Stephen, Session #6 (All quotes generally ESV)
LUKE’S PURPOSE FOR INCLUDING STEPHEN’S SPEECH
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
These were the words spoken by Jesus to his disciples just before He ascended into Heaven. This gives Luke his outline for the Acts of the Apostles: God’s Word will be preached in ever-widening circles. It starts in Jerusalem. Then the Gospel spreads to Judea (the countryside around Jerusalem). Next stop: Samaria! And Stephen’s speech is the starting point for the expansion of the Gospel to Samaria.
We will see Samaritan ideas throughout Stephen’s speech. But what we will also see is that a reinterpretation of the Bible is needed. Judaism is so far from the truth that the Gospel cannot live in this work-righteous perversion of God’s promises. Stephen is going to get himself killed for “pointing out the error of their ways!”
THE OUTLINE OF STEPHEN’S SPEECH
Let’s keep this fairly simple: Stephen sees the history of the Jewish people divided into three “eras.”
- The era of the Patriarchs (“pre-Moses”), Acts 7:2-20
- The era of Moses, Acts 7:21-43
- The era of Joshua through the kings (“post-Moses”) Acts. 7:44-50
He then draws a conclusion for his listeners, Acts 7:51-53
Stephen does not condemn Judaism until the very end. He consistently points to the Bible stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, etc., which speak contrary to the message heard from the rabbinic/priestly class of Jews.
Our method of study will be to analyze a small section at a time, with special emphasis on those words and phrases which depart from standard Jewish teaching. Along the way, it will be necessary to delineate what “standard Jewish teaching” is! It will help if you can refer to some maps in your Bible during this first part.
THE ERA OF THE PATRIACHS
Acts 7:2-4 “And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.
Notice that Stephen calls them brothers and refers to Abraham as “our father.” These words do not automatically make him a Jew. The Samaritans called Abraham their father as well. By saying “our father Abraham,” Stephen is identifying himself with his listening audience. He wants them to think of him as one of their own people. “I am no stranger to what you believe and teach—I’m one of you!” But verse 4 says “into this land in which YOU are now living.” Was Stephen hinting that his birthplace was not in Judea? That was true of many Jews living in Jerusalem.
Why mention Mesopotamia? Abraham lived a goodly portion of his life in Haran, a city at the headwaters of the Euphrates River, and located today on the southern boundary of Turkey and neighboring Iraq. It is the northern tip of the “fertile crescent.” This was near the land of Jewish exile, where their historically-worst-enemies came from: the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Abraham lived in Haran until he was 75 years old. Abraham buried his father in Haran. It was in Haran that God told Abraham to move to Canaan (what we call “the Holy Land.”) But Stephen points out that God appeared to Abraham before that in his hometown of Ur. The Bible tells us Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees, a city in today’s Iraq near the Kuwait border. It was only recently that archeologists located this Biblical city. It’s in the desert in the middle of nowhere! WHY would anyone want to live there? Some scientists estimate that in the 2nd and 3rd millennium B.C., the ocean level was perhaps 7 or 8 feet higher, and Ur was fertile swamp land. (Must have been “global warming” from all their horses and chariots!)
What is the significance of “God of Glory?” Stephen shows that the God of Glory has never restricted himself to the Temple in Jerusalem! Exodus 24:16 “The glory of Yahwehdwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days.” God had revealed himself throughout the history of Israel as the God of Glory, mainly through spectacular things like the pillar of fire, a cloud of smoke, lightning, etc. According to the Bible, the “God of Glory” rarely shows up in Jerusalem, but He surely shows up everywhere else, starting with Abraham in “enemy territory.” Psalm 29:3 is the only verse in Scriptures where “The God of Glory” is used as an exact epithet for God; this Psalm depicts the God of Glory in many places which are NOT the Temple. Judaism taught that the Jerusalem Temple is where God lives. Stephen points out that the Bible doesn’t really say that, does it? This “God of Glory” had appeared to Abraham in heathen territory—way over in Ur of the Chaldees and again in Haran.
Verse 4 says “Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans.” Gen. 11:31 in the Hebrew (MT) says “they went forth together from Ur (מֵא֣וּר) of the Chaldeans” but the Greek text (LXX) only says “land of the Chaldeans” and skips any mention of Ur. This suggests that Stephen was possibly using a Greek version of the Old Testament.
Gen. 11:26 “When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran.”
Gen. 11:32 “The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.”
Gen. 12:4 “Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”
This does not add up: Abram’s father was 70 when Abram was born; Abram was 75 when his father died, 70 plus 75 is 145. So how can Terah, Abram’s father, be 205 years old at his death? If this is correct, then Abram would then have to be 130 when he left Haran, not 75 as the Bible is saying. Then Abram (later Abraham) couldn’t be 100 at the birth of Isaac. The Samaritan Pentateuch says Terah was 145 when he died, making Abram the correct 75. The MT (Masoretic Text) is apparently wrong here. There is NO Greek version of the Old Testament which preserves the reading that Abram left Haran after his father’s death, but these words occur in Philo, the Jewish Historian, who may have gotten this information from the Samaritan Greek version (the Samariticon).
Gen 12:1 “Go from your countryand from your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
Acts 7:3 ‘Go out from your country and your people, and go to the land I will show you.’
Why does Stephen leave out the words “and your father’s house?” Because his father, Terah, went along from Ur to Haran. He also changes a couple of other items in this quote. Stephen is quoting exactly from the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan which was an Aramaic translation used in the Synagogues of his day for teaching. This would suggest that Stephen was a regular attendee at the Synagogues.