Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Acts 7:1-53. Stephen’s Defence
Then said the high priest, Are these things so?1. Then said the high priest, Are these things so?] Read, And the high priest said, &c. Thus he called upon Stephen to answer the charges laid against him.
And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,2. And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken] Omit men. Cp. Acts 1:16, note. For an account of the argument in Stephen’s speech and its connection with the whole design of the writer of the Acts, see Introduction pp. ix. x.
The God of glory] A not very common expression (see Psalm 29:3), but probably chosen designedly as an introduction to this discourse, which deals with the several stages of God’s manifestation of Himself. The term is applied (John 1:14) to the incarnate Word; “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.”
appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia] The ancestral home of Abraham is called “Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis 11:31), and it is said (Joshua 24:2-3) to have been “on the other side of the flood,” i.e. beyond the Euphrates. It is not possible to determine the site of Ur, but the most probable opinion seems to be that which places it at Edessa, now called Orfah, and said to have been called Orrha in early times. If this were the place the journey thence to Charran (O.T. Haran), i.e. Carrhæ, would not have been so very formidable for the father of the patriarch to undertake, and at Charran Terah remained till he died (Genesis 11:32). Abraham when without his father could remove with greater ease to the distant Canaan.
our father Abraham] If Stephen were merely a proselyte he might yet use this expression, for Abraham is regarded as the father of proselytes. On Genesis 12:5, “The souls which they had gotten [Heb. made] in Haran,” the Targum of Onkelos explains “The souls which they (Abraham and his family) had brought to serve the Law,” i.e. made them proselytes: and on the same text Berashith Rabbah, par. 39, has “Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Zimra, said: If all the men in the world were to combine to create even a single gnat, they could not infuse into it a soul; and thou sayest, ‘The souls which they made.’ But these are the proselytes whom they brought in. Yet, if so, why does it say they made them? This is to teach thee that when anybody brings near the stranger, and makes him a proselyte, it is as good as if he had created him.”
before he dwelt in Charran] The Greek verb rendered dwelt is one which implies a settled residence, though it conveys no idea of permanent abode. It is used (Matthew 2:23) of Joseph and Mary dwelling at Nazareth, and (Matthew 4:13) of Christ’s less fixed dwelling in Capernaum.
And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.3. and said unto him] It does not appear from the narrative in Genesis whether there had been some Divine communication which caused the first removal from Ur to Haran. We are only told (Genesis 11:31) that Terah took his family and removed, but as it is there added “to go into the land of Canaan,” and as in the following chapter, where God’s order to remove is expressly given (Genesis 12:1), it is also said that “they went forth to go into the land of Canaan,” we may conclude that the first removal had been enjoined by God, and that it was only on account of Terah’s age that the country for which they set forth was not reached at once. In Genesis 15:7 God says “I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees,” language which implies a command given for the first removal. Cp. Nehemiah 9:7. Genesis 12:1 should be rendered “Now the Lord said unto Abram,” not “had said,” as A. V.
Get thee out of thy country [land], and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee] The word for land is the same in both clauses. In Genesis 12:1 the words “and from thy father’s house” are added after “kindred.” The destination of the emigrants was known before they started from Ur.
Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.4. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran] The Chaldæans were the people of that country which had Babylon for its capital. The extent of the country signified by “the land of the Chaldæans” must have varied at different periods.
when his father was dead] According to the order of the narrative in Genesis, this seems to be so, but when the ages of Terah and Abraham are noticed, it appears that Abraham left Haran before his father’s death. For Terah was 70 years old when Abraham was born (Genesis 11:26), and Abraham was 75 years old when he departed out of Haran (Genesis 12:4), so that of Terah’s 205 years there were yet (205–145) = 60 years unexpired when his son went away. On this Jewish literature has the explanation (Midrash Rabbah on Genesis, cap. 39) that God absolved Abraham from the care of his father, and yet, that Abraham’s departure from Terah should not lead others to claim the same relaxation of a commandment for themselves, Terah’s death is noticed in Holy Writ before Abraham’s departure, and it is also added, to explain the mention of death, that “the wicked (and among them Terah is reckoned, see Joshua 24:2) are called dead while they are alive.”
he removed him] i.e. God caused him to migrate. There is a slight vagueness in the English, but none in the Greek.
