Grace Theological Journal 8.1 (1987) 101-114

          Copyright © 1987 by Grace Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.


                       STEPHEN'S SPEECH:

               A THEOLOGY OF ERRORS?


                                           REX A. KOIVISTO


     The points of seeming divergence between Stephen's words in

Acts 7 and the OT record have engendered attacks on inerrancy by

some and attempts at reconciliation by others. A current approach to

reconciliation involves the attempt to distinguish between inerrancy

of content and inerrancy of record in Acts 7. This views the diver-

gences in Stephen's speech as admissible errors since inspiration is

only posited of the author of Acts and not of Stephen as a character

in the narrative. The present article seeks to show that three of these

divergences are merely insertions into the narrative, not errors, and

furthermore, that these divergences are calculated theological inser-

tions. The result is a renewed need to seek their reconciliation with

the OT record.

* * *



STEPHEN'S speech in Acts 7:2-53 has remained an enigma for much

of modern scholarship. In its current form it is clearly the longest

speech in the book of Acts, yet it diverges from the other speeches in

the book in that it is non-apostolic and apparently non-kerygmatic.1

Furthermore, the content of the speech is held by some to be little

more than a dry recitation of the history of the Hebrews, having little

to do with the judicial framework into which the author of Acts has

placed it.2

An even more difficult quandary is left for those who look for

historical consistency with the OT in the speech, for it diverges from

the OT historical record in at least five places.3 Several approaches

toward a reconciliation of these conflicts have been attempted, but


1 Bruce classifies this speech as apologetic. See F. F. Bruce, The Speeches in the

Acts of the Apostles (London: Tyndale, 1942) 5.

2 See particularly F. J. Foakes Jackson, "Stephen's Speech in Acts," JBL 49 (1930)

283-86; and Benjamin Wisner Bacon, "Stephen's Speech: Its Argument and Doctrinal

Relationship," in Biblical and Semitic Studies (New York: Yale, 1901) 213-29.

              3 Cadbury listed ten divergences, but he included those instances where the speech

produces material that is otherwise unknown from the OT as well as those instances




one that has been gaining vogue in recent years is an attempt to

distinguish between inerrancy of content and inerrancy of record.4

This option leaves the divergences in Stephen's speech as admissible

errors since inspiration, and its corollary, inerrancy, need only be

posited of the author of Acts and not of Stephen as a character in the


Aside from the hermeneutical problems such an approach intro-

duces,5 those who would adopt this distinction as an attempt to retain

inerrancy fail to observe two key factors: (1) the function of the so-

called errors in the theology of the speech; and (2) Luke's adoption of

that theology in Acts. Leaving the Lucan adoption to be treated

elsewhere,6 it is the aim of this study to demonstrate that at least

three of the "errors" in Stephen's speech are not inadvertent mistakes,

but are calculated insertions in the narrative designed to emphasize

certain theological points. The implication, of course, is that if this is

correct, we must take these Stephanic statements seriously and ulti-

mately attempt to reconcile them with the OT record.




In order to evaluate the function of these discrepancies in the

theology of Stephen's speech, it is first necessary to place them in the


where the speech actually conflicts with the OT (H. J. Cadbury,  The Book of Acts in

History  [New York: Harper, 1955] 102-3). Richard B. Rackham, following a similar

inclusive approach, set the total divergences at fifteen (Richard B. Rackham, The Acts

of the Apostles: An Exposition [London: Methuen, 1901] 99-101).

4 This view was suggested as early as 1879 by Albert Barnes in Notes on Acts

(revised edition; New York: Harper, 1879) 138. It was taken up and developed at

length, however, by G. T. Stokes in The Acts of the Apostles (New York: A. C.

Armstrong, 1897) 311ft". For others suggesting this option, see the following: William

Owen Carver, The Acts of the Apostles (Nashville: Broadman, 1916) 69; R. A. Torrey,

Difficulties in the Bible (Chicago: Moody, n.d.) 97; Charles W. Carter and Ralph

Earle, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959) 96. More recent

suggestions of Lucan accuracy with Stephanic error have been given by Everett F.

Harrison and Richard N. Longenecker. Harrison says, "That no alteration [of the

problem in 7:14-16] was made by Luke or anyone else to bring the statement into

conformity with Genesis speaks well for the accuracy with which the speech of Stephen

was transmitted and later recorded by Luke" (E. F. Harrison, Acts: The Expanding

Church [Chicago: Moody, 1975] 115). Longenecker similarly writes as follows: "Again,

these [apparent confusions in 7:15, 16] are but further examples of the conflations and

inexactitudes of Jewish popular religion, which, it seems, Luke simply recorded from

his sources in his attempt to be faithful to what Stephen actually said in his portrayal"

(Richard N. Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles [EBC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

1981] 341).

