Acts Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 7
1. The cohen hagadol asked, “Are these accusations true?”
2. and Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to Avraham avinu in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran
Brothers and fathers. Stephen, like Kefa (2:29, 3:17), speaks as a fellow Jew, one of the family. His critique is no more antisemitic than those of his predecessors the Prophets.

The God of glory. His first words refute the charge that he has "spoken blasphemously. .. against God" (6:11). His regard for the one God is demonstrated consistently throughout his speech.
Avraham avinu, "Abraham, our father," a phrase common in Jewish discourse.
In Mesopotamia, in "Ur of the Chaldees" (Genesis 15:7), not in the better-known city, also called Ur, at the mouth of the Euphrates River, which is not in Mesopotamia. 

3. 'and said to him, ‘Leave your land and your family, and go into the land that I will show you' (Genesis 12:1).
Stephen quotes Genesis 12:1, words recorded as spoken by God to Avraham in Charan but presumably also spoken in Ur. 

4. So he left the land of the Kasdim and lived in Haran. After his father died, God made him move to this land where you are living now.
After his father died. Was Stephen biblically uninformed? Genesis 11:26 seems to say that Terach, Avraham's father, was 70 when Avraham was born; and Genesis 12:4 clearly says that Avraham was 75 when he left Charan; these data imply that Terach was 145 at the time. But Genesis 11:32 says that Terach died at 205, sixty years later. Two explanations of the inconsistency have been offered:

(1) Genesis 11:26 may mean Terach was 70 not when Avraham was born but when his brother Nachor was born. It is not implausible that Nachor was considerably older than Avraham, since his granddaughter Rivkah married Avraham's son Yitzchak.

(2) Stephen was using a text of the Pentateuch in which Terach's age was given as 145. not 205. The Samaritan text of the Pentateuch does say 145, so we are not dealing with a deus ex machina. Moreover, there are scholars, Avraham Spero and Jakob Jervell among them, who believe Stephen himself was a Samaritan. This would also explain v. 16, which says that Avraham was buried in Sh'khem, since this too follows Samaritan tradition. It explains a possible anti-Temple tendency in vv. 47-50 (compare Yn 4:20-22&NN) and gives logic to placing the story of the spread of the Gospel to Shomron in the immediately following passage (8:4-26). At worst, if under pressure Stephen erred, his errors would be what are known in Judaism as ta'uyot b'tom-lev, honest mistakes. The first century Alexandrian Jew Philo, in De Migratione Abrahami, also speaks of Avraham's leaving Charan after Terach's death. 

5. He gave him no inheritance in it, 'not even space for one foot' (Deuteronomy 2:5), yet he promised to 'give it to him as a possession and to his descendants after him' (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:4, 7, 18–21; 17:8; 24:7; 48:4), even though at the time he was childless.
6. What God said to him was, 'Your descendants will be aliens in a foreign land, where they will be in slavery and oppressed for four hundred years' ().
7. But I will judge the nation that enslaves them,’ God said, 'and afterwards they will leave and worship me in this place' (Genesis 15:13–14, 16).
8. And he gave him b’rit-milah. So he became the father of Yitz’chak and did his b’rit-milah on the eighth day, and Yitz’chak became the father of Ya‘akov, and Ya‘akov became the father of the Twelve Patriarchs.
9. “Now the Patriarchs grew jealous of Yosef and sold him into slavery in Egypt. (Genesis 37:11,28; 39:1–3,21,23) But Adonai was with him;
10. he rescued him from all his troubles and 'gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him chief administrator over Egypt and over all his household' (Genesis 41:37–44).
11. Now there came a famine that caused much suffering throughout Egypt and Kena‘an (Genesis 41:54; 42:5)
12. But when Ya‘akov heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time.
13. The second time, Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers (Genesis 45:1), and Yosef’s family became known to Pharaoh.
14. Yosef then sent for his father Ya‘akov and all his relatives, seventy-five people.
Seventy-five, according to the Septuagint, but seventy according to the Masoretic Hebrew text (Genesis 46:27, Exodus 1:5). Genesis 46:20 accounts for the discrepancy. In this verse the Septuagint names four grandsons and one great-grandson of Joseph, whereas the Masoretic text does not. 

