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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 7

 

 

Introduction

Acts 7. Speech of Stephen.—The speech of Stephen stands after the introduction of the Hellenists, and in the course of the attack on them which led to their persecution and withdrawal from Jerusalem. This explains its tenor. It is an impeachment of the Jews based on their history; they are the true rebels against God and contemners of His will; the true believers in Christ must leave them alone. There are many discrepancies between the speech and the OT narrative, some due to the use of the LXX instead of the Heb., many to the growth of the Haggadah or OT legend in the period after the Exile. Additional difficulty arises from the lack of divisions in the speech, the aim of which is never stated, and which flows on in historical sequence and reveals its point only towards the end.


Verses 1-16

Acts 7:1-16. Abraham and the Patriarchs.—The High Priest invites Stephen to plead to the charge. Addressing his audience in the style used by Paul (Acts 22:1), Stephen speaks of the theophany to Abraham, placing it, as Philo does, in Mesopotamia before the move to Haran (contrast Genesis 11:31; Genesis 12:1). The Divine injunction and promise (Acts 7:3) are those of Genesis 12:1 spoken in Haran. That not a foot-breadth was given Abraham in the land of promise, is taken from Deuteronomy 2:5, where another country is in question. The promise (Acts 7:5) is from a number of passages (Genesis 12, 13, 17), and that introduced in Acts 7:6 is a quotation from Genesis 15:13-19, Exodus 2:22; Exodus 12:40; "a stranger in a strange land" (Exodus 2:22) of Gershom. "They shall serve me in this place" (Exodus 3:12, "this mountain"). The phrase "covenant of circumcision" is composed of Genesis 17:10 and Genesis 17:13; Paul has it in Romans 4:11. For the circumcision of Isaac, see Genesis 21:4. The speaker passes quickly on to Joseph, his sale into Egypt and his rise there (cf. Genesis 37-41), with the migration of Jacob and the patriarchs.

Acts 7:14. LXX gives the number as 75; Heb. says 70 (Genesis 46:27, Deuteronomy 10:22).

Acts 7:16. In Genesis 49:30; Genesis 50:13, Jacob is buried at Machpelah, not in Shechem.


Verses 17-44

Acts 7:17-44. Moses.—Stephen describes the growth of the people, the change of ruler and his oppression, as in Exodus 1.

Acts 7:20. fair unto God (mg.): from Exodus 2:2; Philo and Josephus speak of the beauty of Moses.

Acts 7:21. Cf. Exodus 2:3; Exodus 2:10. The papyri show that the exposure of infants was still common in Egypt in Christian times. The OT says nothing of Moses' education or learning; Philo knows much more of it than is here stated.

Acts 7:23. forty years old: according to Deuteronomy 34:7 Moses is 120 years old when he dies, and this speech, after a rabbinic tradition, gives him three periods of forty years: (a) till the visit to his brethren; (b) to his return to Egypt from Midian (Acts 7:30); (c) to the end of his life.

Acts 7:24. Following Exodus 2:11, somewhat carelessly expressed and presupposing in the audience a knowledge of the facts.

Acts 7:25. Stephen's own comment; Moses wished to appear as a deliverer not a murderer, but he, like others afterwards, had to do with a race slow to recognise its saviours. The rest of the story is slightly altered from Ex., and brings out more strongly Moses' anxiety to help his brethren. He also appears here as fleeing from Egypt on account of his own people rather than for fear of the king. They distrust him and resist him always.

Acts 7:30. The second forty years' period opens in the wilderness of Sinai; in Acts 7:32 God Himself speaks to him in the bush as in Ex.

Acts 7:31-34. The theophany is narrated as in Exodus 3. Note that the holy ground here spoken of is not in Palestine, but far from it.

Acts 7:35. The emphatic repetition of the pronouns with which Acts 7:35-38 all begin in the original—"this," "this," "this"—is lost in EV. Moses is placed as strongly as possible before the hearers of the speech; his rejection by his fellow-countrymen; his mission by God; the angel his companion and helper; his signs and wonders in Egypt and in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers 14:33, Amos 5:25, Psalms 95:10).

Acts 7:37. The prediction by Moses of the true prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15) is repeated from Acts 3:22 and seems somewhat out of place here, introducing Christ too soon for the argument.

Acts 7:38. church: the word has been used once only (Acts 5:11) up to this point; it will now occur more frequently. It is the LXX equivalent of qahal (Matthew 16:18*), which is an assembly for business transactions, not for worship. It could be taken from the phrase "day of assembly," used in Dt. for the day of the Lawgiving.—living oracles: Philo compares the Law with the living power of seed (Galatians 3:21 f.). Stephen's utterance swells from this point onwards with fullness of ideas as well as with passion.

Acts 7:39. The Israelites receive the Law unwillingly; their hearts turn back to Egypt, not to its fleshpots but to its idols, as Exodus 32 is taken to mean.

Acts 7:41. The sacrifice to the golden calf and its accompanying sports (Exodus 32:5 f.).

Acts 7:42. As a punishment God gives up the people to strange rites (cf. Romans 1:25 f., where God gives up the Gentiles to unnatural vices, as a punishment for their blindness to His glory in creation); they serve the host of heaven as the prophets, the second part of the Jewish Scriptures, testify. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:18, Jeremiah 19:13) describes the idolatrous worship in Palestine at the time of the Exile (see also 2 Kings 17:9-17), and Amos (Amos 5:26 f.) that of an earlier date. For Remphan Amos has Chiun as the god served by Israel, as well as Moloch. The name is spelt in many different ways in the MSS it has been regarded as the Egyptian name for Saturn, and Cheyne (EBi, 4032) shows how easily in Heb. writing Chiun could be altered into Remphan. Stephen's auditors could readily reply that this idolatry belonged to the infancy of their race, and that they had nothing to do with it. For Babylon, Amos has Damascus; the change is easily intelligible.


