Stephen’s Defense And The World Mission Of The People Of God -- By: J. Julius Scott, Jr.

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 21:2 (Jun 1978)
Article: Stephen’s Defense And The World Mission Of The People Of God
Author: J. Julius Scott, Jr.

Stephen’s Defense And The World Mission
Of The People Of God

J. Julius Scott, Jr.*

In Acts 1–5 the early Christian community appears as virtually a united group, located solely in Jerusalem. It remained in close conformity with traditional Jewish customs and institutions, including temple worship. The first Christians were disliked, distrusted and harassed, but generally tolerated by Jewish authorities. From Acts 8 onward the reader learns of disharmony, uncertainty, dissension and factionalism within the earliest Church. He is told of movement away from Jerusalem, the eventual inclusion of Gentiles and the progressive loosening of ties with traditional Jewish ways and institutions. The Jewish Christians were subject to “a great persecution” (8:1) from their national leaders. What brought about this changed situation? Luke seems to imply that the events he records about Stephen in chapters 6 and 7 were largely responsible. But how and why the Stephen incident altered the life, attitudes and circumstances of the early Christians is not immediately evident.

Much has been said about Stephen and his bold defense.1 I propose to focus attention upon three features of the Stephen-history that I believe had much to do with the changes in attitudes and actions by both the first Christians and their Jewish countrymen. These involve Stephen’s cultural background, his view of the scope of God’s presence and activities, and his understanding of the person and work of Jesus.

I. Stephen, The Hellenistic Jew

Stephen is introduced as one selected to deal with problems of special concern to the “hellenists” of the Jerusalem Church. His name is Greek. His speech employs literary forms, ideas and emphases that suggest the influence of a culture other than that of OT Judaism.

*J. Julius Scott is professor of Bible and theology at Wheaton Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois.

I have dealt at length with Stephen and his speech in “The Church of Jerusalem: An Investigation of the Growth of Internal Factions and the Extension of its Influence in the Larger Church” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation; Manchester, England: University of Manchester, 1969) 98-133, 242–256.

This is not surprising, for little more than three and a half centuries earlier Alexander the Great had conquered the world militarily and had begun an ideological conquest by introducing hellenism t...

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