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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles


In this chapter, we have an account of Stephen’s lengthy address to the assembled council. In it he gives an interesting history of the Paternal dealings of God with the Jewish people. It commences with the call of Abraham, the father of the faithful. He also adduces some leading incidents of his life (1–8). After a brief allusion to Isaac and Jacob, and to the merciful dealings of Joseph in regard to his brethren in Egypt, the persecutions of God’s people after the death of Joseph (8–19), he dwells at some length on the history of Moses, the giving of the law—the ingratitude and stubborn stiffneckedness of the people—their miraculous deliverance and egress from Egypt (20–46). The building of the Temple (46–50). He next inveighs against the Jews as incredulous, stubborn, imitators of their Fathers who persecuted the Prophets (51–54). The range of the Jews at the well-merited charges made against them by Stephen, his martyrdom (54–59).


1, 2. “Brethren,” the younger members, his own coevals. “Fathers,” the elder members of the Sanhedrim, the pontiffs and judges, before whom he was to plead his cause. His opening address, so respectful and courteous, was calculated to gain their good will. The assessors of the Sanhedrim, pontiffs and judges, he calls “fathers”; the others present he calls “brethren.”

“The God of glory,” the fountain and source of all glory: entitled, therefore to the greatest reverence. He was therefore calumniously charged with blaspheming Him.

“Appeared to our father, Abraham,” in whom the Jews gloried as their spiritual father. How he appeared is not said. In Genesis (12:1) it is said “God spoke to Abraham.” Perhaps the words “God of glory” might point to some glorious apparition vouchsafed to Abraham.

“When he was in Mesopotamia,” &c. In Genesis (11:31) we are told Abraham with his father and all his kinsfolk dwelt in Haran, whither his father Thare brought them. After that (c. 12:1) God spoke to Abraham, and commanded him to go forth out of his country, &c. (v. 3). Hence, it was not “before” he dwelt in Charan. The reply commonly given is that God gave the command, “Go forth,” &c., on two different occasions. First, when he was in Ur of the Chaldeans in Mesopotamia (Genesis 15:7). There he received the mandate to go forth to Charan (the Greek for Haran), which was nearer Canaan, his ultimate destination. And God’s providence so arranged it that Thare migrated there with his whole family, Abraham included, who thus obeyed the Divine mandate when accompanying his father. The same mandate was repeated when Abraham was in Charan.

Others maintain that there is question only of one apparition or mandate given to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldeans, which mandate was conveyed in the language here quoted from Genesis (12:1); that in compliance with this mandate, Abraham, with his father’s family, repaired to Charan or Haran. It is to this call reference is made (Genesis 12:1): “And the Lord said to Abraham,” which means the Lord had heretofore said to Abraham, while in Ur of the Chaldeans, and in compliance with this mandate formerly given, Abraham moved once more from Charan to Canaan.

When it is said “he was in Mesopotamia,” the term is taken in a wide sense, so as to embrace not only the country placed between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates—whence the Greek name, Mesopotamia, between the two rivers—but also the neighbouring country of the Chaldeans. Hence it is said (v. 4) “he went out of the country of the Chaldeans” while in Mesopotamia.

3. “Go forth,” &c. These words are mostly quoted from the Septuagint, with some trifling points of difference.

4. “Land of the Chaldeans.” Ur of the Chaldeans. “And from thence, after his father was dead,” &c. Here an objection is raised by the enemies of Revelation, who charge Stephen with stating what is not true. They say it is impossible to reconcile Stephen’s statement here with what is said in Genesis (11:32), viz., that Thare was 205 years old at his death; that Abraham was born to him when he was 70 years old (11:25); and that Abraham was 75 years when he left Charan for Canaan (Genesis 12:4). Thus Thare would be only 145 years at his death.

