Acts 7


Stephen, being permitted to answer for himself relative to the

charge of blasphemy brought against him by his accusers, gives

a circumstantial relation of the call of Abraham, when he dwelt

in Mesopotamia, in Charran, &c., 1-8.

The history of Jacob and Joseph, 9-17.

The persecution of their fathers in Egypt, 18, 19.

The history of Moses and his acts till the exodus from Egypt,


The rebellion and idolatry of the Israelites in the wilderness,


The erection of the tabernacle of witness, which continued till

the time of David, 44-46.

Of the temple built by Solomon for that God who cannot be

confined to temples built by hands, 47-50.

Being probably interrupted in the prosecution of his discourse,

he urges home the charge of rebellion against God, persecution

of his prophets, the murder of Christ, and neglect of their own

law against them, 51-53.

They are filled with indignation, and proceed to violence, 54.

He sees the glory of God, and Christ at the right hand of the

Father; and declares the glorious vision, 55, 56.

They rush upon him, drag him out of the city, and stone him,

57, 58.

He involves the Lord Jesus, prays for his murderers, and

expires, 59, 60.


Verse 1. Are these things so?] Hast thou predicted the

destruction of the temple? And hast thou said that Jesus of

Nazareth shall change our customs, abolish our religious rites and

temple service? Hast thou spoken these blasphemous things against

Moses, and against God? Here was some colour of justice; for

Stephen was permitted to defend himself. And, in order to do this

he thought it best to enter into a detail of their history from

the commencement of their nation; and thus show how kindly God had

dealt with them, and how ungraciously they and their fathers had

requited Him. And all this naturally led him to the conclusion,

that God could no longer bear with a people the cup of whose

iniquity had been long overflowing; and therefore they might

expect to find wrath, without mixture of mercy.

But how could St. Luke get all this circumstantial account? 1.

He might have been present, and heard the whole; or, more

probably, he had the account from St. Paul, whose companion he

was, and who was certainly present when St. Stephen was judged and

stoned, for he was consenting to his death, and kept the clothes

of them who stoned him. See Ac 7:58; 8:1; 22:20.

Verse 2. Men, brethren, and fathers] Rather, brethren and

fathers, for ανδρες should not be translated separately from

αδελφοι. Literally it is men-brethren, a very usual form in

Greek; for every person knows that ανδρεςαθηναιοι and ανδρες

περσαι should not be translated men-Athenians and men-Persians,

but simply Athenians and Persians. See Ac 17:22. So, in

Lu 2:15, ανθρωποιποιμενες should be translated

shepherds, not men-shepherds. And ανθρωποςβασιλευς

Mt 18:23, should not be translated

man-king, but king, simply. By translating as we do, men,

brethren, and fathers, and putting a comma after men, we make

Stephen address three classes, when in fact there were but two:

the elders and scribes, whom he addressed as fathers; and the

common people, whom he calls brethren. See Bp. Pearce, and see

Ac 8:27.

The God of glory appeared, &c.] As Stephen was now vindicating

himself from the false charges brought against him, he shows that

he had uttered no blasphemy, either against God, Moses, or the

temple; but states that his accusers, and the Jews in general,

were guilty of the faults with which they charged him: that they

had from the beginning rejected and despised Moses, and had always

violated his laws. He proceeds to state that there is no blasphemy

in saying that the temple shall be destroyed: they had been

without a temple till the days of David; nor does God ever confine

himself to temples built by hands, seeing he fills both heaven and

earth; that Jesus is the prophet of whom Moses spoke, and whom

they had persecuted, condemned, and at last put to death; that

they were wicked and uncircumcised in heart and in ears, and

always resisted the Holy Ghost as their fathers did. This is the

substance of St. Stephen's defense as far as he was permitted to

make it: a defense which they could not confute; containing

charges which they most glaringly illustrated and confirmed, by

adding the murder of this faithful disciple to that of his

all-glorious Master.

Was in Mesopotamia] In that part of it where Ur of the Chaldees

was situated, near to Babel, and among the rivers, (Tigris and

Euphrates,) which gave the name of Mesopotamia to the country.

See Clarke on Ge 11:31.

Before he dwelt in Charran] This is called Haran in our

translation of Ge 11:31; this place also belonged to Mesopotamia,

as well as Ur, but is placed west of it on the maps. It seems most

probable that Abraham had two calls, one in Ur, and the other in

Haran. He left Ur at the first call, and came to Haran; he left

Haran at the second call, and came into the promised land. See

these things more particularly stated in the notes,

See Clarke on Ge 12:1.

Verse 4. When his father was dead] See Clarke on Ge 11:26.

Verse 5. Gave him none inheritance] Both Abraham and Jacob had

small parcels of land in Canaan; but they had them by purchase,

not by God's gift; for, as Abraham was obliged to buy a

burying-place in Canaan, Ge 23:3-18, it is obvious he had no

inheritance there.

And to his seed after him] See Ge 12:7; 13:15, and the notes


Verse 6. That his seed should sojourn in a strange land] See

Ge 15:13, 14.

