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What We Know of St. Stephen

My Friend,

Before I launch into an article, I’m sharing a bit of a letter sent to a friend.

I focus on God’s effort to spread the true gospel.

It’s good to maintain an image of what you want to BECOME. “I see me in the future, and I look much better than I look right now!” Yes? So, my future image of what I want to become is nothing less than St. Stephen. I would like to hope one day to be so full of the Holy Spirit as Stephen was (is)

That means you in your life must dig up your old wounds and anger, and lusts and whatever bitterness and weirdness you secretly harbor and do away with them. I think you’ll realize when you do, you won’t miss them. It might take a few days to resist going back to that sin. Pray for the Holy Spirit to help you and soon enough it won’t be on your mind any more.

I’m not like St. Stephen, of course, but I  hope to reach that  point one day. I always ask “am I good enough to be welcomed into the Kingdom?” Many think they’ll say a 15-second prayer and that’s all they need. Now they have their free ticket to Heaven and any sin they commit is alright. Well, I don’t agree. Any idiot can do that but it’s not enough. Jesus will meet him and see there was no conversation, no prayer, to true repentance, no effort to change, and HE will say, “I never knew you. Depart from here to the darkness.”

I’m always in that, “Am I good enough?” mode and that includes writing style. I always seek to improve, and if God wants me to write for him and astonish the world, let His will be done! What an honor and a pleasure!

Kids in school would hate to write. Someone remarked, “You like to write?” I Love it! It’s the only place I can make my point without interruptions. It’s the place I can organize into logical progression and draw a conclusion. Most can’t follow this. They are compelled to interrupt, ask more and more questions, and completely take me “off track.” That’s part of the reason I’m so isolated here in The Philippines.

I don’t go to parties. I don’t speak Basiah (Southern Filipino dialect) so I go to a party and after 20-minutes I’m bored and want to return to my desk.

By God’s Grace you and I will become truly acceptable to be “wed” with the church to The Christ. Drawn into His family, adopted, one of His sisters and brothers. I urge you to continue study and pray that you will be gladly received.  Amen. 

Thankfully we can still have Christian studies. Chinese can’t! Thankfully we can have it at no charge! My website has several hundred articles that may interest her, most written by great old masters of theology. 

What We Know of St. Stephen

Hope Bolinger, Edited by Dr. Stephen Newdell

In Acts, after the early church begins to convert thousands of people to the Christian faith in a matter of days, we meet for a brief time a man by the name of Stephen. He has a short introduction in Acts 6:5 and becomes the first martyr for the Christian faith just one chapter later.

Who was this man who has such a brief mention? Why did Stephen become the first martyr for the Christian faith, and what can the church today learn about this saint from the first century?

First of all, who was Stephen?

Although we don’t have much information presented about Stephen in the sixth chapter of Acts, we can derive the following from the text provided.

His martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul, a Pharisee and Roman citizen who would later become a Christian apostle….

Saint Stephen

Born  AD 5

Died  AD 33–36 (aged 28–32) Jerusalem, Judaea, Roman Empire

more here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Stephen

Acts 6:1-7: As the Apostles’ numbers grew, because of the size, certain people became overlooked, such as the Gentile (non-Jewish) widows (as opposed to the Hebraic widows).

Seeing a need to delegate roles, the disciples elected the first seven deacons known to the Christian faith. These deacons had to “be full of wisdom and the Spirit.” These deacons would take charge of the distribution of food to the widows, among other duties. The disciples chose Stephen, and six others, and prayed over them as they began their ministry.

Acts 6:8: Stephen performed various wonders and signs. Throughout the history of the early church, various charismatic gifts such as healing, belonged to several followers of Christ.

He was likely Jewish: Jews, particularly boys, began formal education from age 6 or 8 until their graduateion to “manhood” at age 13, the ceremony of which includes the boy reading aloud from TheTorah in Hebrew and leading the religious congregation in prayer. These boys memorized portions of the Old Testament. They had a strong knowledge of the Scriptures, as seen in Stephen’s speech featured in Acts 7.

He also had Hellenistic(Greek) roots:  An article from Encyclopedia Britannica says he was a Hellenistic Jew (a foreign-born Jew). This would help to explain why the apostles would place him in charge of the distribution of food to the Hellenistic/Greek widows. The article explains how his Hellenistic and Hebrew upbringing influenced his apologetic dissertation to the Sanhedrin Council.

