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Bible Commentaries
Acts 7

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-60

VII 1-53 The Speech of St Stephen before the Sanhedrin —He only indirectly answers his accusers by the reverent way he speaks of God’s care of Israel, by his praise of Moses, and by showing he speaks of the temple as the prophets had done. His speech is most skilful. He outlines the whole history of the People of God, and, before his Jewish audience, only thus could he obtain a hearing for his thesis that theirs was a transitory dispensation, to be succeeded by adoration in spirit and truth. The speech is so ’alive’ that it leads to the murder of its author. He is not on the defensive, but trying to convince others, a witness, a ’martyr’. St Paul heard the speech, and many of its ideas can be paralleled in his epistles. St Stephen speaks as a Jew to Jews, and uses the allegorical exegetical methods of the Rabbis, whence the closeness of the parallels with Heb. There are also traces of Alexandrinisms, and it is thought that St Stephen had studied in the Jewish schools there. 829b

2-16 Abraham and the Patriarchs —God dealt with them outside the Promised Land, and the Promise and Covenant of Circumcision were made long before the Mosaic Law, which could, it was implied, be followed by a more spiritual regime, cf.Galatians 3:17; Matthew 19:8.

2. Anxious to win over his hearers, St Stephen begins by addressing them with respect and friendliness. ’ The God of the Glory’. ’Glory’ refers to the cloud (Shekinah), which made known God’s presence. St Stephen recalls that God had appeared outside the Holy Land, and before the temple was built. Gen 12 says Abraham received his command in Harran. Possibly he was twice commanded, cf.Genesis 15:7. In any case, here, and in other divergences from the Heb. text in his speech, St Stephen was following LXX, or the current Jewish traditions, and the inspired writer has reported him accurately. The divergences do not affect the argument.

4. Genesis 11:26 and 32 imply that when God removed Abraham into Canaan his father was still living. 9. There is implied the comparison between Joseph’s treatment by his brothers, and that of Jesus by the Jews. 16. Genesis 23:17 and 33:19 say Jacob bought the field from the children of Hemor, and Abraham a tomb at Mambre.

17-43 The Age of Moses —It was the Jews who rejected Moses as they had Joseph. In his conclusion St Stephen returns to this continual rejection by the Jews of their prophets, 51-53. 22 is used by the Fathers to justify the study of pagan literature.

25. The parallel is plain between Moses and Jesus.

30. Holy ground and a revelation of God exist elsewhere than in the temple. An angel appeared, but it was God who spoke. An angel represented God, here and on Mount Sinai, 38 and 53, as we also learn from Galatians 3:19 and Hebrews 2:2.

37. Cf. 3:22. Moses had prophesied Jesus, and in rejecting him, it is the Jews who despise Moses. 42. God turned from his faithless people, and gave them up, i.e. in Heb. parlance, withheld graces, and permitted them to indulge in idolatrous worship of the stars; cf.Ez 20:13. 43. Amos 5:25-27. The Israelites even went so far as to carry a tent for Moloch, and the star of the God Rempha, Saturn. St Stephen changed the original ’ Damascus’ to ’Babylon’, interpreting prophecy in the light of history, as was the Rabbis’ custom. See also commentary on Amos 5:25.

44-50 From Moses to Solomon, the Tabernacle was before the Temple —Thus God can again ordain that he should be worshipped elsewhere than in the temple and at Jerusalem, John 4:21-24.

44-45. KNT gives the sense, ’In the wilderness our fathers had the tabernacle with them, to remind them of God’s covenant: he who spoke to Moses bade him fashion it after the model which had been shown him. And when God dispossessed the Gentiles, to make room for our fathers’ coming, our fathers under Josue brought this tabernacle, as an heirloom, into the land which they conquered’.

46. David, so favoured by God, had no temple.

48. This is the climax, God ’dwelleth not in houses made with hands’. Solomon had affirmed as much at the dedication of the temple, 3 kg 8:27.

49. Isaiah 66:1 had taught the spiritual adoration of Yahweh, before the legalistic exaltation of the temple.

51-53 Conclusion of the Speech —The history of the Jews is finished, and St Stephen is about to lead up to the supreme infidelity. Meanwhile the anger of his audience shows the uselessness of pursuing the argument. ’Uncircumcised’, no better than pagans, hearts hardened and ears closed to the spiritual meaning of their religion. 52. cf.Matthew 5:12; Luke 13:34. The speech has led up to our Lord, only now mentioned. ’The Just One’, see note on 3:14.

53. The mention of angels emphasizes the sacredness of the Law; cf. v 30. Our Lord had often made this final accusation, Matthew 23:3.

54-59 The Martyrdom of St Stephen —54. The rage of the Jews, accused of not keeping the Law, and hearing Jesus described as Messias, interrupts the speech.

55. Everywhere else in the NT Jesus is ’seated’ on the right of God, as in Psalms 109:1, but now he ’stands’, ready to aid. Only our Lord calls himself the Son of Man, and only before his resurrection. St Stephen uses the title in the sense that our Lord had at his trial, claiming that he was the Messias of Daniel 7:13.

57. The stoning is outside the city, Leviticus 24:14. The trial was over, the witnesses had been heard. Perhaps there was not a formal sentence by the Sanhedrin, but a general riot. The date may be a.d. 36 (cf.Galatians 2:1, but see § 676f, g), during the interregnum between the sudden recall of Pilate and the appointment of his successor. in a.d. 62, during a similar vacancy, after the death of Festus, the Sanhedrin ordered the stoning of St James, bishop of Jerusalem. 58-59. As Jesus had given up his spirit to his Father, so Stephen gives his to Jesus, thus revealing his faith in our Lord’s divinity, and completing the intentionally incomplete doctrine of his speech. The parallels between our Lord, and the first witness to imitate him unto death, are many: false witnesses, outside the city, the accusations, the reference to Daniel arousing fury, the commending prayer, and the prayer for persecutors. St Luke is fond of such parallels. He brings them out too in the case of St Paul, see on 20:22; 21:12. Saul is mentioned for the first time; cf. 22:20. ’If Stephen had not prayed, the Church would not have gained Paul’, Aug. Sermo315.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Acts 7". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/acts-7.html. 1951.
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