And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.5. And he gave him none inheritance in it] The first settlement of Abraham in Canaan is said (Genesis 12:6) to have been at the place of Sichem [Shechem] at the plain [rather, oak] of Moreh. He next dwelt on the east of Bethel, and in both these places he probably purchased land, for he built an altar at each; and on returning from Egypt (Acts 13:3) he came “to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai,” which he hardly could have done unless the land had been his own, for he “was very rich in cattle.”
no, not so much as to set his foot on] For the land, when God gave it, would be held in very different manner from that in which Abraham held the land which he had bought or hired.
yet he promised] Better, and he promised. The conjunction is the ordinary copulative.
that he would give it to him for a possession] More literally, in possession. The promise “unto thy seed will I give this land” was first made (Genesis 12:7) when Abraham was at the place of Shechem, and in its greater fulness when he returned from Egypt (Acts 13:15-16).
when as yet he had no child] We cannot learn from Holy Writ how long a time Abraham lived after the promise before Isaac was born, but we can see that it was a long period, for when he went down to Egypt Sarah was a fair woman in the prime of her beauty (Genesis 12:14), and she was “waxed old” (Acts 18:12) before her son was born.
And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.6. And God spake on this wise] The words are substantially those which we find in Genesis 15:13-14.
four hundred years] This number agrees with the number stated in Genesis; but in Exodus 12:40, and also by St Paul (Galatians 3:17), the time is said to have been four hundred and thirty years. The period is reckoned so as to include part of the lives of the patriarchs in Canaan, and the variation may be accounted for if one number dates back to the first call, and the second only to the departure from Haran; or the one may be reckoned from the time of the covenant of circumcision, and the other from the promise of the land. Or it may be that one is merely a round number and the other an attempt at greater exactness. We can come to no certain conclusion in the matter, but we can see that both numbers were current among the Jews, for Josephus (Ant. ii. 15. 2) makes the time 430 years, and elsewhere (Ant. ii. 9. 1, and Bell. Jud. v. 9. 4) 400 years.
And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.7. after that shall they come forth] The first prophecy (Genesis 15:14) of this Exodus adds “with great substance.”
and serve me in this place] These words are not in the promise given to Abraham, but are taken from Exodus 3:12, where the original promise is repeated and sent to the Israelites through Moses, and the place meant in that verse is Sinai, called there Horeb, the mountain of God. Stephen in his speech combines the two that he may describe the promise in its fulness, and he mentions the worship of God in that place, because the one great object of his address is to demonstrate that what is laid to his charge concerning the highest worship of God being no longer restricted to the Temple and Jerusalem, is nothing more than they were taught by a study of their own history.
And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.8. the covenant of circumcision] Given the year before Isaac was born (Genesis 17:21).
And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,9. the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph] The same word is used (Acts 17:5) of the hostile feelings of the Jews at Thessalonica against Paul and Silas. In the history (Genesis 37:4-5) it is said “his brethren hated him,” and (Genesis 37:11) “they envied him.”
sold Joseph into Egypt] See Genesis 37:28 for the way in which this was done.
but God was with him] Read, and God, &c. The conjunction is καί. The statement is from Genesis 39:2; Genesis 39:21; Genesis 39:23, and is used by Stephen here to give point to his argument that God’s presence is not circumscribed, and so neither should His worship be tied to place.
And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.10. For the history see Genesis 39-41.
Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.11. Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, &c.] The oldest MSS. omit “the land of.”
our fathers found no sustenance] The noun in Greek is generally used of food for cattle rather than men. See LXX. Genesis 24:25; Genesis 24:32, &c. But we must suppose that, though in the history the sufferings of the people are most noticed, the famine also affected the supplies of cattle-food, and the one word is used to embrace all.
But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.12. he sent out our fathers first] i.e. before he himself went away from Canaan into Egypt.
And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.13. was made known] The original is not the same in the two clauses for this expression. Read in the latter “Joseph’s kindred became known,” &c.
Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.14. threescore and fifteen souls] This number is taken from the LXX. In the Hebrew (Genesis 46:8-27) the number is but seventy including Jacob himself. The five additional names given in the LXX. are Machir the son and Galaad the grandson of Manasseh, and the two sons of Ephraim, Taam and Soutalaam, with Soutalaam’s son, Edom. So in Exodus 1:5 the Hebrew has 70, and the LXX. 75. There were many traditions current on this subject, and the Rabbis notice too that 69 persons (they exclude Jacob) are reckoned for 70 in the account given Genesis 46. In the Midrash Shemuel, c. 32, there are various suggestions thrown out First it is said the one wanting was Jochebed, who became wife of Amram and mother of Moses, for it is mentioned (Numbers 26:59) that she was a daughter of Levi born in Egypt, and the tradition is that she was born “between the walls,” i.e. just as the people were entering Egypt, and so she is to be counted in the number. Another tradition is attached to Genesis 46:23, “The sons of Dan, Hushim.” As the last word is a plural form, and sons are spoken of in the verse, therefore it is thought that there were two Hushim, an elder and a younger. Also (T. B. Baba Bathra 123 a ad fin.) there is mentioned the tradition that there was a twin with Dinah. We may thus see that there were traditions current which probably were well known to the translators of the LXX., and gave rise to their number. They however are not consistent, for in Deuteronomy (Acts 10:22) they give 70 as the number which went down into Egypt. Stephen, as was to be expected from the other quotations in this book, and also because he was a Grecian Jew, follows the LXX.
So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,15. So Jacob went down into Egypt] Now the whole race whom God had chosen to Himself was in Egypt, away from the land of promise, and remained there for a long period, yet God was with them in their exile, and His worship was preserved for the whole time. This seems the point which Stephen desires to emphasize by so frequent a repetition of the words “into Egypt.”
and died, he, and our fathers] Better, and he died, himself, and our fathers. Of the transportation of the bodies of the patriarchs to Canaan we have no record in Holy Writ. Josephus (Antiq. ii. 8. 2) says “the posterity and sons of these men, after some time, carried their bodies and buried them at Hebron.” In the discussion of Exodus 13:19, Carry up my bones away hence with you, it is said (Mechilta, ed. Weiss, 1865, Vienna, 8vo p. 30) that the bodies of the patriarchs were carried out of Egypt with the returning Israelites, and it is argued that this is implied in the expression with you, which Moses quotes as uttered by Joseph, who must have known that his brethren to whom he was speaking would all be dead before the Exodus. Therefore with you could only be used if their bodies were to be transported as well as his own.
And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.16. and were carried over into Sychem, &c.] This Sychem is the Old Test. Shechem. The oldest authorities give for the latter part of the verse “of the sons of Emmor in Shechem.”
The statement in this verse appears incapable of being reconciled with the record of the Old Testament There we find (Genesis 49:30) that Abraham bought the field and cave of Machpelah, which is before Mamre (i.e. Hebron), from Ephron the Hittite. This is there spoken of as the general burial-place of the family; there were buried Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob’s wife Leah. And of Jacob we read (Genesis 33:19), “he bought a parcel of a field where he had spread his tent, at the Hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father.” We are not told that this was for a burial-place, and it is rather to be judged that it was not so, because it is added “he erected there an altar.” Moreover it is in Machpelah that Jacob desires to be buried (Genesis 47:30; Genesis 49:30) and is buried (Genesis 50:13). We have seen (note on Genesis 50:5) that “the place of Shechem” was one of the resting-places of Abraham when he came first into Canaan, and that probably he bought a possession there, for he built an altar. The bones of Joseph were laid in Shechem (Joshua 24:32). There were two burial-places connected with the patriarchal families. In the report of Stephen’s speech we find that Abraham is said to have bought what Jacob really purchased, but there may also have been land purchased by Abraham “in the place of Shechem.” We have only to suppose that in his speech Stephen, speaking of the burial of the whole family, mentioned, in accordance with the tradition of Josephus, the burial of the fathers in Hebron, which Abraham bought, and noticed the laying of Joseph’s bones at Shechem which Jacob bought, and that into the report of what he said a confusion has been introduced by the insertion of Abraham’s name for Jacob’s in the abbreviated narrative. We have pointed out in several places that the speeches recorded can be no more than abstracts of what was said, and the degree of inaccuracy here apparent might readily be imported in the formation of such an abstract, and yet the original speech have correctly reported all the traditions.
Stephen dwells on “Shechem” in the same way as before he had dwelt on “Egypt,” to mark that in the ancient days other places were held in reverence by the chosen people, and they served God there, though at the time when he was speaking Shechem was the home of their enemies the Samaritans.
