Acts 7:54–60 (NA28)

54Ἀκούοντες δὲ ταῦτα διεπρίοντο ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν καὶ ἔβρυχον τοὺς ὀδόντας ἐπʼ αὐτόν.

Now when they heard this they were infuriated in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him

  • Akouontes – changed to the perfect in translation from the present active
    • Does not change meaning however it appears to follow sense of passage
    • It could also be translated – while hearing (I think)
  • The reaction of the hearers to Stephen’s accusations is described in the same way as in 5:33. To gnash one’s teeth was a sign of rage (Ps. 35:16; Luke 13:28). Their consciences were pricked, but they were far from repenting and acknowledging the truth of what was said.[1]
  • Whether Stephen intended to give a direct appeal for his hearers to repent we will never know, for they abruptly broke him off. They were absolutely livid at Stephen’s placing them on trial. Luke described their rage in terms of their being “cut to the heart” (dieprionto, cf. 5:33) and “grinding their teeth” (cf. Ps 35:16). [2]

55ὑπάρχων δὲ πλήρης πνεύματος ἁγίου ἀτενίσας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εἶδεν δόξαν θεοῦ καὶ Ἰησοῦν ἑστῶτα ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ θεοῦ

But being full of the Holy Spirit he looked intently into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God

  • This appears to be divine revelation in Luke knowing this or perhaps Paul saw it
  • And Jesus standing (και Ἰησουν ἑστωτα [kai Iēsoun hestōta]). Full of the Holy Spirit, gazing steadfastly into heaven, he saw God’s glory and Jesus “standing” as if he had risen to cheer the brave Stephen. Elsewhere (save verse 56 also) he is pictured as sitting at the right hand of God (the Session of Christ) as in Matt. 26:64; Mark 16:19; Acts 2:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3.[3]
  • Although Stephen was a man full of the Spirit (6:5) he experienced a special filling with the Spirit which enabled him to enjoy a heavenly vision. Gazing upwards into heaven (here conceived spatially as lying up above the sky) he was able to see the glory that hides God from view and the figure of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He cried out that he could see the heavens opened, and the Son of man. The picture is reminiscent of the baptism of Jesus, when the opened heavens were also a sign of revelation from God. The description of Jesus as the Son of man is unusual outside the Gospels; this title is found almost exclusively on the lips of Jesus himself and was scarcely used in the church as a confessional title. The point must be that Stephen sees Jesus in his role as the Son of man; he sees him as the One who suffered and was vindicated by God (Luke 9:22), i.e. as a pattern to be followed by Christian martyrs, but also as the One who will vindicate in God’s presence those who are not ashamed of Jesus and acknowledge their allegiance to him before men (Luke 12:8). This probably explains why the Son of man was seen to be standing, rather than sitting at God’s right hand (2:34). He is standing as advocate to plead Stephen’s cause before God and to welcome him into God’s presence.[4]

56καὶ εἶπεν· ἰδοὺ θεωρῶ τοὺς οὐρανοὺς διηνοιγμένους καὶ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ δεξιῶν ἑστῶτα τοῦ θεοῦ.

And he said, “behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God

  • The welcoming of Stephen
  • Opened (διηνοιγμενους [diēnoigmenous]). Perfect passive predicate participle of διανοιγνυμι [dianoignumi] (cf. Matt. 3:16=Luke 3:21). The son of man (τον υἱον του ἀνθρωπου [ton huion tou anthrōpou]). Elsewhere in the N. T. in Christ’s own words. Here Stephen may refer to the words of Jesus as preserved in Matt. 26:64.[5]
  • The point must be that Stephen sees Jesus in his role as the Son of man; he sees him as the One who suffered and was vindicated by God (Luke 9:22), i.e. as a pattern to be followed by Christian martyrs, but also as the One who will vindicate in God’s presence those who are not ashamed of Jesus and acknowledge their allegiance to him before men (Luke 12:8). This probably explains why the Son of man was seen to be standing, rather than sitting at God’s right hand (2:34). He is standing as advocate to plead Stephen’s cause before God and to welcome him into God’s presence. It has been suggested that what Stephen receives is a kind of proleptic vision of the parousia or second advent of Jesus; the individual Christian finds that Christ comes to him in the moment of his death.29 In any case, what is significant is that the dying Stephen is welcomed into the presence of Jesus; the implication is that, as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too his followers will be.[6]
  • The vision confirmed Stephen’s testimony. His messianic claims for Jesus were verified in his vision of the exalted Son of Man. Significantly, Stephen referred to him as “the Son of Man,” not simply as “Jesus,” as in the narrative of v. 55. This is the only instance in the New Testament where the term is spoken by another than Jesus himself. Even more striking is the reference to his standing. Generally the reference is to his being seated at God’s right hand, as in Luke 22:69. Scholarly opinion differs about the significance of the uncharacteristic standing position in Stephen’s speech. Some see no significance other than a variation in expression.87 Others see it as a reference to Christ having risen from his seat to welcome the martyr Stephen.[7]