Four hundred years.] MOSES says, Ex 12:40,

that the sojourning of the children of Israel in Egypt-was 430

years. See the note there. St. PAUL has the same number, Ga 3:17;

and so has Josephus, Ant. lib. ii. cap. 1, sect. 9; in Bell. lib.

v. cap. 9, sect. 4. St. Stephen uses the round number of 400,

leaving out the odd tens, a thing very common, not only in the

sacred writers, but in all others, those alone excepted who write

professedly on chronological matters.

Verse 7. Will I judge] κρινωεγω, I will punish, for in this

sense the Greek word is frequently taken. "When," says Bp. Pearce,

"a malefactor is brought before a judge, the judge does three

things: 1. he tries or judges him; 2. he then gives his judgment

or sentence; and, 3. he puts the law in execution, and punishes

him. Hence κρινω, at different times, signifies each of these

things; and the sense of the word is to be determined by the

context. Here it signifies to punish, as κριμα is used for

punishment, in Ro 13:2; 1Co 11:29, compared with

1Co 11:30, 31." The Egyptians, to whom the Israelites were in

bondage, were punished by the ten plagues, described

Ex 7:19-12:30

Verse 8. He gave him the covenant of circumcision] That is, he

instituted the rite of circumcision, as a sign of that covenant

which he had made with him and his posterity. See Ge 17:10, &c.

And so Abraham begat Isaac] καιουτως, And thus, in this

covenant, he begat Isaac; and as a proof that he was born under

this covenant, was a true son of Abraham and inheritor of the

promises, he circumcised him the eighth day; and this rite being

observed in the family of Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons were

born under the covenant; and thus their descendants, the twelve

tribes, being born under the same covenant, and practising the

same rite, were, by the ordinance of Gods legal inheritors of the

promised land, and all the secular and spiritual advantages

connected with it.

Verse 9. And the patriarchs] The twelve sons of Jacob, thus

called because each was chief or head of his respective family

or tribe.

Moved with envy] ζηλωσαντες. We translate ζηλος variously:

zeal or fervent affection, whether its object be good or bad, is

its general meaning; and ζηλοω signifies to be indignant, envious,

&c. See Clarke on Ac 5:17. The brethren of Joseph, hearing of

his dreams, and understanding them to portend his future

advancement, filled with envy, (with which no ordinary portion of

malice was associated,) sold Joseph into the land of Egypt, hoping

by this means to prevent his future grandeur; but God, from whom

the portents came, was with him, and made their envy the direct

means of accomplishing the great design.

Verse 10. Gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh]

God gave him much wisdom, in consequence of which he had favour

with the king of Egypt. See the whole of this remarkable history

explained at large, Ge 41:1-45:28.

Verse 14. Threescore and fifteen souls.] There are several

difficulties here, which it is hoped the reader will find

satisfactorily removed in the note on Ge 46:20. It is well known

that in Ge 46:27, and in De 10:22, their number is said to be

threescore and ten; but Stephen quotes from the Septuagint,

which adds five persons to the account which are not in the Hebrew

text, Machir, Gilead, Sutelaam, Taham, and Edem; but see the note

referred to above.

Verse 16. And were carried over to Sychem] "It is said,

Ge 50:13, that Jacob was buried in the cave of the field of

Machpelah before Mamre. And in Jos 24:32, and Ex 13:19, it is

said that the bones of Joseph were carried out of Egypt by the

Israelites, and buried in Shechem, which Jacob bought from the

sons of Hamor the father of Shechem. As for the eleven brethren of

Joseph, we are told by Josephus, Ant. lib. ii. cap. 8. sect. 2,

that they were buried in Hebron, where their father had been

buried. But, since the books of the Old Testament say nothing

about this, the authority of Stephen (or of Luke here) for their

being buried in Sychem is at least as good as that of Josephus for

their being buried in Hebron."-Bp. Pearce.

We have the uniform consent of the Jewish writers that all the

patriarchs were brought out of Egypt, and buried in Canaan, but

none, except Stephen, mentions their being buried in Sychem. As

Sychem belonged to the Samaritans, probably the Jews thought it

too great an honour for that people to possess the bones of the

patriarchs; and therefore have carefully avoided making any

mention of it. This is Dr. Lightfoot's conjecture; and it is as

probable as any other.

That Abraham bought for a sum of money] Two accounts seem here

to be confounded: 1. The purchase made by Abraham of the cave and

field of Ephron, which was in the field of Machpelah: this

purchase was made from the children of Heth, Ge 23:3, 10, 17. 2.

The purchase made by Jacob, from the sons of Hamor or Emmor, of a

sepulchre in which the bones of Joseph were laid: this was in

Sychem or Shechem, Ge 33:19; Jos 24:32. The word

Abraham, therefore, in this place, is certainly a mistake; and

the word Jacob, which some have supplied, is doubtless more

proper. Bp. Pearce supposes that Luke originally wrote, οωνησατο

τιμηςαργυριου, which he bought for a sum of money: i.e. which

Jacob bought, who is the last person, of the singular number,

spoken of in the preceding verse. Those who saw that the word

ωνησατο, bought, had no nominative case joined to it, and did

not know where to find the proper one, seem to have inserted

αβρααμ, Abraham, in the text, for that purpose, without

sufficiently attending to the different circumstances of his

purchase from that of Jacob's.

