would late be reaped on the road to Damascus (9:4-8).

I add:

4.. The message needs to go beyond Jerusalem, and the scattering of the Jerusalem and Judean disciples to fulfill their commission to go into Samaria and the ends of the earth (1:8).

God can turn your tragedy into a victory.

SOURCES

Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.

Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).

The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.

Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.

Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.

Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.

Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.

Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.

Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.

Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.

Works Cited

 

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