The reply commonly adopted is that the words of Genesis would not prove that Abraham was born to Thare when he was 75 years old. All they would prove is that Thare was 75 years before any children were born to him; but how long after that, they were born is not stated. Abraham might have been born several years after that; and although Abraham was placed first, this might have been done out of respect to him as head and father of all believers; but it would by no means prove he was the first born. We find in several places of Scripture that members of families are not set down according to the dates of their birth. In Paralip (c. 1:28) Ismahel is placed after Isaac. On the list of the descendants of the sons of Jacob, those of Juda are placed first, though he was only the fourth son of Jacob (1 Paralip 4:1, &c.). Several similar instances might be adduced. The objection, then, goes for nothing, unless it be proved that Abraham was born when Thare was 70 years of age, which the words of Genesis (11:32) will not establish; and that Abraham was the first born, which is by no means clear, although mentioned first, for the reason already assigned, viz., out of respect for the father of the faithful. He may have been the youngest, and born when Thare was 130 years old, as stated in the Samaritan Pentateuch. There is no evidence to the contrary. This disposes of the objection.

5. “No inheritance,” no permanent, fixed possession. Abraham himself purchased a field for burial from the children of Heth (Genesis 23:15, 16). “No, not the pace,” &c., a kind of proverbial expression, signifying no land at all, be it ever so small.

“And to his seed,” &c. “And” is taken, not in a conjunctive, but in an expletive sense, signifying, namely. For in the first and third promise it is made to his seed (Genesis 12:7, 15:18). In the promise made to him on the second occasion, it is said, “Tibi dabo et semini tuo (13:15); et has the force of, namely.

“No child,” nor, humanly speaking, any prospect of it. This shows the great heroic faith of Abraham (Rom. 4:18, 19; Heb. 11:11). In the same sense, that is, referring to their posterity, was the promise renewed to Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 26:3, 28:13).

6. “Sojourn in a strange land,” Egypt, “four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13). In Exodus (12:40) it is said, “they sojourned four hundred and thirty years.” In Genesis Moses and St. Stephen here speak of four hundred years in round numbers, which, in a general customary way, would embrace 430 years.

As a general reply to other chronological difficulties, it is also likely the 430 years are to be computed from the calling of Abraham and the promise made to him, to the exit of the Jews from Egypt. An accurate or demonstrative solution can hardly be expected in matters concerning ancient records, or in regard to difficulties and perplexities of a chronological character.

7. “The nation,” Egypt particularly, “judge,” practically, by inflicting signal punishment.

“Serve me,” worship me. I shall be their God; and they, my people.

8. He established with him a covenant of which “circumcision” was the seal as well as a part, Abraham and his posterity binding themselves, on their part, by an obligation to submit to it. It was a sign of the special promises on the part of God, to the children of Abraham. Between God and man there could not be, strictly speaking, a covenant; on the part of God, it is a gratuitous promise.

“And so,” in virtue of God’s promise, or covenant (17:2, 21), “he begot Isaac” (Genesis 17:17).

9, 10. (Genesis 27, 41)

11, 12. “Our Fathers,” his ten sons, Benjamin and Joseph were not with them.

13, 14. Genesis 45:4–16. “In seventy-five souls.” In Genesis (46:27; Exod. 1:5; Deut. 10:22), the number is said to be seventy (70). The Septuagint has seventy-five which Stephen clearly followed. The Septuagint included in the number, five descendants of Joseph, two, the sons of Manasses, three of Ephraim, begotten in Egypt. Why the Septuagint did so is not so easily seen. Likely, it was because they were of the same stock with the original settlers. But, as Joseph and his two sons are reckoned among the seventy that entered Egypt, although already there, so, the Septuagint acted similarly in regard to Joseph’s descendants, who were born in Egypt and did not come down with the Israelites. These chronological questions, at so remote a period, are not easy of explanation.

15. “And he died, and our Fathers.” The sons of Jacob died in Egypt during the 215 years that the Israelites sojourned there, before they entered Canaan.

16. “Translated.” This refers to the twelve sons-of Jacob only, but not to Jacob himself, who was buried in Hebron (Genesis 49:31, 23:19).