5 See, in this regard, Rex A. Koivisto, "Stephen's Speech: A Case Study in

Rhetoric and Biblical Inerrancy," JETS 20 (1977) 353-64.

6 See Rex A. Koivisto, "Stephen's Speech and Inerrancy: An Investigation of the

Divergences from Old Testament History in Acts 7" (unpublished Th.D. diss., Dallas

Theological Seminary, 1982) 7-9; 157-59.



context of that speech-it is in their context that Stephen's "errors"

show their clearest theological import.

Although the unity of the speech around a common theological

theme has been questioned by a number of critics 7 there has been a

strain of scholarship that has viewed the entire pericope of Acts

6: 1-8:3 an integrated unit, the speech itself being a response to the

allegations of Stephen's opponents.8 Those accusations are found

capsulized in the words of the false9 witnesses: "This fellow never

stops speaking against the holy place and against the law. For we

have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place

and change the customs Moses handed down to us."10  From these

words it can be concluded that the case against Stephen hinged upon

his proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth, particularly as Jesus related to

two of the most sacred Jewish institutions, Temple and Torah. Stephen

is accused of saying that Jesus would "destroy" the Temple and

"change" the Torah.11 If these charges were sustained, the Sanhedrin

could easily classify this as blasphemy, and Stephen would be per-

ceived as having committed a capital offense.12


7 This is mostly due to a tendency to see no relationship between the charges

against Stephen and the speech. See Jackson, "Stephen's Speech," 283-86; Alfred

Loisy, Les Actes des Apotres (Paris: Emile Nourry, 1920) 318.

8 J. Kilgallen traces the exegesis based on an integration with the accusations back

to Chrysostom, Augustine, Bede, and Rupert of Dentz in Stephen's Speech: A Literary

and Redactional Study of Acts 7, 2-53 (Analecta Biblica 67; Rome: Biblical Institute

Press, 1976) 6; cf. H. Wendt, Die Apostelgeschichte (Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar,

Part 3; Gottingen: Vanderhoeck and Ruprecht, 1899) 151. More recent exponents of

this integration are E. Jacquier, Lis Actes des Apotres (Etudes Bibliques; Paris:

Lecoffre, 1920) 201; and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts (NICNT;

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954) 141.

9 H. Beyer believes that the witnesses were only false in that they opposed Stephen,

whereas Stephen as a Hellenist did speak against the Temple as they claimed. Beyer

argues that the degradation of the Temple was Stephen's particular way of declaring

the Herrschermacht of Jesus (Die Apostelgeschichte [6th ed.; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck

and Ruprecht, 1951] 46). One wonders, however, whether the degradation of the

Temple was a Stephanic means of asserting the Herrschermacht of Jesus, or whether

Stephen's declaration of the Herrschermacht of Jesus was misunderstood by his hearers

as a degradation of the Temple.

10  Acts 6: I 3- 14. Unless otherwise noted, the biblical citations are taken from the .

NIV. The earlier accusations (6:11) are not the formal judicial allegations, but broad

generalizations intended to stir up the crowds against Stephen (cf. 6:12).

11 Cf. Longenecker, Acts, 336. The words selected by these false witnesses are

katalu<w (of the Temple) and a]lla<ssw (of the Torah). Cf. our Lord's words in John

2:19 (lu<w) and the report of these words before the Sanhedrin by "false witnesses"

katalu<w, Matt 26:61; Mark 14:48; 15:29).

12 Cf. the tradition later collected in the b. Sanhedrin 49b: "Stoning is severer than

burning, since thus the blasphemer and idol-worshipper are executed. Wherein lies the

enormity of these offences?-Because they constitute an attack upon the fundamental

belief of Judaism."



Given the not unreasonable assumption that Luke recorded the

accusations because he saw a definite correlation between them and

the content of the discourse, the next step is to observe any overriding

emphases within the speech that correspond to the accusations. In

this sense, the structure of the discourse indicates that it is not a dry

recitation of well-known sacred history, but rather a carefully selected

grouping of certain elements from within that history which were

arranged and adapted to prove a theological point in response to

legal accusations.13 Although there was obviously a great bulk of

material available to him, the speechmaker selected and grouped his

material under five sections:


A. Observations on Abraham (7:2-8)

B. Observations on Joseph (7:9-16)

C. Observations on Moses (7:17-43)

D. Observations on the Temple (7:44-50)

E. Direct application (7:71-53)14


13 The cutting edge of Stephanic studies has recently been involved with this careful

redactive evaluation and is yielding results in terms of understanding the theological

development of the speech. For an excellent treatment of one section of the speech

commonly held to be irrelevant, see E. Richard, "The Polemical Character of the

Joseph Episode in Acts 7," JBL 98 (1979) 255-67.