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Many Jews grew up outside of Jerusalem after “the Diaspora.”

Diaspora, (Greek: “Dispersion”) Hebrew Galut (Exile), the dispersion of Jews among the Gentiles after the Babylonian Exile or the aggregate of Jews or Jewish communities scattered “in exile” outside Palestine or present-day Israel. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Diaspora-Judaism

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The Sanhedrin (Hebrew and Jewish Palestinian Aramaic: סַנְהֶדְרִין; Greek: Συνέδριον, synedrion, “sitting together,” hence “assembly” or “council”) were assemblies of either twenty-three or seventy-one elders (known as “rabbis” after the destruction of the Second Temple), who were appointed to sit as a tribunal in … 

Why the Sanhedrin council wanted to kill Stephen

As seen during Jesus’ ministry, whenever someone performed signs in God’s name, some orthodox believers opposed it. For instance, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, some men wanted to kill Lazarus in an attempt to dispose of the evidence of God’s work (John 12:9-11).

When Stephen performed great signs and wonders, he drew opposition from a group called the Synagogue of the Freedmen.

This group of Alexandrians and Cyrenians argued with Stephen, but when they could not create counter-arguments to Stephen’s wise retorts, they produce false witnesses who claimed Stephen had blasphemed. This would justify their attempt to murder him and destroy the evidence of God’s work in him.

In a similar fashion to Socrates on trial, Stephen gave a point-by-point rendering of the Old Testament and how it related to Jesus’ work through his death and resurrection. He used Jewish scriptural examples, but his dissertation followed a Greek-style of argumentation, similar to the style used by Plato and Socrates. This immediately indicates Stephen was a well-educated man from a wealthier family and he was willing to give up much of his comfortable life to sacrifice for Christ and the Gospel message. (Sadly, likewise Saul who approved of his stoning also was astonishingly well educated and later when saved by Christ on The Road to Demascus, also became a brilliant theologian.)

Stephen explained to this Sanhedrin Council how Israelites in the Old Testament failed to see past their stubbornness and turned away from God and persecuted and killed anyone who spoke God’s word (several of the prophets were martyred). In the same way, these oppositional men  had refused to listen to Jesus during his ministry on earth and, instead, killed him when they could no longer stand his words and his miracles.

This disertation which came from the Holy Spirit through Stephen enraged the members of the Sanhedrin. They order Stephen’s death by stoning—a practice used in the Old Testament to put to death blasphemers and other doers of great acts of evil.

Just before they dragged Stephen out of the city to be stoned, he received a vision of heaven where he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Acts 7:54-60  (from Bible Gateway.com)

New International Version

The Stoning of Stephen

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Read full chapter https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+7&version=NIV

What does Saint Stephens life and death mean for Christians and Messianic Jews today?

It may seem odd that a man who received mention and died within two chapters of the Bible had a great impact on believers today, but Christians can glean a lot of information from this saint.

First, Stephen shows believers they can have a powerful impact for the kingdom, if even for a short period of time. Although Scripture doesn’t specify how long Stephen’s ministry lasted, it appears he receives opposition very soon into his journey.

Second, no matter where we come from, God can use our past to shape our testimony and witness.

Stephen had both a Hellenistic and Jewish background. This helped him to preach to multiple audiences. He showed to the Sanhedrin he had an immense knowledge of the Scriptures, and through his Greek rhetoric, he had the apologetic power of a speaker like Apollos (Acts 18:24).

We see multiple examples throughout Scripture of how God uses one’s upbringing to shape their testimony and how they speak to various audiences. For instance, Paul was a Jew with a Roman citizenship. This allowed him to speak to both Jewish and Gentile audiences.

Third, and most importantly, Stephen shows us the cost of faith. Preachers often will speak about Stephen because he was the first Christian to die for his beliefs. Whether we live in a country full of religious freedoms or in a restricted area, we may find ourselves in situations during which we will be forced to renounce our faith or die for it.

Through Stephen’s example, we can learn to speak boldly for our faith, and know that our lives here on earth cannot compare with the joys we’ll experience in heaven. Man can only kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul.

(Also refer to these articles:

 https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Stephen

https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/who-was-st-stephen-and-why-did-he-die.html)

This article originated from Hope Bolinger, Edited by Dr. Stephen Newdell

 

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