Acts 6:15
And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
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(15) Looking stedfastly on him.—St Luke’s characteristic word. (See Note on Acts 1:10.)

Saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.—We can scarcely be wrong in tracing this description to the impression made at the time on St. Paul, and reported by him to St. Luke. It must be interpreted by the account given of angels as appearing in the form of “young men” (Mark 16:5), and so throws some light upon St. Stephen’s age, as being, probably, about the same standing as St. Paul, and implies that his face was lighted up as by the radiance of a divine brightness. The phrase seems to have been more or less proverbial. In the expanded version of the Book of Esther, which appears in the LXX., she says to the King, as in reverential awe, “I saw thee, O my lord, as an angel of God” (Esther 5:2). In 2Samuel 14:17, the words refer to the wisdom of David rather than to anything visible and outward. Here the impression left by St. Luke’s narrative is that the face of St. Stephen was illumined at once with the glow of an ardent zeal and the serenity of a higher wisdom.

Acts 6:15. And all that sat in the council — The priests, rulers, scribes, and elders; looking steadfastly on him — As being a stranger, and one whom they had not till now had before them, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel — Covered with a supernatural lustre, like that which appeared on the face of our Lord when he was transfigured, or at least that of Moses’s face, when he came down from the mount. Hereby God designed to put honour on his faithful witness, and confusion on his persecutors and judges, whose sin would be highly aggravated, and would indeed be rebellion against the visible glory of God, if, notwithstanding this, they proceeded against him. They reckoned his preaching of Jesus as the Christ, was destroying both Moses and the law; and God bears witness to him with the same glory as he did to Moses, when he gave the law by him. And it was an astonishing instance of the incorrigible hardness and wickedness of their hearts, that they could murder a man on whom God put such a visible glory, similar to that of their great legislator. But we know what little impression other miracles made upon them, the truth of which they were compelled to acknowledge.

6:8-15 When they could not answer Stephen's arguments as a disputant, they prosecuted him as a criminal, and brought false witnesses against him. And it is next to a miracle of providence, that no greater number of religious persons have been murdered in the world, by the way of perjury and pretence of law, when so many thousands hate them, who make no conscience of false oaths. Wisdom and holiness make a man's face to shine, yet will not secure men from being treated badly. What shall we say of man, a rational being, yet attempting to uphold a religious system by false witness and murder! And this has been done in numberless instances. But the blame rests not so much upon the understanding, as upon the heart of a fallen creature, which is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Yet the servant of the Lord, possessing a clear conscience, cheerful hope, and Divine consolations, may smile in the midst of danger and death.Looking stedfastly on him - Fixing the eyes intently on him. They were probably attracted by the unusual appearance of the man, his meekness, his calm and collected fearlessness, and the proofs of conscious innocence and sincerity.

The face of an angel - This expression is one evidently denoting that he manifested evidence of sincerity, gravity, fearlessness, confidence in God. It is used in the Old Testament to denote special wisdom, 2 Samuel 14:17; 2 Samuel 19:27. In Genesis 33:10, it is used to denote special majesty and glory, as if it were the face of God. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, it is said that the skin of his face shone so that the children of Israel were afraid to come near him, Exodus 34:29-30; 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:13. Compare Revelation 1:16; Matthew 17:2. The expression is used to denote the impression produced on the countenance by communion with God; the calm serenity and composure which follow a confident committing of all into his hands. It is not meant that there was anything "miraculous" in the case of Stephen, but it is language that denotes calmness, dignity, and confidence in God, all of which were so marked on his countenance that it impressed them with clear proofs of his innocence and piety. The language is very common in the Jewish writings. It is not unusual for deep feeling, sincerity, and confidence in God, to impress themselves on the countenance. Any deep emotion will do this; and it is to be expected with religious feeling, the most tender and solemn of all feeling, will diffuse seriousness, serenity, calmness, and peace not affected sanctimoniousness, over the countenance.