14 Richard (257) offers a different division of the speech:

I. History of the Patriarchs (2- I 6)

A. Story of Abraham (2-8)

B. Story of Joseph (9-16)

II. History of Moses (17-19)

A. Hebrews in Egypt (17-19)

B. Moses prior to the Sinai event (20-29)

C. Theophany and mission (30-34)

III. Thematic section (35-50)

A. Moses and the fathers (34-41)

B. God and the fathers (42-50)

IV. Invective against audience (51-53)

J. BihIer, Die Stephanusgeschichte im Zusammenhang der Apooltegeschichte

(Munchener Theologische Studien; Munich: Max Hueber Verlag, 1963) vii, finds a

simpler threefold division:

I. Die Geschichte Israels von Abraham bis Moses (2-37)

A. Die Abrahamsgeschichte (2-8a) (8a=transition)

B. Die Josephsgeschichte (9-16) (17-19=transition)

C. Die Mosesgeschichte (20-37)

II. Israel's AbfalI: Gotzendienst und Tempelbau (38-50)

A. Der Gotzendienst (38-43)

B. Der Bau des Tempels (44-50)

III. Der Schuld Israels (51-53)

Kilgallen, Stephen’s Speech, ix-xii, develops it this way:

I. The Abraham Story (2-7)

II. The Joseph Story (9-16) (8=transition)

                        KOIVISTO: STEPHEN'S SPEECH                      105


On Abraham


The initial division of the speech ostensibly treats Abraham the

patriarch, yet a careful evaluation reveals that the section is much

more closely related to the "God of Glory" than to Abraham.15

Abraham is selected and discussed, of course, as the father of the

nation,16 but his deeds are minimized while the divine activities are

maximized. The speech thus gains a theological tenor from the outset.

Since Stephen is accused of aberrant theological views, he produces

an apologia not of himself, but of his theology. Abraham thus serves

as a link between the land (which made the Temple of import) and

the instructive oracle of Yahweh regarding the land.

With this in mind, the location of the revelatory acts of God rises

to prominence. Yahweh gave his revelation to Abraham in Ur and

Haran, well outside the limits of the sacred land upon which the

Temple came to be constructed (vv 2-4). When Abraham finally

arrived in the land of promise, Stephen emphasizes that "(God) gave

him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground" (v 5). Though

God promised Abraham the possession of the land, it would be his

only after his descendants were enslaved for four hundred years

outside the land, "in a country not their own" (v 6). Then, after that

lengthy delay, "they will come out of that country and worship me in

this place" (v 7).17


III. The Moses Story (17-43)

IV. The Temple (44-50)

V. Conclusion (51-53)

It should be observed from this sampling that certain elements are commonly held;

i.e., the concluding invective against the audience (51-53), the Abraham Story (2-8)

and the Joseph Story (9-16). The bulk of variation comes in the division of the larger

section of 17-50. Precisely where the Moses section ends and the Temple section begins

is difficult to determine due to the use of a Mosaic element (the Tabernacle) as a pivot

from which to launch into the discussion of the Temple. It is probably most logical to

find a natural break at 44 due to the internal consistency of the unit from a literary

standpoint (e.g., the constant use of the rhetorical ou$toj; in vv 35, 36, 37, and 38, and

the connection of the final ou$toj; with the complete thought of 38-43.

15 Note particularly the subject/verb relationship in this section: the divine term

o[  qeo<j; is followed by eight verbs of which it is the subject (Ernst Carl Rauch, "Ueber

den Martyrer Stephanus und den Inhalt, Zweck, und Gang seiner Rede; Apostel-

geschichte 6 und 7," TSK 30 [1857] 363; and K. Panke, "Der Stephanismus der

Apostelgeschichte," TSK 85 [1912] 4).

16 Adolf Schlatter notes the significance of beginning with Abraham from a thematic

perspective in Die Apostelgeschichte (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1962) 84.

17 It is common to see in this slight redaction of Gen 15: 14 an inclusion of the term

to<poj; as an oblique reference to the Temple, which would not serve as a focal point for

worship until at least 430 years of Israel's history had elapsed (J. BihIer, Stephanus-

geschichte, 43; and E. Jacquier, Actes, 2089).



