A DISPENSATIONAL STUDY OF THE STONING OF STEPHEN
We read in Acts 6:5 that Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost and wisdom”. In verse 9 of that chapter we read that “…there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen”. Then, because these men were not able to resist the wisdom with which Stephen spoke (vs. 10) they suborned some to lie and say that Stephen had spoken against the Mosaic law (vs.11). In verse 12 we learn that some of the elders and the scribes brought Stephen to the council of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Then in Acts 7:57-58, after hearing what Stephen had to say, they “ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him….”
Many believe that the stoning of Stephen resulted in God’s setting Israel aside as His chosen nation. I disagree with that view and this paper is an explanation of why I disagree.
We will study the following topics in our search for the truth.
ISRAEL IN THE GOSPEL AND ACTS PERIODS?
THE CHIEF MEN
DID GOD SET ASIDE ISRAEL AT ACTS 7?
WHY DID STEPHEN SEE CHRIST STANDING?
THE DIVORCE OF ISRAEL AT ACTS 28
A CONSIDERATION OF ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF THE ACTS 7 POSITION
ISRAEL IN THE GOSPEL AND ACTS PERIODS
The Nation Of Israel
Israel was a nation in the Gospel and Acts periods. How do we know that? We read in Luke 23:2, “And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar……”. Acts 24:17 is helpful, “Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings”. This verse is particularly helpful because the Word of God records Paul bringing alms to Jerusalem.
It is important to note that the term “nation”, (Gr. “ethnos”) when used of the Jewish nation is always used in reference to Judea, and never includes the scattered, or dispersion of Israel. (The following verses are those which use “ethnos” in reference to Israel, and as the reader will see, the term is always used of Judea: Lk. 7:5; 23:2; Jn. 11:48, 50, 51, 52; 18:35; Ac. 10:22; 24:2, 10, 17; 26:4; 28:19; 1 Pt. 2:9.)
The Dispersed Of Israel
We learned above that the term “nation” when used of Israel always referred to Judea and that the nation did not include the dispersion. But the dispersed of Israel were still considered to be part of Israel as a people. How do we know that? Acts 2 records the day of Pentecost when all Jewish men, including those of the dispersion, were required by the Mosaic Law (see Deut. 16:16) to go to Jerusalem. We read in Acts 2:5 that “there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven”. These were, of course, the dispersion, i.e. those Jews who lived outside of Judea. Because this event took place in Jerusalem of Judea, we must include those in Jerusalem as well as the dispersion in this gathering. In verse 22 Peter addressed all these men as “men of Israel”. In short, the dispersed were considered part of Israel along with those who lived in Judea.
So Judea was the nation of Israel and did not include the dispersed Jews. But the term “Israel” as used in Acts 2 included the dispersed Jews as well as those of Judea. Obviously, in this context, the dispersed are part of Israel as a people, but not part of the nation.
It is important in this study to understand that in terms of Israel’s rejection or acceptance of Christ, the dispersed of Israel were no less important than those in Judea. How do we know that? We know that from the fact that in Acts 3:19-21 where Peter’s message was to repent so that the Lord would return was addressed to “men of Israel” (vs. 12), which, as it did in Acts 2, includes those of the dispersion. In other words, the dispersed of Israel were included in those who were required to accept Christ in order for Him to return.
Further proof of the fact that God placed importance on the acceptance or rejection of Christ by the dispersed, and not just those in Judea is found in Paul’s ministry. We read the Scriptural account of Paul’s commission in Acts 9:15, “But the Lord said unto him (Ananias), ‘Go thy way: for he (Paul) is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings and the children of Israel”. Much dispensational importance is placed on the fact that Paul was sent to the Gentiles (quite wrongly, in my opinion, please see the paper on this web-site Salvation Sent To The Gentiles Apart From Israel), but as we have read in the quote of Paul’s commission, he was also sent to the Jews. A study of the book of Acts will show that Paul rarely went to Judea, but that most of his ministry was to the dispersed of Israel.
Furthermore, the dispersed of Israel were still of the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and there is no Scriptural evidence to conclude that their acceptance or rejection of Christ was immaterial in terms of God’s judgment of His People.
THE CHIEF MEN
What is of extreme importance in our study of the stoning of Stephen is that we read in Acts 28 of Paul being taken to Rome where he, “called the chief of the Jews together……” (Acts 28:17). The Greek word translated “chief” in this verse is the same Greek word, (“proteron”) as was used in reference to the chief of the Jews in Jerusalem in Acts 25:2. That means that just as the chief of the Jews in Jerusalem were the “first” (which is the basic meaning of the Greek word) among the Jews in Jerusalem, so too the chief of the Jews in Rome were the “first” among the Jews in Rome.