In this chapter we have another specimen of the manner in which the church of the Lord Jesus was established. It was from the beginning amidst scenes of persecution, encountering opposition adapted to try the nature and power of religion. If Christianity was an imposture, it had enemies acute and malignant enough to detect the imposition. The learned, the cunning, and the mighty rose up in opposition, and by all the arts of sophistry, all the force of authority, and all the fearfulness of power, attempted to destroy it in the commencement. Yet it lived; it gained new accessions of strength from every new form of opposition; it evinced its genuineness more and more by showing that it was superior to the arts and malice of earth and of hell.

15. as … the face of an angel—a play of supernatural radiance attesting to all who beheld his countenance the divine calm of the spirit within. With an extraordinary lustre and radiancy, above what appears in men, whereby they might be distinguished, as Matthew 28:2,3, affecting the beholders with admiration; thus Moses’s face did shine.

And all that sat in the council,.... The whole sanhedrim,

looking steadfastly on him; to observe whether his countenance altered, his tongue stammered, or he trembled in any part of his body, neither of which appeared; but on the contrary, they

saw his face, as if it had been the face of an angel. The Ethiopic version adds, "of God"; there was such a calmness and serenity in it, which showed his innocence and unconsciousness of guilt; and such a beauty and glory upon it, that he looked as lovely and amiable as the angels of God, who when they appeared to men, it was in very glorious and splendid forms: his face might shine as Moses's did, when he came down from the mount; or in some degree as Christ's did at his transfiguration; and this might, as it ought to have been, taken as an acquittance of him by God, from the charge of blasphemy, either against God or Moses: the Jews (q) say of Phinehas, that when the Holy Ghost was upon him, his face burned or shone like lamps, and Stephen was now full of the Holy Ghost, Acts 6:5.

(q) Ceseph. Misna in Maimon. Hilch. Teshuba, c. 9. & Vajikra Rabba, sect. 1. fol. 146. 1. & sect. 21. fol. 163. 1.

And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, {i} saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.

(i) By this it appears that Steven had an excellent and wholesome countenance, having a quiet and settled mind, a good conscience, and certain conviction that his cause was just: for seeing as he was to speak before the people, God beautified his countenance, so that by the very beholding of him the Jews' minds might be penetrated and amazed.

Acts 6:15. All the Sanhedrists[188] saw the countenance of Stephen angelically glorified; a superhuman, angel-like δόξα became externally visible to them on it. So Luke has conceived and represented it with simple definiteness; so the serene calm which astonished even the Sanhedrists, and the holy joyfulness which was reflected from the heart of the martyr in his countenance, have been glorified by the symbolism of Christian legend. But it would be arbitrary, with Kuinoel (comp. Grotius and Heinrichs), to rationalize the meaning of εἶδονἀγγέλου to this effect: “Os animi tranquillitatem summam referebat, adeo ut eum intuentibus reverentiam injiceret;” according to which the expression would have to be referred, with Neander and de Wette, to a poetically symbolical description, which does not correspond with the otherwise simple style of the narrative. The phenomenon was certainly “an extraordinary operation of the Spirit of Jesus” (Baumgarten, p. 130); but the form of it is added by tradition, which betrays the point of view of the miraculous also by the πάντες. The parallel adduced afresh by Olshausen (2 Samuel 14:17) is utterly unsuitable, because there the comparison to an angel relates to wisdom, and not to anything external. Nor is the analogy of the δόξα in the face of Moses (2 Corinthians 3:7) suitable, on account of the characteristic πρόσωπ. ἀγγέλου. For Rabbinical analogies, see Schoettgen and Wetstein.

[188] ἀτενίσαντες εἰς αὐτόν: “usitatum est in judiciis oculos in reum convertere, quum expectatur ejus defensio,” Calvin.