15. And Ya‘akov went down to Egypt; there he died, as did our other ancestors.
16. Their bodies were removed to Sh’khem and buried in the tomb Avraham had bought from the family of Hamor in Sh’khem for a certain sum of money.
According to the Hebrew text of the Tanakh Avraham bought a burial cave in Hevron (Genesis 23:2-20), in which Ya'akov was buried by Yosef (Genesis 49:29-50:13). Ya'akov bought a field from Chamor in Sh'khem (Genesis 33:18-19), in which the bones of Yosef were placed centuries later (Joshua 24:32). Non-biblical sources (the pseudepigraphical books of Jubilees and Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Mekhilta and Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews) say Joseph's brothers' bones eventually were removed and buried in Israel; most sources say in Hevron. Either Stephen is telescoping these events in his quick and pressurized review, or he is using something other than the Hebrew text, perhaps the Samaritan one (see v. 4N). 

17. “As the time drew near for the fulfillment of the promise God had made to Avraham, the number of our people in Egypt 'increased greatly,
18. until there arose another king over Egypt who had no knowledge of Yosef (Exodus 1:7–8)
19. With cruel cunning this man forced our fathers to put their newborn babies outside their homes, so that they would not survive.
20. “It was then that Moshe was born, and he was beautiful in God’s sight. For three months he was reared in his father’s house;
21. and when he was put out of his home, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son.
22. So Moshe was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and became both a powerful speaker and a man of action.
23. “But when he was forty years old, the thought came to him to visit his brothers, the people of Isra’el.
24. On seeing one of them being mistreated, he went to his defense and took revenge by striking down the Egyptian.
25. He supposed his brothers would understand that God was using him to rescue them, but they didn’t understand.
26. When he appeared the next day, as they were fighting, and tried to make peace between them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers! Why do you want to hurt each other?’
27. the one who was mistreating his fellow pushed Moshe away and said, 'Who made you a ruler and judge over us?
28. Do you want to kill me, the way you killed that Egyptian yesterday?' (Exodus 2:14)
29. On hearing this, Moshe fled the country and became an exile in the land of Midyan, where he had two sons.
Two sons. Gershom and Eli'ezer (Exodus 2:22, 18:3-4). 

30. “After forty more years, an angel 'appeared to him in the desert' near Mount Sinai 'in the flames of a burning thorn bush'.
According to Jubilees 1:27, 29; 2:1, "the angel of the Presence" talked with Moshe on Mount Sinai. This seems to be the angel of Adonai, referred to over and over in the Tanakh (for example at Genesis 22:11, 48:15). Some believe the angel of Adonai was a pre-incarnation appearance of the eternal Word who became flesh in Yeshua the Messiah. See vv. 35, 38,53&N, and especially Yn 1:14N. 

31. When Moshe saw this, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to get a better look, there came the voice of Adonai,
32. 'I am the God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, Yitz’chak and Ya‘akov.’ But Moshe trembled with fear and didn’t dare to look '
33. Adonai said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, because the place where you are standing is holy ground.
34. I have clearly seen how My people are being oppressed in Egypt, I have heard their cry, and I have come down to rescue them, and now I will send you to Egypt' (Exodus 3:1–2).
35. “This Moshe, whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and judge?', is the very one whom God sent as both ruler and ransomer by means of the angel that appeared to him in the thorn bush.
36. This man led them out, performing miracles and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.
37. This is the Moshe who said to the people of Isra’el, 'God will raise up a prophet like me from among your brothers' (Deuteronomy 18:15).
See 3:22-23N. 