We have learned that Israel in the Gospel and Acts periods was, in one sense, divided into two categories i.e. the Jews in Judea and the Jews of the dispersion. Of paramount importance to our study is the question of who represented Judea and who represented the dispersed of Israel. As would be expected, the nation of Israel was represented by the chief Jews at Jerusalem. But who represented the dispersed of Israel?
First let us consider who did not represent the dispersed of Israel. When Paul was sent to Rome he called for the chief men of the Jews who were there in Rome. The chief men in Jerusalem had already rejected Christ, and yet, Paul sent for the chief men in Rome explaining to them about their risen Messiah. In other words, those in Jerusalem did not speak for those in Rome: if they had spoken for those in Rome there would have been no reason for Paul to ask to see the chief of the Jews as opposed to any other Jews. That is to say, if the chief of the Jews in Jerusalem represented the Jews of the dispersion, the acceptance or rejection of Christ by the dispersed would have already been registered and there would have been no need for Paul to call for those chief of the Jews in Rome.
In my opinion, the only logical conclusion as to who represented the dispersed of Israel is that the chief men of the Jews in Rome represented them. That is to say, those in Jerusalem represented the Jews in Jerusalem and by extension those of Judea, and those in Rome represented the Jews in Rome, and by extension the Jews of the dispersion.
To reiterate, as the Scriptural evidence quoted above shows, God did take into account the acceptance or rejection of Christ by the dispersed before He passed judgment on His People.
It has been suggested that Paul called for the chief men in Rome because he had gone to the chief Jews in every city he came to. But it is simply not true that Paul went to the chief men of the Jews in every city. It was Paul’s custom to go to the synagogues, but the Word of God does not tell us that he went to, or asked to speak with, the chief Jews of any city he went to except for Rome in Acts 28. It has also been suggested that Paul asked for the chief of the Jews in Rome so that they would spread the gospel. But if Paul’s interest in calling a meeting with chief Jews was to spread the gospel, he would have called believers to him, not unbelievers. I believe that if we accept the Word of God at face value, the reason that Paul called for the chief Jews in Rome was to speak to the leaders, as leaders.
DID GOD SET ASIDE ISRAEL AT ACTS 7?
I believe that the stoning of Stephen did indicate that the leaders in Jerusalem rejected Christ. But does that prove that it was at that point that God set Israel aside and She became lo-ammi? I believe it does not.
Let us once again consider Saul’s conversion. We read in Acts 9:15 of the Lord saying to Ananias, “Go thy way; for he (Paul) is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel“. The fact that Paul was sent to the “children of Israel” raises two questions:
1) If Israel had already been set aside, why raise up a new apostle to go to them?
2) Paul was chosen immediately after the stoning of Stephen to go to, among others, the children of Israel. A Scriptural study of Paul’s travels will show that he was sent primarily to the dispersed of Israel, as opposed to those in Judea. In other words, from the time of his choosing, Paul went primarily to the dispersed of Israel and towards the end of his Acts period ministry, to the leaders of the dispersed. Again, if Israel had been set aside at Acts 7 it makes no sense that Paul was chosen at that time, to go to Israel. The fact that he was sent to the dispersed of Israel shows that they were considered part of Israel and God would allow their leaders in Rome to accept or reject Paul’s message on their behalf, as He allowed those in Jerusalem to accept or reject the message on behalf of the the nation, i.e. those in Judea.
In point of fact, as we consider Rom. 11, we will see that Israel had not been set aside at Acts 7. According to E. W. Bullinger, the epistle to Rome was Paul’s last epistle written during the Acts period. That, of course, puts it many years (as many as 30) after Stephen was stoned. We read in Rom. 11:24, “….how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree“. The natural branches were Israelites. How do we know that the natural branches were Israelites? We read in verse 13 that Paul was speaking to Gentiles, “For I speak to you Gentiles….”. Then in verse 17 we read, “….and thou (Gentiles) being a wild olive tree….”. If the Gentiles were the “wild olive tree“, obviously Israel was the good olive tree. Therefore, this passage could not be more clear; the good olive tree is Israel.
If Israel had already been set aside as God’s chosen People in Acts 7, then these believing Gentiles were being grafted into an olive tree that had, figuratively speaking, already been cut down. This makes no sense. I think we may conclude therefore, that Israel was still God’s People past Acts 7.
