Stephen, Session #15 (All quotes generally ESV)
HOW STEPHEN ORGANIZES MOSES’ LIFE INTO THREE SEGMENTS:
Looking at the material about Moses in Acts 7, it becomes readily apparent that Stephen is much more Scriptural in his organization of the Moses-material than are the Samaritans or is Judaism. That is not to say that Stephen is Biblical “right down the line.” There are some oddities in Stephen’s speech.
If one reads Acts 7, it becomes apparent that Stephen has divided the life of Moses into three 40-year segments. The first 40 years is his upbringing in Egypt in the house of Pharaoh, Acts 7:17-22. The second 40 years, Acts 7:23-29, is the killing of an Egyptian and fleeing to Midian, settling down and having a family. The third 40 years is the Exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the wilderness Acts 7:30-44.
Now it is clear that Moses and the children of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years, so Stephen’s “third segment of 40 years” is Biblical. AND it is in the Bible that Moses was 120 years old when he died. But there is nothing in the Old Testament that states Moses was 40 years old when he killed the Egyptian or that he spent 40 years at his father-in-law’s goat ranch in Midian. Where did Stephen get that idea? No known group or religious philosophy has expressed itself this way. Stephen is apparently alone in his description of three 40-year segments in the life of Moses.
There are other minor details which Stephen adds to the story of Moses, but most of what he says is Biblical. It is the way he says things which draws the ire of his audience of the proponents of Judaism. Perhaps more important is what Stephen omits about Moses.
STEPHEN’S NON-OLD TESTAMENT REFERENCES TO MOSES
One peculiar statement is Acts 7:22 “And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.” You’ll notice that Stephen is not buying the idea from Judaism that Moses taught the Egyptians and the Greeks everything they knew. But “mighty in his words and deeds?” Is Moses a combination of Albert Einstein and Billy Graham?
Not according to Moses’ own words. In Exodus 4:10 we find Moses telling God he’s just a wimp! “But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.’” Moses was trying to beg off, but ended up taking his brother Aaron to do his talking for him. So “in words and deeds” really amounted to Aaron’s words and God’s deeds.
Another item in Stephen’s speech which does not appear in the Old Testament is the idea in Acts 7:53 which says as a conclusion “you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” First off, “you didn’t keep it” is an insult to his listeners; Stephen goes against the teaching which said “God gave the Jews the 10 Commandments because he knew they were the only people who could keep it.” (This attitude was especially espoused by the Pharisees.) Stephen’s response: Baloney! So much baloney, in fact, that Stephen has the nerve to state, Acts, 7:38-40 “This is the one (Moses) who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts, they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us.”
But the other odd thing is that the Old Testament does not say anywhere that the 10 Commandments were given to Moses by angels! That doesn’t mean it isn’t true—it just doesn’t appear in the Old Testament. It does, however, appear in rabbinical teaching, BUT it also appears in the book of Hebrews 2:2-3 “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” For those of you who are faithful Bible Class attendees, but don’t remember this, I’m not surprised—this was five years ago. But here are some of my notes from that phrase in the book of Hebrews:
2:2 εἰ γὰρ ὁ δι’ ἀγγέλων λαληθεὶς “for if the word spoken by angels” refers to a Jewish tradition which is not in the Bible. Exodus 20:1 is pretty clear in saying “God spoke…” and not “the angels relayed God’s message.” Psalm 68:17-18 is interpreted as angels accompanying God to Mount Sinai. See Acts 7:53 where Stephen refers to this belief as a way of stressing the importance of paying heed to the law. Gal. 3:19 (“and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.”) shows Paul referencing the same. Paul’s inclusion underlines that the law (given through angels) is LESS than the Gospel (given through Jesus). Actually, this verse says technically that the word was spoken THROUGH and not BY angels. (They were intermediaries and not originators.)
If you want to check on this in Exodus, look at chapters 19 and 20 wherein you will find the fascinating story of the giving of the Law. All it says is “God spoke to Moses….” But Philo and Josephus, both Jewish historians of the first century, tell us about angels as mediators of the law. This notion is also found in the Testament of the Patriarchs and the Book of Jubilees, which are two apocryphal books whose historicity is not taken seriously. It does emphasize how thoroughly the Jewish community believed in the idea of angel-mediators; Stephen is repeating it.
HOW TO WIN JEWISH FRIENDS, STEPHEN-STYLE!
Stephen had managed—over and over again—to point out wonderful deeds and offerings performed on Mt. Gerizim by all the patriarch forefathers, much to the irritation of his Jewish audience. But Stephen doesn’t let this go. In reference to the call of Moses from the burning bush, Stephen brings up Exodus 3:4-5 “God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Stephen quotes this in Acts 7:33 almost exactly!
You might ask: So what? “Holy Ground” is supposed to be Mt. Zion and the Temple. Once more Stephen creates a wound and rubs salt in it: their great hero, Moses, never set foot on Mt. Zion. But he met God in a far-off land and God declared that spot “holy ground.” It is a way of saying to his audience “Do you want to argue with God about WHERE we find ‘holy ground?’”
Acts 7:37 says “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ “ Would a quote like this from the Old Testament irritate Stephen’s audience? Only if you realize that this is a quotation from Deut. 18:15. So? Because Deuteronomy 18:15 is the Samaritan 10th Commandment!
All Stephen is saying to his audience is this: “You don’t seem to know your Bible, you don’t know your forefathers, you don’t know your God, you don’t know much about ‘holy ground’; you don’t know where God is worshiped. Moses knew; the Samaritans knew, the Patriarchs knew. Your invented theology is meaningless!”