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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 7

 

 

Verses 1-60


Defence and Martyrdom of Stephen

1-53. Speech of Stephen. There is every reason to believe that this speech was really delivered by St. Stephen, and not composed by St. Luke; for, (1) the speech does not (in any direct manner) answer the charges alleged (Acts 6:14), as a speech composed by the historian himself would have done; (2) there are several erroneous references to the OT. (not all due to the use of LXX), natural enough in a speech delivered impromptu, but not natural in a speech composed deliberately. St. Paul who heard the speech probably reported it to St. Luke.

The exact point of the speech, and how it is intended to be an answer to the charges (Acts 6:14), is disputed. It would appear, however, that the great length at which the history of the Jews is related, is intended to show that Stephen was not a blasphemer of God but as firm a believer in the OT. as his accusers. He gives a particular account of Moses (Acts 7:20-44), and declares his firm belief in the divine authority of the Law delivered by him ('the lively oracles,' Acts 7:38). He points out, however, that Moses himself predicted the coming of a prophet greater than himself, and that to hear this prophet (whom he identifies with Jesus, Acts 7:52) is commanded by the Law itself. Stephen, therefore, who obeys this command of Moses to hear Jesus, is keeping the Law, while his adversaries, who disobey this command, are breaking the Law (Acts 7:53). The prophets also predicted the coming of Jesus, and Stephen, who follows Jesus, obeys the prophets, while his adversaries are rebels against them, as their fathers were (Acts 7:51-52). The speech contains no reply to the charge of predicting the destruction of the Temple. If the speech had been allowed to be finished, it is probable that it would have closed with a solemn warning that unless his adversaries accepted Jesus as the Messiah, in accordance with the teaching of Moses and the prophets, their city and Temple would be destroyed. The Apology of Stephen may be compared with the Apology of Socrates. Both were delivered, not with the object of gaining an acquittal, but of testifying openly to the truth, and of denouncing the blindness and injustice of the judges.

2. Men, etc.] RV 'Brethren and fathers'; i.e. Israelites, and Sanhedrists. In Mesopotamia] Genesis says nothing of an appearance in Mesopotamia, but such an appearance is implied, Joshua 24:2-3; Nehemiah 9:7; (cp. Genesis 15:7), and affirmed by Philo.

3. See Genesis 12:1, which is mistranslated by the AV, to harmonise with this passage.

4. Charran] i.e. Haran, or Carrhæ, an ancient city of N. Mesopotamia. Here Crassus, the Roman general, was disastrously defeated by the Parthians 53 b.c. See Genesis 11:8; Genesis 12:4, Genesis 12:5.

When his father was dead] According to Genesis (see Genesis 11:26, Genesis 11:32; Genesis 12:4), Terah lived 60 years after his son's migration into Canaan. Stephen's statement is not a mere blunder, but a divergent tradition, found also in Philo, and apparently intended to shield the patriarch from the charge of unfilial conduct, in thus abandoning his aged father.

5. See Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15, etc.

6. See Genesis 15:13, Genesis 15:16. Four hundred years] so Genesis 15:18 more precisely 430 years, Exodus 12:40. But there was another tradition which made the 430 years of Exodus 12:40 refer to the sojourn of the patriarchs in Palestine and Egypt. This is found in some MSS of the LXX (Exodus 12:40); in Josephus, and in Galatians 3:17.

7. In this place] in Canaan, not Sinai, as is the case in Exodus 3:12.

8. Circumcision] Genesis 17:9.

9. See Genesis 37:4.

Envy] Stephen sees in Joseph a type of Jesus, and in the envy of his brethren, a type of the envy of the chief priests and scribes which caused the death of Jesus.

14. Threescore and fifteen souls] Stephen follows LXX of Genesis 46:27; Exodus 1:5. The Hebrew makes the number seventy.

16. There are two errors in this v: (1) Jacob was not buried at Sychem (Shechem), but at Hebron, in the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 50:13). (2) It was not Abraham, but Jacob, who bought a sepulchre at Shechem, from the sons of Emmor (Hamor), Genesis 33:19; Joshua 24:32. Either St. Stephen is following a divergent tradition, or, as is more probable, the errors are due to a lapse of memory natural enough under the disturbing circumstances of the speech. The father of Sychem] The true rendering is the 'son' of Sychem, which would be another discrepancy with Genesis 33:19. But the RV adopts another reading, 'in Sychem (Shechem).'

