Monday, the Feast of St. Stephen (You know, when King Wenceslaus went out!): Acts 6.
I’ve already blogged at some length about Acts 6 in connection with the ordination of the Seven. I argued that the laying on of hands in this episode is done in perfect conformity with Jewish usage of that act of ritual poiesis, and that all the contextual, ritual, and typological indications point to fact that it was the congregation’s hands, not the apostles’, that were laid on the Seven. I remain convinced of this interpretation despite having become an Anglican. Indeed, as I read Griffith-Thomas in preparation for my own ordination, it is delightful to find that he maintains that the doctrine of tactile apostolic succession is a Roman Catholic myth. (Roger Beckwith among modern evangelical Anglicans also holds that the episcopate was instituted by the church by elevation from the presbyterate.)
Leaving questions of ordination to one side, let us examine the case of Stephen. He has a Greek name, like the rest of the Seven; a name which means “crown” — and he will shortly win the crown of a martyr.
He is distinguished for being “full of grace and power” and doing “wonders and signs among the people.” We will recall that the function of signs is to attest that those who do them are really from God — as indeed the Sanhedrin admits in Acts 4:16, when they have put Peter and John outside and gone into “executive session.” Such an admission is self-damning. Recall also how Matthew 21:26 shows the Jewish leaders in the same quandary about John the Baptist: “But if we say from heaven, then he will say to us, Why then did you not believe him?” Faced with such irrefutable proof, the only recourse — as old as Elijah, or even Abel — is to kill the troublesome prophet.
We note that the persecution of Stephen is headed up by “some from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia)”. It is curious that the most vehement opposition comes not from Palestinian Jews, but from the diaspora. The resistance to Stephen is a foretaste of the equally violent resistance that will meet Paul in his efforts to evangelize the diaspora.
6:10 – “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.” Obviously, this does not mean that they were persuaded, but that they were losing the public debate, no doubt partly because of the authenticating miracles Stephen was doing, but also because he was a fulfillment of Luke 21:15 (“For I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.”)
6:13 – The use of false witnesses is an obvious echo of Jesus’ own trial. So also is the charge: “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and against the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place…” “This place” is the Temple, which Jesus was also accused of planning to destroy.
Despite the false witnesses, the charge is accurate: Jesus did indeed replace the Temple, and the Law of Faith has replaced the Torah as the way of life for the people of God.
6:15 – The Sanhedrin are ατενίζοντες, a frequent word in Luke’s diction. He uses it of the apostles staring up into the sky at Jesus’ ascension; also of Peter gazing at the lame man in Acts 3. Stephen appears “as the face of an angel.” We may compare Moses’ face on his return from Sinai.