WHY DID STEPHEN SEE CHRIST STANDING?
We read in Acts 7:56 Stephen’s statement of what he saw as he looked into heaven, “…Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God”. But we read in Heb. 1:3 of Christ seated at the right hand of God. That verse reads, “……when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high”. Why is there a seeming discrepancy between these two verses?
Many believe that Stephen saw Christ standing because the Old Testament speaks of judges standing in judgment. That is to say, they believe that Christ was standing because He was, at the time of the stoning of Stephen, judging Israel. Further, they believe that it was at this time that Israel was set aside.
But the problem with the notion that Christ’s standing shows that He was judging is that we read of “the judgment seat of Christ”, and of “the great white throne“. I believe we must assume that Christ will be seated for those judgments. My point is only that His standing does not prove that it was because He was judging. So why was Christ standing?
In point of fact, as far as I know, we are not told specifically. But I believe we may find a clue in the fact that Christ is said in Heb. 1 to be seated. Let me quote that verse again, “when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high”. Note the very important word, “when”. That is to say, this verse tells us that when Christ purged our sins He sat down. To me that says that it was because the purging of our sins was accomplished, that He sat down. In fact, the note in the Companion Bible on “when” reads, “having made purification of”. This seems to strengthen the idea that it was because sins were purged that Christ sat. In other words, the reason Christ was said to be seated in Hebrews. is because something had been accomplished.
Now let us return to the question of why Stephen saw Christ standing. If the reason Christ was seated was because He had accomplished something, it seems to me that the reason He was standing was because something was not accomplished. What was it that the stoning of Stephen showed had not been accomplished? That question is answered as we consider the fact that it was the leaders of the nation of Israel who had him stoned (see Acts 6:12). In other words because it is the leaders of a nation that speak for it that had Stephen, stoned, it is clear that what was not being accomplished at the stoning of Stephen was God’s plans for the nation of Israel. What were those plans? Peter explained in Acts 3:19-21 that if Israel were to repent the Lord would return to set up His millennial reign.
Here is my point: Christ was said to be seated in Hebrews because He had accomplished the purging of sin. He was seen by Stephen as standing because it was clear that with the stoning of Stephen, Israel was not accepting their risen Messiah so that He would return. In other words, Christ’s salvation plans were completed and He sat, His dispensational plans were not being completed, so He was seen standing.
THE DIVORCE OF ISRAEL AT ACTS 28
When we speak of Israel being “lo-ammi” in the dispensation of the mystery we are alluding to Hosea’s prophecy which was fulfilled when Israel was taken captive by the Babylonians. More specifically, we are alluding to Hosea 1:9 where we read, “Then said God, ‘Call his name Lo-ammi; for ye are not My people, and I will not be your God'”. Hosea was told to name one of his children Lo-ammi as a prophecy of the impending period in which Israel would be carried away captive. What is equally important in this prophecy is Hosea 2:2, “Plead with your mother, plead; for she is not My wife, neither am I her husband.….”. My point is that when Israel became lo-ammi in the fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy, She also became “not My wife”. The same is true, as we shall see below, of the present lo-ammi period. That is to say, Israel became “not My people” and “not My wife”.
We read in Acts 28:25, “And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed”. The Greek word translated “departed” is “apeluonto”, and is a derivative of “apoluo” which is often used of divorce. See for example Matt. 1:19, “was minded to put her away privily”. See also Matt. 5:31, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement”. And Matt. 5:32, “….shall marry her that is divorced.…”. The word is used of divorce sixteen times in the New Testament, not counting Acts 28:25. I believe that we should at least consider the possibility that Acts 28:25 tells us that Israel was being divorced from Her Husband, Jehovah.
Some have objected that the Greek word translated “departed” cannot mean “divorced” because it is not in the passive voice. Let me explain that objection and then comment on it.
Let me use a different phrase in order to clarify the meaning of “passive voice”. If we said, “My feet are being washed”, that is an example of the passive voice”. And if we said, “I am washing my own feet”, that is an example of the middle voice”. So in terms of Acts 28:25, if the word was used to indicate the passive voice it would mean that Israel was being divorced. If it was used to indicate the middle voice, it would mean that the men departed. The question is then, which voice did the Holy Spirit mean for us to understand?