38. This is the man who was in the assembly in the wilderness, accompanied by the angel that had spoken to him at Mount Sinai and by our fathers, the man who was given living words to pass on to us.
Assembly, Greek ekklisia, translated "church" in KJV, despite its inappropriateness in speaking of the Jewish people. The word means, literally, "called-out ones," whether called out from Egypt or from sin; satisfactory renderings are "'assembly," "congregation" and "community." The angel that had spoken to him at Mount Sinai from the burning bush (v. 30&N), not the angels understood to have mediated the giving of the Torah (v. 53&N).

Living words, that is, the Torah. Clearly Stephen does not teach against the Torah: this refutes the third charge (6:13-14&N).

These verses refute the charge that Stephen spoke against Moshe (6:11). Here Stephen lauds him as ruler, ransomer, one who spoke with the angel, miracle-worker, prophet and receiver of living words. 

39. “But our fathers did not want to obey him. On the contrary, they rejected him and in their hearts turned to Egypt,
40. saying to Aharon, 'Make us some gods to lead us; because this Moshe, who led us out of Egypt — we don’t know what has become of him' (Exodus 32:1, 23).
41. That was when they made an idol in the shape of a calf and offered a sacrifice to it and held a celebration in honor of what they had made with their own hands.
42. So God turned away from them and gave them over to 'worship the stars (Jeremiah 19:13) — as has been written in the book of the prophets, People of Isra’el, it was not to me that you offered slaughtered animals and sacrifices for forty years in the wilderness!
43. No, you carried the tent of Molekh and the star of your god Reifan, the idols you made so that you could worship them.' Therefore, I will send you into exile beyond Bavel.’ (Amos 5:25–27)
God... gave them over... See Ro 1:24-28N.
The book of the prophets, that is, the book of the twelve "minor prophets," regarded as a single book in Jewish reckoning of the Tanakh. Stephen's citation of Amos conforms closely to the Septuagint, which differs in details from the Masoretic text. However, "beyond Babylon" in place of "beyond Damascus" may be Stephen's midrash pointing out that the penalty for turning away from the one true God will be worse than the Babylonian Exile. 

44. “Our fathers had the Tent of Witness in the wilderness. It had been made just as God, who spoke to Moshe, had ordered it made, according to the pattern Moshe had seen.
Stephen paints a picture of the majority in Israel refusing to honor those whom God chose to bring them the salvation he had promised them — especially Yosef (vv. 9-16), who was recognized by Pharaoh, a Gentile, but not by his own brothers. and Moshe (vv. 17-44). 

45. Later on, our fathers who had received it brought it in with Y’hoshua when they took the Land away from the nations that God drove out before them. “So it was until the days of David.
46. He enjoyed God’s favor and asked if he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Ya‘akov
47. and Shlomo did build him a house.
See 1 Kings 8:12-21; Psalm 132:5.7. 

48. But Ha‘Elyon does not live in places made by hand! As the prophet says,
49. "Heaven is my throne,’ says Adonai, ‘and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house could you build for me? What kind of place could you devise for my rest?
50. Didn’t I myself make all these things?" (Isaiah 66:1–2)
Stephen refutes the final charge, that he has spoken improperly against the Temple (6:13-14&N), by showing that it was the people, not God, who wanted a dwelling place or house more substantial than the Tent of Witness or "Tabernacle" originally authorized in the Torah. The establishment has tended toward 'Temple-olatry" instead of adopting God's attitude. He cites Isaiah in support of his criticism. 

51. 'Stiffnecked people' (Exodus 32:9; 33:3,5) with uncircumcised hearts and ears! (Leviticus 26:41; Jeremiah 6:10; 9:25(26)) You continually oppose the (Isaiah 63:10) Ruach HaKodesh! You do the same things your fathers did!
Stiffnecked. This term is used six times in the Tamkh: Exodus 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6.13. Always it is Adonai portraying the Israelites to Moshe, or Moshe portraying them to God or to themselves. Gentiles cannot call Jews stiffnecked without subjecting themselves to the charge of being antisemitic. But Jews can — in intra-family fights different rules apply.

