Ten observations about Stephen

1. He already had a good reputation before he was chosen to assist the apostles. He was “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” (Acts 6:3)

2. Saul may have attended or visited a synagogue where Stephen attended. Among the synagogues that disputed with Stephen was the synagogue of the Cilicians. Saul was from Tarsus of Cilicia.

3. Stephen did a lot of teaching. “He won’t… shut… up!”

“This man never ceases to speak words 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 delivered to us.”

Acts 6:13–14

4. Stephen, a Hellenistic Jew, was considered an outsider to the Hebrew community. This made his teaching that the Law and temple were fulfilled in Jesus (presumably what he taught given the allegations against him) especially scandalous.

5. Stephen responds to the accusations in a high-stakes juridical setting. But what initially looks like his defense is turned around: Stephen goes on the offensive. He puts his audience on trial.

6. In his speech Stephen gives an overview of Jewish history, but he doesn’t highlight established Jews settled in the Promised Land. Instead, he highlights mistreated and oppressed strangers rescued by God.

7. Stephen mentions the *portable* tabernacle and the *inadequacy* of Solomon’s temple to contain God.

8. Stephen also mentions agents of rescue sent by God but rejected by Israel.

9. Having primed his audience, Stephen climaxes with his own accusation against the council: They follow in this ancestral tradition of murdering God’s agents of rescue. “As your fathers did, so do you.” (7:51)

10. Paul was almost certainly present for this speech. He guarded the coats of those who, immediately after, stoned Stephen. But Paul’s life ended up being a continuation of Stephen’s ministry. Echoes of the theology of Stephen’s speech are later found in Paul’s own teaching. And Paul’s own salvation is an answer to Stephen’s prayer, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (7:60)

“Various elements in Stephen’s teaching arguably laid a foundation for Saul’s later theological views as a Christian. Stephen’s dramatic declaration of his preference for the diaspora Jews over the people of the land may well have prepared the way for Saul’s vision of ministry to the Gentiles. Stephen’s view of Moses as a type of the One who was to come perhaps laid the groundwork for Paul’s view of the law of Moses as fulfilled in the person, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus (Rom 10:4). Stephen’s rejection of the centrality of the temple may have diminished the significance of the holy place in the mind of Paul, who would see the new covenant people as the “temple of the living God” (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16). Henceforth Saul’s view of these various elements — the land of Israel, the Gentiles, the law and the temple — would each undergo radical change.

“Much of Saul’s dramatic reinterpretation of these elements is attributable to Stephen’s words heard in the Hellenistic synagogues, although Saul radically disagreed with them at the time. However, it was Saul’s acknowledgment of Jesus as *the Christ* on the road to Damascus that transformed his comprehension of Stephen’s words and inspired a radical new worldview.”

Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity, 226