By Tyson Thorne

June 24, 2014

StephensDefence 1 large

By necessity this series on Stephen’s speech before the Sadducees is more “commentary” in its style. I recommend opening the passage in your favorite translation or here in a separate browser window as you follow along with the analysis.

As remarked earlier, Stephen is not providing a legal defense of his words or actions, nor is he responding to the false accusations against him. Instead he gives a clear defense of his faith using the Torah (that is the law, or portions of the Old Testament) which the Sadducees adhere to. The examples he pulls from the Torah would have been intimately familiar to the Temple Rulers, which Stephen uses to further his case. Rather than stating he believes in new traditions, he reveals how the old traditions had pointed to the Messiah and the current changes taking place to Judaism as a result of the Messiah’s coming. How does Stephen do that?

He begins with Abraham, the father of Judaism. Since one of the Allegations against Stephen was that he was speaking against the Temple, he begins by showing that God has always blessed his people and guided them regardless of their being in the Temple, or even in the Land of Israel. In chapter seven verse two he reminds the High Priest that Abraham was called when he lived outside the land that God would eventually give to the Israelites. He moves down the line of descendants to Jacob, whom God also blessed even though he was not in the land of Israel either. Jacob served in Egypt and received God’s blessings there, in the land that would eventually enslave the Jewish people. Finally, he shows that even in captivity in Egypt, when there was no temple for the people to worship in, they still found God’s blessing and he lead them out of captivity and to the nation they now love and defend. Moses himself, the leader of the exile, was not in Israel but in Egypt when God first appeared to him and gave him his mission. All this proves that the temple is not necessary for God’s people to know God.

When Moses accepted the mission and went before Pharaoh he proved his message was from God by performing various signs and wonders (verse 36). These signs eventually proved to Pharaoh and the Israelites the Moses was indeed the deliverer that God had sent, even though at first they rejected him (verse 35). Like Moses, Jesus too was rejected. And like Moses, the apostles and even Stephen himself have performed signs and wonders to prove their message is from God, though he doesn’t make this point yet as he has more groundwork to lay.

Stephen then talks about the tabernacle, which was with the people during their time wandering in the wilderness. This is before God gave the land to the Israelites and proves again that, while the tabernacle at that time was in the temple, the temple itself isn’t necessary.

Finally, in verse 51, Stephen reminds the judges that Israel has a history of rejecting, at least at first, the messengers God sends them. The Hebrews killed the prophets who gave testimony about the Messiah (here called the Righteous One, verse 52), and the Temple Rulers even went so far as to kill the Messiah himself.

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