The theological point of this section is clear: the God of Israel is

not tied to the land (upon which the Temple rests).18 The land must

not be given the overriding significance that the Jewish contem-

poraries of Stephen were giving to it. It certainly has importance as

the gift of God to the descendants of Abraham in the fulfillment of

promise (vv 6-7), but to require that the God of the promise be

limited in his revelation and/ or worship to one place is to reduce that

God to a localized deity unworthy of proper respect.

That this consideration should be important to Luke in his

theology and structure of Acts is clear. To this point the Church itself

had been localized in Jerusalem, impeding progress on the fulfillment

of the Great Commission (Acts 1:8). It is only after Stephen's speech

and martyrdom that the Word of God is finally extended beyond

Judea.19 In view of this connection, it is difficult to deny that the

theology of Stephen was central to the theology of Luke as he

composed Acts.


On Joseph


Stephen's careful selection continues in the Joseph section with

the omission of the Isaac and Jacob stories found in his sources and

with the condensation of the eleven chapters of the Genesis account

of Joseph into roughly eight verses. The key phrase to be considered

thematically is found in verses 9-10a: "Because the patriarchs were

jealous of Joseph they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was

with him and rescued him from all his troubles." The earlier motif of

God as transcending location is thus reiterated in the Joseph story20

It is even possible that a slight polemical jab is here thrust at Stephen's

auditors who, like the brothers of Joseph, were still in the land but

were without God, disobedient, and suffering.21


18 Bruce captures this flavor well (Acts, 145): "It was in Mesopotamia, far from the

promised land, that God first revealed Himself to Abraham Those who are

obedient to the heavenly vision, Stephen seems to suggest, will always live loose to any

one spot on earth, will always be ready to get out and go wherever God may guide."

Cf. also Longenecker, Acts, 339; and Rauch, "Stephanus," 363-64.

19 In this connection see the fine summary by J. Julius Scott, "Stephen's Defense

and the World Mission of the People of God," JETS 21 (1978) 131'-41.

20 Richard ("Acts 7," 260) states the following in this regard: The Joseph section

"emphasizes once more that the events of salvation history for the most part occur

outside of Judaea." This commonality with the Abraham section had been noted

earlier by B. Heather: "But there underlies this section [7:2;-16], I think a suggestion

that God was truly God, and the Hebrews were truly His people, long before Moses or

his Law; with the immediate implication that the Mosaic legislation had no more than

a relative value" ("Early Christian Homiletics: St. Stephen's Defence [Acts 7:2-53],"

Australasian Catholic Record 5 [1959] 238).

21Richard, "Acts 7," 260-61.

KOIVISTO: STEPHEN'S SPEECH                        107


It is in this section that a second theological motif arises, one

that is to reappear in the final invective (vv 51-53). That motif is the

exaltation of the rejected one as deliverer of the rejectors.22 It is this

particular motif that serves as Stephen's means of both putting his

interrogators on the defensive as well as proclaiming Christ from the

Scriptures: Joseph, like Christ, was rejected by his brothers. This

section, then, develops an offensive element in Stephen's "defense" as

well, an element that will continue in the succeeding sections.


On Moses

As in the Joseph unit, Stephen has again selectively styled the

Moses material with a theological point in mind. Both the "God

outside the land" motif as well as the "rejected deliverer" motif find

their places here.

The former begins in the introductory sentences, where Stephen

emphasizes the Egyptian location of the people (vv 17, 18, 22). The

implication is that since the place from which Israel was delivered was

Egypt, then obviously the God who delivered them cannot be restricted

by national boundaries. This is emphasized even further by the follow-

ing notations: It was in Midian that the divine oracle to Moses took

place (v 29); and the divine workings were seen when God "did

wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and for forty

years in the desert" (v 36).23

The point is that if the land and the Temple are required for the

presence of God among his people, then the fundamental historical/

theological roots of Israel as a nation must be excluded. Stephen's

initial motif is thus strengthened by his selection of details from

Moses' life. Yet it is the second motif, introduced in the Joseph

section, that finds an even stronger emphasis.

The "rejected deliverer" motif finds its furtherance here in the

recounting of the story about Moses and the oppressive Egyptian


22 Although this typological motif finds its detractors, there is a trend toward

reasserting its legitimate existence in Stephen's speech. Earlier writers favoring this

approach include Paton J. Gloag, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts

of the Apostles (2 vols.; Minneapolis: Klock and Klock, 1979 reprint of 1870 ed.),

I. 237; and R. B. Rackham, Acts, 103. More recently this has been promoted by

C. S. C. Williams, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (London: Adam and

Charles Black, 1964) 105-6; and F. F. Bruce, Acts, 148. The most thorough treatment

of this Joseph "typology" is found in Kilgallen (Stephen's Speech, 49-60), who sees the

determining factor here in the distinctly Christian terms used in this section.

