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Stephen's Speech

Human religious effort is a fact of life in almost every culture. Yet Stephen declares it is such effort that has kept Israel from knowing the righteous Savior and true worship.

Stephen's opponents see in his preaching a challenge to first-century Judaism's twin pillars of piety: the law and the temple (6:11, 13-14). Stephen now proceeds to answer these charges, not as one defending himself but as a witness to the gospel (Lk 21:13). He exposes the falseness of the charges as he affirms his loyalty to God's law and true worship. But more important, he reveals how religious effort, in this case first-century Judaism, is an obstacle to the true knowledge of God's saving provision, the Messiah. The words of historian John MacMurray about Jesus may be appropriately applied to Stephen: "The great contribution of the Hebrew to religion was that he did away with it."Promise to Abraham and Preservation Through Joseph (7:1-16)

The high priest, probably Caiaphas (he served in this capacity until A.D. 36; see 4:6), the Sanhedrin's presiding officer, asks Stephen whether the charges of blasphemy are true.

Stephen begins with respect (brothers and fathers; compare 22:1), yet commandingly: listen to me! (2:22; 3:22-23/Deut 18:15-16, 19). He describes the call of Abraham, how the God of glory appeared to him in Mesopotamia (the land of the Chaldeans [Acts 7:4], the southern region of modern Iraq). God's glory, pointing to his transcendence, begins and ends this episode (7:55; compare Lk 2:14; 19:38). God's appearance outside Palestine and apart from a tabernacle (contrast Ex 40:34-38) and temple (contrast Ezek 43:5) makes it clear that God's presence is not tied exclusively to a particular land or building. God called Abraham to participate in the same independence. He was to leave land and family and come to a land God would show him. Free of all human roots, he became totally dependent on God to provide his future, his inheritance.

Abraham obeyed in steps, proceeding with his immediate family to Haran, a flourishing city in the upper Euphrates valley at the intersection of important trade routes. After his father Terah's death, God "resettled" (NIV sent) him in Canaan, a location that Stephen relates directly to his audience (Acts 7:4). He may be indicating that their very presence in the land shows the fulfillment of the promise (Marshall 1980:135), or he may be relating Abraham's pilgrimage to the experience of the Hellenistic Jews, some of whom came from Mesopotamia (2:9).

There are both comparison and contrast here, for Stephen holds up Abraham as a model of faith in God's promise alone over against religious effort that finds security in the tangible. And today we too must be willing to say no to our dependence on religious effort and say yes to the God who calls us to follow him alone.

Abraham experienced fulfillment deferred. God did not give him the land, not even so much as could be paced off in one stride (see Deut 2:5). And he did not give him a child during the natural childbearing years. This was not so much to show that the covenantal relationship with God was to be cherished more than the promised inheritance (contra Longenecker 1981:340), though that may have been a part of it. Rather, God wanted to demonstrate to his covenant people that the tangible fulfillment of the promise is all God's doing, whether in the miraculous birth of an heir or in the miraculous deliverance from Egypt, which led to entry into the Promised Land.

Stephen now recounts how God in his mercy bolstered Abraham's faith in three ways. First, God frequently repeated his covenant promise (Gen 12:7; 13:15; 15:2, 18; 17:8; 24:7). Stephen alludes to the covenant renewal in the giving of the covenant of circumcision (Acts 7:5/Gen 17:8). In it God again promised to give the land to Abraham and to his seed for a possession. The NIV's he and his descendants . . . would possess the land is not accurate here; it also obscures the emphasis on God's active role in giving the land as a possession to Abraham and his seed.

Second, God gave a prophecy concerning what would happen to Abraham's family before they fully occupied the land. Quoting Genesis 15:13-14 (Acts 7:6-7), Stephen reports God's foretelling of sojourn, slavery and suffering during four hundred years in another country. But God also foretold deliverance: he would "judge" (NIV punish) that nation, and the nation would come out and worship God in this place, the land. This promise does not shift the focus from inheriting a land to being delivered out of Egypt and gaining the opportunity to worship (as Lake and Cadbury 1979:72). It continues the theme that God will provide the inheritance through a deliverance and highlights the purpose of the inheritance: to have a place where one may worship God. True worship becomes inextricably bound up with living in a covenant relationship with God and knowing the fulfillment of his promises (compare Lk 1:73-75).

