Acts 6:8–15 (NA28)
8Στέφανος δὲ πλήρης χάριτος καὶ δυνάμεως ἐποίει τέρατα καὶ σημεῖα μεγάλα ἐν τῷ λαῷ.
Now Stephen full of grace and power was performing great wonders and signs among the people
- Wrought (ἐποιει [epoiei]). Imperfect active, repeatedly wrought. Evidently a man like Stephen would not confine his “ministry” to “serving tables.” He was called in verse 5 “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Here he is termed “full of grace (so the best MSS., not faith) and power.” The four words give a picture of remarkable attractiveness. The grace of God gave him the power and so “he kept on doing great wonders and signs among the people.” He was a sudden whirlwind of power in the very realm of Peter and John and the rest.
- Luke began by telling us that Stephen was “full of God’s grace and power.” We have been well prepared for this. As one of the seven he met the qualification of being filled with the Spirit and wisdom (v. 3) and was personally described as full of faith and the Holy Spirit (v. 5). Faith, wisdom, grace, power, and above all the presence of the Spirit were the personal qualities that equipped him for the ultimate witness he would soon bear. The Spirit and power are closely linked and led him to perform signs and wonders among the people. He was the first other than the apostles to be described as working miracles. He quite naturally witnessed in the synagogue of his fellow Greek-speaking Jews. Luke named it the Synagogue of the Freedmen, which indicates that many of its members formerly may have been slaves or were the descendants of former slaves. 
- The description of Stephen as full of grace and power is probably meant to draw a parallel between him and the apostles (4:33). His gifts are due to his being filled with the Spirit—a factor which, it should be noted, was present before his appointment as one of the Seven. It is not clear in what sense grace is meant, but as in 4:33 it probably indicates the gracious power of God.
9ἀνέστησαν δέ τινες τῶν ἐκ τῆς συναγωγῆς τῆς λεγομένης Λιβερτίνων καὶ Κυρηναίων καὶ Ἀλεξανδρέων καὶ τῶν ἀπὸ Κιλικίας καὶ Ἀσίας συζητοῦντες τῷ Στεφάνῳ,
But some of those from the synagogue stood up called of the Freedmen both the Cyrenians and Alexandrians and those from Cilicia and Asia and disputed with Stephen
- The synagogue of the Libertines (ἐκ της συναγωγης της λεγομενης Λιβερτινων [ek tēs sunagōgēs tēs legomenēs Libertinōn]). The Libertines (Latin libertinus, a freedman or the son of a freedman) were Jews, once slaves of Rome (perhaps descendants of the Jews taken to Rome as captives by Pompey), now set free and settled in Jerusalem and numerous enough to have a synagogue of their own. Schuerer calls a Talmudic myth the statement that there were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem. There were many, no doubt, but how many no one knows. These places of worship and study were in all the cities of the later times where there were Jews enough to maintain one. Apparently Luke here speaks of five such synagogues in Jerusalem (that of the Libertines, of the Cyrenians, of the Alexandrians, of Cilicia, and of Asia). There probably were enough Hellenists in Jerusalem to have five such synagogues. But the language of Luke is not clear on this point. He may make only two groups instead of five since he uses the article των [tōn] twice (once before Λιβερτινων και Κυρηναιων και Ἀλεξανδρεων [Libertinōn kai Kurēnaiōn kai Alexandreōn], again before ἀπο Κιλικιας και Ἀσιας [apo Kilikias kai Asias]). He also changes from the genitive plural to ἀπο [apo] before Cilicia and Asia. But, leaving the number of the synagogues unsettled whether five or two, it is certain that in each one where Stephen appeared as a Hellenist preaching Jesus as the Messiah he met opposition. Certain of them “arose” (ἀνεστησαν [anestēsan]) “stood up” after they had stood all that they could from Stephen, “disputing with Stephen” (συνζητουντες τῳ Στεφανῳ [sunzētountes tōi Stephanōi]). Present active participle of συνζητεω [sunzēteō], to question together as the two on the way to Emmaus did (Luke 24:15). Such interruptions were common with Jews. They give a skilled speaker great opportunity for reply if he is quick in repartee. Evidently Stephen was fully equipped for the emergency. One of their synagogues had men from Cilicia in it, making it practically certain that young Saul of Tarsus, the brilliant student of Gamaliel, was present and tried his wits with Stephen. His ignominious defeat may be one explanation of his zest in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1).
- Its membership included Jews from the north African and Asian Diaspora. There is ample literary and inscriptional evidence for Cyrenian Jews settling in Jerusalem, and the rabbinic writings mention an Alexandrian synagogue in Jerusalem. Paul himself was a Cilician Jew who had come to live in Jerusalem, and it was Asian Jews who later would accuse him of having violated the temple (Acts 21:27f.). In fact, Paul himself may have attended this synagogue, and it may be there where he debated his fellow Greek-speaking Jews after becoming a Christian (Acts 9:29). In any event, they were unable to refute Stephen. He was too filled with the Spirit and wisdom (cf. v. 3)
- The Freedmen were Roman prisoners (or the descendants of such prisoners) who had later been granted their freedom. We know that a considerable number of Jews were taken prisoner by the Roman general Pompey and later released in Rome, and it is possible that these are meant here.
10καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυον ἀντιστῆναι τῇ σοφίᾳ καὶ τῷ πνεύματι ᾧ ἐλάλει.