57κράξαντες δὲ φωνῇ μεγάλῃ συνέσχον τὰ ὦτα αὐτῶν καὶ ὥρμησαν ὁμοθυμαδὸν ἐπʼ αὐτὸν

But crying out with a loud voice they stopped their ears and rushed with one purpose at him

  • No vote was taken by the Sanhedrin. No scruple was raised about not having the right to put him to death (John 18:31). It may have taken place after Pilate’s recall and before his successor came or Pilate, if there, just connived at such an incident that did not concern Rome. At any rate it was mob violence like modern lynching that took the law into the hands of the Sanhedrin without further formalities.[8]
  • To speak in this way was blasphemy to Jewish ears. The members of the court shouted to drown out the blasphemy and stuffed their fingers in their ears so that they might not hear any more of it. Then, it would seem, all semblance of order disappeared. We hear nothing of a formal condemnation and sentence, which suggests that legal procedure was not being followed[9]

58καὶ ἐκβαλόντες ἔξω τῆς πόλεως ἐλιθοβόλουν. καὶ οἱ μάρτυρες ἀπέθεντο τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν παρὰ τοὺς πόδας νεανίου καλουμένου Σαύλου,

And after they had driven him out of the city they began stoning him and the witnesses laid aside their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul

  • Out of the city (ἐκ της πολεως [ek tēs poleōs]). To keep from defiling the place with blood. But they sought to kill Paul as soon as they got him out of the temple area (Acts 21:30f.). Stoned (ἐλιθοβολουν [elithoboloun]). Imperfect active indicative of λιθοβολεω [lithoboleō], began to stone, from λιθοβολος [lithobolos] (λιθος [lithos], stone, βαλλω [ballō], to throw), late Greek verb, several times in the N. T. as Luke 13:34. Stoning was the Jewish punishment for blasphemy (Lev. 24:14–16). The witnesses (οἱ μαρτυρες [hoi martures]). The false testifiers against Stephen suborned by the Pharisees (Acts 6:11, 13). These witnesses had the privilege of casting the first stones (Deut. 13:10; 17:7) against the first witness for Christ with death (martyr in our modern sense of the word). At the feet of a young man named Saul (παρα τους ποδας νεανιου καλουμενου Σαυλου [para tous podas neaniou kaloumenou Saulou]). Beside (παρα [para]) the feet. Our first introduction to the man who became the greatest of all followers of Jesus Christ. Evidently he was not one of the “witnesses” against Stephen, for he was throwing no stones at him. But evidently he was already a leader in the group of Pharisees. We know from later hints from Saul (Paul) himself that he had been a pupil of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Gamaliel, as the Pharisaic leader in the Sanhedrin, was probably on hand to hear the accusations against Stephen by the Pharisees. But, if so, he does not raise his voice against this mob violence. Saul does not seem to be aware that he is going contrary to the views of his master, though pupils often go further than their teachers.[10]
  • Nevertheless, one formality could be said to have been observed. The Old Testament laid down the place of the witnesses to the act of blasphemy in the execution (Lev. 24:14; cf. Deut. 17:7). Here the witnesses are mentioned, not for their own sake, but because they laid down their garments at the feet of a man called Saul, who now appears in the story for the first time. The Mishnah required the victim to be stripped of his clothing; here, however, it is the executioners who divest themselves in order to perform their gruesome function more easily. There is no need to be sceptical regarding the mention of Saul here; he probably attended the Cilician synagogue (cf. 6:9) and so belonged to the circle of Stephen’s opponents. He did not actually take part in the stoning, although he approved what was done.[11]
  • These details fit the present scene, but they are about all that does. In formal stonings victims were stripped and pushed over a cliff ten- to twelve-feet high. They were then rolled over on their chests, and the first witness pushed a boulder (as large a stone as he could manage) from the cliff above. In the unlikely event the victim survived this first smashing, the second witness was to roll a second boulder from above. The picture of Stephen’s stoning is radically different. He was not stripped. The witnesses stripped, evidently to give them greater freedom for throwing. It is doubtful Stephen could have knelt or uttered prayers after being pounded by a huge boulder from ten feet above. The picture in Acts is of an angry mob pelting Stephen with stones. His death was not instantaneous as was the case with Jewish executions. Whether the Sanhedrin participated in Stephen’s “lynching” is another question. A later incident when Paul faced the Sanhedrin shows that body was not beyond forsaking decorum when sufficiently aroused (23:10).[12]