The bodies of the sons of Jacob were translated from Egypt to Sichem. This is stated regarding the bones of Joseph (24:33). Although the Scripture says nothing of it; doubtless, the bodies of the other sons of Jacob were carried from Egypt to Sichem. This Stephen must have learned from tradition. St. Jerome (Ep. 86) says: their tombs were seen in his day in Sichem. Josephus, however (Antiq. 2, 8, 2), following a different tradition, says they were buried in Hebron.

“That Abraham bought,” &c. This passage is a source of embarrassment to Commentators when striving to reconcile it with the narrative in Genesis. It would seem to attribute to Abraham a purchase which, so far as the Scripture account goes, he never made. The words here can hardly be understood of the purchase made by Abraham for sepulchral purposes from the children of Heth (Genesis 23:16–20), as may be seen on reading over the passage referred to. Hence, some Expositors understand Stephen to refer to the purchase made by Jacob (Genesis 33:19). These would substitute Jacob for Abraham here, as if the mistake arose in course of time on the part of copyists—a supposition or principal of solution which, besides being gratuitous, is quite dangerous and inconvenient (Beelen). The purchase spoken of here is quite different in all its circumstances (viz., the vendors, the price, the land bought, &c.), from that made by Jacob (Genesis 33:19). Hence, as there is no mention made in Scripture of the purchase here spoken of, which was different from the purchase of ground for the sepulchre made from the children of Heth (Genesis 23:16–20), St. Stephen must have learned it from tradition, from which source he knew of the translation of the bodies of the Patriarchs from Egypt to Sichem.

But, here another difficulty arises. It is said here “Hemor was the son of Sichem,” whereas in (Genesis 33:19) he is said to be the “Father of Sichem” (Josue 24:23). But “the sons of Hemor” are the sons of a Hemor, different from the Hemor here spoken of. Whether there be any error in the utterance attributed to St. Stephen here, whose inspiration we are not bound to defend, St. Luke’s inspiration is by no means affected by it; since, as an inspired historian, he only records what was spoken by another.

17. “Promise,” to bring the Hebrews out of Egypt after 400 years (verses 6, 7).

18. “Knew not,” ignored. Did not gratefully recognise the well-known, priceless benefits conferred by Joseph on the land of Egypt.

19. “Dealing craftily,” employing cunning, deceitful devices to bring about the utter destruction of our “race,” nation, ancestors.

“Afflicted,” acted with injustice and cruelty. “Expose,” &c. (Exod. 1:16–22).

20. “At the same time.” During this cruel period (Exod. 2:2, &c.).

“Acceptable to God.” “To God,” by a Hebrew idiom, conveys that he was exceedingly handsome or comely (Exod. 2:2, &c.).

21. “Exposed.” Placed in a basket on the banks of the Nile (Exod. 2 &c.).

22. “Instructed,” taught, educated in “all the wisdom,” &c. As the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter (Exod. 2:10).

“Mighty,” while in Pharoah’s court. Josephus records that while there, he gained a signal victory over the Ethiopians (Antiq., lib. ii. c. 10).

“In words.” Gifted with great popular eloquence (Josephus, Antiq., lib. iii: 1–4).

His humble self-depreciation (Exod. 4:10) had reference only to some organic defect. Hence, God told him (v. 12), “I shall be in thy mouth.”

23. “Forty years old.” This Stephen learned from tradition. “It came into his heart,” he conceived the idea, formed the resolve.

“To visit,” bring aid, “to his brethren,” &c. Having relinquished Pharaoh’s Court with all its pleasures and enjoyments (Hebrews 11:24).

24. “Suffer wrong,” maltreated, struck by an Egyptian. This Stephen omits, as being well known to his hearers.

“Striking the Egyptian.” He slew him and buried him in the sand (Exodus 2:12). Most likely, under Divine impulse, he felt, that he acted justly in doing so.

25. The Hebrews were well aware, that they were to be liberated from the Egyptian bondage. From all the circumstances of his visit, his readiness to expose his life in defending them, and taking vengeance on one of their oppressors, Moses supposed they would regard him as the instrument in the hand of God for bringing them salvation, that their deliverance from the oppressive yoke of the Egyptians was near at hand. But, they did not regard him in that light.