18. Knew not Joseph] i.e. knew not the history of Joseph and of his great services to his adopted country.

19. So that] rather, 'that they might cast out their babes,' etc.

20. Was exceeding fair] lit. 'fair unto God,' i.e. fair even in the eyes of God: cp. Genesis 10:9, 'a mighty hunter before Jehovah.'

22. Learned] i.e. taught. Undoubtedly true, though not mentioned in the OT. 'The wisdom of the Egyptians' consisted of natural science, magic, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics, and was mainly in the hands of the priesthood. Mighty in words] not inconsistent with Exodus 4:10, for Moses' eloquence was acquired subsequently.

23. Forty years old] His age is derived from tradition.

30. Forty years] Another tradition. The rabbis said, 'Moses lived in Pharaoh's palace 40 years, in Midian 40 years, and ministered to Israel 40 years.' An angel] in Exodus 3:2; 'the angel of Jehovah,' who is afterwards identified with Jehovah Himself.

34. I will send] rather, 'let me send.'

35. A ruler and a deliverer] lit. 'a ruler and redeemer.' Moses' 'redemption' of the people from the bondage of Egypt was a type of Christ's greater redemption of them from the bondage of sin and Satan.

37. A prophet] The importance of Moses, according to Stephen, is that he is the type and forerunner of a greater than himself, whose coming he foretold: see Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 18:18 and cp. Acts 3:22. Christ is the second and greater Moses, and, like him, a redeemer (Acts 7:35), lawgiver (Acts 7:38), and prophet (Acts 7:37). Loyalty to Moses, therefore, necessarily implies loyalty to Christ.

38. In the church] i.e. in the congregation or assembly of all Israel at Mt. Sinai when the Law was given and the Covenant made and ratified. On this occasion Moses again typified Christ by acting as Mediator. He was with God (or God's angel) on Mt. Sinai holding converse with Him: he was also with the people below holding converse with them, and thus being intimately associated with both, made a covenant between them. With the angel] The idea that Moses did not receive the Law directly from God, but from an angel or angels, is contrary to the OT., but was current among the Jews at this period: see Jos. 'Ant.'

15.5, 3, 'We have learnt the most holy part of our Law by angels.' The Fathers identify the angel who spoke to Moses with the Logos, or second person of the Holy Trinity. Lively oracles] An oracle is an inspired utterance, hence the term is suitably applied to the Scriptures. The oracles are lively, or living, because they have the power of God in them, and the promises which they contain are effectual.

39. Israel's rebellion against Moses is a type of their later rebellion against Jesus. Egypt] i.e. the Egyptian way of life, especially Egyptian idolatry (bull-worship). In Egypt Apis was worshipped at Memphis, and Mnevis at Heliopolis under the form of a bull: see Exodus 32:1.

42. The book of the prophets] The twelve minor prophets formed one roll or book. O ye house, etc.] freely quoted from LXX of Amos 5:25, Amos 5:26. Stephen, following LXX, supposes that the worship of Moloch and of the stars took place in the wilderness. This is not expressly mentioned in the Pentateuch, but it is not improbable, for the worship of Moloch is forbidden Leviticus 18:21, etc. Have ye offered?] The answer is 'No.' In appearance sacrifices had been offered to God, but inasmuch as they were offered by worshippers polluted by idolatry, they were no true sacrifices.

43. Ye took up] viz. to carry in a religious procession, or, to carry from one halting-place to another. The tabernacle of Moloch] a profane imitation of the tabernacle of Jehovah. Moloch (Molech, or Milcom) was an idol of the Ammonites to whom children were offered. His image is said to have been hollow, heated from below, with the head of an ox, and outstretched arms in which children were laid, their cries of agony being stifled by the beating of drums. The Heb., however, should probably be translated not 'the tabernacle of Moloch' (LXX and AV), but 'Siccuth, your king' (another false god). The star of your god Remphan] i.e. his star-emblem. The Heb. has Chiun (not Remphan), i.e. the planet Saturn. Beyond Babylon] Amos says, 'beyond Damascus.' Stephen has adapted the prophecy (according to the rabbinical fashion) to later events.

