Acts 7: 1 – 16 Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin – Part 1

Acts 7: 1 – 16 Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin – Part 1

Then the high priest asked Stephen, ‘Are these charges true?’

To this he replied: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. “Leave your country and your people,” God said, “and go to the land I will show you.”

‘So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set a foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. God spoke to him in this way: “For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and ill-treated. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,” God said, “and afterwards they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.” Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.

‘Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.

Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.

*       *       *

Then the high priest asked Stephen, ‘Are these charges true?’

This was how Stephen had been charged. ‘They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” ’

We’ve heard charges like this before, made against Jesus when he was being tried by the Sanhedrin.

Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.” ’ (Mark 14: 57 – 58)

When charged like this, Jesus kept silent. Stephen, though, is inspired by the Holy Spirit to a different course of action. He went back to the very beginning of Israel, with the call of Abraham. He based his answer to the charges against him firmly on the Jewish scriptures.

The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’

So Abram went as the Lord had told him. (Genesis 12: 1 – 4)

This passage from Genesis is part of the scripture from which Stephen draws his answer. It shows that the founder of Judaism had faith in God, had faith in God’s promises, and was obedient to God’s commands. No member of the Sanhedrin would argue with it; it was orthodox.

Stephen proceeds

‘Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision.’

His statement draws on a passage in Genesis:

Abram fell face down, and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: you will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations…Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: every male among you shall be circumcised.’ (Genesis 17: 3 – 5, 9 – 10)

Stephen stresses the closeness of Abraham to God. Again, this is orthodox. Nothing for anyone to get upset about.

Then Stephen moves on rapidly to the patriarchs (the great-grandsons of Abraham through Isaac), especially Joseph. He summarises Joseph’s biography very succinctly. (If you want to read the whole story of Joseph, you can find it in Genesis chapters 37 – 50).

Again, Stephen’s argument is based on the scriptures, and no one in the Sanhedrin would be able to disagree with him.

To summarise this first part of Stephen’s defence, he’s establishing the common ground between what he’s been preaching, and what the Jewish scriptures say.

What lessons can we learn from this passage?

I think for me the main lesson is to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Different circumstances call for different responses. Stephen was charged with the same offence as Jesus. Jesus remained silent; Stephen was prompted to speak eloquently. Both responses were right; they were what was needed by God.

How do we know what the Holy Spirit is saying? We pray. We consider scripture. We repent so that we can hear God speak. We consciously place ourselves in God’s hands – and in doing so we are only doing what God wants for us. For what could be better than to be in the hands of Jesus?

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you for loving all humanity. Thank you for loving me. Please make me ever more alert to the prompting of your Holy Spirit, and ever more obedient.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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