23 Maurice Carrez sees an even greater emphasis on this theme in the Moses section

("Presence et Fonctionnement de L 'Ancien Testament dans L' Annonce de L 'Evangile,"

RSR 63 [1975] 333). See also Celestin Charlier, "Le Manifeste D'Etienne (Actes 7),"

BVC 3 (1953) 87; and Longenecker, Acts, 344.



(vv 23-29). The sacred lawgiver, Stephen recounts, "thought that his

own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but

they did not" (v 25). Similar to the Joseph episode, a polemical jab is

thrust at the unresponsive people who were to have received the

deliverance. They, in fact, refused deliverance by refusing the deliverer.

It is the one the people rejected, says Stephen, that God used to save

them: "This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the

word, 'who made you ruler and judge?' He was sent to be their ruler

and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him

in the bush" (v 35).24

It was, in fact, the rejection of Moses that led ultimately to a

rejection of God himself in the golden calf incident (vv 40-41) and,

even further, in their idolatry throughout the desert wandering period

(vv 42-43). In the midst of his extensive treatment of Moses, Stephen

gives an anticipatory glance at his final application (vv 51-53) by

quoting a well-known messianic passage, Deut 18:15: "This is that

Moses who told the Israelites, 'God will send you a prophet like me

from your own people.’”25

In Stephen's treatment of the Moses episode, then, we find a

further development of the "God outside the land" motif as well as an

amplification of the "rejected deliverer" motif. The Moses story, like

the Abraham and Joseph stories, is selected and arranged to demon-

strate a theological point for Stephen's auditors. Jesus of Nazareth,

like Joseph and Moses, is the rejected deliverer sent by God. It

would be difficult indeed to find this theological concept to be at

variance with the theology of Luke in his development of thought in



On the Temple


Although the Temple issue has been implicitly addressed from

the outset in the "God outside the land" motif, it receives explicit

development in this final section preceding the concluding remarks

(7:44-50). The precursor of the Temple, the "Tabernacle of Testi-

mony," is treated initially in this section, and in a genuinely positive

light. The Tabernacle has been made in accord with a divine design

and through a divine revelation to Moses (v 44). The Tabernacle


24 In this connection note the polemical use of the following phrases in this section:

"Our fathers refused to obey him"; and "they rejected him" (v 39).

25 J. Jeremias, "Mwu*sh?j," TDNT 4 (1967) 868-69. Cf. Kirsopp Lake and H. J.

Cadbury, The Acts of the Apostles, vol. 4 of The Beginnings of Christianity, eds. F. J.

Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (reprint of the 1933 ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker,

1965) 38, 78; Rackham, Acts, 104; Gloag, Acts, 1.236-47; Bruce, The Acts of the

Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes (second ed.; Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1952) 172; Acts, 152.

KOIVISTO: STEPHEN'S SPEECH                  109


again suits Stephen's "God outside the land" concept, being a por-

table structure not bound to one place. The Tabernacle, in fact, is

carried into the land from outside. It continued to be functional in

the land until the time of David. Then, in Stephen's discussion of the

time of David, the Temple is finally introduced. Here, however, the

tone of the discussion shifts dramatically: "But it was Solomon who

built the house for him. However, the Most High does not live in

houses made by men" (vv 47-48). Stephen forcefully emphasizes his

point by a quotation of Isa 66:1-2, in which Yahweh stresses his

omnipresence in contrast to the Temple. It is certainly to be observed

that Stephen is minimizing the place of the Temple by such state-

ments, particularly in contrast to the Tabernacle. God is not located

only in Palestine, as Stephen has been stressing prior to this climactic

assertion. Since this is the case, then the Temple cannot at all be

perceived as the sole focal point for the worship of such a God.26

With this, the "God outside the land" motif reaches its climax.


Direct Application


The direct application section is demarcated by a shift from the

use of a third person narrative form to a second person confronta-

tion. Stephen is no longer summarizing sacred history. He is now

addressing his auditors directly in the light of his oration (vv 51-53).

