Stephen, Session #4 (All quotes generally ESV)

WHO WAS STEPHEN?

  • Acts 6:6 “…Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Acts 6:8 “…And Stephen, full of grace and power…”
  • Acts 6:10   “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

We have already been told that Stephen was a “Hellenist” (6:1).  That could mean someone who championed Greek culture, and with this could come syncretism (a blending of religions), as well as  Greek philosophy, and interest in art, the importance of the individual over the community, etc.  The Greek culture and language were so all-pervasive that they overwhelmed the Roman world.   

In the case of Acts 6, it seems fairly obvious that “Hellenist” to St. Luke merely means that Stephen spoke Greek.  His mind, his speech, and the description of the man is too Jewish for him to “think like a Greek.”  He gives no indication that he had any interest in Greek values.  Luke never included this speech to give us an “example of Hellenistic Christianity.”   Stephen’s words look at the Old Testament with Semitic eyes.

That the Holy Spirit spoke through Stephen is emphasized TWICE.  Why is this so important?  When we analyze what Stephen says, and how different it is from so many of the other books in the New Testament, we are assured that the Holy Spirit is expressing himself; Stephen is not a maverick or a loose cannon expressing false teaching.

He is a man of faith.  What Stephen says in Acts 7 he truly believes.  He believes it so much that he went to his death with this theology on his lips.  That’s commitment!

Stephen is full of “grace and power” which enabled him to do “signs and wonders” but we are not told if Stephen was able to do this prior to being chosen, or whether the laying on of hands was what generated this Godly potential.  Since he was a “man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” PRIOR to being selected, it seems reasonable to assume that he was already demonstrating his great faith and that was, in part, what caused him to be chosen!

Finally, Stephen is awarded the epithet “wisdom.”  This means more than “horse sense.”  Yes, he exercised good judgment.  But there is much more here.  Compare Deut. 34:9 “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him.”   The parallels with Stephen are amazing!  This wisdom comes from God himself.  It cannot be obtained by struggle or learning.  It is a gift!  חָכְמָ֔ה (Khok-mah) is the Hebrew word for “wisdom.” The fundamental principle of all wisdom is “the fear of God” (knowing, loving, respecting Him).  This is the wisdom with which Stephen is equipped.  His relationship with God is personal—and you can’t get “smarter” than that!  This “wisdom” is expressed 149 times in the Old Testament.  It was so revered that the rabbinic literature personified it:  “Wisdom” became like the 4th person of the Trinity!

WAS STEPHEN A SAMARITAN? 

We are going to see many instances of Stephen agreeing with Samaritan theology and disagreeing with the theology of Judaism, so it seems logical to suppose that perhaps Stephen was a Samaritan.  Was this the case?  First we must ask “Who are the Samaritans?  (They still exist today as a religious group!)

The Samaritans get their name from שַמֶרִים (Sha-mah-reem’) which in Hebrew means “the guardians” (or “Those who keep the Law!”)  They considered themselves to be the true guardians of the books of Moses.  They claimed to be descendants of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim.  During the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews (587-538 B.C.), the Samaritans had been “left behind,” supposedly as too undesirable to bother relocating!  During subsequent years, they had intermarried with the local tribes; consequently, the Jews considered such racially mixed people to be half-breeds of no account.

In any event, Stephen all throughout his sermon in Acts 7 keeps giving us hints (and sometimes not-so-subtle ones!) that he agrees with the Samaritans and not with the religion of Judaism.

Some have suggested that Acts 7:4 strongly hints that Stephen is a Samaritan:  “And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which youare now living.”  The argument:  if he was Jewish, he would have said “we are now living” in this land.  (That’s a pretty weak argument though.)

Luke would have told us if Stephen was a Samaritan!  Throughout the Gospel of Luke, he tells us right away if someone is a Samaritan (Luke 10–“Parable of the Good Samaritan,”   Luke 17–The 10 Lepers, and only the Samaritan was thankful!)

Finally, if Stephen was a Samaritan, he could not have been one of the men on the road to Emmaus the first Easter morning.  Wherever “Emmaus” was, it wasn’t in Samaria.  It isn’t likely that Stephen was a Samaritan.

WHAT IS THE SAMARITAN RELIGION?

Samaritans interpret the meaning of the Old Testament quite differently than Judaism, and they have only five books in their Bible:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—the “5 Books of Moses” often called “The Pentateuch.”  Jews call those books “The Law” or “The Torah.”  The focus of Samaritan religion is Deuteronomy 18:15:  “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen!“  This prophet (“like Moses”) is the Messiah, whom they call “The Taheb” (the Restorer).

The Jews had that verse in their Bibles too!  Remember when the Jewish Council sent an investigating committee to check out John the Baptist?  John 1: 21  “And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?”  He answered “No.”  (It’s easy to miss that one, isn’t it?)

Much of what we know about Samaritan theology comes from a book called the Memar Marqah (The Teachings of Marqah) which is a fairly accurate depiction of what they believe.  The book is very old, but scholars naturally argue about how old it really is.  (They argue about everything—that’s what they do!)  The Memar refers to Moses in such glowing terms that he becomes almost god-like.  (Prof. John MacDonald of Leeds Univ. published a translation of the Memar Marqah.  MacDonald’s book The Theology of the Samaritans, S.C.M. Press, London, 1964, is the definitive work on Samaritanism.)  

Here is a sample of Samaritan teaching:  Memar 2:9 ‘Let’s attend to the Truth and trust in Yahweh, our Lord and our Maker; and also, in Moses, our Prophet and Redeemer!  Except for Moses the world would not have been created and none of these wonders would have been revealed.

Notice that, unlike the Jews, they have no problem speaking God’s name, Yahweh.  And they worship Moses as nearly divine!  They also are VERY priestly—everything about the religion is sacrifice and Temple worship.  And the ONLY PROPER PLACE TO WORSHIP IS ON MOUNT GERIZIM IN SAMARIA!

 Mount Gerizim is God’s holy mountain, not Mount Zion (Jerusalem),  This is the central fabric of Samaritanism.  Stephen will say “Biblically, they’re right!”