And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Understanding And Applying the Text
At the end of the last passage, Luke said the church was increasing. Christ even converted many of the priests. We also learned the church chose Stephen to be a deacon. Now we learn he was doing signs and wonders among the people. Stephen served Christ every way he could. He spoke of Christ. He gave evidence for the cause of Christ. He aided in the distribution to widows and the poor. As they say in baseball, Stephen was a utility player.
We can tell from the passage, Stephen was diligent in spreading the gospel. But Luke does not emphasize that. Luke focuses on Stephen’s faith. Stephen performed miracles. This is the first time miracles extended beyond the apostles.
Men from across the Roman empire debated Stephen. Some of these men were from the synagogue of Freedmen.
A synagogue was a place for Jewish prayer and worship. The origin of the synagogue is not clear. It appears to have risen in the intertestamental period. It seems to have come from the postexilic community.
A town could establish a synagogue if there were at least ten men.
In the synagogue, men read the Old Testament scripture. They then discussed it.
The men who debated Stephen were from the synagogue of Freedmen. Freedmen were Jews freed from slavery. In the Roman class system, the lowest class were slaves. The next rung up was Freedmen. Then those born free. Children of Freedmen were in the third class.
The men who debated Stephen were from Cyrene Cilia and Asia. Cyrene was a town in North Africa. Cilicia was a Roman province in the southeast part of Asia Minor. Paul was from Tarsus. Tarsus was one of Cilica’s main cities. Asia was the Roman province in the western part of modern-day Turkey.
As men too often do when reason fails them these men resorted to slander and violence.
These men’s knowledge of the Scriptures failed. Their reasoning proved faulty. Their solution to their lack of knowledge was as is a common practice. Instead of returning to the scriptures, they turned to violence and slander. The did not want the scripture to get in the way of what they believed.
They accused Stephen of blaspheming against Moses and God. Men often place words in other’s mouths rather than listen to what they say. This is also true of scripture. Rather than jumping to asking what does it mean. We should first ask what does it say. When others speak rather than jumping to conclusions, We need to ask what do they say.
From chapter 7, we have a good idea of what Stephen said. Christ fulfilled the law. So Stephen may have shown the vanity of following what was now empty ceremonies. About Moses, all that Stephen said was, the people rejected Jesus like they rejected Moses. This was not blasphemy against Moses or God.
Stephen did not speak against the temple. Rather he only said God was not confined to an earthly temple. Heaven is God’s home and throne (Acts 7:48–50).
Stephen actually supported the Mosaic law and its teaching. They pointed forward to Christ (Acts 7:37, 38).
They were not able to overcome Stephen’s wisdom and superior knowledge of scripture. So they resorted to slander. They conspired with each other and leveled false charges against Stephen. In all probability, they believed they were doing right. They believed Stephen intended to blasphemy. Even though he did not. But their intent does not excuse their action.
If you asked any Rabbi if it were just to slander they would answer no. But yet they justified their sin “for the greater good.” Zeal does not excuse sin.
Let us be careful to not commit their sin. Even if men teach error let us not claim they are teaching something they are not. God is truth. If we lie or stretch the truth, even for a just cause, we sin. Preach the gospel. Preach the truth. Expose error. But do not slander men, even those who teach error.
This is true of those who teach Christian error. that is, incorrect doctrine. Those who teach heresy, for example, Oneness Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons. Those who teach false religions such as Islam, Hindus, and atheists. You cannot refute them unless you listen to them. What do they say? What do they teach? If you claim they teach something they do not teach, you slander them and you sin.
Satan is the father of lies. The cause of Christ is not advanced by a lie.
The issue brought before the Sanhedrin was more than Jesus and His resurrection. It was the impact of His resurrection. The temple’s centrality was at stake. It could be the witnesses were not intending to lie. But that they read into the truth of Stephen’s remarks.
When the members of the Sanhedrin looked at Stephen he had the face of an angel. The exact meaning is not clear. But it would be a good guess to understand Stephen was calm, confident and certain. His cause was just.
There are some parallels between what happened in Jerusalem and what happened on Mt. Sinia. They accused Stephen of destroying the law. Moses brought the law down from the mountain. Moses brought down the old covenant. His face shown. Stephen was preaching the new covenant. He was about to be the first Christian martyr. His face shown like Moses’.
They believed his preaching of Jesus to be the Christ was destroying Moses and the law. God bore witness to him, with the same glory as he did with Moses.