He accuses them of resisting the Holy Spirit (viz., God). Just as

Joseph's brothers had rejected Joseph, their divinely designated


26 The building of the Temple as a point of idolatry or apostasy and thus as

contrary to the intentions of God is viewed by most recent interpreters as Stephen's

point here. See particularly Marcel Simon, "Saint Stephen and the Jerusalem Temple,"

JEH 2 (1951) 127-42; L. W. Barnard, "Saint Stephen and early Alexandrian Chris-

tianity," NTS 7 (1960-61) 31-45; Bihler, Stephanwgeschichte, 74-75; Bacon, "Stephen's

Speech," 272; Longenecker, Acts, 346. Even Bruce adopts this position in his most

recent work on the subject, emphasizing the unique assertion of Stephen as a Hellenist:

"the idea that the Temple was a mistake from the beginning is unparalleled in the New

Testament." He does try to divest Luke of such an opinion, however: "Stephen's

reply is not the epitome of Luke's own position: Luke, in other parts of his work,

reveals a much more positive attitude to the Temple than Stephen does." F. F. Bruce,

Peter, Stephen, James, and John: Studies in Early Non-Pauline Christianity (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 53. It must be kept in mind, however, that OT theology

places the impetus for the building of the Temple with Yahweh himself, who gave

explicit instructions for its design, just as he did for the Tabernacle (I Chr 28:12, 19).

To suggest that Stephen viewed the construction of the Temple as an act of apostasy or

idolatry is to suggest that he either misunderstood or misrepresented OT theology at

this point. The older interpreters understood Stephen's words in a less stinging sense,

holding that he spoke against the current view of the Temple and its use rather than its

existence. Cf. Heather, "St. Stephen's Defence," 240: "The Temple, then, like the law,

had a relative, not an absolute value." See also Ephraim C. Sheld, "Stephen's Defense

before the Sanhedrin," BW 13 (January-June 1899) 98.



deliverer, so they have rejected the Righteous One. Just as Israel

rejected Moses, their divinely designated deliverer, so they have

rejected, betrayed, and murdered the Savior. Thus the "rejected

deliverer" motif is brought to a climax in this final section.

In view of the foregoing, it can be seen that Stephen has met the

accusations by utilizing the Torah selectively to defend his position

on the nature of Israel's God as well as to show his hearers their guilt

in rejecting God's Deliverer, Jesus. Stephen's defense becomes his

means of offense. His accusers become his accused.




Now that the theology of Stephen has been established in

terms of its connection to the speech's thematic development and

flow of thought, it remains to be seen where the problematic pas-

sages lie in relation to this theological development. Of the five

conflicts of a historical nature in the speech, two are contained in the

Abraham section, and three in the Joseph section. The relation of the

three explicit problems to the theology of the speech will now be



The Call of Abraham


The first phrase causing difficulty is that which locates the initial

revelation to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) "in Mesopotamia, before he

lived in Haran" (7:2). It has been seen that the point of the Abrahamic

story in the Stephen speech is to initiate the concept that Yahweh's

presence is not limited to the land on which the Temple lies. Certainly

this point could have been made without the limiting phrase "before

he lived in Haran." Yet the fact that this foundational revelation took

place in Mesopotamia, "the land of the Chaldeans" (7:4), appears to

have theological significance for Stephen. To him, it is not simply at

Haran, the second stage of the patriarchal sojourn, where the divine

oracle overtook Abraham. Rather, it was in the very seedbed of

idolatry, the farthest point from the land, and at the very dawn of

redemptive history that the divine oracle reached him.28 J. Kilgallen,

although not necessarily assuming a non-conflicting Genesis account,

expresses this same kind of idea:


27 The numeric problem of 70/75 will not be treated under this heading as a

theological alteration, since this issue has a textual problem at its base, nor will the

patristic burial issue be treated in that it involves in its solution a textual-grammatical

matter rather than a theological one. See Koivisto, "Stephen's Speech and Inerrancy,"

chaps, 4-5,

28 Cf, Jacquier, Actes, 295


KOIVISTO: STEPHEN'S SPEECH               111


Theologically, we believe that Stephen chose this tradition (Gen. 15,7)

rather than that of II, 31-12, 5 because he wanted to show his listeners

that the call to a new land (to worship God) was at the very root of

Abraham's earliest migration. God's call did not come after a first and

secular movement of Abraham. Abraham's initial movement was in

response to a divine mandate; conversely, any movement that tended

toward the new land was inspired by God, not simply capitalized upon

by God somewhere along the journey (as the Gen 12 tradition might

indicate). The divine plan was primordial.29


The point is well taken. Stephen's reference to a Chaldean call is

not a homiletical slip or inadvertent error brought about by the

pressures of litigation. It is, on the contrary, a deliberate attempt to

develop his theology by selecting materials from the biblical text.30 As

such, the reference to the Abrahamic call in Ur is conscious and

planned; it is an integral part of the theology that Stephen is present-

ing and that Luke is integrating with his theological development in

the book of Acts.