Verse 18. Which knew not Joseph.] That is, did not approve of

him, of his mode of governing the kingdom, nor of his people, nor

of his God. See Clarke on Ex 1:8.

Verse 19. The same dealt subtilty] ουτοςκατασοφισαμενος, A word

borrowed from the Septuagint, who thus translate the Hebrew

nithchokmah lo, let us deal wisely with it, i.e. with

cunning and deceit, as the Greek word implies; and which is

evidently intended by the Hebrew. See Ge 27:35,

Thy brother came with subtilty, which the Targumist explains by

be-chokma, with wisdom, that is, cunning and deceit.

For this the Egyptians were so remarkable that αιγυπτιαζειν, to

Egyptize, signified to act cunningly, and to use wicked devices.

Hence the Jews compared them to foxes; and it is of them that

Canticles, So 2:15, is understood by the rabbins:

Take us the little foxes which spoil our vines; destroy the

Egyptians, who, having slain our male children, sought to destroy

the name of Israel from the face of the earth.

To the end they might not live.] Might not grow up and

propagate, and thus build up the Hebrew nation.

Verse 20. Moses-was exceeding fair] αστειοςτωθεω, Was fair to

God, i.e. was divinely beautiful. See Clarke on Ex 2:2.

Verse 22. In all the wisdom of the Egyptians] Who were, at that

time, the most intelligent and best instructed people in the

universe. Philo says, Moses was taught arithmetic, geometry,

poetry, music, medicine, and the knowledge of hieroglyphics. In

Sohar Cadash, fol. 46, it is said, "that, of the ten portions of

wisdom which came into the world, the Egyptians had nine, and that

all the inhabitants of the earth had only the remaining portion."

Much of the same nature may be seen in the rabbins, though they

apply the term wisdom here to magic.

Was mighty in words and in deeds.] This may refer to the

glorious doctrines he taught, and the miracles he wrought in

Egypt. Josephus Ant. lib. ii. cap. 10, sect. 1, gives an account

of his being general of an Egyptian army, defeating the

Ethiopians, who had invaded Egypt, driving them back into their

own country, and taking Saba their capital, which was afterwards

called Meroe. But this, like many other tales of the same writer,

is worthy of little credit.

Phoenix says the same of Achilles:-

μυθωντερητηρεμεναιπρηκτηρατεεργων. Il. ix. v. 443.

Not only an orator of words, but a performer of deeds.

Verse 23. When he was full forty years old] This was a general

tradition among the Jews: "Moses was forty years in Pharaoh's

court, forty years in Midian, and forty years he served Israel."

To visit his brethren] Probably on the ground of trying to

deliver them from their oppressive bondage. This desire seems to

have been early infused into his mind by the Spirit of God; and

the effect of this desire to deliver his oppressed countrymen was

his refusing to be called the son of Pharoah's daughter-see

Heb 11:24, and thus renouncing all

right to the Egyptian crown, choosing rather to endure addiction

with the people of God than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a


Verse 24. Smote the Egyptian] See this explained, Ex 2:11, 12.

Verse 25. He supposed his brethren would have understood, &c.]

He probably imagined that, as he felt from the Divine influence he

was appointed to be their deliverer, they would have his Divine

appointment signified to them in a similar way; and the act of

justice which he now did in behalf of his oppressed countryman

would be sufficient to show them that he was now ready to enter

upon his office, if they were willing to concur.

Verse 26. Unto them as they strove] Two Hebrews,

See Clarke on Ex 2:13, &c.

Verse 30. In a flame of fire in a bush.] See this and the

following verses largely explained in the notes, see Clarke Ex 3:1-8.

Verse 36. He brought them out, after that he had showed wonders,

&c.] Thus the very person whom they had rejected, and, in effect,

delivered up into the hands of Pharaoh that he might be slain, was

the person alone by whom they were redeemed from their Egyptian

bondage. And does not St. Stephen plainly say by this, that the

very person, Jesus Christ, whom they had rejected and delivered up

into the hands of Pilate to be crucified, was the person alone by

whom they could be delivered out of their spiritual bondage, and

made partakers of the inheritance among the saints in light? No

doubt they felt that this was the drift of his speech.

Verse 37. This is that Moses, which said-A prophet, &c.] This

very Moses, so highly esteemed and honoured by God, announced that

very prophet whom ye have lately put to death. See the

observations at De 18:22.

Verse 38. With the angel which spake to him] Stephen shows that

Moses received the law by the ministry of angels; and that he was

only a mediator between the angel of God and them.

The lively oracles] λογιαζωντα, The living oracles. The

doctrines of life, those doctrines-obedience to which entitled

them, by the promise of God, to a long life upon earth, which

spoke to them of that spiritual life which every true believer has

in union with his God, and promised that eternal life which those

who are faithful unto death shall enjoy with him in the realms of


The Greek word λογιον, which we translate oracle, signifies a

Divine revelation, a communication from God himself, and is here

applied to the Mosaic law; to the Old Testament in general,

Ro 3:2; Heb 5:12; and to

Divine revelation in general, 1Pe 4:11.

