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Acts 7

Stephen’s defence. (1-50) Stephen reproves the Jews for the death of Christ. (51-53) The martyrdom of Stephen. (54-60)

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Stephen’s defence

1 Then said the high priest, Are these things so?

2 And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,

3 And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.

4 Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.

5 And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.

6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.

7 And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.

8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.

9 And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,

10 And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.

11 Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.

12 But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.

13 And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph’s kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.

14 Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.

15 So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,

16 And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.

17 But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,

18 Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.

19 The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.

20 In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father’s house three months:

21 And when he was cast out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.

22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.

23 And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.

24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:

25 For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.

26 And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?

27 But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?

28 Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?

29 Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.

30 And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.

31 When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the LORD came unto him,

32 Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.

33 Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.

34 I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.

35 This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.

36 He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.

37 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.

38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:

39 To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,

40 Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.

42 Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?

43 Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.

44 Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.

45 Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;

46 Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.

47 But Solomon built him an house.

48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,

49 Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?

50 Hath not my hand made all these things?

Stephen reproves the Jews for the death of Christ

51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

The martyrdom of Stephen

54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Are these things so? The high priest speaks after this mild manner, being either terrified, or charmed with his angelical countenance. S. Stephen’s design in this discourse, was to shew them, first, that he was falsely accused of speaking either against Moses, or the law, for which he shews so great a veneration. 2. He puts them in mind, that the true worship of God may subsist without a temple, as it did in the time of Abraham, and the patriarchs, before the law was given, or the temple built. 3. That as their forefathers had been rebellious to Moses, and disobedient to the prophets, whom they many times persecuted even to death, so they had lately resisted, persecuted, and crucified their Messias. Wi.

Ver. 5. Not the pace of a foot; not so much as a foot of land, that is, to dwell in, though he bought there a place to bury in. Gen. xxiii. 9. Wi.

Ver. 6. For four hundred years, counting from the birth of Isaac, which was twenty-five years after the call and promises made to Abraham. It is certain the Israelites were not four hundred years in Egypt. Wi. — Four hundred. These words are taken from the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, in which Moses mentions the same number of years. This calculation is made from the entry of Abraham into Chanaan, to the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt. Strictly, the Israelites did not remain in Egypt more than two hundred and fifteen years.

Ver. 7. The nation which they shall serve, I will judge. The meaning is, that God would afflict the Egyptians with divers plagues, or visible punishments, before they dismissed the Israelites. Wi.

Ver. 8. The covenant, or the testament,[1] and alliance of circumcision, by which the Israelites should be known to be the elect people of God. Wi. — Literally, he gave them the alliance of circumcision; he made with him an alliance, of which circumcision was the seal. V.

Ver. 10. Gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharao. Some understand divine graces, and gifts of prophecy, and the like: others, that he made him find favour in the sight of king Pharao, who appointed him to be governor of Egypt. Wi.

Ver. 16. Which Abraham bought . . . of the sons of Hemor, the son of Sichem. This purchase made by Abraham must be different from the purchase of a field made afterwards by Jacob. Gen. xxxiii. 19. See a Lapide, the author of the Analysis, dissert. 23. P. Alleman, &c. Wi. — Abraham bought. There must be an error of the copyist in this verse. Either the word Abraham ought to be omitted, or changed into Jacob. For it is plain, from Gen. xxxiii. 19. that the latter bought the land from the sons of Hemor. The Hebrew says, he bought it for one hundred kesitha, which some translate pieces of silver; others, lambs. As for Abraham, and Jacob, they were buried in the cavern of Mambre, which Abraham had purchased from the children of Heth. Gen. xxiii. Calmet. — It is supposed that originally the name of Jacob was given, abridged JAB, and that the first letter having disappeared, the two remaining letters were taken by misprision, for the abridgment of the name of Abraham. Hemor was the father of Sichem, and here the Greek text simply calls him Hemor of Sichem. V.

Ver. 19. Dealing craftily, circumventing craftily, afflicting, and endeavouring to extirpate the race of the Israelites. Wi.

Ver. 20. Moses . . . was acceptable to God.[2] Greatly favoured both with gifts of nature and grace. Some expound it, was extremely fair or beautiful. Wi.

Ver. 21. Philo believes that the princess feigned him to be her own child; Moses denied that he was, and would not take advantage of this adoption. Heb. xi. 24.

