Q: #564. Who was Stephen in the Bible?
A: All that we know about Stephen (Gr: “Stephanos” meaning “crown”) is found in the book of Acts, chapters 6-7. In (Acts 6:2-5), we see that Stephen was 1 of 7 men “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” who were chosen to “serve tables” (help meet the needs of widows: Acts 6:1). The Greek word used for “serve” here is “diakoneo,” which comes from the word “diakonos,” which is where we get our word “deacon” from. (More on “deacons” here.)
In (Acts 6:5), out of the 7 men chosen, Stephen is specifically singled out as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” and in (Acts 6:8), it says he was a man who was “full of faith and power (who) did great wonders among the people.”
In the rest of the verses in Acts Ch. 6-7 (Acts 6:9 – 7:60), we see Stephen delivering a “powerful” sermon before both the Sanhedrin (the “council”) and the Jews. As we read the things he says, we can clearly see that Stephen had an extensive, expert knowledge of Scripture.
At the end of his “sermon,” Stephen’s words so enraged his audience that “they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed (“gnashed” meaning here) at him with their teeth” (Acts 7:54). Then, in (Acts 7:55-56), we get these great two verses on Stephen:
“But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, (56) And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
At these words, Stephen was “cast out of the city and stoned” to death. As Stephen was dying, we are told in (Acts 7:59-60) that he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (60) And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep (died).”
In these words, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” we see an echoing of the words of Jesus as He was dying:
(Lk 23:46) “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into they hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”
(Lk 23:34) “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Two other traits that Jesus and Stephen share are that they both performed miracles, and were tried before the Sanhedrin. (Stephen was the first person other than the apostles to perform a miracle in Acts.)
Stephen’s death in Acts makes him the 1st “Christian” martyr in the New Testament.
As we continue to Acts Chapter 8, it is clear that after what happened with Stephen, there was an increased persecution of Christians, which led to them “scattering” to other places, but with that came an increased spreading of the Gospel (Acts 8:4)(Acts 11:19). This persecution was lead by Saul (Paul), who was present at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58), and “consented to his death” (Acts 8:1)(Acts 22:20).
Today, some denominations remember Stephen on a day called St. Stephens Day (Dec. 26). I am proud to have him as my namesake!