But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,17. But when [as] the time of the promise drew nigh] i.e. for its fulfilment. The fathers “all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off” (Hebrews 11:13).
which God had sworn, &c.] The oldest authorities give had vouchsafed (ὡμολόγησεν), The same word is used (Matthew 14:7) of the promise made by Herod to the daughter of Herodias.
the people grew and multiplied in Egypt] God blessed them there. (See Exodus 1:7; Exodus 1:12.) The number of those who came out of Egypt (Exodus 12:37) was “six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.”
Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.18. till another king arose, which knew not Joseph] The oldest authorities have, till there arose another king over Egypt, &c.
The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.19. The same dealt subtilly with our kindred [race] The word is from the LXX. (Exodus 1:10), “Let us deal wisely (i.e. craftily) with them” are the words of the new king.
and evil entreated our fathers] Beside the hard tasks put upon the people according to the record in Exodus, Josephus adds (Antiq. ii. 9. 1) that the Egyptians “made them to cut a great many channels for the river, and set them to build pyramids, forced them to learn all sorts of mechanical arts and to accustom themselves to hard labour.”
so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live] Better, in causing their young children to be cast out, &c. The words are rather a description of what the Egyptian king did in his tyranny (Exodus 1:22), than (as A. V.) of what the Israelites were driven to by their despair.
In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months:20. In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair] The last phrase is literally “fair unto (i.e. in the sight of) God.” This is a Hebrew mode of expressing a high degree of any quality. Thus (Jonah 3:3) “Nineveh was an exceeding great city,” is “a city great unto God.” Similar instances are found, Genesis 10:9; Genesis 23:6; Genesis 30:8, &c. In the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, c. 48, we have “The parents of Moses saw his face as [that of] an angel of God.”
and [he was] nourished up in his father’s house three months] Modern English would omit up in this sentence.
And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.21. nourished him for her own son] Jewish tradition says that the king had no son, and so Moses was designed by the king’s daughter to succeed to the kingdom. Josephus (Antiq. ii. 9. 7), where she speaks of him as “a child of a divine form and generous mind.”
And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.22. And Moses was learned [instructed] in all the wisdom of the Egyptians] As was to be expected if he were designed for the kingdom. The wisdom on which the Jewish traditions most dwell is the power of magic, and such knowledge as Pharaoh’s wise men are represented as having in the book of Exodus.
and was mighty in [his] words and in deeds] The same traditions tell of Moses as a great captain among the Egyptians, and as leading them to victory against the Ethiopians (Josephus, ii. 10. 2).
And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.23. And when he was full forty years old] Better, But when he was well-nigh forty years old. The verb in the original intimates that the forty years were just being completed. For the fixing of this time we have no authority in the Old Testament. We learn thence that Moses was eighty years old when he was sent to speak before Pharaoh for the deliverance of the Israelites (Exodus 7:7), and that he was a hundred and twenty years old when he died (Deuteronomy 34:7). In Midrash Tanchuma on Exodus 2:6, we are told “Moses was in the palace of Pharaoh twenty years, but some say forty years, and forty years in Midian, and forty years in the wilderness.” Stephen’s words agree with this tradition.
it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel] The verb in the original, which is here rendered visit, is the same as in Luke 7:16, “God hath visited his people,” and means to look upon (generally with kindness, James 1:27), and this was the old sense of the English visit. Cf. Shaks. Rich. II. 1. 3. 275:
“All places that the eye of heaven visits.”
And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:24. and smote the Egyptian] i.e. killed him. See Exodus 2:12.
For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.25. for he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them] Better, and he supposed that his brethren understood how that God by his hand was giving them deliverance. There is no condition in the sentence. The traditions, in the atmosphere of which Stephen moved, represent the death of the Egyptian as no mere ordinary killing by superior strength, but as brought about by mysterious Divine power, which Moses feeling within himself expected his kindred to recognize.
And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?26. And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove] i.e. to “two men of the Hebrews” (Exodus 2:13). This quotation from Exodus is but a forcible way of representing what up to this point had been left unexplained, that the persons contending in this second case were Israelites.
But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?
Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?28. Wilt thou kill me, as thou didst the Egyptian yesterday?] For didst read killedst. The verb is repeated in the original.
Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.29. Then [And] fled Moses at this saying] Josephus (Antiq. ii. 11. 1) makes no mention of this reason for the flight of Moses, but says that the Egyptians were jealous of him, and told the king “that he would raise a sedition, and bring innovations” into the land. In consequence of the plots against him because of these suspicions Moses fled away secretly.
and was a stranger in the land of Madian] Lit. “and became a sojourner” &c. Madian is the Greek form for Midian, which for clearness’ sake would be better here. By “the land of Midian,” which is only found in Scripture history, is probably meant the peninsula on which Mount Sinai stands (see Exodus 3:1).
where he begat two sons] Gershom and Eliezer; their mother was Zipporah the daughter of Jethro (Exodus 18:2-4).
And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.30. And when forty years were expired] Thus making, with the forty years mentioned in Acts 7:23, eighty years, the age at which Moses went unto Pharaoh (Exodus 7:7).
there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord] It is better to conform the New Testament orthography in familiar names to that of the Old, and so write Sinai, The oldest authorities omit the words “of the Lord.”
When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him,31–34. Here we have in substance the history as given in Exodus 3:2-10.
Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.32. the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob] The oldest authorities omit “the God” in the second and third places.
Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.
I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.34. I have seen, I have seen] The Greek is an attempt to imitate an emphatic Hebrew construction, and is literally “having seen, I have seen,” which in idiomatic English = “I have surely seen,” by which words the Hebrew is rendered (Exodus 3:7).
This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.35. Stephen here begins to point out how in old time the people had rejected Moses, though he had the witness of God that his commission was Divine, that he may shew his hearers how they are acting in the same manner toward Jesus.
This Moses … the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel] The best MSS. read, him hath God sent … with the hand, &c. The verb is in the perfect tense in the original, and constitutes the form of Stephen’s appeal to history. God, says he, hath sent back the rejected Moses to be a ruler and deliverer, and he leaves them to draw the conclusion that what God had done in the case of Moses, he would also do in the case of the prophet whom Moses had foretold as to be like himself. Cp. Galatians 4:23; 1 Timothy 2:14; Hebrews 7:6.
by the hand of the angel] i.e. with the power. Cp. Acts 11:21, “The hand of the Lord was with them.” And of the angel it is said (Exodus 3:4) “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him,” so that the whole expression means, “with the power of God, who appeared to him,” &c.
He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.36. He brought [led] them out] Having God’s power with him in all these wanderings.
after that he had skewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt] The oldest MSS. omit “the land of.” Read, having wrought wonders and signs in Egypt.
and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years] The Jewish traditions make the plagues sent on the Egyptians at the Red Sea more than those which had been sent to them in Egypt. Thus in the Mechilta (ed. Weiss, p. 41) the Egyptians are said to have received ten plagues in Egypt, but fifty at the Red Sea, because the magicians speak of the afflictions in Egypt (Exodus 8:19) as “the finger of God,” while at the Red Sea it is said (Exodus 14:31) “And Israel saw that great work [Heb. hand] which the Lord did upon the Egyptians.”
This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.37. The prophecy is in Deuteronomy 18:15, and has been already quoted by St Peter (Acts 3:12) as referring ultimately to the Messiah. Its quotation to those who had rejected Jesus is the key-note of what is more openly expressed in Acts 7:51, “as your fathers did, so do ye.”
This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:38. This is he, that was in the church [congregation] in the wilderness] i.e. with the congregation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai.
with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina [Sinai] As in Acts 7:35, the angel is God Himself; just so in Acts 7:31 the voice which spake is called “a voice of the Lord.”
and with our fathers] Jewish tradition says that the whole world was present at Sinai. Thus Midrash Rabbah on Exodus, cap. 28 ad fin.: “Whatever the prophets were to utter in prophecy in every generation they received from Mount Sinai,” and presently after, commenting on the words of Moses (Deuteronomy 29:15), Him that is not here with us this day, it is said, “These are the souls which were yet to be created,” i.e. to be sent into the world; and to explain (Deuteronomy 5:22) and he added no more, (on which they found the teaching that all revelation was completely given at Sinai,) they say, “The one voice was divided into seven voices, and these were divided into the seventy tongues,” which Jewish tradition held to be the number of the languages of the world.
who received the lively oracles to give unto us] Who (i.e. Moses) received living oracles, &c. Moses is thus shewn to have been a mediator (see Galatians 3:19), and thus to have prefigured the mediator of a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6) and of the New Testament (Hebrews 9:15), even Jesus (Hebrews 12:24).