26. “Showed himself,” came unexpectedly on them. There were only two Hebrews quarrelling. The whole incident was known to his hearers. Hence, Stephen only gives it substantially, without describing it circumstantially.

“And would have remedied,” &c., by employing moral persuasion.

27, 28. “Did the injury,” the aggressor in the case (Exodus 2:14).

29. Moses finding that his act, which he supposed to be secret, was publicly known, and fearing the vengeance which Pharaoh would execute on hearing it, “fled” for his life. “Upon this word” of reproach being addressed to him, “a stranger,” a sojourner, with the intention of dwelling there for a time.

30. “Forty years,” from the time he fled from Egypt. During that time, he sojourned in Madian. He was then 80 years old. All this St. Stephen ascertained, as he did several other matters, from tradition. “There appeared,” &c., “in the desert of Mount Sina.” The desert in which Mount Sina was situated, Exodus 3:1 has “Horeb.” But there is no discrepancy, as Sina and Horeb are two distinct summits, springing from one and the same mountain, and having the same base.

“An Angel,” in next v. 31 called “the Lord.” Likewise Exodus 3:2–11, He is called “the Lord.” “God,” &c. It is disputed among Expositors whether the “Angel” here spoken of was not God Himself, the word “Angel” signifying messenger, Created or Increated. Our Lord Himself is called the Angel of the Great Council.

By many it is held that here, as well as in several other passages, there is question of a created angelic spirit, who represented God, spoke by the authority of God, and, by Divine permission, assumed certain functions appertaining to God alone. But this he did, speaking on the part of God, as His representative and organ.

By others it is maintained that there is question directly of God Himself, the Second Person of the adorable Trinity, who on the occasions referred to in the Old Testament, assumed a human form, used a human voice, perfectly similar to that which He afterwards exhibited when He “became flesh,” becoming personally and hypostatically united to the Divine Person of the Eternal Word.

“In a flame of fire,” real fire, otherwise, it could cause no wonder that it did not consume the bush.

31. He wondered at seeing the bush on fire, without being consumed.

32. “The God of thy Fathers,” their protector and wonderful rewarder.

33. The order of narrative is somewhat different from that given in Exodus 3:5. “Loose the shoes,” &c. In the east, to put off the shoes, was a mark of reverence. It was quite usual among the Jews, as uncovering the head is with us.

“Holy ground,” sanctified by the presence of God.

34. “Seeing I have seen,” &c., an emphatic form of expression according to Hebrew usage.

“I will send thee.” Exodus 3:7–10.

35. “Refused,” to listen to on a former occasion, although it was the act of only one man; still, he seems to have represented the feelings of all.

“Redeemer.” The Greek word would signify redeeming another from bondage by paying his ransom (λυτρον), which is expressive of the Redemption through Christ, of whom Moses was a type.

St. Stephen, who was charged with blasphemy against Moses, reminds his hearers of the ingratitude shown by their Fathers, whose character they inherited, towards their deliverer. He covertly charges the Jews of the present day, with similar ingratitude; and this naturally served as a preparation for his charges made explicitly against them (vv. 51, 52).

The whole style is very emphatic, as shown in the prominence given to the article, “this Moses,” him, &c.

“By the hand of the Angel.” Cum manu Angeli, armed with the protecting power of the Angel.

36. “He brought them,” &c. (Exodus 7, 13, 14)

37. “A prophet,” &c., taken from Deuteronomy (18:15–18, see c. 3:22). In introducing this quotation, St. Stephen wished to call to mind, that a Messiah was promised them, whom they were obliged to hear and obey. Stephen, who was charged with being opposed to Moses, here shows he was well aware of and acknowledged the Divine authority of Moses. Hence, he was not opposed to him; nay, even, by pointing to a new Legislator, he by no means detracted from the authority of Moses, since Moses himself announced this.

38. “The Church,” the assembly of the Children of Israel rescued from Egypt and placed under the guidance of Moses.

“In the wilderness,” of Sina. He it was, that was with the assembly of the people, whom he called together.

“With the Angel, who spoke to him … and with our Fathers,” between whom and the Angel that announced the law, he acted as mediator.