Ver. 22. In words and in deeds. Moses was persuasive and powerful in reasoning; but had an impediment in his speech, as we know from Exod. iv. 10. and vi. 12. He possessed, moreover, strength, energy, and grandeur, in his discourse. Of this we have abundant proofs in his books. He is inimitable in narrating, as often as he writes laws, composes canticles, or makes harangues. He is simple, clear, sublime, vehement, concise, prolix, and rapid, in turns, as the nature of his subject requires. He was likewise powerful in work. All his conduct was wise, virtuous, enlightened, as well in affairs of policy, as in war. He was an able captain, before he put himself at the head of the Israelites. Calmet. — Josephus assures us that he became a great conqueror.

Ver. 29. Moses fled upon this word; because he perceived the murder he had committed was become public, though he thought it to be secret. Menochius. He fled, to avoid the anger of the king, into Madian, where during his sojourning, he had two sons of Sephora, whom he married there. V. — Moses of Moyses, in the Egyptian dialect, means, saved from water. He slew the Egyptian by particular inspiration of God, as a prelude to his delivering the people from oppression and bondage. v. 25. supra. — But such particular and extraordinary examples are not to be imitated. Ch. — He was inspired to stand up, as the Egyptian law required, in defence of the innocent. S. Thom. ii. 2. q. 60.

Ver. 30. In a flame of fire, in a bush.[3] Lit. in the fire of a flame of the bush. The sense must be, that the bush seemed on fire, and in a flame, and yet was not consumed. Wi.

Ver. 33. Loose the shoes. This was a method of testifying respect among the eastern nations. The Mahometans do not wear their shoes in their mosques. The Jewish priests served in the temple with their shoes off. The angel who appeared to Josue ordered him also to take off his shoes. Jos. v. 16. If the apparition of an angel, or of God himself, could make the place and ground holy so as to deserve external signs of respect, and veneration from Moses; how much more the corporal birth, abode, and miracles of the Son of God in Jewry, and the blessed Sacrament, must make that country, and all Catholic chapels and altars, holy? Is it not then the height of blindness to tax with superstition, the reverence Christians pay to things or places, rendered holy by the presence, or wonderful operations of God.

Ver. 35. Moses, whom they refused. Lit. denied. So have you rejected, and denied Jesus, of whom Moses prophesied, when he said that God would raise up to them a prophet like to himself, and commanded them to hear him. Wi. — Redeemer. In the Greek Lutroten; Protestant version, Deliverer; though the learned Polus, in his Synopsis Criticorum, on this place, says, “that no greater injury is done to God, by calling Moses a Redeemer, in this place, than by calling him a Mediator, in Gal. iii. 19. He is called a Redeemer, says this learned Protestant commentator, in as much as he led forth, and preserved the people of God safe by the blood of a lamb, and thus exhibited a figure of the true redemption, through the blood of Christ.” We all own that Jesus Christ, as having paid the ransom of our delivery with his own blood, is, strictly speaking, our only true Redeemer, and Advocate with his Father, who asks and obtains all things immediately by his own merit; but this does not exclude the prayers of the saints, both alive and dead. Did not the apostles pray for the people, and desire the people to pray for them? “Our Lord Jesus Christ still intercedes for us, and all the martyrs that are with him, pray for us: nor will their intercession cease, till we cease our groanings,” says S. Augustin, in Ps. lxxxv. in fine.

Ver. 38. This is he who was in the Church[4] in the wilderness, after God had by him delivered their Fathers out of their slavery in Egypt. — An angel spoke to him on Mount Sinai. By this S. Stephen owns that the law was given by an angel to Moses: and also shews how falsely he was accused to have spoken against Moses, or against the law.

Ver. 39. Whom our Fathers would not obey, murmuring, and rebelling from time to time. And in their hearts turned back into Egypt, as they shewed, by wishing themselves there again. Wi.

Ver. 40. Saying to Aaron, make us gods: forcing him, in a manner, to make them the golden calf, while Moses was receiving the law from God. Wi.

Ver. 42. And God turned. Turned as it were from them, punishing them, by permitting them to serve the host of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars. Wi.

Ver. 43. And you, that is, your forefathers, took unto you the tabernacle of Moloch. He reproaches the Jews with their idolatry and worship of different false gods, from time to time, notwithstanding God’s comminations by the prophets, of which he puts them in mind by these words, and I will translate you beyond Babylon. The prophet Amos, c. v, v. 27. out of whom S. Stephen takes this citation, says, beyond Damascus, but the sense is the same, being a prediction, that the ten tribes of Israel should be carried away captives beyond Damascus by the Assyrians, and even beyond Babylon into Media, Persia, &c. Wi.