Finally, there was an outward covenant sign: circumcision (Acts 7:8; Gen 17:1-16, especially vv. 9-12). Though circumcision was practiced at puberty, if not infancy, by most of the nations that had dealings with Israel in patriarchal times, only for Israel did it have covenantal significance (Bruce 1988:135). It was to be administered to one's sons, the next generation. Interestingly enough, this covenant sign was given before the birth of Isaac. Again, it was all God's doing. God took the initiative. Abraham simply had to receive the gift of the covenant sign and obediently apply it when the son of promise was born.

Stephen does not let us miss the covenant dynamic at work here. After mentioning the gift of the covenant of circumcision, he continues with what necessarily followed, introduced by "and so" (kai houtos; NIV does not render houtos): And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. This was not just a matter of covenant obedience (as Kistemaker 1990:243). It was a matter of God's covenant faithfulness. Stephen is no blasphemer. He approves of God's covenant ways.

And today we have the Scriptures, in which we may read God's covenant promises over and over again (Rom 15:4). We have biblical prophecy, which tells us enough of coming events to support our faith (Lk 21; Acts 1:6-7; Rev). We have a covenant sign, baptism, which we may take to ourselves (and as some believe, to our children) as a mark of God's covenant of grace (Col 2:9-12).

Stephen now lays the groundwork for the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the nation's sojourn in another country (Acts 7:6). In the process he continues to unfold the dynamics of God's covenant relationship with his people. Further, there may be some typological parallels drawn to Stephen as the representative Christian of Jewish heritage opposed by his countrymen (see Richard 1979 on the polemical character of the Joseph episode). In jealousy the patriarchs sold their brother Joseph as a slave into Egypt (v. 9; Gen 37:11, 28). God was with him (see Gen 39:2-3, 21, 23) and rescued him from all his troubles (see Reuben's failed rescue plans, Gen 37:21-22 LXX, and the brothers' articulation of guilt, 42:21 LXX). Christians too face trouble (Acts 11:19; 14:22; 20:23).

God gave Joseph "grace and wisdom before Pharaoh" so that he was given responsibility over Egypt and all Pharaoh's palace. Contrary to the NIV rendering of 7:10--which must change the Greek word order in order to clearly present its chosen meaning for charis (NIV goodwill)--the words "grace" and "wisdom" should be taken together as indicating "divinely inspired skill in the reading of dreams" (Haenchen 1971:279; Gen 41:37-40).

Similarly, Stephen himself, full of wisdom and grace, has been made responsible for food distribution for God's people (Acts 6:3, 5, 8). Though Joseph's brothers and Stephen's opponents meant their attacks for evil, God is not thwarted, for he can turn it to good. In Joseph's case, God protected his chosen preserver of the covenant people, preparing the way for the survival of generations.

Famine struck Canaan as well as Egypt. Jacob and his family were on the point of starvation (heurisko [NIV could not find, 7:11] in the negative imperfect points to "lasting inability"--Kistemaker 1990:249), and the covenant promises were on the verge of dying out in the fourth and fifth generations. Then they gained relief by sending to Egypt for food (see Gen 41:54, 57; 42:2, 5). Not only did Joseph preserve them alive, but on the second visit he revealed himself to them and effected a reconciliation (Acts 7:13; Gen 45:1-16).

Stephen concludes this portion of Israel's history with the note that Joseph sent for Jacob and the whole family, seventy-five souls, and so they settled in Egypt (Acts 7:14). He tells us of the patriarchs' deaths and their burial in Shechem in Canaan. So God's purposes--both his eternal covenant with Abraham to build a great nation and his prophecy that there would be a sojourn in another country--were being accomplished. Though trouble and exile from the land of promise seem to put the fulfillment of the promise even further away, the patriarchs had faith. Their final instructions were to have their bones buried in the land. And this their sons did in hope.

The constants of a covenant relationship, now as then, are God's word of promise and his powerful working to fulfill it, his presence in every place, and the necessity of obedient faith to lay hold of the promise.Moses: Israel's Redemption and Rebellion (7:17-43)

The history of the patriarchs focused on the dynamics of covenant relationship--living under God's blessing without customary code or tangible shrine. This next section looks at Moses and in its own kerygmatic way sets aside the charges leveled against Stephen. Stephen does this by laying the groundwork for two analogies that he will apply to his audience in the indictment (vv. 51-53). His recounting of the exodus and the experiences of the wilderness generation is marked by a strong theme of rebellion. Since Stephen explicitly states that Messiah is a prophet like Moses (v. 37; compare 3:22-23), it should not be surprising to find typological features in the history of Moses which match up with Luke's presentation of the life of Christ or even the body of Christ, the church. Though Stephen's audience may not have caught all the typological references, Luke's readership--and we--can benefit from them.