“Words of life,” life-giving commandments.

39. (Exodus 33:1–23; Numbers 14:4.) “In their hearts,” having a wish or desire to return to Egypt (Numbers 11:5). It may mean, to imitate the depraved morals of the Egyptians. Not likely, after all they suffered in Egypt, they had any desire to return there.

40. “Make us Gods.” The plural for the singular—a thing by no means unusual—as there was question of only one false god. Possibly, they asked for idols, one or more, as might suit.

“To go before us,” guide and conduct us in the desert, in place of Moses.

41. (Exodus 32:2–4). St. Stephen shows how prone their ancestors were to the worship of idols and to desert the true God.

42. “God turned” away from them by the subtraction of His special graces.

“And gave them up.” This He did negatively, by abandoning them; by merely tolerating them; by the subtraction of His graces, absolutely necessary to save them from sin.

“God,” says St. Thomas (Ep. ad. Rom. c. 1:24), “hands men over to sin, not directly, but indirectly, by withdrawing His grace necessary to save them from sinning, in the same way, as by taking away a prop or support from one, you would be said to cause his fall. In this way, the first sin is the cause of the second, the second, the punishment of the first.”

God may be said to be the negative, but, by no means, the positive cause of sin.

“The host of heaven,” sometimes denotes the angels (Luke 2:13; 3 Kings 22:19); sometimes, the stars (Deuteronomy 4:19; Isaias 34:4). The latter is clearly the meaning here. This is shown from the words of Amos, quoted here by Stephen.

“In the Book of the Prophets” (Amos 5:25–27). Although there is reference here to the Prophet Amos, the word is used in the plural, the twelve minor Prophets being bound up by the Hebrews in one book or volume. St. Stephen quotes Amos from memory in proof that the Israelites were addicted to the worship of false gods in the desert.

“Did you offer?” &c. This interrogative form is equivalent to a negative. “You did not offer,” &c. Some understand the Greek interrogative not to imply a negative, but an affirmative answer, “yes, you did;” and still your perversity was such that conjointly with my worship you took unto you “the Tabernacle of Moloch.” St. Stephen could not in truth universally or absolutely deny that the Israelites offered up sacrifices to the true God. It would be contrary to fact to say so. Although on stated occasions they clung to the worship of the true God, still they abandoned the true God and worshipped idols; and their offerings to God were comparatively so few as to be counted almost for nothing, particularly if their idolatrous acts were borne in mind.

Circumcision was interrupted during their forty years sojourn. So was also the Paschal celebration. And although the daily sacrifices had not completely ceased, still, in the eyes of God, this official celebration, considering their idolatrous dispositions, were but of little value.

It was not so much for their neglect to offer sacrifices that God reproaches the people, as for their turning from Him to the worship of false gods. It would seem that after leaving Egypt the people had always a longing for the worship of the idols of Egypt, and privately practised it, more or less unknown to Moses or Aaron, who would not tolerate it for a moment. In the Mosaic Legislation there are several ordinances meant to combat this tendency to worship on the part of the people, which it seems Moses suspected (Leviticus 17:9). He manfully condemns Moloch worship (Leviticus 18:21).

Moses, in his history, only once, apart from their worship of the golden calf, expressly makes mention of the idolatry of which they were guilty shortly before his death (Numbers 25:1). While dwelling in Settim, in the country of the Moabites, the people committed fornication with the daughters of Moab, adored their gods and were initiated to Beelphegor. Hence, although there is no denying the tendency of the people to idolatry during the forty years’ sojourn in the desert, still here, most likely, there is no question of idolatrous acts during that period, but only of the particular act of idolatry committed in Settim just referred to.

43. “You took unto you,” &c. Instead of honouring Me, you rather took up and carried about from place to place, for pompous ceremonial purposes, in the act of practising idolatrous worship.

“The Tabernacle,” &c. The portable tent or little cases in which were incased the image of the false god, Moloch. These images being small were easily carried about. They were in some manner like the silver shrines of Diana manufactured at Ephesus (19:24) and the small statues concealed by Rachel (Genesis 31:34).