Ver. 44. The tabernacle of the testimony, in which was the ark of the covenant, as they were made by Moses, which were moved from place to place with the Israelites in the wilderness; and which Jesus, or Josue, brought with the people, into the possessions of the Gentiles, that is, into the land of Chanaan, which had been before possessed by the Gentiles. — This tabernacle, in which was kept the ark, remained with the Israelites till the time of David, or rather of Solomon, who built the temple. Wi.

Ver. 48. But the most High dwelleth not in houses made by hands. God is every where, nor is his presence confined to the temple, which was already once destroyed; and what if it be destroyed again, as Christ foretold? God must still be adored, worshipped and served, as he was before the temple was first built, which was only by Solomon. Wi. — Dwelleth not in houses. That is, so as to stand in need of earthly dwellings, or to be contained or circumscribed by them. Though otherwise, by his immense divinity, he is in our houses, and every where else; and Christ in his humanity dwelt in houses: and is now on our altars. Ch. It is not so much for God, as for ourselves, that we build temples, and it is a pure effect of his goodness and mercy, that he permits us to build them to him. Places consecrated in a particular manner to his service, where he gives the most sensible marks of his presence, are of assistance to us, when we render our homage, address our vows, and offer our prayers to the Deity. S. Stephen’s design in this part of his discourse, is to prove that the true religion may subsist without the temple; therefore, that he could not be guilty of blasphemy, supposing he had even used the words which the malice of the Jews put into his mouth, that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy this place. Chap. vi. 14.

Ver. 51. Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart. S. Stephen, inspired by the Holy Ghost, knowing he should die a martyr, boldly reproaches them for persecuting the prophets, for putting to death the just one, that is, the Messias, foretold by the prophets. Wi. — Observe the holy indignation of S. Stephen at the obduracy of the incredulous Jews!

Ver. 54. They were cut to the heart: exasperated even to rage and madness. See c. v, v. 33. gnashing their teeth with indignation. Wi.

Ver. 55. This is the comfort of all martyrs. B. — This the support of every Christian under the severest trials of either mind or body: this the sweetener of every burthen and cross.

Ver. 56. Stopped their ears, crying out, blasphemy: and they stoned him to death. He praying for them, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, in imitation of his Lord and Master, our Saviour Christ. And[5] reposed in the Lord. Lit. slept. In most Greek copies, are now wanting, in the Lord; but it is no doubt the sense. Wi. — Rushed in violently upon him. This proceeding, without any sentence, or form of law, was altogether irregular; and never used in the better times of the Jewish government. This was called, judgment of zeal, and only allowed in one instance, viz. when any one came to draw the people to idolatry. Afterwards, this kind of proceeding was extended to other crimes. See Deut. xiii. 6. Num. xxiv. 1 Mac. xi. 24, &c.

Ver. 58. Invoking. See with what arms S. Stephen defended himself against the fury of his enemies. He puts on charity for a breast-plate, and by that came off victorious. By his love of God, he resisted the enraged Jews; by the love he bore his neighbour, he prayed for those that stoned him. Through charity, he admonished them of their errors, in order to their amendment; through charity, he besought the divine goodness not to punish their crimes against him. Leaning on charity, he overcame the cruelty of Saul, and merited to have him a companion in heaven, who had been his chief persecutor on earth. S. Fulgentius, Serm. de S. Steph. — We here again see the powerful intercession of the saints; “for,” says S. Augustin, “if Stephen had not thus prayed, the Church would not have to glory in a S. Paul. Si Stephanus non sic orasset, Ecclesia Paulum non haberet.” Serm. i. de S. Steph.

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[1] V. 8. Testamentum, ten diatheken. See Heb. ix. 16.

[2] V. 20. Gratus Deo, asteios to theo. Acceptable to God. It may also signify, beautiful in the sight of God, that is, in the style of the Scriptures, very beautiful.

[3] V. 30. In igne flammæ rubi, en phlogi puros batou. In flamma ignis rubi.

[4] V. 38. In the assembly. Lit. in Ecclesia, en te ekklesia.

[5] V. 56. Obdormivit in Domino, ekoimethe.