And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking
- Jesus had promised the help of the Spirit (Luke 12:12) and wisdom (Luke 21:15) to his disciples when they were called upon to defend themselves. The early church proved the truth of this promise. Its members were able to put up a case for their faith which could not be knocked down by argument. When Stephen’s opponents could not get the better of him, they induced some people to make public charges against him, testifying that they had heard him blaspheming against Moses and God. Although in later usage blasphemy involved using the ineffable name of God, the New Testament usage demonstrates that at this time the term was used in a wider sense of any violation of the power and majesty of God. For a closer definition of the accusations we must turn to verses 13f.
- Luke intends us to understand that Stephen was no second-rate debater. Through wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit, he argued effectively against his detractors. As we shall see more than once in the pages of this book, criticism for Christian leaders often arises when least expected, undeserved, and often comes from those who ought to know better. Stephen would soon fall prey to vindictive false charges by his fellow Hellenists.
11τότε ὑπέβαλον ἄνδρας λέγοντας ὅτι ἀκηκόαμεν αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ῥήματα βλάσφημα εἰς Μωϋσῆν καὶ τὸν θεόν.
Then they secretly instigated men who said, “we have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
- Blasphemous words against Moses and God (βλασφημα εἰς Μωυσην και τον θεον [blasphēma eis Mōusēn kai ton theon]). The punishment for blasphemy was stoning to death.
- But the charge against Stephen was untrue. Please note that Moses is here placed before God and practically on a par with God in the matter of blasphemy. The purpose of this charge is to stir the prejudices of the people in the matter of Jewish rights and privileges. It is the Pharisees who are conducting this attack on Stephen while the Sadducees had led them against Peter and John. The position of Stephen is critical in the extreme for the Sadducees will not help him as Gamaliel did the apostles.
- Unable to resist Stephen’s persuasive power and his logic, the Hellenist Jews resorted to underhanded methods. They “hatched a frame-up.” The Greek word (hypoballō) is really stronger than the NIV’s “secretly persuaded,” usually implying that one “puts someone else up to” something, giving them the words to say.
- The charge? Blasphemy. Not only against Moses but also against God himself. The Greek word translated secretly persuaded is hypoballo, indicating someone put up to this by others, perhaps even given the words to say.
12συνεκίνησάν τε τὸν λαὸν καὶ τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους καὶ τοὺς γραμματεῖς καὶ ἐπιστάντες συνήρπασαν αὐτὸν καὶ ἤγαγον εἰς τὸ συνέδριον,
And they incited the people and the elders and the scribes and came up and seized him and brought him to the Sanhedrin
- They stirred up the people (συνεκινησαν τον λαον [sunekinēsan ton laon]). They shook the people together like an earthquake. First aorist active indicative of συνκινεω [sunkineō], to throw into commotion. Old verb, but here only in the N. T. The elders and the scribes (Pharisees) are reached, but no word about the Sadducees. This is the first record of the hostility of the masses against the disciples (Vincent). Came upon him (ἐπισταντες [epistantes]). Second aorist (ingressive) active participle of ἐφιστημι [ephistēmi]. Rushed at him. Seized (συνηρπασαν [sunērpasan]). Effective aorist active of συναρπαζω [sunarpazō] as if they caught him after pursuit.
13ἔστησάν τε μάρτυρας ψευδεῖς λέγοντας· ὁ ἄνθρωπος οὗτος οὐ παύεται λαλῶν ῥήματα κατὰ τοῦ τόπου τοῦ ἁγίου [τούτου] καὶ τοῦ νόμου·
and they put forward the false witnesses who said, “this man does not stop speaking against the holy place and the law
- False witnesses (μαρτυρας ψευδεις [marturas pseudeis]). Just as Caiaphas did with Jesus. Ceaseth not (οὐ παυεται [ou pauetai]). Wild charge just like a false witness that Stephen talks in the synagogues against the law and the holy temple.
14ἀκηκόαμεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος οὗτος καταλύσει τὸν τόπον τοῦτον καὶ ἀλλάξει τὰ ἔθη ἃ παρέδωκεν ἡμῖν Μωϋσῆς.
For we have heard him saying that Jesus this Nazarene will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed down to us
- In the background to v. 14 stands the charge of blasphemy directed against Jesus at his own trial when he was accused of threatening to destroy the temple (Mark 14:57–58). Luke did not include that tradition in the narrative of Jesus’ trial in his Gospel, but its inclusion here is highly significant. It put Jesus back on trial once again. Stephen had only been faithful in his witness to the teaching of Jesus. To reject the testimony of Stephen was ultimately to reject Jesus. That is what his trial was all about. The violent rejection of Stephen represented a rejection of Jesus the Messiah. Ultimately it was not Stephen but the Sanhedrin on trial that day.
15καὶ ἀτενίσαντες εἰς αὐτὸν πάντες οἱ καθεζόμενοι ἐν τῷ συνεδρίῳ εἶδον τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ πρόσωπον ἀγγέλου.
And they looked intently at him all those who were sitting in the Sanhedrin saw his face was like the face of an angel.
- As if the face of an angel (ὡσει προσωπον ἀγγελου [hōsei prosōpon aggelou]). Even his enemies saw that, wicked as they were. See Ex. 34:30 for the face of Moses when he came down from Sinai (2 Cor. 3:7). Page quotes Tennyson: “God’s glory smote him on the face.” Where were Peter and John at this crisis? Apparently Stephen stands alone before the Sanhedrin as Jesus did. But he was not alone for he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). There was little that Peter and John could have done if they had been present. Gamaliel did not interpose this time for the Pharisees were behind the charges against Stephen, false though they were as Gamaliel could have found out.
- All attention then turned to Stephen to see how he would respond to the charges. What they saw was a visage transfigured, a face like that of an angel. It is a picture of the martyr inspired by the heavenly vision, filled with the Spirit and empowered for fearless testimony before his accusers.