Uncircumcised hearts (Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4, 9:25(26): Ezekiel 44:7,9) and ears (Jeremiah 6:10). These too are the TanaWs characterizations of Israel: God's people outwardly bear the sign of the covenant with Avraham (v. 8) but inwardly are heathen, impure, rebellious (compare Ro 2:17-3:2&NN).
You continually oppose the Ruach HaKodesh. See Mt 12:31-32&N, Lk 12:8-10&N. 

52. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who told in advance about the coming of the Tzaddik, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers! —
Yeshua made the same accusation (Mt 23:29-32,35). Yochanan the Immerser was the last prophet; he too was put to death (Mt 14:1-12). On the application of the Tanakh prophecies to Yeshua, see Section VTT of the Introduction to the JNT, and Mt 26:24&N.

Of the Tzaddik, Greek tou dikaiou, literally, "of the Righteous One." See Mt 13:17N.
You have become his betrayers and murderers, not directly — as they are about to become of Stephen — but through Pontius Pilate and the Roman government. See 2:22-23&N. 

53. you! — who receive the Torah as having been delivered by angels — but do not keep it!”
Stephen has been charged with having taught against Moshe, God, the Temple and the Torah (6:11-14&NN) — in other words, against everything Judaism stands for. Demonstrating that the best defense is a good offense, he indicts the religious leaders after the manner of the Prophets, saying it is they who have abandoned each one of these four sacred trusts.

The verse of the Tanakh which comes closest to stating outright that the Torah... was delivered by angels is found in Moshe's final speech before his death: "Adonai came from Sinai and rose from Seir to them; he shone forth from Mount Paran; and he came from the holy myriads;... at his right hand eshdat tamo" (Deuteronomy 33:2). Hebrew eshdat lamo is taken by some Jewish commentators to mean, "was a fiery law (esh-dat) for them." The Septuagint translates the passage, "at his right hand were his angels with him." Rashi says that the "holy myriads" were angels. Strack and Billerbeck, in their six-volume Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash (Munich: С. Н. Beck'sche, 1975 reprint of 1926 original, in German), give several dozen citations from rabbinic literature showing that the idea of angelic mediation of the Torah was widespread. For example, the Midrash Kabbah does a wordplay on the text of Psalm 68:

"Rabbi Abdimi of Haifa said, 'Twenty-two thousand [angels] descended with God on Sinai, as it says, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, thousands of shin'an" [often translated "angels"] (Psalm 68:18(17)). The very best, the choicest (sh'na'an) went down.'"(Exodus Rabbah 29:2)

The psalm continues, "Adonai is among them, Sinai in the holy place."
But the rabbis are not united in asserting angelic mediation of the Torah. The following takes a defensive theological position (see 3:22-23N) against Gnosticism and against what the rabbis supposed Christianity taught:

"When [God] gave the commandments on Mount Sinai, at first he uttered them loudly all at once, as it is said, 'And God spoke all these words [simultaneously; see last paragraph of 2:4b-13N], saying,...' (Exodus 20:1). Then [the angel] Mikha'el said, 'He will commission me to explain his words.' And [the angel] Gavri'el said, 'He will commission me to explain them.' But as soon as he continued, saying, '1 am Adonai your God' (Exodus 20:2), they said, 'As he gives his children the Torah he is committing his commandments, fully explained, directly to his son Israel." (Pesikta Rabbati 21:5) In two other places the New Testament makes reference to angelic mediation of the Torah (Ga 3:19&N, MJ 2:2&N). In the present verse the mention of angels emphasizes that even [hough the Torah came through supernatural mediation — which demonstates Stephen's high regard for the Torah — his hearers, who are sitting in judgment of him, have not kept it!