Verse 39. In their hearts turned back again into Egypt] Became

idolaters, and preferred their Egyptian bondage and their idolatry

to the promised land and the pure worship of God. See the whole of

these transactions explained at large in the notes on Ex 32:1-35.

Verse 42. Then God turned, and gave them up, &c.] He left them

to themselves, and then they deified and worshipped the sun, moon,

planets, and principal stars.

In the book of the prophets] As this quotation is found in Amos,

Am 5:25, by the

book of the prophets is meant the twelve minor prophets, which,

in the ancient Jewish division of the sacred writings, formed only

one book.

Have ye offered to me slain beasts] It is certain that the

Israelites did offer various sacrifices to God, while in the

wilderness; and it is as certain that they scarcely ever did it

with an upright heart. They were idolatrous, either in heart or

act, in almost all their religious services; these were

therefore so very imperfect that they were counted for nothing in

the sight of God; for this seems to be strongly implied in the

question here asked, Have ye offered to ME (exclusively and with

an upright heart) slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of

forty years? On the contrary, these forty years were little else

than a tissue of rebellion and idolatry.

Verse 43. Ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of

your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them.] This is

a literal translation of the place, as it stands in the

Septuagint; but in the Hebrew text it stands thus: But ye have

borne the tabernacle of your Molech, and Chiun, your images, the

star of your god which ye made to yourselves. This is the simple

version of the place, unless we should translate

venasatem eth Siccuth malkekem, ye took

SIKUTH your king, (instead of ye took up the tabernacle of your

MOLEK,) as some have done. The place is indeed very obscure, and

the two texts do not tend to cast light on each other. The rabbins

say siccuth, which we translate tabernacle, is the name of an

idol. Molech is generally understood to mean the sun; and several

persons of good judgment think that by Remphan or Raiphan is meant

the planet Saturn, which the Copts call ρηφαν, Rephan. It

will be seen above that instead of Remphan, or, as some of the

best MSS. have it, Rephan, the Hebrew text has Chiun, which

might possibly be a corruption of Reiphan, as it would be

very easy to mistake the caph for resh, and the vau

shurek for pe. This emendation would bring the Hebrew,

Septuagint, and the text of Luke, nearer together; but there is no

authority either from MSS. or versions for this correction:

however, as Chiun is mentioned in no other place, though Molech

often occurs, it is the more likely that there might have been

some very early mistake in the text, and that the Septuagint has

preserved the true reading.

It was customary for the idolaters of all nations to carry

images of their gods about them in their journeys, military

expeditions, &c.; and these, being very small, were enclosed in

little boxes, perhaps some of them in the shape of temples, called

tabernacles; or, as we have it, Ac 19:24,

shrines. These little gods were the penates and lares among the

Romans, and the tselems or talismans among the ancient eastern

idolaters. The Hebrew text seems to refer to these when it says,

the tabernacle of your Molech, and Chiun, your images,

tsalmeycem, your tselems, τουςτυπους, the types or simulachres

of your gods. See Clarke on Ge 31:19. Many of those small

portable images are now in my own collection, all of copper or

brass; some of them the identical penates of the ancient Romans,

and others the offspring of the Hindoo idolatry; they are from an

ounce weight to half a pound. Such images as these I suppose the

idolatrous Israelites, in imitation of their neighbours, the

Moabites, Ammonites, &c., to have carried about with them; and

to such the prophet appears to me unquestionably to allude.

I will carry you away beyond Babylon.] You have carried your

idolatrous images about; and I will carry you into captivity, and

see if the gods in whom ye have trusted can deliver you from my

hands. Instead of beyond Babylon, Amos, from whom the quotation is

made, says, I will carry you beyond Damascus. Where they were

carried was into Assyria and Media, see 2Ki 17:6: now, this was

not only beyond Damascus, but beyond Babylon itself; and, as

Stephen knew this to be the fact, he states it here, and thus more

precisely fixes the place of their captivity. The Holy Spirit, in

his farther revelations, has undoubted right to extend or

illustrate those which he had given before. This case frequently

occurs when a former prophecy is quoted in later times.

Verse 44. Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the

wilderness] That is, the tabernacle in which the two tables of

stone written by the finger of God were laid up, as a testimony

that he had delivered these laws to the people, and that they had

promised to obey them. As one great design of St. Stephen was to

show the Jews that they placed too much dependence on outward

privileges, and had not used the law, the tabernacle, the temple,

nor the temple service, for the purpose of their institution, he

labours to bring them to a due sense of this, that conviction

might lead to repentance and conversion. And he farther shows that

God did not confine his worship to one place, or form. He was

worshipped without any shrine in the times of the patriarchs,

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, &c. He was worshipped with a tabernacle, or

portable temple, in the wilderness. He was worshipped also in the

fixed temple projected by David, but built by Solomon. He

asserts farther that his infinite majesty cannot be confined to

temples, made by human hands; and where there is neither

tabernacle nor temple, (in any part of his vast dominions,) he

may be worshipped acceptably by the upright in heart. Thus he

proves that neither tabernacle nor temple are essentially

requisite for the true worship of the true God. Concerning the

tabernacle to which St. Stephen here refers, the reader is

requested to consult the notes, See Clarke on Ex 25:8, &c., and the

subsequent chapters.