59καὶ ἐλιθοβόλουν τὸν Στέφανον ἐπικαλούμενον καὶ λέγοντα· κύριε Ἰησοῦ, δέξαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου.

And they kept on stoning Stephen as he was calling out and saying, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.”

  • Stephen’s last words were a prayer for himself and for his executioners. Like Jesus, he surrendered his spirit up; but, whereas the dying Jesus committed himself to God in the words of Psalm 31:5, Stephen committed himself to the Jesus whom he had seen in his vision. It is a striking example of a form of words originally applicable to the Father being addressed to the Son, and shows how the early Christians placed Jesus on the same level as the Father.[13]

60θεὶς δὲ τὰ γόνατα ἔκραξεν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ· κύριε, μὴ στήσῃς αὐτοῖς ταύτην τὴν ἁμαρτίαν. καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐκοιμήθη.

Falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord do not hold this sin against them, and after he said this he fell asleep

  • Lay not this sin to their charge (μη στησῃς αὐτοις ταυτην την ἁμαρτιαν [mē stēsēis autois tautēn tēn hamartian]). First aorist (ingressive) active subjunctive with μη [], regular Greek idiom, Place not to them or against them (dative αὐτοις [autois]) this sin. The very spirit of Jesus towards his enemies as he died upon the Cross (Luke 23:34). He fell asleep (ἐκοιμηθη [ekoimēthē]). First aorist passive indicative of κοιμαω [koimaō], to put to sleep. Old verb and the metaphor of sleep for death is common in all languages, but it is peculiarly appropriate here as Jesus used it of Lazarus. See also Acts 13:36; 1 Cor. 15:18, etc. Our word cemetery (κοιμητηριον [koimētērion]) is the sleeping place of the dead. Knowling calls ἐκοιμηθη [ekoimēthē] here “a picture word of rest and calmness which stands in dramatic contrast to the rage and violence of the scene.”

 

  • The words are an ancient Jewish prayer, based on Ps 31:5, which children were taught to pray at bedtime. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” reminds us of Jesus’ prayer for the forgiveness of those who crucified him (Luke 23:34). And so Stephen “fell asleep,” perhaps in fulfillment of his prayer in v. 59. The early Christians often used the concept of “sleep” for death, a confession of their assurance of resurrection. No one ever died with greater assurance than Stephen. He fell asleep with the vision of his risen Lord at God’s right hand still fresh on his mind.[14]
  • Then Stephen prayed for pardon for his executioners, again echoing the words of Jesus (Luke 23:34); his words stand in striking contrast to his attitude of denunciation in his speech, and illustrate how the Christian, while denouncing sin and disobedience to God in order to lead his hearers to repentance, must also have pastoral concern for them, and pray that they may be forgiven. So saying, he fell asleep (cf. 1 Thess. 4:14f.), the first Christian to die for the sake of Jesus.[15]

 

[1] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 157). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 207). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ac 7:55). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

[4] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, pp. 157–158). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[5] Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ac 7:56). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

[6] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 158). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[7] Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 207–208). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[8] Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ac 7:57). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

[9] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 158). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[10] Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ac 7:57). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

[11] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 159). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[12] Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 209). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[13] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 159). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[14] Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 209–210). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[15] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 159). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.