Bruce, F.F. The Book of Acts Revised. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988. Kindle Electronic Edition. “II. Persecution and Expansion (6:1-9:31).” “A. Stephen (6:1-8:1A)” pp. 119-161.
Acts 6:1-6 describes the appointment of seven men as servants of the Church (Bruce 1988, 119). Bruce draws the distinction at the start of chapter 6 as one of language preferences, with the cultural differences much smaller (Bruce 1988, 120). Because some Hellenistic widows were being neglected, the apostles sought a solution. Two of the men selected appear later in Acts, Stephen and Philip (Bruce 1988, 121). Bruce notes the laying on of hands as a typical means of bestowing a blessing (Bruce 1988, 122). While these men are not called deacons, they may have some of the responsibilities of deacons. Bruce prefers to call them “almoners” or “ministers.” Verse 7 summarizes progress and observes that many priests werebelieving as well.
Verses 8-10 show Stephen emerging as a leader, miracle worker, and defender of the faith (Bruce 1988, 124). Bruce identifies a number of synagogues in Jerusalem where Stephen may have taught. Because Stephen was persuasive but his conclusions were unacceptable to the Jews, he was brought before the Sanhedrin (Bruce 1988, 125). Stephen was charged with blasphemy (Bruce 1988, 126). Bruce notes the charge was structured the same way it was against Jesus, when the accusation had failed. Yet, this time, as there were fears in Jerusalem about threats to the temple, the charges proved more persuasive. The alleged statement of Jesus that he would tear down the temple is unsubstantiated. However, Bruce notes it seems to have been broadly believed (Bruce 1988, 127). Charges such as blasphemy and other religious crimes were normally treated as a matter for the Jews to deal with. Therefore, the Sanhedrin would not need to consult the prefects (Bruce 1988, 128).
Stephen’s response to his charges, found in Acts 7:2-53, is very detailed. He defends Christianity rather than defending himself (Bruce 1988, 129). “God is not restricted to any one land or to any material building” (Bruce 1988, 130). The rejection of Jesus is compared to Israel’s rejection of the prophets. Bruce notes the later Ebionite movement. They took a negative view of the temple. However, they did so in reaction to its destruction, while Stephen was some 40 years before the fall of Jerusalem (Bruce 1988, 131). Stephen clearly advocates a Christianity for all nations. The various travels of the patriarches and Israel contribute to the idea of God’s revelation to all nations. Bruce walks verse by verse through Stephen’s sermon, often reminding the reader of cultural context. By the end of Stephen’s sermon he confronts the Sanhedrin with rejection of God (Bruce 1988, 152). As a result, Stephen is stoned by the authorities. He had apparently met their test for blasphemy, which Bruce suggests was only later refined to require a more specific statement than those of Stephen (Bruce 1988, 157). The account of the stoning is also used by Luke to introduce us to Saul, later called Paul. He was clearly in full agreement that Stephen should be executed (Bruce 1988, 161). This is signified by his action of guarding the clothes of the executioners.