Speaking unto Moses] ολαλων, Who spake, as in the margin;

signifying the angel of God who spake to Moses, or God himself.

See Ex 25:40.

Verse 45. Brought in with Jesus] That is, with JOSHUA, whom the

Greek version, quoted by St. Stephen, always writes ιησους, JESUS,

but which should constantly be written Joshua in such cases as the

present, in order to avoid ambiguity and confusion.

Possession of the Gentiles] τωνεθνων, of the heathens, whom

Joshua conquered, and gave their land to the children of Israel.

Verse 46. Desired to find a tabernacle] This was in David's

heart, and it met with the Divine approbation: see 2Sa 7:2, &c.,

and see the purpose, Ps 132:2-5; but, as David had been a man of

war, and had shed much blood, God would not permit him to build

the temple; but he laid the plan and made provision for it, and

Solomon executed the design.

Verse 48. The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands]

Here St. Stephen evidently refers to Solomon's speech, 1Ki 8:27.

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven, and

the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, how much less this

house that I have builded? Both Solomon and St. Stephen mean that

the majesty of God could not be contained, not even in the whole

vortex of nature; much less in any temple which human hands could


As saith the prophet] The place referred to is Isa 66:1, 2:

Thus saith the Lord, the heaven is my throne, and the earth my

footstool. Where is the house that ye build unto me? And where is

the place of my rest, &c., with which the quotation by Stephen


Verse 50. Hath not my hand made all these things?] Stephen

certainly had not finished his discourse, nor drawn his inferences

from the facts already stated; but it is likely that, as they

perceived he was about to draw conclusions unfavourable to the

temple and its ritual, they immediately raised up a clamour

against him, which was the cause of the following very cutting


Verse 51. Ye stiff-necked] σκληροτραχηλοι. A metaphor taken from

untoward oxen, who cannot be broken into the yoke; and whose

strong necks cannot be bended to the right or the left.

Uncircumcised in heart and ears] This was a Jewish mode of

speech, often used by the prophets. Circumcision was instituted,

not only as a sign and seal of the covenant into which the

Israelites entered with their Maker, but also as a type of that

purity and holiness which the law of God requires; hence there

was an excision of what was deemed not only superfluous but also

injurious; and by this cutting off, the propensity to that crime

which ruins the body, debases the mind, and was generally the

forerunner of idolatry, was happily lessened. It would be easy to

prove this, were not the subject too delicate. Where the spirit of

disobedience was found, where the heart was prone to iniquity, and

the ears impatient of reproof and counsel, the person is

represented as uncircumcised in those parts, because devoted to

iniquity, impatient of reproof, and refusing to obey. In Pirkey

Eliezer, chap. 29, "Rabbi Seira said, There are five species of

uncircumcision in the world; four in man, and one in trees.

Those in man are the following:-

"1. Uncircumcision of the EAR. Behold, their EAR is

uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken, Jer 6:10.

"2. The uncircumcision of the LIPS. How shall Pharaoh hear me,

who am of uncircumcised LIPS? Ex 6:12.

"3. Uncircumcision of HEART. If then their uncircumcised HEARTS

be humbled, Le 26:41.

Circumcise therefore the FORESKIN of your HEART, De 10:16;

Jer 4:4.

For all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the HEART,

Jer 9:26.

"4. The uncircumcision of the FLESH. Ye shall circumcise the

FLESH of your FORESKIN, &c., Ge 17:11."

Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost] 1. Because they were

uncircumcised in heart, they always resisted the influences of the

Holy Spirit, bringing light and conviction to their minds; in

consequence of which they became hardened through the

deceitfulness of sin, and neither repented at the preaching of

John, nor credited the glad tidings told them by Christ and the

apostles. 2. Because they were uncircumcised in ears, they would

neither hear nor obey Moses, the prophets, Christ, nor the


As your fathers did, so do ye.] They were disobedient

children, of disobedient parents: in all their generations they had

been disobedient and perverse. This whole people, as well as this

text, are fearful proofs that the Holy Spirit, the almighty energy

of the living God, may be resisted and rendered of none effect. This

Spirit is not sent to stocks, stones, or machines, but to human

beings endued with rational souls; therefore it is not to work on

them with that irresistible energy which it must exert on inert

matter, in order to conquer the vis inertiae or disposition to

abide eternally in a motionless state, which is the state of all

inanimate beings; but it works upon understanding, will, judgment,

conscience, &c., in order to enlighten, convince, and persuade.

If, after all, the understanding, the eye of the mind, refuses to

behold the light; the will determines to remain obstinate; the

judgment purposes to draw false inferences; and the conscience

hardens itself against every check and remonstrance, (and all this

is possible to a rational soul, which must be dealt with in a

rational way,) then the Spirit of God, being thus resisted, is

grieved, and the sinner is left to reap the fruit of his doings.