Acts 6:15. ἀτενίσαντες, see above on Acts 1:10.—ὡσεὶ πρόσωπον ἀγγέλου, cf. LXX, Esther 5:2, where Esther says to the king in reverence εἶδόν σε κύριε, ὡς ἄγγελον Θεοῦ; in 2 Samuel 14:17; 2 Samuel 14:20, the reference is not to outward appearance, but to inward discernment (see Wetstein, who refers also to Genesis 33:10, and quotes other instances from the Rabbis, e.g., Dixit R. Nathanael: parentes Mosis viderunt pulchritudinem ejus tanquam angeli Domini: and we have the same expression used by St. Paul in Acta Pauli et Theklœ, 2; ἀγγέλου πρόσωπον εἶχεν. See too Schöttgen, in loco. R. Gedalja speaks of Moses and Aaron when they came to Pharaoh as angels ministering before God). At such a moment when Stephen was called upon to plead for the truth at the risk of his life, and when not only the calmness and strength of his convictions, but also the grace, the beauty of his Master, and the power of His spirit rested upon him, such a description was no exaggeration, cf. a striking passage in Dr. Liddon’s Some Elements of Religion, p. 180. It was said of the aged Polycarp, as he faced a martyr’s death: τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ χάριτος ἐπληροῦτο and “to have lived in spirit on Mount Tabor during the years of a long life, is to have caught in its closing hours some rays of the glory of the Transfiguration”. But if the brightness on the face of St. Stephen is represented by St. Luke as supernatural (as Wendt admits), we are not called upon to conclude that such a description is due to the glorification of the Saint in Christian legend: “the occasion was worthy of the miracle,” the ministration of the Spirit, ἡ διακονία τοῦ πνεύματος, in which St. Stephen had shared, might well exceed in glory; and a brightness like that on the face of Moses, above the brightness of the sun, might well have shone upon one who like the angels beheld the face of the Father in heaven, and to whom the glory of the Lord had been revealed: “As if in refutation of the charge made against him, Stephen receives the same mark of divine favour which had been granted to Moses” (Humphry). St. Chrysostom speaks of the face of Stephen as being terrible to the Jews, but lovable and wonderful to the Christians (cf. Theophylact, in loco). But although St. Stephen’s words must afterwards have proved terrible to his opponents, we scarcely associate the thought of terror with the verse before us; we may speak of such faces as that of the proto-martyr as αἰδέσιμα but scarcely as φοβερά. It is possible that the representation of St. Stephen in sacred art as a young man may be due to this comparison of his face to that of an angel, angels being always represented as in the bloom of youth (Dr. Moore, Studies in Dante, first series, p. 84).

15. And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him] As they would naturally in expectation of what he was about to say in his defence.

saw his face as it had been the face of an angel] Either because of the calm dignity which Stephen’s natural look displayed; he was calm and undisturbed, confident in his good cause and supported by the Spirit: or as his gaze soon afterwards (Acts 7:56) beheld the open heavens and the glory of Christ enthroned on high, it may be that the sense in this verse is also supernatural, and that the face of Stephen was already illumined with the radiancy of the new Jerusalem.

For the expression cp. Acts 7:20 note.

Acts 6:15. Ὡσεὶ πρόσωπον ἀγγέλου, as it were the face of an angel) The hidden glory of believers often shines forth even from their body, especially from a high cross, and in heaven. Even the face of Moses shone. Scripture, when it praises anything extraordinarily, calls it divine, or belonging to God; ch. Acts 7:20; or at least angelic: and splendour (brightness) is ascribed to the angels, and the angels were, without doubt, attending on Stephen.

Verse 15. - Fastening their eyes for looking steadfastly, A.V. (see above, Acts 3:4). The council would naturally all look at him, in expectation of his answer to the evidence just delivered against him. In his face, illuminated with a Divine radiance, they had an answer which they would have done well to listen to (for the brightness of an angel's face, comp. Matthew 28:3; Daniel 10:6; Revelation 10:1, etc.).

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