Acts 5-8

Ananias and his wife sell some of their property and brought only some of the proceeds to the apostles.  Because of this, they fall dead, presumably from divine intervention.  After the apostles do more signs and wonders, the high priest and the Sadducees arrest them, but an angel helps them escape prison.  They are found teaching in the temple the next day, and brought before the council.  A Pharisee named Gamaliel defends them, convincing the council to release them.  The word of God continues to spread, convincing even many priests.  Stephen is accused of blasphemy against the Temple and the Law, and brought before the council.  He gives a long speech recounting the early history of the Israelites from Abraham to Solomon; he then insults the council, saying “which of the prophets did you ancestors not persecute?”  The council stones him to death.  That day, Saul starts persecuting believers in Jerusalem; all except the apostles flee the city; Philip converts a Samaritan city; Peter and John go there and touch the crowds to give them the Holy Spirit.  Philip then converts and baptizes an Ethopian eunuch, a court official of the Ethiopian queen.

Commentary: Stephen, the first martyr mentioned in Luke-Acts, is accused of blasphemy by his synagogue’s council:

They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things 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 handed on to us.” (6:13)

Note that the author (hereafter called Luke) calls these false accusations.  Luke believes Jesus did not change the Mosaic law–or if he did, Stephen wasn’t telling anyone about it.  But are the accusations really false?  Luke then quotes a long speech by Stephen, in which he recounts the history of the Israelites from Abraham to Solomon.  Most of this would have been familiar to his listeners, except for two key points.  In 7:38 and 7:53, he claims that an angel gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai; in the Hebrew Bible, it was God himself who gave the Law.  In 7:48, he criticizes the Temple:

Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool […]

According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible, “made with human hands” is a phrase that suggests idolatry in the Hebrew Bible (see Ps 115:4, Isa 2:8).  Stephen himself says in 7:41, “At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and reveled in the works of their hands.”

Thus, Stephen apparently did preach against both the Law and the Temple–he claimed the former was not from God, and the latter was idolatrous.  The council’s accusations against him were not entirely false.

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