Acts 7 - Steve Wiggins Daily Devotional
“But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory with Yeshua standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ Then they screamed at the top of their voices, stopped their ears, and rushed together against him. They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They were stoning Stephen as he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin!’ And saying this, he fell asleep. Saul agreed with putting him to death.” Acts 7:55-60, 8:1
Followers of Yeshua were considered to be exclusively Jewish in the early days of the church. The Romans officially considered “Messianics” a sect of Judaism, and the first dispute within the “Church” concerned Jews who were influenced by Gentile culture.
In chapter 6, a dispute broke out between Hebrew and Greek speaking Jews. A prejudice, which existed in mainstream Jewish culture, had made its way into the Messianic community. Greek-speaking widows’ were not getting a fair share of the community charity.
Stephen was chosen along with 6 others, to ensure things ran smoothly. Important to note, is how all seven of those chosen, had Greek names. It is obvious that the Apostles wanted to send a message that there should be no prejudice among Messiah’s followers, so they chose men of Greek Jewish background to distribute the charity.
By most scholars’ accounts, Stephen was a Samaritan. It is evidenced by the biblical references and interpretations he cites in his defense. Samaritans were half-breeds: ½ Jewish, ½ Gentile. At home with neither the Romans, nor religious Jews of Jesus’ day, Samaritans were too Jewish to be Gentile, and too Gentile for the Jewish community. In that sense, they are kind of like modern day Israeli Arab Christians.
Not being a “Hebrew speaking” Jew, and most likely known to be a Samaritan, Stephen’s words would have been particularly offensive to non-Messianic religious Jews. Perhaps, they tolerated Peter because he was a Hebrew-speaking Jew, speaking boldly in the temple. But they would not stand to be rebuked by a Samaritan.
This perspective helps us understand why Saul, a highly trained Pharisee, would be so zealous against the church. He wasn’t necessarily opposing Christianity as a religion. Saul felt half-breeds and apostates were corrupting Judaism. It is ironic is how Paul went on to become the “Apostle to the Gentiles”.
According to Jewish custom, whenever someone was sentenced to stoning, there were two lookouts, each posted about a hundred yards away, in opposite directions. Each lookout was given a “cloak” to signal, in case someone was running-in from afar, with evidence that could acquit the condemned. Saul’s job at the stoning of Stephen was to be one of those lookouts.
~Steve Wiggins, Associate Leader, Worship Leader
Daily Devotional, Wednesday, July 24, 2013