Stephen recounts Moses' early years--his rescue as an infant, and the rejection that led to his flight from Egypt (7:17-22, 23-29). He places Moses' birth within the framework of the fulfillment of God's promises; in words that the NIV has somewhat obscured, he says emphatically, "Now when the time of the promise, which God confessed to Abraham drew near" (compare vv. 6-7). The Hebrew nation, he notes, was experiencing numerical increase, one of the blessings of the covenant (Gen 12:2; 17:2, 6; 35:11; 46:3; 47:27; Ex 1:7). Israel's population growth posed a problem for a pharaoh who knew nothing about Joseph. While this ruler is often identified as Ramses II (nineteenth dynasty, c. 1290-1224 B.C.; Bruce 1990:196), Archer understands the oppression as occurring over a number of dynasties starting with the later Hyksos and extending to Thutmose I (c. 1600-1514 B.C.; Archer 1964:215-21). Stephen's compressed statement does not let us know explicitly the motivation for the oppression or the nature of Pharaoh's ignorance--was it real or a conscious choice to forget in light of perceived menace (as Marshall 1980:139)? But the action he took is spelled out. He dealt treacherously (Acts 7:19; see Ex 1:10), exercising a crafty wisdom that oppressed the Jews (compare Acts 7:6; Ex 1:11). He practiced population control through infanticide (Ex 1:16, 22).

Into this situation Moses, a beautiful child, fair in the sight of God (NIV mg), was born. From the very start Moses was specially related to God and his purposes. Though hidden for three months, Moses too finally had to be exposed (Acts 7:21; ektithemi, a technical term for infanticide by exposure; compare Philo De Vita Mosis 1.12; Diodorus Siculus Library of History 2.4.3). But Pharaoh's daughter took him (aneilato, literally "took up"). This is the verb used in the LXX to explain the derivation of Moses' name: "I drew him out of the water" (Ex 2:10). It is also a technical term for adopting a foundling (Oxyrhynchus Papyri 37:6; 38:6).

Pharaoh's daughter reared Moses as her own son. His education produced a man powerful in word and deed (compare descriptions of Jesus [Lk 24:19] and Apollos of Alexandria [Acts 18:24]). Moses' training is described in Jewish tradition but not in the Old Testament (Philo De Vita Mosis 1.21-24; Josephus Jewish Antiquities 2.236; compare Heb 11:25-26). Moses' protestations in Exodus 4:10 do not finally contradict this picture, for they either are Moses' self-interested self-deprecations with little basis in fact (Marshall 1980:140) or point to an early lack of eloquence that he overcame later (Bruce 1990:198).

The lessons for us from Moses' early life echo the lessons from Joseph's: God was, step by step, fulfilling prophecy concerning Israel's sojourn in Egypt. In the time of Moses the Jews experienced the mistreatment God predicted. Yet God was again faithful to his eternal covenant and displayed his power. He used Pharaoh's own daughter to rescue the Hebrew baby boy who would grow up to lead God's people out from under Pharaoh's oppression.

In an abortive bid for liberation, Moses encountered his people's rejection for the first time. Stephen maintains the momentum of a course of events moving to fulfillment. He uses fulfillment terms to speak of Moses' attaining manhood, "completing" forty years (pleroo, v. 23; compare 1:16; 3:18; 7:30). The number accords with rabbinic tradition, though the Old Testament is not specific (Strack and Billerbeck 1978:2:679; for example, Genesis Rabbah 100:10). At that time it "arose in Moses' heart" (the literal rendering; compare Jer 3:16) to visit "his brothers the sons of Israel." He probably intended to show concern and even to help (compare Ex 3:16; 4:31; Lk 1:68; 7:16). Indeed, when he encountered injustice he defended an oppressed Jew and avenged him by slaying the Egyptian oppressor (Ex 2:11/Acts 7:24). He supposed this brave act would be a rallying point for mounting a liberation movement (compare Philo De Vita Mosis 1.40-44). Surely his countrymen would understand that by this man, on whom God's hand had rested from birth (Acts 7:20), God would bring them salvation (Lk 1:71; compare terms about Jesus in Lk 19:10; Acts 4:12). But they did not understand, just as their first-century descendants would not understand the mission of Jesus, the prophet like Moses (Lk 2:50; 18:34--compare Mk 10:34; see Lk 8:10 and Acts 28:26-27/Is 6:9-10; Lk 24:25).

