STEPHEN'S SPEECH in Acts 7:2-55 is the longest speech recorded by Luke in the book of Acts. And it can give interpreters fits trying to see how it fits as a defence by Stephen before his accusers.
That may be because it's more of an attack than a defence. In Acts 6:13, the leaders have accused him of speaking against the Temple and the Law. He does not exactly refute this charge, instead his long speech is designed to prove that the accusation itself is a misunderstanding of the history of God's dealings with his people.
TO ACCUSE STEPHEN of being against the Law and the Temple is to assume that the Temple and the Law stand together. The point of Stephen's speech is that both the Law and the Temple were innovations which threw some people off track.
There were Jews who had trouble accepting the Law when it was given and there were Jews who had trouble with the Temple, arguing that it went against the Law.
Stephen's defence against the charge, then, is a resounding "so what?" Yes, Jesus Christ is an innovation and against the Temple and the Law; but only in the same way that the Temple itself was an innovation and deviation from the Law and in the same way that the Law seemed an innovation to the followers of God before it.
God saw fit to work out his salvation in unexpected ways and the responsibility of his people is to follow his lead.
EVEN IN THESE LAST DAYS, in which God has spoken decisively and once-and-for-all through his son (Hebrews 1:2), staying faithful to God sometimes involves changing rather than holding on. Those of us who hold to traditions must do so for more reasons than because they are traditions. Stephen's opponents argued "you're going against what we've always done" and Stephen was right to say "and your point is what?"
Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.
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