The oracles are called living, just as “the word of God” is called living [A. V. quick] (Hebrews 4:12), because it is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. On this effect cp. St Paul’s language concerning the law (Romans 7:9), “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” But there is at the same time the other sense in the word, which appears when (John 6:51) Christ calls Himself “the living bread which came down from heaven.” For the law pointed onward to Christ, who should lead His people “unto living fountains of waters” (Revelation 7:17). For the thought, cp. 1 Peter 1:23, “The word of God which liveth and abideth for ever.”
To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,39. to whom our fathers would not obey [be obedient], but thrust him from them] For they said (Numbers 14:4), “Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” This was after the return of the spies, when the people became discontented with the leadership of Moses and Aaron.
and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt] As is told, Exodus 16:3, Numbers 11:4-5, in which passages the desires of the people are all represented as turned to the good things which they had enjoyed in the land of their slavery.
Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.40. saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us] Lit. which shall go before us. The passage is almost word for word the report given in Exodus 32:1.
And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.41. and rejoiced] It was not the voice of them that shout for the mastery, nor of them that cry for being overcome, but the noise of them that sing which Moses (Exodus 32:18) heard when he came down from the mount.
Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?42. Then God turned] Read, But. Cp. Joshua 24:20, “If ye forsake the Lord and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt.”
and gave them up to worship [serve] the host of heaven] God had previously warned them against this kind of idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:19), but we learn from the records of their historians (2 Kings 17:16) and their prophets (Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5) that the warning was given in vain.
as it is written in the book of the prophets] The Hebrews divided their Scriptures into three sections, the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa (called the Psalms, Luke 24:44), and each of these parts is looked upon as a special and separate book. The Law comprised the five books of Moses. The earlier prophets were the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: the later prophets were Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve which we now call Minor Prophets. The Hagiographa consisted of the following books in the order here given: Psalms (and the expression of Luke 24:44 will be understood because the Psalms stand first in this section), Proverbs, Job, the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther (these five last mentioned were called the five rolls, being written on separate rolls for use at special festival and fast services), Daniel, Ezra (Nehemiah), and Chronicles.
O ye house of Israel, have ye offered, &c.] It is more emphatic to keep the order of the Greek. Read, Did ye offer unto me slain beasts and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? The whole passage to the end of Acts 7:43 is a quotation from Amos (Acts 5:25-27). The question in this verse is to be answered in the negative, for in their hearts, though they were sacrificing to Jehovah, they had turned back into Egypt, and such service God counts as no service at all.
Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.43. Yea, ye took up, &c.] Read, And ye took up. The conjunction is the ordinary copulative, and the thought is continuous, “Your hearts were after your idols, and ye took up their images,” more truly than my ark. In the Hebrew the word for “took up” is that regularly employed for the “bearing” the ark of the covenant.
the tabernacle of Moloch] The Hebrew word which the LXX. have rendered tabernacle is not the usual form for that word. There is little doubt that it is intended for a proper name, Siccuth.
and the star of your god Remphan [Rephan, the] figures which ye made to worship them] This clause differs widely from the Hebrew, which gives, “And Chiun your images, the star of your god which ye made to yourselves.” The LXX. seem to have read the words in a different order. Rephan, which is by them substituted for Chiun, is said to be the Egyptian name for Saturn (see Spencer, de Leg. Heb. p. 667), and may have been used by them as an equivalent for the other name which is found nowhere else but in Amos. The whole idea of the passage seems to be that the stars were being worshipped, and so it is an illustration suited for Stephen’s argument. “To worship them” is an addition not in the LXX.
and I will carry you away beyond Babylon] The Hebrew of Amos and the LXX. say beyond Damascus. But as Babylon was the place most connected in the mind of the Jew with captivity, the alteration in the quotation may be due either to the prominence of such connection in Stephen’s mind, or in the thoughts of the reporter of the speech, who thus inadvertently wrote Babylon. At this point Stephen closes the digression which began at the 37th verse, and which is meant to point out that the Jews are doing towards Jesus just what their fathers did to Moses and against God. He now resumes the argument that God’s worship was not meant to be always fixed to one place.
Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.44. Our fathers had the tabernacle of Witness [of the testimony] in the wilderness] The name is found first Exodus 38:21. The ark is also called the ark of the testimony, as Exodus 25:22, &c., and the name was no doubt given because all the contents of the ark, which was the most sacred part of the Tabernacle fittings, were testimonies to God’s rule or to His power exerted for His people. Aaron’s rod, the pot of manna, and the tables of the Law were all stored up therein. And this ark above which God made His presence seen was in the wilderness and moving from place to place.
as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, &c.] Better, even as he had appointed who spake, &c. For the command see Exodus 25:9; Exodus 25:40; Exodus 26:30; Exodus 27:8.
Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;45. Which also our fathers that came after] Better, having received it after. For all the generation that came out of Egypt was dead at the entry into Canaan except Caleb and Joshua.
brought in with Jesus [i.e. Joshua] It is better here and in Hebrews 4:8 to let the Greek orthography give place to the form of the word used in the Old Testament.
into the possession of the Gentiles] The preposition is not into but in, and the noun does not mean the land possessed by the nations, but the act of the Israelites in taking possession of it for themselves. Read, when they took possession of the nations, (lit. in their taking possession,) whom God drove [thrust] out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David. Till this time the Tabernacle existed, and as the history tells was not always in one place in the land of Canaan, and at the time when the first proposal for a permanent Temple is made by David (2 Samuel 7:2) and approved by Nathan, God forbids the building of it by David. All which goes to strengthen Stephen’s argument that the worship should not be fettered to one place.
Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.46. to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob] referring to Psalm 132:5, “Until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.” A reading which is largely accepted gives, “for the house of Jacob,” but in spite of the ancient authority for it, it is so unsuitable to the drift of the argument, that it seems better to conclude that it is an error of the earliest scribes, rather than to accept it in the text.
But Solomon built him an house.
Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,48. Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet] The oldest authorities omit temples. We must supply some English word to complete the sense; perhaps houses. Stephen allows that in the days of Solomon there seemed to be a more permanent abode appointed for God’s worship, but instantly points out that God through His prophet (Isaiah 66:1-2) had taught that He was not controlled by or confined to any place.
Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?49. Heaven is my throne, &c.] The quotation is nearly verbatim from the LXX.
Hath not my hand made all these things?
Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.51. Ye stiffnecked] A charge often brought against the Jews in the Old Testament, cp. Exodus 32:9; Exodus 33:3, &c., so that it is a very suitable expression when Stephen is declaring that the people of his time were “as their fathers.”
and uncircumcised in heart and ears] As the rite of circumcision was the sign of submission to the Jewish religion in its fullest requirements, so the word uncircumcised became a synonym for obstinate resistance to what God had revealed, and the phrase in the text consequently signifies “ye who shut your heart and ears against the truth.” For this metaphorical application cp. Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 6:10.
It seems very likely that at this part of his discourse Stephen saw that the language he had been using was distasteful to his audience, and therefore he applied to them words which implied how far they were from being God’s people though they called themselves Israelites. They were in his eyes as those whom they called “sinners of the Gentiles.” (Galatians 2:15.)
ye do always resist the Holy Ghost] From the days of Moses, whom their fathers would not obey, down to the days of Jesus, whom they had crucified.
Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:52. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?] Better, did not your fathers persecute? Cp. the history, 2 Chronicles 36:16, “They mocked the messengers of God and despised his words and misused his prophets.” And Christ (Matthew 23:37) brought the same charge against Jerusalem, “thou that killest the prophets.”
the Just One] The same epithet is applied to Jesus by St John (1 John 2:1), and is found so used in the Acts (Acts 3:14, Acts 22:14).
of whom ye have been [become, even] now the betrayers] Thus proving yourselves true children of those who misused the prophets.
Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.53. who have received] Better, ye who received the Law from Sinai.
by the disposition of angels] Better, at the ministration of angels. St Paul (Galatians 3:19) has the same expression concerning the Law, that it was “ministered by angels.” The LXX. have in Deuteronomy 33:2, speaking of the giving of the Law, “On his right hand were angels,” and Josephus (Antiq. xv. 5. 3) represents the same tradition, “We have learned from God the most excellent of our doctrines and the most holy part of our Law by angels.” So Pesikta Rabbathi, par. 21, “There came down with the Holy One to Sinai twenty-two thousand ministering angels like the camp of the Levites.”
and have not kept it] Read, and kept it not. Stephen here points back along the whole history of the Jews, and shews how the Law, which was intended to lead men to Christ, had not been guarded in its best sense, the spirit having been sacrificed to the letter, and so the result had been that they rejected and slew Him of whom the whole Law was speaking. The Law, given by angels, was the glory of Israel, the perverse use of it had turned to their shame and destruction.