This lack of understanding led to rejection (Ex 2:13-15/Acts 7:26-29). The next day Moses attempted to mediate between two Hebrews, and they shoved him aside. Rhetorically, they questioned the source of his authority and his motive--was it to murder, as he had the Egyptian?

At this word Moses banished himself to Midian, a region east of Aqaba in northwest Arabia. He became a foreigner, married and had two sons. The name of one, Gershom, commemorated Moses' alien status (Ex 2:21-22 LXX). In many ways Acts 7:29 is the climax of the subplot that began at verse 6: with Moses self-exiled as a common criminal, Israel was as far away from salvation as it could get.

As Stephen relates Moses' wilderness and ministry years, he details his call at the burning bush, his work as redeemer of Israel and finally how Israel rebelled against him (vv. 30-34, 35-38, 39-43). When the forty years of Moses' exile were "completed" (pleroo, again hinting that the events were a fulfillment of God's sovereign plan; compare vv. 17, 23), an angel appeared to him in a flaming bush at Mt. Sinai (compare v. 2; Ex 3:2; Judg 13:20-21). Because of the way in which angel, the Lord's voice, the Lord and God are used interchangeably in the Exodus account and here (Acts 7:31-33), we should probably understand this as a reverent way of describing a theophany of the transcendent God (Bruce 1988:140; Marshall 1980:141). It is not a reference to an angel "who bears the presence and authority of God himself" (as Kistemaker 1990:258). This vision (a supernatural sight experienced while one is awake or asleep; compare 10:3, 19) of a fiery bush that did not burn up (Ex 3:3) so attracted Moses' attention that he marveled (compare Acts 2:7; 3:12; 4:13) and moved toward it to make careful observation, "to master the mystery" (Bruce 1990:200; compare 11:6).

The Lord's voice came (NIV makes the voice an object of he heard), confessing the identity of this supernatural presence (Ex 3:6). By declaring, I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God told Moses that this revelation was in continuity with prior utterances of covenant promises. Moses' reaction to the spoken revelation, which had begun to interpret the vision, was to tremble and not dare to look. This was indeed the right response to the news that he was standing in the palpable presence of the transcendent God (compare Is 66:1-2, 5).

God gave Moses some immediate instructions and a commission (Acts 7:33-34). "Because" he stood on holy ground (NIV does not translate gar), out of respect he must remove his sandals (v. 33/Ex 3:5). God prefaced his commission of Moses by revealing his covenant compassion for his people, which he would express in redemptive activity (Ex 3:7-8/Acts 7:34; compare 7:6, 19). Moses could take heart: he was not alone in this enterprise. God had declared his personal stake and role in liberating his suffering people.

This encounter in the desert at Sinai should remind Stephen's audience, Luke's readers and us that wherever God chooses to make himself known, there is holy ground. For a second time outside the Holy Land, God had appeared to a person of his choosing and made known a portion of his covenant promises and saving will. This presents a challenge to first-century Jews, so jealous for "this holy place," the temple, and to all others who cling to certain sacred spaces of their religious heritage.

Here Stephen changes style and begins a "passionate, rhetorically heightened indictment" (Haenchen 1971:282). Four instances of the demonstrative pointing to the redemptive work of "this Moses" occur in as many verses (vv. 35-38). God sent him as ruler and deliverer (compare vv. 23-29; 3:15; 5:31; Lk 24:21). The NIV has simple past, but the verb is apestalken, "has sent," a perfect tense pointing to the "abiding results of Moses' mission . . . a thought never absent from a Jew's mind" (Bruce 1990:201). Moses led the people out of Egypt (a key theme in the commission passage--Ex 3:8, 10-12). He did this with signs and wonders, not only in Egypt but also at the Red Sea and in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering (Ex 7--11; 14:21; Num 14:22).

Stephen now makes a direct connection between Moses and the Messiah by quoting the "prophet like Moses" prophecy (Acts 7:37/Deut 18:15; compare Acts 3:22-23 and the Jewish eschatological hope, 4QTestim; Targum of Exodus 12:42; Ruth Rabbah 5:6; Pesiqta Rabbati 15:10). The main parallel Stephen draws between Jesus and Moses, however, is their mistreatment and rejection by Israel (7:23-29, 39, 51-52). This becomes a powerful argument for the legitimacy of Jesus' messianic claims.

Just as rejection of Moses led to false worship and constant breaking of the law, so continued rejection of Jesus, the "prophet like Moses," will mean that the Jews will never be freed of their false worship (the idolizing of the temple) and false piety (the keeping of man-made customs; vv. 39-41, 53).