You have not kept it! Stephen has cast all caution to the winds, and this is the resulting climax to his speech. The Sanhedrin was the final authority in matters of Torah, so it is as if Stephen were to stand before the Supreme Court and call its members criminals. He does not address the question of whether "Yeshua from Natzeret... will change the customs Moshe handed down to us" (6:14). Why should he? If the leaders do not observe them now, what difference will it make if Yeshua changes them? Compare Yeshua's criticisms of a group of P'rushim and TwaA-teachers in Mt 23:13-36&NN. 

54. On hearing these things, they were cut to their hearts and ground their teeth at him.
On hearing these things they were cut to their hearts. Obviously Stephen's remarks were designed to produce a reaction, as was Kefa's Shavu 'ot sermon, when the crowds were "stung" in their hearts (2:37). But there the message produced repentance and faith, here rage and fury. 

55. But he, full of the Ruach HaKodesh, looked up to heaven and saw God’s Sh’khinah, with Yeshua standing at the right hand of God
56. “Look!” he exclaimed, “I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'" (Psalm 110:1)
A portion of v. 55 was inadvertently omitted from the first three printings of the Jewish New Testament. Verse 55 should read: "But he, full of the Ruach HaKodesh, looked up to heaven and saw God's Sh'khinah, with Yeshua standing at the right hand of God." On God's Sh'khinah, his manifest glory, see Paragraph (3) of MJ 1:2-3N.

Standing at the right hand of God. The text of Psalm 110:1 (see Mt 22:44N) says, "Adonai said to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand...'," but Stephen sees him standing. Since Yeshua's function in heaven with God is to be the cohen gadol for all believers and intercede for them (MJ 2:16-18&N, 7:25&N and passim), possibly his posture indicates that Stephen sees him performing his high-priestly duties, for which sitting would be inappropriate. Against this is MJ 10:11-14&N.

Son of Man, that is, Yeshua the Messiah. This is the last use of this title in the New Testament. See Mt 8:20N. 

57. At this, they began yelling at the top of their voices, so that they wouldn’t have to hear him; and with one accord, they rushed at him,
They began yelling...; and with one accord (or: "singlemindedly"; see I:14N), they rushed at him. This is hardly the behavior expected from the supreme tribunal of the land. It is not clear whether those who rushed at Stephen included some of his Greek-speaking accusers along with the angrier members of the Sanhedrin (which had not delivered a verdict). In any case, experienced jurists should have sensed the danger latent in the circumstances and taken steps to protect Stephen instead of joining the mob. Either the Sanhedrin had already decided to put Stephen out of the way without an honest trial, or the judges allowed emotion to overrule reason after his inflammatory speech. 

58. threw him outside the city and began stoning him. And the witnesses laid down their coats at the feet of a young man named Sha’ul.
Threw him outside the city and began stoning him. And the witnesses...
Deuteronomy 17:2-7 states that stoning was to take place outside the city gates, and that the witnesses to the criminal act were to be the first to stone the convicted criminal. Leviticus 24:24 makes the same point: "Bring forth him that has cursed outside the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him." The Mishna deals with the punishment of stoning:

"The place of stoning was as the height of two men. One of the witnesses pushed him down by his hips. If he turned over face downward, he turned him on his back. If he died from the blow and the fall, that was enough. But if not, the second witness took a stone and dropped it on his chest. If he died from this, that was enough. But if not, his stoning had to be carried out by all Israel, as it is said, 'The hand of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death and afterward the hand of all the people' (Deuteronomy 17:7)." (Sanhedrin 6:4)