The Death of Terah


At first glance, the reference to Terah's death in Acts 7:4 seems

to contain no theological significance, but is rather a simple allusion

to an apparent historical fact in Genesis: the call of Abraham is

recorded as occurring subsequent to Terah's death. Strack and Biller-

beck suggest that the reason for the intrusion of this problematic

phrase in Acts 7 is a simple reliance on an old rabbinic tradition that

was created to absolve Abraham from the atrocious action of desert-

ing his aged father.31


29 Kilgallen, Stephen's Speech, 42-43. See also Nils A. Dahl, "The Story of

Abraham in Luke-Acts," Studies in Luke-Acts, ed. by Leander E. Keck and J. Louis

Martyn (Nashville: Abingdon, 1966) 143: "Thus God's revelation is made the starting

point of Abraham's migrations."

30 E. Richard, though attributing the red active work to the Lucan author, stresses

that the changes in the Stephen speech are not accidental, but are related to the

"overall purpose of the speech and its context." Acts 6:1-8:4: The Author's Method of

Composition (SBL Dissertation Series, 41; Missoula: Scholars Press, 1978) 56.

31 Herman L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (6

vols.; Munich: C. H. Beck'sche, 1961) 2. 667-68. See particularly the rabbinic tradition

reflected in Gen. Rab. 39:7: "Now what precedes this passage? And Terah died in

Haran [which is followed by] Now the Lord said unto Abram: Get thee (Iek leka).

R. Isaac said: From the point of view of chronology a period of sixty-five years is still

required. But first you may learn that the wicked, even during their lifetime, are called

dead. For Abraham was afraid saying, 'Shall I go out and bring dishonor upon the

Divine Name, as people will say, "he left his father in his old age and departed"?'

Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, reassured him: 'I exempt thee (leka) from the



This suggestion may be too simple, however. In view of the

obvious apologetic activity of Stephen, the phrase may well have been

introduced for a distinct theological purpose. It is certainly possible

that the reason for this inclusion is the relationship between Jewish

tradition surrounding Terah and a subsidiary "exodus" motif that

arises in the speech.

The Jewish tradition regarding Terah is exemplified in Gen. Rob.

38: 13, where Terah is referred to as a manufacturer of idols, and it is

held that the death of his son Haran was due to Terah's practice.32

The implication in the tradition is that, even though Abraham left Ur

at the divine call, he brought with him an idolatrous father-and

thereby a potential return to Chaldean idolatry.

The text of Acts 7 implies, moreover, that the stay in Haran was

itself divinely directed.33 In this way Stephen stresses that Abraham

did not enter the land of promise until his idolatrous father was dead

and hence unable to contaminate his pure devotion to Yahweh. For

Stephen, the death of Terah may thus mark Abraham's final break

with his past.34

This emphasis on Abraham's break with his father is signifi-

cant in view of a subsidiary "exodus" motif that may be seen in

the Stephen speech. In the Joseph section (vv 9-16), Joseph (like

Abraham) is separated from his family. The text indicates, however,

that God was with Joseph as opposed to the "fathers." In the Moses

section, it was "our fathers" who refused to obey Moses and turned


duty of honouring thy parents, though I exempt no one else from this duty. Moreover,

I will record his death before thy departure.'  Hence, 'And Terah died in Haran' is

stated first, and then, Now the LORD said unto Abram, etc."

32The tradition probably has its roots in the canonical statement of Josh 24:2:

"Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived

beyond the River and worshiped other gods." A similar reflection of the tradition

stemming from this may be found in Jub. 12:1-6, where Abram is said to have

confronted his father on the uselessness of idolatry before leaving Ur, and where his

brother Haran is to have died trying to save his idols from conflagration set by

Abram for the purpose of destroying them. -

 33 In 7:3 the words "Go into the land I will show you" are immediately followed by

"then he settled in Haran." This implies that the otherwise inexplicable stopover in

Haran was done at Yahweh's command. Abraham may well have waited there for the

idolatrous tendencies in his own family to be resolved before entering the land of


34 This is contrary to the opinion of Vawter. He holds that the priestly author of

Genesis 11-12 intended to indicate that Terah was very much alive during the first

years of Abram in Canaan, thus making the separation of the two ways all the more

real since both leaving and staying would have been live options for Abraham (Bruce

Vawter, On Genesis: A New Reading [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977], 173-74).

Vawter does not consider the possibility, however, that the listing of Terah's sons may

have been theological in order rather than chronological.



their hearts back to Egypt (v 39). The patriarchal distinction is

brought to a pointed conclusion with the final words of Stephen:

"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You

are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!" (v 51).