But Stephen is not finished with his own honoring of Moses. He was in the assembly (ekklesia, pointing to the "day of assembly" when the people gathered to receive the law, Deut 4:10; 9:10; 18:16--though a Christian will hardly miss a possible allusion to the church). He served as a mediator between the angel and the people (NIV obscures this with a rearrangement of phrases) when on Mt. Sinai he received the living oracles to give to the Jews. The New Testament and Jewish tradition speak of the law as given through or in the presence of angels (Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2; Deut 33:2 LXX; Pesiqta Rabbati 21:7; Strack and Billerbeck 1978:3:554-56). The angel here, however, is probably another respectful circumlocution for the transcendent God present with human beings (compare Acts 7:30, 35). The law is "living oracles" not in the sense of giving life (as Krodel 1986:147) but in the sense of being Israel's very life (Deut 30:19-20; 32:46-47). By following the law, they would be able to live their earthly life to its fullest extent (Kistemaker 1990:262). With these words Stephen shows that the charge of blasphemer against Moses, the law and the customs handed down by Moses (Acts 6:11, 13-14) is baseless.

Now Stephen comes to the people's rebellion against Moses and God's response (7:39-41, 42-43). The people rejected Moses' leadership (compare v. 27), and their heart's disposition was to live as though they were still in pagan Egypt (Ex 13:17; compare later Num 14:3-4). They adopted an empirical approach to their circumstances. Since they did not "see" Moses anymore, they demanded that an idol be their tangible spiritual leader.

Almost automatically, rejection of divinely sent leadership and of God's message issues in idol making. And so today, whenever the guidance of Scripture is set aside, humans will idolize the "wisdom" from some human source. Gurus, imams, priests and shamans guide us in our world of religious effort. Articulate professors, feisty talk-show hosts and charismatic movie stars become our moral and spiritual compasses in a secular world.

Idol making necessarily leads to idol worship. This Israel entered into with gusto, rejoicing in what their hands had made (Acts 7:41/Ex 32:4-6; compare Acts 17:24-25, 29). This last phrase will be central to Stephen's indictment of his audience (7:48-51). The first-century Jew's veneration of the temple was the same to God as worship of the golden calf.

God's punishment of the Israelites was to turn away from them and hand them over to the consequences of their sin (compare Rom 1:24, 26). He handed them over to the worship of (contrast Acts 7:7) the powers behind the idols, the host of heaven, those evil spiritual forces ever in mortal combat with God (1 Cor 10:20; Eph 6:10-13). That Israel practiced idolatry in the wilderness, even star worship of the type Stephen goes on to describe, is documented by the Pentateuch and the prophets (Lev 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut 4:19; Ezek 20:10-26; Hos 9:10). Stephen characterizes the sin by quoting Amos 5:25-27. Molech of the Ammonites was known as Venus' star. Rephan follows the LXX rendering of "Kaiwan," the Babylonian name for Saturn (E. F. Harrison 1986:132; Longenecker 1981:316-317). Amos details the further judgment God metes out: exile, the ultimate curse for covenant disobedience, removal from the enjoyment of the Promised Land.Provision for Worship; God's Transcendence (7:44-50)

Stephen abruptly, yet most appropriately, turns his audience's attention to the tabernacle of the Testimony. In the book of Exodus the golden calf incident intervenes between the giving of instructions about the tabernacle and its construction (Ex 25--27; 32--33; 36--38). In fact, Stephen develops a strong contrast between the idolatry condemned by Amos--the shrine [skene] of Molech and the idols (typous)--and the tabernacle [skene] of the Testimony constructed according to the pattern (typon) God gave Moses (Acts 7:43, 44). The tabernacle of the Testimony was God's provision of a structure for true worship. It contained the ark of testimony, a box holding the ten commandments written on stone (see Ex 25:10, 16, 21-22).

Again God took the initiative in revealing how he was to be approached. He enabled the Israelites to take the tent into the land under Joshua's leadership. God created a safe environment for his worship by expelling the nations already in Canaan (see Josh 23:9; 24:18). The promise made to Abraham so many generations before thus came true, and was maintained even until the days of David (Acts 7:7).

Like Joseph, David found favor in God's sight (compare v. 9; 13:22; 1 Sam 13:14). He asked that he might find a dwelling place (skenoma) for the house of Jacob (NIV mg). Skenoma is an ambiguous term, so it is difficult to know whether Stephen intends David to speak of the tabernacle or of the temple (Marshall 1980:146). From the Old Testament accounts, however, we know that David desired to prepare a more permanent structure (2 Sam 7:2-16; 1 Chron 17:1-14).