To force the man to see, feel, repent, believe, and be saved,

would be to alter the essential principles of his creation and the

nature of mind, and reduce him into the state of a machine, the

vis inertiae of which was to be overcome and conducted by a

certain quantum of physical force, superior to that resistance

which would be the natural effect of the certain quantum of the

vis inertiae possessed by the subject on and by which this agent

was to operate. Now, man cannot be operated on in this way,

because it is contrary to the laws of his creation and nature; nor

can the Holy Ghost work on that as a machine which himself has

made a free agent. Man therefore may, and generally does, resist

the Holy Ghost; and the whole revelation of God bears unequivocal

testimony to this most dreadful possibility, and most awful truth.

It is trifling with the sacred text to say that resisting the Holy

Ghost here means resisting the laws of Moses, the exhortations,

threatenings, and promises of the prophets, &c. These, it is true,

the uncircumcised ear may resist; but the uncircumcised heart is

that alone to which the Spirit that gave the laws, exhortations,

promises, , speaks; and, as matter resists matter, so spirit

resists spirit. These were not only uncircumcised in ear, but

uncircumcised also in heart; and therefore they resisted the Holy

Ghost, not only in his declarations and institutions, but also in

his actual energetic operations upon their minds.

Verse 52. Which of the prophets have not your fathers

persecuted?] Ye have not only resisted the Holy Ghost, but ye have

persecuted all those who have spoken to you in his name, and by

his influence: thus ye prove your opposition to the Spirit

himself, by your opposition to every thing that proceeds from


They have slain them, &c.] Isaiah, who showed before of the

coming of Christ, the Jews report, was sawn asunder at the command

of Manasseh.

The coming of the Just One] τουδικαιου, Meaning Jesus Christ;

emphatically called the just or righteous person, not only because

of the unspotted integrity of his heart and life, but because of

his plenary acquittal, when tried at the tribunal of Pilate: I

find no fault at all in him. The mention of this circumstance

served greatly to aggravate their guilt. The character of Just One

is applied to our Lord in three other places of Scripture:

Ac 3:14; 22:14; and Jas 5:6.

The betrayers and murderers] Ye first delivered him up into the

hands of the Romans, hoping they would have put him to death; but,

when they acquitted him, then, in opposition to the declaration of

his innocence, and in outrage to every form of justice, ye took

and murdered him. This was a most terrible charge; and one against

which they could set up no sort of defense. No wonder, then, that

they were instigated by the spirit of the old destroyer, which

they never resisted, to add another murder to that of which they

had been so recently guilty.

Verse 53. By the disposition of angels] ειςδιαταγαςαγγελων.

After all that has been said on this difficult passage, perhaps

the simple meaning is, that there were ranks, διαταγαι, of angels

attending on the Divine Majesty when he gave the law: a

circumstance which must have added greatly to the grandeur and

solemnity of the occasion; and to this Ps 68:17 seems to me most

evidently to allude: The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even

many thousands of angels: the Lord is among them as in SINAI, in

the holy place. It was not then by the mouths nor by the hands of

angels, as prime agents, that Moses, and through him the people,

received the law; but God himself gave it, accompanied with many

thousands of those glorious beings. As it is probable they might

be assisting in this most glorious solemnity, therefore St. Paul

might say, Ga 3:19, that it was

ordained by angels, διαταγειςδιαγγελων, in the hand of a

Mediator. And as they were the only persons that could appear,

for no man hath seen God at any time, therefore the apostle might

say farther, (if indeed he refers to the same transaction, see the

note there,) the word spoken by angels was steadfast, Heb 2:2.

But the circumstances of this case are not sufficiently plain to

lead to the knowledge of what was done by the angels in this most

wonderful transaction; only we learn, from the use made of this

circumstance by St. Stephen, that it added much to the enormity of

their transgression, that they did not keep a law, in dispensing

of which the ministry of angels had been employed. Some think

Moses, Aaron, and Joshua are the angels here intended; and others

think that the fire, light, darkness, cloud and thick darkness

were the angels which Jehovah used on this occasion, and to which

St. Stephen refers; but neither of these senses appears

sufficiently natural, and particularly the latter.

Verse 54. They were cut to the heart] διεπριοντο, They were sawn

through. See Clarke on Ac 5:33.

They gnashed on him with their teeth.] They were determined to

hear him no longer; were filled with rage against him, and

evidently thirsted for his blood.

Verse 55. Saw the glory of God] The Shekinah, the splendour or

manifestation of the Divine Majesty.

And Jesus standing on the right hand of God] In his official

character, as Mediator between God and man.

Stephen had this revelation while in the Sanhedrin; for as yet

he had not been forced out of the city. See Ac 7:58.

Verse 57. They-stopped their ears] As a proof that he had

uttered blasphemy, because he said, He saw Jesus standing at the

right hand of God. This was a fearful proof against them; for if

Jesus was at the right hand of God, then they had murdered an

innocent person; and they must infer that God's justice must

speedily avenge his death. They were determined not to suffer a

man to live any longer who could say he saw the heavens opened and

Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God.

