A-Z: Famous stories from the Bible: The stoning of Stephen

Definition

In the weeks following the promised arrival of God’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Jesusdisciples were preaching passionately in the streets of Jerusalem and many of those listening decided to follow Jesus. This got the disciples into trouble with the leading teachers and priests of Judaism. Stephen was appointed as an official helper to the disciples and because his preaching was so successful some opponents arranged for lying witnesses to accuse him of blasphemy so that they could put him on trial in front of the Sanhedrin.

When he was interrogated by the high priest, Stephen illustrated that God was not confined to a man-made temple as they believed. He denounced the priests and all their predecessors for resisting the influence of the Holy Spirit and refusing to listen to the prophets of the Old Testament who foretold the coming of Christ. Worst of all, they had then betrayed and murdered Jesus, the Righteous one or Messiah.

The Stoning of St Stephen by Paolo Uccello circa 1435The priests, elders and teachers of the law were infuriated, especially when Stephen claimed that he could see the Son of Man ‘standing at the right hand of God.’ Acts 7:56 They regarded this statement as blasphemy as it implied that Jesus was equal to God. In fury they dragged Stephen outside the city and started to stone him (the traditional punishment for blasphemy). Just before he died, Stephen prayed that Jesus would forgive those who had killed him.

Following Stephen’s death, there began a widespread persecution of Christians.

The story illustrates:

  • The faith of the first Christian martyr
  • That the early church was seen as a threat by many Jewish leaders
  • The important beliefs (to Christians): 
    • that Jesus is equal to God
    • of the need to forgive enemies.

Related topics

Big ideas from the Bible: Dreams, visions and prophecy; Trinity, Holy Spirit; Forgiveness, mercy and grace; Messiah, Christ, Jesus

Bible References

Acts 6:7-15; Acts 7:51-60; Acts 8:1-2
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