If God had granted David's request, God's covenant dynamic would have been violated, for this transcendent, sovereign God always takes the initiative and makes all the provisions for worship. God denied David's request but promised him that his son Solomon would build a house for him (2 Sam 7:11-16) and that God would establish Solomon's house.

Stephen qualifies and completes this thought with a slight break as he announces, But it was Solomon who built the house for him (Acts 7:47). He then immediately introduces a strongly contrasting thesis: However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. This assertion that the transcendent God (compare Lk 2:14; 19:38) is not confined to things "made with human hands" would have jolted his hearers. The Jews commonly used "made with human hands" to refer to idol worship (Sibylline Oracles 14:62; Is 31:7; Wisdom of Solomon 14:8). To apply this phrase to the temple could well enrage them.

But Stephen's thinking is biblical, as the subsequent Old Testament quote shows (Is 66:1-2/Acts 7:49-50; compare 1 Kings 8:27). God's transcendence and role as Creator of all demonstrate his self-sufficiency. He can never be finally dependent on humans, not even if they build him a temple (Acts 17:24-25).

If this is Stephen's point, we need not conclude that in the process he rejects the temple itself as apostasy (Haenchen 1971:285) or as inappropriate for the pilgrim people of God (Bruce 1990:206). And he does not balance his negative statement with a positive one, so that we know what replaces the temple. God's transcendence, his reign in heaven above, as Stephen will shortly see and testify to, must be the controlling perspective for any proper use of a house of worship (7:55-56; Sylva 1987; 1 Kings 8:17-20, 27-53).

Stephen has effectively answered the second charge, that he speaks blasphemy against "God" and "this holy place" (Acts 6:11, 13). In so doing he identifies the real blasphemers: anyone who so venerates the temple that it ceases to be a place where the transcendent God is glorified and becomes a place where self-glorying men take pride in what they have done for God.

Today too the church may face the temptation of an "edifice complex," assuming that unless a visible structure for the worship of God is raised and maintained, we haven't truly worshiped or borne an effective witness. Stephen gives us perspective. Remember, it is the transcendent God we are worshiping. He does not need our buildings to receive our praise. We may need them to facilitate worship and witness. But we must make sure we need them and use them for the right reason.Indictment: Present Rebellion and Lawlessness (7:51-53)

Stephen's indictment works from the inside out. The Jews are stiff-necked, unwilling to bow to authority (compare Ex 33:3, 5; 34:9, in the context of the idolatrous worship of the golden calf; Acts 7:39-41). Their resistance is not to human beings but to God the Holy Spirit (Is 63:9-10). They have never truly come into a saving covenant relationship with God, for though outwardly circumcised and proud of their ethnic-religious heritage, they are uncircumcised in their hearts (Lev 26:41; Jer 9:26). In their disposition toward God they do not differ from pagans, who refuse the sign of the covenant. They have ears that spiritually do not hear. It is as though they were covered with uncircumcised foreskin (Jer 6:10). This unrepentant, unregenerate condition is the same as that of their fathers (compare Acts 7:39).

Their ancestors' rebellion issued in persecution of God's messengers, the prophets (2 Chron 36:16; Lk 6:23; 11:49; 13:34). They even killed those who proclaimed the coming of the Righteous One, the Messiah (see Acts 3:14). And this generation has proceeded further. They have betrayed and murdered the Messiah himself (Lk 9:44; 18:32; 22:4, 6; 24:7; Acts 3:14). Thus they stood condemned of the very charges they level against Stephen. By doing away with the Lord's anointed, God's one provision of salvation, they have shown themselves to be truly against him and his presence. They are also against Moses' law, altering its authority through selective obedience (Ex 20:13, 16). In fact, they leave their man-made traditions, "customs handed over by Moses," intact, even if it means violating the plain command of the law (Mt 15:3-6). Yes, they received the law at the direction of angels (probably a circumlocution for God; see Acts 7:38), yet they have not kept this divinely given standard.

Religious performance fueled by fear or pride is an obstacle to the true knowledge of God's provision of salvation. But more, it sets itself in competition with worship of the one true God by raising up idols. In the end it will wage war on true worship. What dangers do the religious find themselves in, far from God's covenant provisions for a saving relationship through the only mediator, Messiah Jesus! And by and large they are blind to it.

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Stephen's Martyrdom

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