These internal factors suggest that the reference to the death of

Terah may begin a foil against which the disobedience of Stephen's

own contemporaries is brought into sharp relief. Abraham broke with

his disobedient father at his death; Stephen's contemporaries had not

yet broken with their disobedient and long-dead fathers.

This "error" thus shows marks of a calculated insertion into the

narrative for theological purposes as well. Like the call of Abraham

in Stephen's speech, the problem cannot simply be removed without

violating the theology which Stephen is building, and which Luke



The Abrahamic Purchase


Both a theological point and an exegetical difficulty are involved

in Stephen's inclusion of an otherwise unknown acquisition by

Abraham of land at Shechem. Shechem certainly held theological

significance in the Abrahamic narrative of the OT, for it was there

that Abraham first exhibited his relationship to the land of promise

by building an altar to Yahweh.35 A reference to an Abrahamic tomb

purchase, however, would have most likely brought to the minds of

Stephen's listeners the sacred and revered tomb at Hebron. Stephen

asserts that Abraham purchased a tomb not at revered Hebron, but

at despised Shechem.

Certainly this reference to what was Samaritan territory in

Stephen's day, particularly in the context of the Temple and worship

motifs in his speech, would have had significant theological over-

tones,36 especially since the Samaritans were for all practical purposes

considered outside the land.37 It is thus not without significance that


35 Martin H. Scharlemann, Stephen: A Singular Saint (AnBib 34; Rome: Biblical

Institute Press, 1968) 38.

36 Cf. E. F. Harrison: "Stephen's mention of Shechem was probably not casual but

deliberate. ...A rigid Jew might want to forget the patriarchal contacts with Shechem,

but Stephen would not permit that. To mention Shechem was almost the equivalent of

calling attention to Samaria" (Acts, 115-16). See also Bacon, "Stephen's Speech," 230.

For a contrary opinion, see Loisy, Actes, 327. Loisy's objection to a polemic here,

however, assumes that the only Abrahamic tomb purchase known to the Jews was the

Hittite transaction of Genesis 23. With the abundance of extrabiblical accounts and

traditions of Abraham circulating in the first century, this may be too great an


           37 Cf. Gerhard Schneider ("Stephanus, die Hellenisten, und Samaria," in Les Actes

des Apotres: Tradition. Redaction, Theologie, ed. by J. Kremer [Louvain: Paris

Gemloux, 1979] 229). Note particularly the “God is spirit” concept communicated to



Luke follows this speech with a narrative of the evangelization of that

same Samaritan territory (Acts 8:4-25). In view of the conscious

theological selection of the term "Shechem" on Stephen's part, and

the significant Lucan use of this element in his narrative, one must

again conclude that the use of this "error" is a conscious one loaded

with theological import.38




The theological function of the "errors" within the development

of Acts 7 indicates that at least three of the divergences are inten-

tional assertions that produce in their contexts a theological thrust

that would be absent without them. And though a systematic recon-

ciliation between Stephen's recounting of history and the OT record

itself has not been attempted in this study, such an approach must

reckon with the conclusion drawn here: that the divergences found in

Stephen's speech and recorded by Luke are deliberate. Hence, there is

a renewed need to reconcile Stephen's comments on OT history with

the OT record. Allowing Stephen to have been "in error" simply will

not do if a sound view of the trustworthiness of Scripture is to be



the Samaritans by our Lord (John 4:24). The possible connection between the Johan-

nine theology thus represented and the Hellenistic concept represented by Stephen is

shown by Oscar Cullmann, "A New Approach to the Interpretation of the Fourth

Gospel," Parts I and II, ET 71 (1959) 8-12; 39-43.

38 This may explain why Shechem has a part in the theological focus, but it does

not explain why Abraham was the one who needed to have made the purchase, nor

why a tomb purchase is significant in the narrative at all. The role of a tomb in OT

theology, however, may relate here to the concept of promise. Abraham's purchase of a

tomb plot in Hebron, for example, was evidence of his settling down in the land of

promise. In the same way the patriarchal burials in Shechem, not mentioned by

Stephen, are further examples of fulfillment in the land of promise. This fits Stephen's

theology quite well in that it is the rejected brother who ensures burial of the rejectors

in the land of promise. The mention of Abraham as the purchaser forms a nice literary

inclusion: "Abraham began this history, receiving the promise of the land, at v. 16,

before the new generation of Exodus and the Pharaoh 'who knew not Joseph' appear.

We see a literary, redactional nicety which gives a partial fulfillment to what God had

promised Israel in the person of Abraham which in turn becomes an encouragement to

hope for the future that some day all the land will pass into total possession of

Abraham's descendants" (Kilgallen, Stephen's Speech, 62).


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