In the Hebrew for “Moloch” we have “your king” in allusion to the royal dignity with which the Gentiles invested their gods. Moloch seems to be derived from, or rather to be a modification of the Hebrew word, Malak, which signifies king. Moloch was the god of the Ammonites and Moabites, in whose honour children were burned alive (Levit. 17:8; 20:2). In the valley of Hinnon, outside Jerusalem, these abominable cruelties were sometimes practised by the Israelites in imitation of the Chanaanites in honour of this false god (see Mathew 5:22, Commentary on).

This Moloch, said to represent the planet Saturn, or the sun, or Mercury, is identified by many with the false god Baal, which signifies Lord, Moloch (king) and Baal (Lord), would seem to be interchangeable terms (Jeremiah 32:15, 19:5). Human sacrifices were offered to both.

“And the star of your god, Rempham,” which would seem to represent some god whom they worshipped. The Hebrew for Rempham is chiun. This was rendered so by the Septuagint translators, who made the translation in Egypt. Raiphan easily made Rempham. This they probably did, because, in the Coptic language in use in Egypt, Rempham is the same as the Hebrew chiun. It is thought by many to represent the planet Saturn, chiun signifying just, and the reign of Saturn was regarded by the poets as remarkable for justice.

“Figures which you made” put in apposition to the preceding.

“And,” in consequence, owing to your idolatry.

“Beyond Babylon,” in punishment of their abondoning Him.

In Amos, it is “beyond Damascus.” St. Stephen gives the sense. They were transported through Syria, and therefore “beyond Damascus” to Babylon. St. Stephen points out more explicitly than does Amos the place of their captivity or deportation in punishment of their idolatry. Some of them were carried not only beyond Damascus to Babylon, but even to Persia beyond Babylon (2 Machab. 1–9).

44. St. Stephen having refuted one of the charges alleged against him (c. 6:13, 14), viz., of having undervalued Moses and his law, now proceeds to the refutation of the other, viz., that he spoke disrespectfully of the temple. This charge he refutes, by professing his belief in the Divine institution of the tabernacle which preceded the temple, and of the temple itself (v. 47). He opposes their tabernacle or tent to the tents of Moloch, &c.

“Of the testimony.” It was a testimony or proof of God’s presence among them and of His protection visibly extended to them.

The word “testimony” refers to the Tables of the Law placed in the ark which the Tabernacle contained. The law was the testimony of God’s will.

“According to the form,” &c. The fact of God’s showing a form or pattern, a plan of details, on the Mount shows the Divine sanction which Stephen did not mean to deny or depreciate. The sanctuary, with its contents, though fabricated by human hands, was a Divine work (Exod. 25:8–10).

45. “Receiving” as a sacred heritage. The generation that came out of Egypt were all excluded from Canaan, except Caleb and Josue in punishment of their infidelity. Hence, it was the next generation that “received” it.

“Brought in with Jesus.” Josue, “into the possession of the Gentiles,” the land then occupied by the Chanaanites, “whom God drove out,” &c. He continued to drive them out until the days of David, when the subjugation commenced by Josue was completed.

“Unto the days of David.” These words in connexion with the preceding more probably convey that the tabernacle introduced by Josue continued to be the place of worship, the centre of God’s manifestations until the time of David, who wished to build a temple, a more suitable dwelling place for His glory and permanent residence. This seems to be the true interpretation.

For Stephen seems to describe the duration of Divine worship in the Tabernacle, while in the Land of Promise, up to the time for building the temple.

46. “Found grace,” &c. Very dear to God, prospered in all his ways.

“And desired.” This is allusive to his vow (Ps. 132:1, &c.), “a Tabernacle,” a fixed place of abode for the ark, which was hitherto carried about in a moveable Tabernacle. The Greek word (σκηνωμα), would convey the idea of a fixed place of abode, compared with σκηνη, the term for Tabernacle or tent in which the ark hitherto reposed.

