Stephen’s Speech and the Book of Hebrews

37 “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’
38 “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, 39 whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. 42 Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets:

‘ Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness,
O house of Israel?
43 You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch,
And the star of your god Remphan,
Images which you made to worship;

And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, 45 which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, 46 who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built Him a house.

48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:

49 ‘ Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the LORD,
Or what is the place of My rest?
50 Has My hand not made all these things?

51You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.

Acts 7 is an amazing chapter of the New Testament that does much more than introduce us to the first martyr (Stephen) and Saul, who would later become known as Paul the apostle. It introduces us to New Testament theology, as expressed perhaps most explicitly by the author of the book of Hebrews. While the text is too long for me to fully delve into here, the above quotation from Acts 7:37-50 immediately brings to mind the book of Hebrews which follows a very similar pattern of argument in three very specific ways: (i.) Stephen’s emphasis upon the Prophet like unto Moses (and, correspondingly, the parallel behavior of the unbelieving Jews of his (i.e. Stephen’s) day and Moses’), (ii.) Stephen’s emphasis on the Tabernacle as given “according to the pattern he had seen”(a phrase which shows up repeatedly in the book of Hebrews, particularly in Hebrews 8:1-6, where the author is emphasizing the greater High Priest and greater Tabernacle, etc), and (iii.) the crucifixion of our Lord by the hands of those who received the law by the direction of angels and yet have not kept it (similar again in structure to the author of the book of Hebrews’ argument in 2:1-4).

What this shows, therefore, is that the theology that Paul later expounds upon is not some invention of his own, nor is the theology given by the author of the book of Hebrews. Why? Because they both follow Stephen’s manner of argumentation by pointing to the Old Testament shadows and its corresponding historical reality in Christ and murderous, rebellious Israel. They also, as Stephen did, compare the lesser with the greater (again, typology is used here by Stephen, Paul, and the author of Hebrews). This clearly points to the fact that New Testament theology didn’t develop in the manner in which liberal critical scholars would like to imagine it did. Rather, Stephen’s speech shows clearly that he was familiar with a manner of understanding the Old Testament that had, in fact, been passed down to him from the apostles who, no doubt, received it from the very mouth of Christ.

Beautifully, the Holy Spirit allows us to see one more critical factor: Paul was witness to the speech and stoning of Stephen. The siginificance of this is unfortunately not much elaborated upon, but should be. For it shows, to a greater or lesser extent, that “Paul’s theology” was not his own at all. In fact, “his theology” was first introduced to him by the first martyr for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Would not such an event, coupled with the fact of Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord, and his dependence upon the apostles show that “his” theology was not his own but Christ’s? That he didn’t “develop” a complex systematic theology, but received it at the hands of those whom he formerly persecuted? That New Testament theology is given by the mouth of God the Son and merely transcribed by the apostle and the author of the book of Hebrews?

Let me know your thoughts.

– h.

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6 thoughts on “Stephen’s Speech and the Book of Hebrews

  1. Heather says:

    “Let me know your thoughts.”

    Okay! :D

    “That New Testament theology is given by the mouth of God the Son and merely transcribed by the apostle and the author of the book of Hebrews?”

    I tend to agree. Although, I’d take it one step farther back, to the OT writings themselves.

    I’ve been cross referencing New Testament writings with those in Proverbs (absolutely stunned with how many of them seem to be able to apply directly to one or more Gospel accounts) and have been especially struck by the statement that Jesus made about Himself concerning the OT Scriptures testifying of Him–but the Jewish leaders insisted on finding eternal life in the writings themselves rather than turning to Him.

    Last night, I happened upon Luke 24:27, which states that the risen Jesus began with Moses and the prophets and explained to His disciples the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures….

    Paul, having spent time AS one of the Jewish elite would have been intimately acquainted with the OT writings, but until he was enlightened by the Spirit as to what they meant, he was just as blind as the men Jesus was chastising in John 5:39-40.

    I’m thinking that the NT Theology was there all along–at least from the time of Moses…but only those who were humbly seeking to know God (like David and the prophets themselves–or the disciples who were willing to swallow their pride and go ask Jesus what His parables meant) were allowed to see what the Law etc were actually saying.

    Pride in self-ability and worldly distraction blinds us to the Truth of Scripture. When we are driven into a corner where there is no other choice but to look AT Christ, then He will teach those who are willing to learn from Him.

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  2. Hiram says:

    Amen, Heather. I agree with you. I guess the point I’m driving at is that the New Testament’s more explicit doctrinal assertions are proven to be exactly what you are stating: eternal truths revealed/illumined by God to those who believe.

    I’m writing in opposition to the widespread liberal critical scholarship that would seek to make these explicit statements (e.g. Jesus being a “greater Moses” etc) the product of Paul, or the early church after a considerably long amount of time after the Lord Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

    Since I’m going to post this subject pretty soon, I won’t give all the details here, but Numbers 11 is just one passage, among many, that clearly shows an Old Testament theology of carnally minded and spiritually minded individuals who all fall under the term “Israel.”