Verse 58. Cast him out of the city, and stoned him] They did not

however wait for any sentence to be pronounced upon him; it seems

they were determined to stone him first, and then prove, after it

had been done, that it was done justly. For the manner of stoning

among the Jews, See Clarke on Le 24:23.

The witnesses laid down their clothes] To illustrate this whole

transaction, see the observations at the end of this chapter.

See Clarke on Ac 7:60

Verse 59. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God] The word

God is not found in any MS. or version, nor in any of the

primitive fathers except Chrysostom. It is not genuine, and should

not be inserted here: the whole sentence literally reads thus: And

they stoned Stephen, invoking and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my

spirit! Here is a most manifest proof that prayer is offered to

Jesus Christ; and that in the most solemn circumstances in which

it could be offered, viz., when a man was breathing his last. This

is, properly speaking, one of the highest acts of worship which

can be offered to God; and, if Stephen had not conceived Jesus

Christ to be GOD, could he have committed his soul into his hands?

We may farther observe that this place affords a full proof of

the immateriality of the soul; for he could not have commended his

spirit to Christ, had he believed that he had no spirit, or, in

other words, that his body and soul were one and the same

thing. Allowing this most eminent saint to have had a correct

notion of theology, and that, being full of the Holy Ghost, as he

was at this time, he could make no mistake in matters of such vast

weight and importance, then these two points are satisfactorily

stated in this verse: 1. That Jesus Christ is GOD; for Stephen

died praying to him. 2. That the soul is immaterial; for Stephen,

in dying, commends his departing spirit into the hand of Christ.

Verse 60. He kneeled down] That he might die as the subject of

his heavenly MASTER-acting and suffering in the deepest submission

to his Divine will and permissive providence; and, at the same

time, showing the genuine nature of the religion of his Lord, in

pouring out his prayers with his blood in behalf of his murderers!

Lay not this sin to their charge.] That is, do not impute it to

them so as to exact punishment. How much did the servant resemble

his Lord, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!

This was the cry of our Lord in behalf of his murderers; and the

disciple, closely copying his Master, in the same spirit, and with

the same meaning, varies the expression, crying with a loud voice,

Lord, lay not this sin to their charge! What an extent of

benevolence! And in what a beautiful light does this place the

spirit of the Christian religion! Christ had given what some

have supposed to be an impossible command; Love your enemies; pray

for them that despitefully use and persecute you. And Stephen

shows here, in his own person, how practicable the grace of his

Master had made this sublime precept.

He fell asleep.] This was a common expression among the Jews to

signify death, and especially the death of good men. But this

sleep is, properly speaking, not attributable to the soul, but to

the body; for he had commended his spirit to the Lord Jesus, while

his body was overwhelmed with the shower of stones cast on him by

the mob.

After the word εκοιμηθη, fell asleep, one MS. adds, ενειρηνη,

in peace; and the Vulgate has, in Domino, in the Lord. Both these

readings are true, as to the state of St. Stephen; but I believe

neither of them was written by St. Luke.

The first clause of the next chapter should come in here, And

Saul was consenting unto his death: never was there a worse

division than that which separated it from the end of this

chapter: this should be immediately altered, and the amputated

member restored to the body to which it belongs.

1. THOUGH I have spoken pretty much at large on the punishment

of stoning among the Jews, in Clarke's note on "Le 24:23", yet, as

the following extracts will serve to bring the subject more fully into

view, in reference to the case of St. Stephen, the reader will not

be displeased to find them here.

Dr. Lightfoot sums up the evidence he has collected on this

subject, in the following particulars:-

"I. The place of stoning was without the sanhedrin, according as

it is said, bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp,

Le 24:14.

It is a tradition, the place of stoning was without three camps.

The gloss tells us that the court was the camp of the Divine

Presence; the mountain of the temple, the camp of the Levites; and

Jerusalem, the camp of Israel. Now, in every sanhedrin, in

whatever city, the place of stoning was without the city, as it

was at Jerusalem.

We are told the reason by the Gemarists, why the place of

stoning was without the sanhedrin, and again without three camps:

viz. If the Sanhedrin go forth and sit without the three camps,

they make the place for stoning also distant from the sanhedrin,

partly lest the sanhedrin should seem to kill the man; partly,

that by the distance of the place there may be a little stop and

space of time before the criminal come to the place of execution,

if peradventure any one might offer some testimony that might make

for him; for in the expectation of some such thing:-

"II. There stood one at the door of the sanhedrin having a

handkerchief in his hand, and a horse at such a distance as it was

only within sight. If any one therefore say, I have something to

offer in behalf of the condemned person, he waves the

handkerchief, and the horseman rides and calls back the people.

Nay, if the man himself say, I have something to offer in my own

defence, they bring him back four or five times one after another,

if it be any thing of moment that he hath to say." I doubt they

hardly dealt so gently with the innocent Stephen.

"III. If no testimony arise that makes any thing for him, then

they go on to stoning him: the crier proclaiming before him, 'N.

the son of N. comes forth to be stoned for such or such a crime.

N. and N. are the witnesses against him; if any one have any thing

to testify in his behalf, let him come forth and give his


"IV. When they come within ten cubits of the place where he must

be stoned, they exhort him to confess, for so it is the custom for

the malefactor to confess, because every one that confesseth hath

his part in the world to come, as we find in the instance of

Achan, &c.

