Acts 7 Study Notes
7:1-53 Stephen recited how God had been at work from earliest times with his appointed people, Israel. The authenticity of his speech has been called into question because the ideas he expressed about the temple—that God was not confined to a single spot (v. 48)—seem to reflect later thought, especially that which developed after the destruction of the temple in AD 70. But there was a tradition extending from the OT prophets (cp. vv. 49-50 citing Is 66:1-2, as one example) on to early Christian thinkers (e.g., Paul in Ac 17) that said God could not be confined to a particular location. Stephen’s speech is similar to Paul’s in Pisidian Antioch (13:16-41).
7:5 Although Abraham had no children at the time, God promised to give his descendants land as a possession. Thus it was fundamentally on an act of trust (faith) that the nation of Israel had its beginning.
7:6-7 Stephen recalled Gn 15:13-14, where God foretold Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign country (Egypt) before they would come out and worship in the promised land. Thus God’s promise of blessing came with an equally sure promise of suffering.
7:8 The term patriarchs does not occur in Greek literature. This may be its first use.
7:9-16 Stephen explains how Israel came to be in Egypt. Though Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, God was with him, granting him favor and wisdom. When famine and great suffering came, God preserved them.
7:17-19 Without the oppression, Israel might have remained in Egypt.
7:20-22 Moses, though born to Jewish parents, was reared by Pharaoh’s daughter and educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, becoming powerful in his speech and actions. When God called Moses (Ex 3:1-4:17), it was as if a non-Hebrew became a follower of the Hebrew God. Similarly, many non-Hebrews flooded into the early church, forsaking their pagan background (e.g., Ac 10).
7:24-28 The Israelites initially questioned Moses as their ruler (Ex 2:14). Perhaps Stephen brought this up to provoke reconsideration of Israel’s assessment and rejection of Jesus. They had been wrong about Moses. Might they have been wrong about Jesus too?
7:37-38 The living oracles to which Stephen referred were the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses for his people.
7:39-40 Though God accompanied the Hebrews in highly visible, powerful ways during their journey out from Egypt, they defied him and asked Aaron to make . . . gods for them (Ex 32:1). Much the same thing occurred when the nation rejected Jesus, who likewise came among them as God in highly visible, powerful ways.
7:41-43 Stephen’s citation of Am 5:25-27 was perhaps intended to convey that just as the Hebrews rejected God in the desert, suffering exile and spiritual estrangement as a consequence, so too contemporary Israel was inviting similar consequences by rejecting Jesus.
7:44-47 Stephen was leading up to the point that worship at the temple had become false worship.
7:48-50 Though God does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands, he allowed a house to be built for him by Solomon (Is 66:1-2). God accommodates himself to us in order to make human-divine relationship possible.
7:51 The descriptors Stephen used to condemn Israel for unbelief and disobedience (stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears) were commonly used by OT prophets (Lv 26:41; Jr 4:4; 6:10; 9:26; Ezk 44:7,9). This language was also adopted by Paul (Rm 2; Gl 5) where he said unbelieving Jews relied on outward signs rather than transformed hearts. Possibly Paul was influenced by Stephen’s speech since he was present (Ac 7:58; 8:1), but the OT was the more obvious influence.
7:52 Stephen’s words would either raise the ire of his audience or break their hearts, leading to repentance. The OT prophets had delivered messages similar to his own, and your ancestors, Stephen said, persecuted and killed them. Worse, his audience had made themselves the betrayers and murderers of the Righteous One whom God promised through the prophets.
7:53 Even though the OT does not explicitly state that the law was given by angels, Stephen, Paul (Gl 3:19), and the author of Hebrews (Heb 2:2) stated that angels were involved in the process of lawgiving. This likely implied that the law was especially important since God entrusted its deliverance to angels.
7:54 Stephen’s audience expressed displeasure both inwardly (enraged) and outwardly (gnashed their teeth at him). They took themselves to be Israel’s religious leaders, pious men of God, and yet Stephen charged them with deep spiritual corruption.
7:55 Stephen was a stark contrast to his audience. They were fuming with rage, but he was filled with the Holy Spirit and gazed peacefully into heaven even as he knew death was coming.
7:56-57 Son of Man was Jesus’s favorite self-designation. Each use of this expression in the NT came from the lips of Jesus, except where people quoted his words back to him (Jn 12:34) and in this verse. Stephen’s claim that Jesus was at God’s right hand enraged the members of the Sanhedrin.
7:58 The Romans allowed the Jewish leaders to maintain the sanctity of the temple area but not to carry out the death penalty. That is why Jesus was taken to Pilate, a Roman official, for trial. In this instance, however, Stephen was killed illegally by an enraged mob. This is the first reference in Scripture to Saul (later called Paul). It is disputed whether he was a member of the Sanhedrin or just a young rabbinic student who was zealous for traditional Jewish faith. Whether he was formally involved in the Sanhedrin or not, he “agreed” with the decision to stone Stephen (8:1).
7:59-60 Both of Stephen’s requests are remarkable. His first, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, proclaims that Jesus is Judge and Savior. Stephen’s second request, that God not hold this sin against his executioners, illustrates the nonvindictive spirit of one who understands that his own sins have been forgiven by grace.