    This is, again, contrary to liberal critical scholarship. In spite of what they want to say, Paul didn’t make the flesh/spirit dichotomy up because he was fond of Greek thought; rather, the Holy Spirit revealed this truth to him as he was taught and studied and prayed, seeking the Lord’s truth.

    God’s Word is eternal.

    Amen.

    -h.

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  3. Hiram says:

    Also, if we can assume that Paul was one who debated with Stephen to no avail in Acts 6, then it’s just more proof of what we both are stating!

    I love how the Holy Spirit has so precisely laid out these details! God’s Word, unlike any man’s word, defends itself, its own integrity, infallibility and purity!

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  4. Roger Millhouse says:

    The Old Testament builds the foundation for the New Testament. New Testament theology is not a radical new idea. It is continuity built from the law of the Old Testament. When one takes time to understand the Old Testament from a jewish backgroun it allows the opportunity to expound on New Testament. Jesus was a jew’s jew. He followed the law perfectly. All 613. The New Testament writings though they were written in Koine Greek, they were still strongly written in the jewish sense. Case in point, Malachi 4: 2 states “for you that believe in the Son of Righteousness there will be healing in his wings.” One way to look at is from a metaphorical perspective however, jews also spoke in a very concrete action based manner. Rabbis and priests wore what was known as a talit which is a prayer shawl. At the tips of the prayer shawl was called a konoff. Konoff literally means wing. Now at these wings there were the tzit tzit. These represented a daily reminder of the 613 laws. When the woman that had bleeding touched Jesus. The woman was healed. jesus did not ask because He did not know. Jesus questioned to bring out the validation of another Messianic prophecy.

    My point is this. It is refreshing to read people taking notice that there IS relationship between the Old and New Testament. Many people do not understand the importance of the tabernacle when Stephen points this out or the fact that the comment of being uncircumcised. Circumcision was very important to to the jews and their jewish law. Even permitted to do so on the Sabbath as this legalistic ritual was meant to be an expression of honoring their covenant with God. It was even called Brit milah which means “Covenant of Circumcision”. If this was not done, than that jew would be cut off from the rest of the people and also consequently believed to be cut off from community with God. Stephen’s remark was a direct insult in the strongest sense of going to Old Testament times. Even so much as implicitly stating they have cut themselves off from community with God.

    Lastly, on a personal note I tend to frown on the term theology as it originally was used by Plato and greek thinkers in regards to teaching of myths which eventually became expanded to christianity. spoudazo epimastai theos alethes would be more appropriate. * To make the effort to understand God’s truth* Although that my friend Hiram would only be wrestling semantics. Theology of course is acceptable. Solid post. I hope you expand more on your studying the relationship between OT and NT. God bless.

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  5. Heather says:

    “I guess the point I’m driving at is that the New Testament’s more explicit doctrinal assertions are proven to be exactly what you are stating: eternal truths revealed/illumined by God to those who believe.”

    Sometimes I get a little overly excited in my cheering efforts. I meant to say:

    ” Wonderful observations! I really appreciate your post.”

    I don’t think it’s just the liberals who tend to amputate the NT teachings from the Old. I grew up in a relatively conservative, “dispensational” circle (my husband, too), and most of the teaching we heard sounded something like
    “Well, the OT Law was foundational and important for it’s place in time–plus, it points us to our sin etc. but is only for the Jews and is ‘obsolete’ in light of Jesus’ NT teaching. Now that we are under grace, the Law basically has no place” I don’t recall those exact words being used, but that is the underlying message that gets through. The notion of “progressive revelation” may be correct, but it often downplays the reality that the Truth has always been available to those who would accept it.

    The concept of Jesus being the “fulfillment” of the Scriptures is often relegated to the act of “payment of debt for our sin”. But in reality, it is so, so much more, as Jesus Christ is the physical embodiment of the Scripture.

    And we “conservative fundamentalist evangelicals” often rob ourselves of the richness of this treasure when we neglect in-depth study of the OT. :(

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  6. Hiram says:

    ““Well, the OT Law was foundational and important for it’s place in time–plus, it points us to our sin etc. but is only for the Jews and is ‘obsolete’ in light of Jesus’ NT teaching. Now that we are under grace, the Law basically has no place” I don’t recall those exact words being used, but that is the underlying message that gets through. The notion of “progressive revelation” may be correct, but it often downplays the reality that the Truth has always been available to those who would accept it.”

    I completely, 100% dig where you’re coming from, H. I listen to some conservative evangelicals who focus so intently on presenting the historicity of the Biblical accounts that they neglect the eternality of God’s truth. While we can, and should, point out that these men had some truths revealed progressively, we shouldn’t do so at the expense of the unity of God’s revelation.

    Word up.

    -H.

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