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Biblical People
Stephen. [Gr. Stephanos, "coronet," "wreath of victory," a common name in ancient inscriptions.] The first Christian martyr. His Greek name suggests a Hellenistic background. Tradition says that he and Philip were among the Seventy sent out by Jesus (see Lk 10:1-17). The 1st mention of Stephen is in Acts 6:5, where he is named as one of the 7 men chosen by the Jerusalem church and ordained to supervise the daily distribution of food to its poor members (vs. 1-6), in accordance with the communal system adopted by the new church (ch 4:32, 34, 35). The men in this office were to be "of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" (ch 6:3).

Stephen is next mentioned as performing miracles and doing other great acts as a consequence of his faith and the power bestowed upon him by the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:8). The success that attended his labours and the power with which he preached the gospel stirred the antagonism of certain men "who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia" (v 9, RSV). These men were apparently devout Jews of the Dispersion, who had come from the various countries mentioned to worship at Jerusalem. Concluding from Stephen's preaching that he was propagating ideas calculated to lessen the importance of the Temple and the customs of Moses (vs. 13, 14), they sought first to weaken his influence and nullify his preaching by disputing with him. However, his logic and spiritual insight, and the power which attended his preaching, overcame all their arguments (Acts 6:10). Having failed in this strategy, they instigated certain ones to accuse him of blasphemy (v 11). This aroused the indignation of the people and rulers; he was arrested and arraigned before the council (v 12). He was there confronted with charges of having spoken against the Temple and the Law, and of having taught that Jesus would destroy the Temple (chs 6:13-15; 7:1). In his defence, Stephen presented a résumé of the history of God's chosen people beginning with Abraham (ch 7:2), and endeavoured to show that the Hebrews had consistently rejected God's leadership and had now rejected His Messiah.

Sensing, evidently by the reaction of his listeners, that his defence had failed and that his enemies were determined to take his life, Stephen abruptly ended his line of reasoning and began a severe indictment of his accusers (Acts 7:51-53). Finally, as his enemies manifested hottest anger (v 54), he, "being full of the Holy Ghost," was given a vision of Jesus at God's right hand (v 55). He described this vision to his audience, who stopped their ears at what they considered blasphemy, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him (vs. 56-58). "And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him" (ch 8:2). Stephen's death, which took place only a few years after the earthly life of Jesus, began the first wave of persecution to overtake the church. The believers were forced to leave Jerusalem, and thus the seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ was spread farther afield (v 1) -- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary.

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