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.Acts 7:54 to Acts 8:1. Effect of the Speech. Death of Stephen
54. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart] There is a conjunction in the original which is not expressed in the English. Read, Now when, &c. On the last verb, which is only found here and in Acts 7:33, see note there. It expresses the sort of cutting that would be made by a saw, and its effect is always one of irritation, and at last it came to be synonymous with gnashing the teeth for rage, with which expression it is here combined.
and they gnashed on him with their teeth] More literally, gnashed their teeth at him.
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,55. saw the glory of God] Some visible sign of God’s presence such as the Shechinah had been to the Jews of old. See Exodus 16:10; Exodus 24:17, in the latter of which passages it is described as like devouring fire. It is defined by the Jews as the concentration of God’s omnipresence.
and Jesus standing on the right hand of God] i.e. he was permitted to behold Jesus triumphing in the flesh in which He had been crucified. The position of standing rather than that of sitting as described elsewhere (Matthew 26:64, &c.) may have been to indicate the readiness of Jesus to strengthen and help His martyr.
And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.56. the Son of man] This title, which in the Gospels is only used by Christ when speaking of Himself, is here first employed by another, and can fitly be so employed now, for the prophecy which Christ uttered of Himself (Matthew 26:64), “Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power,” is now fulfilled, and its fulfilment is to be preached to the world.
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,57. Then they cried out] Better, But, &c.
and stopped their ears] Thus shewing that they merited the description given in Acts 7:51. The verb signifies, to compress, to hold tight together. On the action thus described cp. T. B. Kethuboth 5 b, “Wherefore is the whole ear hard but the flap soft? That if any hear an unbecoming word he may press up the flap and shut his ear.”
and ran [rushed] upon him with one accord] As though he were one convicted of idolatry, in which case (Deuteronomy 13:9-10) “the hand of all the people” was to be upon the offender.
And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.58. and cast him out of the city, and stoned him] In accordance with the Law (Leviticus 24:14) the person to be stoned must be carried without the camp, and to the people of Jerusalem the walls of the city were as the limits of the camp. Though there was much popular excitement exhibited in this proceeding, we are not to think that it was looked upon by those who were actors in it as other than the carrying out of the Law.
There was a place set apart for such punishment. The person to be stoned was placed on an elevation twice the height of a man, from whence with his hands bound he was thrown down, and then a stone as much as two men could carry was rolled down upon him by the witnesses, after which all the people present cast stones upon him.
and the witnesses laid down their clothes] i.e. their loose outer garments, that they might be more ready for the task which they had to discharge. The law which ordained that the first stone should be thrown by the witnesses was meant to restrain hasty accusation. Men would only bring an accusation for grave reasons when they knew that their own hand must be first upon the condemned person.
at a young man’s feet] Saul was already of such an age that the authorities could entrust him (Acts 9:2) with the duty of going to Damascus to arrest the Christians in that city. The Greek word is applied to persons up to the age of forty. In the Epistle to Philemon (9) St Paul speaks of himself as aged. That Epistle was probably written about a.d. 63, and the death of Stephen took place about a.d. 35, therefore Saul may well have been between 30 and 40 years of age.
whose name was Saul] Lit. called Saul. The name is the same as that of the first King of Israel, and signifies “one asked for” (i.e. in prayer). This Saul was also of the tribe of Benjamin, and had come from his home at Tarsus in Cilicia to attend on the lessons of the great teacher Gamaliel (Php 3:5-6; Acts 22:3).
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.59. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God] The last word is supplied to make the sense clear in English, but from the words which follow it is better to read “the Lord” instead of “God,” for it is the Lord Jesus who is invoked.
and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit] i.e. at its departure from my body; which he knew was soon to take place.
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.60. And he kneeled down] in prayer, probably before the stoning had commenced.
Lord, lay not this sin to their charge] i.e. Reckon it not against them. The original word is the same as in Romans 10:3, “going about to establish their own righteousness,” as it were to shew a reckoning in their favour. It is to be observed that both the prayers of Stephen are addressed to Jesus as God. The tone of both cannot but bring to the memory the words of Jesus addressed to the Father in His agony, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46), and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). As Christ had died, so did His servant learn to die.
And when he had said this, he fell asleep] The last verb is the same which is used (Matthew 27:52) of “the saints which slept” and arose at the crucifixion of Jesus.