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?
51 “You 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.