47. This great privilege denied to David, was reserved for his son Solomon.

48. Having fully replied to the false charges brought against himself, as having blasphemed against Moses and his law, as well as against the temple, St. Stephen wishes now to remove the erroneous ideas the Jews had formed in regard to their possession of the temple to which they fancied God was in some measure confined, and in regard to the great feeling of false security, with which the possession of the temple inspired them. On the possession of the temple, and their having it amongst them, they placed even a superstitious reliance, as if this was all sufficent for their safety (Jeremias 7:4). St. Stephen wishes to combat the exaggerated importance the Jews attached to their temple, as if all religion depended on it, and as if God’s presence, worship and manifestations were confined to it. He would also seem to insinuate that, possibly, one day, the temple might be destroyed, God’s special presence withdrawn, His worship not confined to it. Since by his omnipresence, he fills all creation.

“Houses made by hand.” The original has only “made by hands:” but, it denotes “houses.” “As the Prophet saith” (Isaias 66:1, 2).

49. The words of this verse are taken from Isaias (66:1, 2), not strictly; but, as to sense.

“Heaven,” is His royal seat, more worthy than the wings of the cherubim in the ark. “The earth, His footstool,” far above the propitiatory of the ark.

“What house will you build Me,” sufficient to contain My immensity? He does not exclude external worship; but, only when accompanied with the interior feelings of piety, is it acceptable.

50. “Hath not My hand,” &c. Conveying that He can build nothing He does not already possess. In the original, this is read, not interrogatively, but affirmatively. The sense, however, is still the same.

51. This sudden transition from the calm language of historical recital, and from an apologetic tone to the language of vehement and bitter reproach, which has no connexion with the preceding, would seem to indicate, that the hearers, including the judges, members of the Sanhedrim, seeing the force and tendency of his remarks, showed their displeasure in gestures and clamorous excitement. Seeing this, St. Stephen at once reproaches them with their hereditary stubborness and resistance to the interior motions and promptings of Divine grace.

“Stiffnecked.” a term found in several parts of Scripture applied to the Jews (Exod. 32:9; 33:3–5; Deut. 9, &c.)

The idea is a figurative one, having reference to oxen that kick against being yoked. In its application to man, it conveys the idea of stubborness and opposition to restraint.

“Uncircumcised in heart.” Unwilling to submit to the restraints of the Law of Moses, circumcision being the peculiar mark of a Jew. Their hearts were full of Pagan passions and desires to “resist the Holy Ghost,” by resisting the interior grace, which always accompanies the preaching of the miracles of Christ and of his Apostles.

52. This interrogative is equivalent to an emphatic assertion, conveying a general truth in regard to their well-known national trait, relative to the persecution of Prophets (Matthew 23:29–35).

“Who foretold,” &c. The chief announcement made by the Prophets, regarded the future Messiah. It greatly aggravated their guilt to slay those who foretold the greatest of blessings. The cruel treatment of the Prophets of old arose not only from their predictions regarding our Redeemer: they were persecuted for other reasons also, viz.: for correcting the people and reproaching them with their vices, it being the duty of the Prophets, not only to predict future events, but to teach, admonish, reprehend, &c.

“And they had slain.” “And,” nay even, signifies that besides persecuting the Prophets for general reasons, they persecuted them specially “who foretold,” &c., for this particular reason also.

“The betrayers.” By having handed Him over to the Gentiles, through the treason of Judas, who was a mere instrument in their hands.

53. The Law of which you boast so much, and charge me with undervaluing, forbids murder, and this Law you have not observed or guarded.

“By the disposition of Angels.” (εις διαταγας αγγελων) is rendered by Kenrick; after Martini (an Italian), and Allioli (a German) “through the instrumentality of Angels.” Patrizzi thinks the words may mean “at the dispositions or ministrations of Angels.”

Others understand the words to mean “in the presence of the Angels arranged in their different ranks and divisions,” who were witnesses of the giving of the Law; thus adding to its solemnity. All these circumstances aggravated the guilt of those who violated a law so solemenly promulgated.

54. “Cut to the heart.” Roused to the highest pitch of anger, which they could no longer restrain. This they gave expression to by “gnashing their teeth,” an indication of intense rage.