"V. When they come within four cubits of the place, they strip

off his clothes, and make him naked.

"VI. The place of execution was twice a man's height. One of the

witnesses throws him down upon his loins; if he roll on his

breast, they turn him on his loins again. If he die so, well. If

not, then the other witness takes up a stone, and lays it upon his

heart. If he die so, well. If not, he is stoned by all Israel.

"VII. All that are stoned, are handed also, &c." These things I

thought fit to transcribe the more largely, that the reader may

compare this present action with this rule and common usage of

doing it.

"1. It may be questioned for what crime this person was

condemned to die? You will say for blasphemy for the have heard

him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God. But no

one is condemned as a blasphemer, unless for abusing the sacred

name with four letters, viz. YeHoVaH. Hence it is that

although they oftentimes accused our Saviour as a blasphemer, yet

he was not condemned for this, but because he used witchcraft and

deceived Israel, and seduced them into apostasy. And those are

reckoned among persons that are to be stoned: He that evilly

persuades; and he that draws into apostasy; and he that is a


"2. It may farther be questioned whether our blessed martyr was

condemned by any formal sentence of the sanhedrin, or hurried in a

tumultuary manner by the people; and so murdered: it seems to be

the latter."

2. The defense of Stephen against the charges produced by his

accusers must be considered as being indirect; as they had a show

of truth for the ground of their accusations, it would have been

improper at once to have roundly denied the charge. There is no

doubt that Stephen had asserted and proved JESUS to be the Christ

or MESSIAH; and that the whole nation should consider him as such,

receive his doctrine, obey him, or expose themselves to the

terrible sentence denounced in the prophecy of Moses: Whosoever

will not hearken unto my words, which he shall speak in my name, I

will require it of him, De 18:19; for they well knew that this

word implied that Divine judgments should inevitably fall upon

them. To make proper way for this conclusion, Stephen enters into

a detail of their history, showing that, from the beginning, God

had in view the dispensation which was now opening, and that his

designs were uniformly opposed by their impious forefathers. That,

notwithstanding all this, God carried on his work: First, by

revealing his will to ABRAHAM, and giving him the rite of

circumcision, which was to be preserved among his descendants.

Secondly, to MOSES and AARON in Egypt. Thirdly, to the whole

congregation of Israel at Mount Sinai, and variously in the

wilderness. Fourthly, by instituting the tabernacle worship, which

was completed in the promised land, and continued till the days of

Solomon, when the temple was builded, and the worship of God

became fixed. Fifthly, by the long race of prophets raised up

under that temple, who had been all variously persecuted by their

forefathers, who departed from the true worship, and frequently

became idolatrous; in consequence of which God gave them up into

the hands of their enemies, and they were carried into captivity.

How far St. Stephen would have proceeded, or to what issue he

would have brought his discourse, we can only conjecture, as the

fury of his persecutors did not permit him to come to a

conclusion. But this they saw most clearly, that, from his

statement, they could expect no mercy at the hand of God, if they

persisted in their opposition to Jesus of Nazareth, and that their

temple and political existence must fall a sacrifice to their

persevering obstinacy. Their guilt stung them to the heart, and

they were determined rather to vent their insupportable feelings

by hostile and murderous acts, than in penitential sorrow and

supplication for mercy. The issue was the martyrdom of Stephen; a

man of whom the sacred writings give the highest character, and a

man who illustrated that character in every part of his conduct.

Stephen is generally called the proto-martyr, i.e. the FIRST

martyr or witness, as the word μαρτυρ implies; the person who,

at the evident risk and ultimate loss of his life, bears testimony

to TRUTH. This honour, however, may be fairly contested, and the

palm at least divided between him and John the Baptist. The

martyrdom of Stephen, and the spirit in which he suffered, have

been an honour to the cause for which he cheerfully gave up his

life, for eighteen hundred years. While Christianity endures, (and

it will endure till time is swallowed up in eternity,) the

martyrdom of Stephen will be the model, as it has been, for all

martyrs, and a cause of triumph to the Church of God.

3. I cannot close these observations without making one remark

on his prayer for his murderers. Though this shows most forcibly

the amiable, forgiving spirit of the martyr, yet we must not

forget that this, and all the excellent qualities with which the

mind of this blessed man was endued, proceeded from that HOLY

GHOST of whose influences his mind was full. The prayer therefore

shows most powerfully the matchless benevolence of GOD. Even these

most unprincipled, most impious, and most brutal of all murderers,

were not out of the reach of HIS mercy! His Spirit influenced the

heart of this martyr to pray for his destroyers; and could such

prayers fail? No: Saul of Tarsus, in all probability was the first

fruits of them. St. Augustine has properly remarked, Si Stephanus

non orasset, ecclesia Paulum non haberet. If Stephen had not

prayed, the Church of Christ could not have numbered among her

saints the apostle of the Gentiles. Let this example teach us at

once the spirit that becomes a disciple of Christ, the efficacy of

prayer, and the unbounded philanthropy of God.

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