By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Early Church Workers

  • Stephen was a Hellenist – that means he was a Greek-speaking Jew.
  • He was one of seven people appointed to wait on tables in the daily distribution of food to widows.   (This arose after the apostles could no longer do it all.  Thereafter they would devote their time to preaching.)
  • All seven of the appointed waiters were Greek-speaking Jews.  (Since the problem arose when Greek-speaking widows were being excluded from the daily distribution of food, this indicates that the apostles were very sensitive to any and all complaints.  Since the church was growing so fast, they needed helpers.)
  • Stephen’s qualifications were that he was “full of the Spirit and of wisdom.”
  • There is no mention of Stephen’s work as a table server; he moved right into being a prophet – continuing the work of the Twelve, preaching, and working signs and wonders among the people.  (This might be a subtle indication of how leadership was transferred and expanded as the needs arose.)
  • Some time after this, Stephen went back to his home synagogue and began to debate with Jews from Cilicia and Asia (among others).
  • The debate got heated, but the Jews were not able to stand against Stephen’s wisdom.
  • Later the Jews concocted witnesses to accuse him of blasphemy against God and Moses (much like at Jesus’ trial).
  • Ultimately, the Jews took him before the Sanhedrin.  (This would be the same body that had condemned Jesus to die.)
  • The false witnesses followed and accused him of speaking against the temple (much like at Jesus’ trial).
  • The charge was that Stephen had said that Jesus the Nazarene would destroy the temple and change the customs taught by Moses.
  • Up to this point, despite having bested the Jews in the synagogue, Stephen has said nothing that the reader has read.
  • While people stared at Stephen, they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.  Some scholars see this as indicating Stephen was authorized to be a spokesperson for God.
  • The parallels between Jesus and Stephen are deliberate.  Both were accused of blasphemy by false witnesses, and supposedly both spoke against the temple.
  • Stephen now represents those that Jesus had prophesied would be told what to say when they stood before the authorities.
  • Even though he was appointed by the Twelve, Stephen was a full-fledged prophet, filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin is the longest speech in Acts.
  • Stephen did not address the question posed to him by the High Priest:  “Are these things (charges) true?”
  • Instead, Stephen showed how the Jews who believed in Jesus were not renegade Jews, but authentically people of God.
  • Basically, Stephen delivered a history lesson on the way God had worked through people throughout the ages, beginning with Abraham and his descendants.
  • Not surprisingly, Stephen did a fair amount of editing of that history – his main point was to show that Jesus was of the same cloth as Moses.
  • He focused on Moses to show that God sent Moses to the people to save them. (Unfortunately the people rejected that salvation time after time, resulting in the fact that they resisted the Holy Spirit, persecuted the prophets, and killed the righteous One.)
  • He concluded his speech by calling them “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in their hearts and ears.  (Calling a Jew uncircumcised in any respect was highly insulting.  “Uncircumcised” meant they had no place among God’s people.  Uncircumcised in their hearts meant they did not keep the covenant. [This was the highest ruling body among the Jews, the cream of the crop, so to speak!])
  • Upon hearing Stephen’s accusations, the people in attendance were “enraged and gnashed their teeth at him.” 
  • At that moment, Stephen looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at His right hand.  (The heavens opened, much like at Jesus’ baptism.)
  • The Sanhedrin covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, rushed at him and dragged him out.  (This pretty much verified what Stephen had just said about them having uncircumcised ears and refusing to hear the prophetic words.)
  • They dragged him outside the city and stoned him.
  • Stephen fell to his knees in a posture of prayer.
  • Like Jesus, Stephen prayed for the forgiveness of his accusers.
  • He also prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he died.  (This fulfilled another of his prophecies in that they just killed another of God’s prophets.)
  • Stephen was the first Christian martyr.
  • And a man named Saul was there, giving approval to his death!
  • Stephen was buried by pious men, and they mourned him greatly.
  • With the death of Stephen, the story is poised to move outside the boundaries of Jerusalem.


Barclay, William. "Acts." Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975.

Gaebelein, Frank. "Acts." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1981.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. "Acts." Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press, 2003.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. "The Acts of the Apostles." Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992.

Witherington, Ben, III. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1998.

Bible Characters