44. Stephen's reference to the movable tabernacle in the wilderness is probably intended to show that the worship of God is not necessarily confined to one place (Jerusalem), and that for adequate cause (e.g. the persistent rejection of Christ by the Jews) the privilege of Jerusalem may be taken away.

The tabernacle of witness] Thus LXX translates the phrase, which really means 'the tent of meeting,' i.e. the tent where God met His worshippers. But the phrase is nevertheless an apt one, for the tent contained the ark, which was a witness of the covenant, and the two tables on which the fundamental law of the covenant (the Decalogue) was written.

The fashion] see Exodus 25:40; Exodus 26:30; Hebrews 8:5.

45. RV 'Which also our fathers, in their turn, brought in with Joshua when they entered on the possession of the nations,' etc. Note Jesus='Joshua,' as in Hebrews 4:8.

48. Stephen's words do not indicate that the building of Solomon's Temple was a mistake, but they do indicate that God's worship is not necessarily tied to one place, and that the divine choice of Jerusalem as a place of worship is not irreversible. Solomon himself recognised this truth, 1 Kings 8:27.

49, 50. See Isaiah 66:1, Isaiah 66:2.

51-53. Stephen, not careful of life, and willing to be a martyr, now denounces his judges.

52. Have slain] referring especially to Isaiah and Jeremiah, who both, according to tradition, suffered martyrdom. The Just One] i.e. Jesus: see Acts 3:14.

53. By the disposition of angels] RV 'as it was ordained by angels'; RM 'as the ordinance of angels.' The precise meaning is uncertain, but some kind of mediation of angels in the giving of the Law is probably meant: see Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2.

7:54-8:3. Martyrdom of Stephen. Saul's persecution of the Church.

54. Were cut] lit. 'were sawn asunder': see Acts 5:33.

55. Standing] Jesus rises from the throne on which He is represented as eternally sitting (Matthew 26:64; Mark 16:19, etc.) to succour the martyr in his extremity, and to welcome his soul into bliss.

56. The Son of man] Here only is this title applied to Jesus by any one except Himself. It indicates that Stephen saw Him in human form: see on Matthew 8:20.

57. Stopped their ears] because they regarded his words as blasphemous.

58. Out of the city] see 1 Kings 21:13; Leviticus 24:14-16.

And stoned him] 'After a man has been condemned to be stoned, they bring him good strong wine, and give him to drink, that he may not feel too great horror of a violent death. Then come the witnesses, and bind his hands and feet, and lead him to the place of stoning. Then the witnesses take a great stone, large enough to cause death, and lay it upon his heart all together, lest one should act before another, according to Deuteronomy 17:7, "The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him": then all the Israelites can overwhelm him with stones' (Talmud). The execution of Stephen was tumultuous and illegal, for, (1) there was no formal sentence pronounced by the court, (2) the Roman authorities were not consulted about the death sentence: see John 18:31.

Saul] A young Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, born a Roman citizen, a tentmaker by trade, of well-to-do parents, trained at Jerusalem in the rabbinical school of Gamaliel the Pharisee, and accustomed to speak Hebrew (Acts 21:39. etc.). His other name, Paul, first occurs Acts 13:9.

59. Calling upon God] RV 'calling upon the Lord' (i.e. Jesus). Receive my spirit] A direct prayer to Jesus, and, therefore, a proof that the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus was already established in the Church. It is not a prayer to a mere saintly intercessor ('Jesus, pray for me'), but a direct prayer offered in the firm belief that Jesus can really grant what is asked, viz. the salvation of the soul. Prayer to Jesus was universal in the Christian Church (Acts 9:14, etc.).

60. Like his Master, Stephen dies praying for his enemies: cp. Luke 23:34

Acts 8:1. At that time] RV 'on that day.'

Except the apostles] The apostles still wished to achieve the conversion of Jerusalem. Besides, as leaders of the flock, they disdained flight.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Acts 7:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/acts-7.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, August 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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