Stephen’s Speech (Acts 7:2-53): Is it as “Anti-temple” As Is Frequently Alleged? -- By: James P. Sweeney

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 23:2 (Fall 2002)
Article: Stephen’s Speech (Acts 7:2-53): Is it as “Anti-temple” As Is Frequently Alleged?
Author: James P. Sweeney

Stephen’s Speech (Acts 7:2-53):
Is it as “Anti-temple” As Is Frequently Alleged?

James P. Sweeneya

I. Introduction

Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 continues to attract substantial scholarly attention.1 It is part of a larger literary unit that chronicles the progress of the gospel message from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and beyond (6:1–9:30), which is one of the literary objectives of the Acts narrative.2 Imbedded in this larger literary unit is the longest and hence probably the most important of the “speeches” of Acts.3 The speech itself is presented as Stephen’s response to the

Sanhedrin on a series of charges, the most important of which, for our purposes, is speaking against the temple, referred to obliquely both as “this holy place” (τοῦ τόπου τοῦ ἁγίου [τούτου]) in 6:13 and in 6:14 as “this place” (τὸν τόπον τοῦτον).4

A number of critical issues continue to be vigorously debated, including the possible sources utilized by Luke, the background of the theology reflected in the speech, the historical value of the narrative, and the like.5

While all of these are interesting and important questions, they need not detain us here because few scholars doubt the general historical core of Stephen’s death and the connection of his death, at least in part (usually a determinative part), with Stephen’s statements regarding the temple.6 Examples of this interpretation abound. In his stimulating work, The Partings of the Ways, J. D. G. Dunn contends that “the most significant feature of the [Stephen] episode” is that “it was the Temple, not a claim regarding the messiahship of Jesus as such which led to the hostility against Stephen.”7 In a more recent work, Jesus and the Rise of Christianity: A History of New Testament Times, P. Barnett writes: “The book of Acts makes ...

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