Stephen, Session #5 (All quotes generally ESV)
THE FOUR OLD TESTAMENTS
- The Masoretic Text (MT) (Hebrew)
- The Samaritan Torah (Hebrew—kind of) (only the books of Moses)
- The Septuagint (LXX) (Greek)
- The Samariticon (Greek) (only the books of Moses)
Please don’t be overwhelmed—you can handle this material! If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t include it. Just read it over a couple of times slowly so you understand what each of the four represents. This is important to help understand why Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is so outrageous.
- The Masoretic Text. Your English Bible is based upon this! The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, starting as early as 1500 B.C., and copied over and over for thousands of years. The “Masoretes” were Jewish scholar/scribes who worked for centuries to standardize the copies of the Old Testament. They added the vowel markings to aid in pronouncing and/or chanting the Old Testament.
- The Samaritan Torah is written in the Samaritan alphabet (a close sister language of Hebrew). The Samaritan religion does not recognize all of the Old Testament Books as authentic. They think that the Jews, starting around 1100 B.C., added a lot of books to force changes in the religious beliefs of the people. Thus, the “Samaritan Torah” contains ONLY the five books of Moses. There are 6000 differences in the text between the Samaritan version and the Jewish version of the books of Moses! Most of these differences are grammatical or very unimportant. However, one important difference is that the Samaritan Torah contains a commandment to build an altar on Mount Gerizim; the Jewish version has no such commandment. (In case you are wondering: Mt. Gerizim in smack dab in the middle of Samaria—a place Jews refused to go!) And here’s a weird fact: many of the differences found in the Samaritan Torah are also found in scrolls at the Dead Sea (the Qumran community there was Jewish) AND the Septuagint agrees with the Samaritan text some 2000 times!
- The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The work was done by 70 scholars (thus the abbreviation “LXX”) in the 2nd century B.C. It was necessary because—well before Jesus was born—Jews couldn’t speak Hebrew anymore! They spoke Greek and/or Aramaic, a sister language of Hebrew. The Septuagint was the translation of the Bible into a language which Jews could understand no matter where they lived in the Greek and Roman Empires.
- The Samariticon (το Σαμαρειτικόν) does not exist—but it was at one time the Samaritan version of the Books of Moses in the Greek language. The Samaritans couldn’t speak Hebrew anymore either. Several church fathers, including Origen, refer to it, so we know it was real. But we don’t have a copy of it anymore! It appears that Stephen might have had one, or something like it. It was originally a 3rd Century B.C. translation (100 years before the Septuagint).
WHAT WERE THE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST STEPHEN?
Acts 6:11 “then they suborned men…” (τότε ὑπέβαλον ἄνδρας) Acts 6:13-14 “and they set up false witnesses who said, “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.”
Why are these men called “false witnesses” when what they say is true? Their witness was “prearranged.” It was “a set-up!” (ἔστησάν). An interesting textual variant in the Codex Bezae says they “weren’t able to confront the truth!”
“Suborn” means to induce someone to do an illegal thing or to give testimony which is false. This Greek word, the only place in the Bible where it means “suborn,”, is a compound verb literally meaning “throw” and “under” (yes—like “throw under the bus!”) What is illegal? These witnesses were 1) prearranged (perhaps even coerced and paid?), 2) getting their stories straight so that they could pervert his meaning and 3) this was done “under cover”—clandestinely—to orchestrate the point of charging him with blasphemy.
6:13 “This man never ceases…” The Greek is οὐ παύεται λαλῶν, usually translated as “This man never stops speaking…” But the verb is a middle (or a reflexive—an action done to oneself). The gist of this phrase is “he cannot stop himself from speaking…” The Holy Spirit gets control of Stephen’s heart and mind; he cannot shut up about the Temple and the Law. He’s got something to say, and he just HAS to say it!
These false witnesses, we were told earlier (Acts 6:9), are from some of the Synagogues in town (Synagogue of the Freemen, etc.). Apparently, Stephen would go to a Synagogue to worship, and right away he would start in on how wrong the Jews were to reject the truth of Scripture! They probably would have looked the other way if he had just kept his ideas to himself. But “he cannot stop himself from speaking!” After a while, this becomes like fingernails on a chalkboard—you just don’t want to hear it!
Imagine if someone came to our Church and started to claim that we were wrong about everything. Perhaps the first time we could write it off as a poor lost soul who is misguided, etc. But after a while it’s too much! We might ban the person from returning. But in the Jewish community, if you were guilty of blasphemy, the Mosaic Law said that the people “had an obligation” to stone you to death!
6:14 “Jesus of Nazareth willdestroy this place.” Jesus can’t “destroy” anything unless he is alive, can he? (Most of these Council members KNEW that the guards at the tomb had been paid to say that the body was stolen. They knew the truth: Jesus was alive!) They had crucified Jesus for blasphemy, so the first thing these witnesses want to do is link Stephen to Jesus in a syllogism: A. Jesus deserved to die—the Romans had agreed! B. Stephen is saying the same things as Jesus. C. THEREFORE—Stephen deserves to die also. As simple as A-B-C!
6:14 “this place” to the Jews is always “The Temple.” That is “the place.” The Temple is the center of their life, their religion and their society. If it goes down, it’s the end of the world! This is where God lives—at least in their minds—so it cannot be destroyed! If anyone speaks about destroying it, that’s the greatest sin there is. Jesus spoke about its destruction, and now Stephen is saying the same thing. To say that the Temple is not permanent but transitory is to destroy Judaism. (Read John 11:48)
6:14 “change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” This is code. “The customs that Moses delivered” means “The Law!” (Not just the 10 Commandments, but all of the legalities and Levitical regulations in the books of Moses.)
Stephen is quite the iconoclast in their eyes: The Temple? Tear it down—it doesn’t mean anything. The Law? Throw it out—it’s served its purpose. (For those who have been in Sunday morning Bible Class lately: sounds like the book of Hebrews, doesn’t it?)
Their charges against Stephen are serious! Like Jesus, Stephen and all he believes is a threat against the religion of Judaism. If Stephen gets his way, “we’re out of a job, out of money, out of a religion. Wow—we’re just plain ‘out the door!’ Maybe we ought to ignore him?” NOT A CHANCE!