Verses 44-50

Acts 7:44-50. The speech comes nearer the charge it is to refute. The Temple itself is wrong. Moses acted on direct Divine injunction as to the tabernacle of witness which he made according to the pattern showed him and which the fathers carried with them in the wilderness (Exodus 25; especially Exodus 25:9; Exodus 25:40). This Tabernacle is contrasted on the one hand with the tent of Moloch, on the other with the Temple of Solomon. While the fathers carried it, they were successful. Joshua (Gr. Jesus) thrust out the nations before them from the promised land, which they possessed and occupied till the times of David. David asked that he might find a habitation for the God of Jacob. Instead of this the Temple was built by Solomon, who was less favoured by God than David; and the Temple was not a tabernacle, such as David would have built, but a house. The sentiment of Acts 7:48 occurs again in Paul's speech at Athens, and was, no doubt, a commonplace in the thought of Hellenists who dwelt at a distance from the Temple; Isaiah 66:1, now quoted, forced it into their mouth. Our Lord quotes it (Matthew 5:34 f.), with a somewhat different purpose, it is true, but His view of the Temple (Mark 13:2; Mark 14:58, John 4:21-24) is that of Stephen and Paul: it is not necessary for true religion.

Acts 7:51-53. The Speech Summed up.—The phrases in which the audience is characterised often occur in OT. Their whole history has been a series of recalcitrancies against the Holy Spirit, and the present generation are following their fathers. The question of Acts 7:52 gives intensity to the charge that the Jews killed those who were sent to them. It is found in more detailed form in Mark 12:1-9, Matthew 23:30 ff., Hebrews 11:37. The "righteous" probably from Isaiah 53:11; the phrase might not at once be understood, but becomes clear in the latter part of the sentence. The end of the speech (Acts 7:53) contains a sting; the legislation of Sinai took place in splendid pomp, with thousands of attending angels (Deuteronomy 33:2, Psalms 68:17 f.), and the Jews rightly look back on it as the greatest event in the world's history; but they have not kept the Law, and so all their pride in it is turned to foolishness. They have always disobeyed the Giver of the Law, they have worshipped other gods, they have confined Him in a stone temple, they have killed His messengers and now His final messenger of whom all the prophets spoke.

[A few words may be added on the speech as a masterly handling of a difficult situation. Stephen desires to do two things: (a) to prove that religion is independent of place, and thus vindicate his attitude to the Temple, and (b) to bring home the ingrained rebelliousness of the Jewish people, and thus exhibit the rejection of Jesus as quite in keeping with their character. Such home truths were too unpalatable to be patiently received; if Stephen was to gain a hearing it could only be by giving an exposition to which no exception could be taken. His speech looks at first like a string of irrelevant incidents; but they are drawn from the OT, thus he secures himself against interruption; and they are skilfully chosen to illustrate his two main themes. Revelation comes in Mesopotamia and Haran, in Egypt and at Sinai. In Canaan Abraham has no possession, the tomb he purchases is in Shechem; Moses treads "holy ground" and the angel appears to him in Midian; the Hebrews had the Law given, and the Tabernacle, after a heavenly model, in the wilderness; with it they conquered Canaan, and were content with it till the time of David. Scripture itself proclaimed that no Temple could serve as God's dwelling. Again, the treatment of Joseph by his brethren, the rejection of Moses by the Hebrews in bondage, their disobedience in the making of the golden calf, the persecution of the prophets, all found their appropriate climax in the betrayal and murder of Jesus. Thus with consummate skill the speaker unfolds and illustrates his theses, saying all the while what none can controvert. Only when the case is complete on these lines, does history pass into invective, naturally to the immediate sealing of his doom, which, however, with such views would presumably have been inevitable.—A. S. P.] See further on Stephen, pp. 639f., 767.


Verses 54-56

Acts 7:54 to Acts 8:1 a. Death of Stephen.—The speech of Stephen cuts the hearers to the quick. It is not said that they interrupted him; the speech is complete, but their apparent and vehement anger showed him that the last had come; they were no longer masters of themselves. We have no longer a judicial investigation before us but a tumultuous attack. Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, sees a vision (Acts 7:55), as is recorded of many martyrs. He sees the glory of God (cf. Acts 7:2) and Jesus standing (? to receive His servant; generally sitting, Mark 14:62, Matthew 26:64, Luke 22:69, Mark 16:19). At this their anger broke out, and they are hurried into a violent and illegal action. The punishment inflicted is that for blasphemy; in decreeing it they forget all forms of law, but in the execution of it they observe the precept of Leviticus 24:14, and hurry the condemned person outside the town. Saul is introduced (Acts 7:58) as sharing the responsibility of the act. In Acts 7:59-60, the story is narrated over again for the sake of the words of the martyr (cf. Luke 23:34; Luke 23:46), and another account of his death is given, ending with the statement of Saul's complicity.

Acts 7:54. gnashed: Psalms 35:16; Psalms 112:10.

Acts 7:56. Son of man: i.e. Jesus as judge (Mark 14:62).

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Acts 7:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/acts-7.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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