Laid down their coats. Compare what the Talmud says about carrying out the sentence of stoning:
"When the trial is over, they take him |the condemned person) out to be stoned. The place of stoning was at a distance from the court, as it is said, Take out the one who has cursed'(Leviticus 24:14). A man stands at the entrance of the court; in his hand is the signalling flag [Hebrew sudarin= sudar, "scarf, sweater"]. A horseman was stationed far away but within sight of him. If one [of the judges] says, i have something [more] to say in his favor,' he [the signaller] waves the sudarin, and the horseman runs and stops them [from stoning him]. Even if [the condemned person] himself says, 'I have something to say in my favor,' they bring him back, even four or five times, only provided that there is some substance to what he is saying." (Sanhedrin 42b) At the feet of a young man named Sha'ul. This is the first mention in the New Testament of Paul of Tarsus ("Saint Paul"). Acts 13:9 gives both his names; see note there. Sha'ul himself recalls this event at 22:20.

One more piece of information completes the ground for an interesting speculation. According to the Talmud, the court must provide the sudarin, not the accused (Sanhedrin 43a, commenting on the above quoted paragraph). Joseph Shulam thinks sudar in later Hebrew can also mean "coat." Thus, he conjectures, the Greek translator of Acts from a presumed original Hebrew text didn't understand the Jewish context and therefore wrote of laying coats at Sha'ul's feet, whereas actually Sha'ul was a member of the Sanhedrin, specifically, the one who held the sudar. (For more on Sha'ul's possibly being a member of the Sanhedrin see 8:1&N, 9:1-2N, 23:1&N, 26:10&N; Ga 1:14&N.) On the other hand, the stoning of Stephen was so disorderly that it seems improbable that provision was even made for signalling. 

59. As they were stoning him, Stephen called out to God, “Lord Yeshua! Receive my spirit!”
60. Then he kneeled down and shouted out, “Lord! Don’t hold this sin against them!” With that, he died;
Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit!... Don't hold this sin against them. Stephen was the first Messianic Jew to die 'al kiddush-HaShem (literally, "in sanctification of the Name" of God), that is, as a martyr to his faith.

Readiness for martyrdom is seen already in the Tanakh: Chananyah, Misha'el and 'Azaryah (Shadrakh, Meishakh and 'Aved-n'go) preferred being thrown into "the burning fiery furnace" over bowing down to King Nevukhadnetzar's idols (Daniel 3). In the Apocrypha, 2 Maccabees tells that when ordered by Antiochus IV to renounce Judaism, seven sons and their mother, one after the other, chose death. "These figures," comments the Encyclopedia Judaica, "became the prototypes for and symbols of martyrdom and martyrs in both Judaism and Christianity" (10:982). Through the centuries countless Jews persecuted in Christendom have died 'al kiddush-HaShem: likewise innumerable Christians have endured death for their faith.

Stephen learned how to face death from Yeshua the Messiah himself, who was not a martyr at all but came to earth from equality with God (Pp 2:6-8) "to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45). Nailed to the execution-stake, Yeshua said, "Father! Into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46, quoting Psalm 31:6(5)). He also prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they don't understand what they are doing" (Lk 23:34&N). The Jewish scholar Claude G. Montefiore writes that he knows of no comparable sentiments in any of the rabbinic martyrologies, that this statement of forgiveness constitutes "a religious advance" (Rabbinic Literature and Gospel Teachings, p. 372). Martyrdom for one's faith is always noble, and Stephen's death 'al kiddush-HaShem, in loyal imitation of his Lord, was altogether noble.

At the same time, it must be noted that martyrdom does not, as some Jewish writers suppose, constitute a "Christian value." Martyrdom for its own sake is a cultish value which is neither Christian nor Jewish. The Musaf service for Yom-Kippur includes a martyrology of Rabbis Ishmael, Akiva and eight others who died 'al kiddush-HaShem under Roman Emperor Hadrian in 135 C.E., at the end of Bar-Kosiba's rebellion. Foxe's Book of Martyrs, a 17th-century work describing many Christians put to death because of their faith, is still in print. Both Judaism and Christianity honor their martyrs, but without making martyrdom a virtue or a goal. 

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