Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke. So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council. The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s.Acts 6:8-15
Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”Acts 7:1
This was Stephen’s reply: . . .Acts 7:2 — 53
Who are the opposition?
- (AMP) However, some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (freed Jewish slaves), as it was called, and [of the synagogues] of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians and of those from Cilicia and [the province of] Asia, arose [and undertook] to debate and dispute with Stephen.
- (ASV) But there arose certain of them that were of the synagogue calledthe synagogueof the Libertines, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen.
- (BBE) But some of those who were of the Synagogue named that of the Libertines, and some of the men of Cyrene and of Alexandria and those from Cilicia and Asia, had arguments with Stephen.
- (CEV) But some Jews from Cyrene and Alexandria were members of a group who called themselves “Free Men.” They started arguing with Stephen. Some others from Cilicia and Asia also argued with him.
- (ERV) But some of the Jews there were from the synagogue of Free Men, as it was called. The group included Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia. They started arguing with Stephen.
- (ESV) Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen.
- (GNB) But he was opposed by some men who were members of the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), which had Jews from Cyrene and Alexandria. They and other Jews from the provinces of Cilicia and Asia started arguing with Stephen.
- (GW) One day some men from the cities of Cyrene and Alexandria and the provinces of Cilicia and Asia started an argument with Stephen. They belonged to a synagogue called Freedmen’s Synagogue.
- (ISV) But some men who belonged to the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), as well as some Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and men from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and began to debate with Stephen.
- (LITV) But some of those of the synagogue called Libertines, rose up, alsosomeCyrenians and Alexandrians, andsomeof those from Cilicia and Asia Minor, disputing with Stephen.
- (MSG) But then some men from the meeting place whose membership was made up of freed slaves, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and some others from Cilicia and Asia, went up against him trying to argue him down.
- (NASB) But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen,includingboth Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.
- (NLT) But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia.
- (RV) But there arose certain of them that were of the synagogue calledthe synagogueof the Libertines, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen.
As a quick survey of the above translations will indicate, there is confusion over the meaning or interpretation of this verse. Who exactly are those who oppose Stephen?
It is possible that they come from:
- 1) One synagogue which was comprised of people from the four areas represented.
- 2) Two synagogues – a synagogue of freedmen from Cyrene and Alexandria and a synagogue made up of men from Cilicia and Asia. I.e. Those of Cilicia and Asia are mentioned as a separate group.
- 3) Five synagogues in Jerusalem – namely the synagogue of the Libertines, the synagogue of Cyrenians, the synagogue of the Alexandrians, the synagogue of the Cilicians and the synagogue of those from the Roman province of Asia.
- 4) Five synagogues in Jerusalem and the four regions mentioned.
There are other variations or confusions to the terms.
- Libertines can mean those who consider themselves free of some aspects of the Law
- Or are free in terms of some aspect of bondage (vigorously debated as what that might be)
- [Libertinoi] can mean freedmen, those with a sense of liberty, or it could refer to Libya
- -giving us groups of Jews named in order of their geographic areas along the north coast of Africa
- Namely: Libya, Cyrene and Alexandria
Irrespective of who these people may have been in terms of origin or make up, they were Jews from the synagogues. Don’t let the fact escape you that the opposition has spread now from the Council (Sanhedrin) to people within the synagogues of Jerusalem or those further afield. I personally favour the assumption that Luke is naming five different synagogues in the city of Jerusalem. It makes more sense, given the fact that the scene is still in Jerusalem and the spread of the Gospel has not yet been taken beyond the city of Jerusalem. (But I have to state it is an assumption on my part).
Luke doesn’t make it clear. Bottom line, the opposition has spread to Jews in the synagogues. Up until now, all the opposition has come from the Sanhedrin who orchestrated or stirred up the opposition from the crowds.
What is their strategy?
These Jews from the synagogues are working subversively. There are some interesting words in the text before us. In verse 10 is the word [anthistemi] meaning “to set oneself against something”, “oppose”, “resist” or “stand against”. The inference is that they couldn’t counter Stephen’s right standing or repute for being filled with wisdom and the Spirit. They are set over against the qualities of Stephen. Hence, they are seen in their true colours. So in verse 11 we are told they secretly “framed” Stephen with false witness. When these Jews can’t combat his wisdom by spiritual means, they resort to false testimony. Notice that their testimony extends to claims of blasphemy. They are like their father, the devil, or like the example set by the Sanhedrin themselves. The opposition will stop at nothing. They will achieve their goal by fair means or evil intent. This false testimony is set against the testimony the disciples are giving in being witnesses to the risen Christ.
Notice how the confrontation ends
As a result of doing all of this, these Jews set themselves against Moses and God. Notice the order: Moses first, then even God. They are willing to counter the law of Moses in terms of bearing false testimony, in order to achieve their ends. They are doing the very thing they are claiming Stephen is doing. But not only that, Luke tells us, they are willing to take their stand against God. Even God! How true were the words of Gamaliel when he said, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” (Acts 5:39)
Everything Luke has given us is finely balanced. While the opposition is growing, the true nature of it is also becoming clear.
The opposition now moves from the people to the elders and the teachers of the Law. The action then moves back to the High Council (Sanhedrin) where the false witnesses exaggerate their claim – “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses.” Really? Now they twist the claim even further, “We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” This escalation of the opposition ends with the attention of the High Council being riveted on Stephen’s face. Don’t miss the importance here. They are debating how this man Stephen (who like Jesus and the other disciples, claim that Jesus is the one coming as the prophet like Moses) is changing the customs of Moses, when suddenly Stephen’s face glows like that of Moses. The symbolism is inescapable for these men of the High Council.
Wouldn’t you think these men would stop in their tracks right then and there? Isn’t it clear enough what is happening here, given all the signs and wonders that have been happening? Now Stephen’s face is glowing like that of Moses. Stop and think men of Israel! But they can’t. They have set their course on the basis of falsehood for too long. Sobering. They can’t stop. Now the High priest asks the loaded question, “Are these accusations true?”
- Well, what do you think High Priest?
- What do you think Gems reader?
People only bring up your past because they’re intimidated by your present!Ian Vail
The longer we hold on to falsehood, the greater its power to harm us.Ian Vail
The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.Henry Ward Beecher
An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards. When life is pulling you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus and keep aiming.Netty Gultom