55. “Full of the Holy Ghost.” Imbued with the spirit of fortitude, which made him despise their sanguinary threatenings. Turning to prayer, he raised up his eyes, gazing intently on heaven. Elevated beyond himself, “he saw,” in a fit of ecstacy, “the glory of God,” the Majesty and Almighty Power of the Father, surrounded with heavenly glory, circumfused with fiery splendour. “And Jesus standing,” &c. He is generally represented as sitting. But while the word sitting indicates His posture as Judge, “standing” indicates the posture of one prepared to come to the relief of his struggling valiant soldier, and receive him on entering Heaven. This is conveyed by St. Gregory (Hom. in Evang. xxix. 7). “Sedere, judicantis est. Stare, vero pugnantis vel adjuvantis. Stephanus in labore certaminis, stantem vidit quem adjutorem habuit.”

“Behold I see the Heavens opened” The Empyreal Heavens, the dwelling-place of the blessed. Stephen saw this Heaven flung open; his eye elevated by God’s supernatural concursus or power penetrated these patent Heavens as far as the Empyreal Heaven to behold God’s glory and Jesus standing at His right hand.

“And the Son of Man.” A designation often applied by our Lord to Himself, first used in Daniel (7:13, 14) and but rarely applied by others to Him in the New Testament as here, and Apocalypse (1:13, 14:14). A similar phrase used by our Lord (Matthew 26:64) was considered, as here, to be blasphemous. St. Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, with the spirit of intrepidity, fearlessly tells the Jews that He whom they persecuted and put to death was now in power and majesty, enjoying Heavenly glory.

56. They affecting to be shocked at the blasphemy uttered by Stephen “stopped their ears” so as not to hear further blasphemies and thus show their horror of what they heard. This is, probably, said of the people.

“With one accord” rushing tumultuously in a body.

57. “Casting him out,” &c. In Leviticus (24:14–23) it was prescribed that the blasphemer should be stoned outside the camp, and afterwards it was enacted he should be stoned outside the cities (Deut. 22:16).

“They stoned him,” the punishment allotted for blasphemy (Levit. 24:16).

“Witnesses.” The false witness, who bore testimony against him (6:13). The Law of Moses ordained, with a view of preventing false accusations, that the witnesses (Deut. 17:7) should be the first to execute the sentence. Then all the people joined, “laid their garments,” outer garments—a thing usually done in any laborious enterprise—in order to have their hands free, as the stones used on such occasions were rather large and heavy.

“At the feet … Saul,” the future Apostle of the Gentiles. He abetted and assented to the cruel act of murder (c. 17:20).

“A young man,” about thirty years at the time. When in prison in Rome, addressing Philemon, he calls himself “an old man” (Philemon 9).

58. “Receive my spirit.” Admit my soul into Thy kingdom of eternal bliss.

59. “Falling on his knees,” which he did voluntarily in the attitude of prayer, wishing also to die in the same posture.

“Lay not this sin,” &c. So like the dying prayer of his Heavenly Master (Luke 23:34).

The Greek word would convey the idea of not weighing their sins in the scales of Divine retribution.

“He fell asleep,” which gives an idea of the calm composure of the death of the just so peaceful and so happy. It also conveys that their death is only a short slumber from which they were soon to be awakened in the glory of the Resurrection.

From this came the usage of calling the burying places of the faithful cemeteries or sleeping places where their bodies repose for a time awaiting the General Resurrection, when they shall be aroused from their long slumbers.

“And Saul was consenting,” &c. Approved of it as indicated by his conduct (v. 17). St. Luke here wishes to convey that though Paul took no part in the act of stoning still he fully approved, and as such was guilty, conformably to the teaching of the Apostle (Rom. 1:32). These latter words are placed in some versions at the beginning of next chapter. But the division, according to the Vulgate arrangement, is clearly the more judicious one, as these words are connected with the preceding; and a new subjectis introduced in the opening words of next chapter, “and at that time.” &c. This division, according to the Vulgate, is justly preferred by many among the most judicious critics.

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