In the case of Acts 28:25, the Greek word is the same for the passive as it is for the middle voice. Therefore, in terms of the Greek, apart from the context, “apeluonto” can mean either “they were being dismissed/divorced” (passive voice) or it can mean “they themselves departed” (middle voice). In point of fact, I believe that in Acts 28:25 “apeluonto” means both departed and divorced. I believe the figure of speech “double meaning” is used in this verse. The Companion Bible gives the following definition to the figure of speech called, “Amphioblogia or Double meaning”. “A word or phrase susceptible of two interpretations, both absolutely true“.
It is clear that the men spoken of in Acts 28:25 did indeed depart. That is to say, there is no question that in one sense the word is to be understood in the middle voice. The question is: can it also be understood as the passive voice, that is to say, does this verse also tell us that Israel was divorced? The note on the word translated “departed” in the Companion Bible reads, “Lit. were being sent away. ….The imperfect suggests that the chief men (vs. 17) broke up the meeting and sent the rest away lest they should be convinced”. The phrase in this note “were sent away” suggests the passive voice. But Dr. Bullinger suggests that it is in the passive voice in order to indicate that the men were being sent away by their superiors. But were they being sent away or were they being divorced? Who were these men of verse 25? Verse 17 reads, “And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together“. We are not told that there were “chief men” and lesser men, only that they were the “chief of the Jews”. Therefore, I believe there is no Scriptural evidence for the suggestion that the lesser men were being sent away by the chief of the Jews. Dr. Bullinger translates the word in the passive voice but as “were being sent away”. I believe, however, that because there is no evidence that lesser men “were being sent away” by the “chief men”, the passive voice implies divorce, not being sent away.
We are now ready to consider the context of Acts 28:25 to see if it will help us to determine if indeed “apeluonto” can be understood in the passive voice (in which case it would mean “were being divorced”) in Acts 28:25, as well as the middle voice. We read in verse 29, “when he (Paul) had said these words, the Jews departed“. The Greek word translated “departed” in verse 29 is a different word than the one found in verse 25. The Greek word used in verse 29 is “aperdomai”. It is never used of divorce. So in verse 25 we have Luke writing that the Jews “apoluento” and in verse 29 we have Luke writing that the Jews “aperdomai”.
Now we must ask ourselves if Luke, through the Holy Spirit, was telling us the same thing two times, i.e. the Jews left. I believe that Luke was telling us two different things. I say that because the fact of these men leaving does not seem to warrant Luke writing it twice. It was profoundly significant that they disagreed (vs. 29b) but I don’t see the profundity in the fact that they left. I believe that in verse 25 Luke was telling us that Israel was being divorced and in verse 29 he was telling us that the Jews left.
Let us try to reconstruct the scene as it is recorded in Acts 28:24-29. In verse 24 we learn that some of the Jews believed Paul’s message and some did not. In verse 25 we learn that “they agreed not”. Then verse 25 tells us that something happened “after that Paul had spoken one word“. That “one word” is what was recorded in verses 26-28, the quote from Isaiah, chapter six and verse 28, “be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it”. Then we read again that “when he had said these words, the Jews departed”. In other words, after Paul had quoted Is. 6 and told them that salvation would be sent to the Gentiles, we read that “they departed”. (Bear in mind that when they departed as recorded in verse 29, that is not the word used of divorce.)
So we read in verse 29 that the Jews departed after Paul’s last word to them. And what do we read in verse 25? Do we read again that they departed after Paul’s last word to them? Or do we read that they were divorced after Paul’s last word to them? Given that the Holy Spirit uses two very different words translated “departed”, and that one of those words is the same root as the word used of a divorce, and that Israel certainly was divorced when She was set aside, I believe that Israel was divorced at Acts 28:25.
Is there any evidence that “apeluonto”can not be understood in the passive voice in Acts 28:25? There is this to consider. “Apoluo” does not mean “divorcement” outside of the direct context of the marriage relationship in any other passage. But Israel was indeed in a marriage relationship with God as is made clear throughout the Old Testament. In my opinion, just because Israel is not mentioned as Jehovah’s wife in the context does not negate the fact that Israel was indeed Jehovah’s wife, then being divorced.
A CONSIDERATION OF ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF THE ACTS 7 POSITION
Christ Did Not Go To The Dispersed
The fact that Christ did not go to the dispersed of Israel signifies to some that the leaders of Judea in Jerusalem spoke for the dispersed of Israel and that God did not take into consideration what the dispersed might do in regard to their acceptance or rejection of Christ. It is is quite true that Christ did not go to the dispersed of Israel. But let us consider God’s expanding ministry during the Acts period.
The nation, as represented by the chief men at Jerusalem rejected Christ when they had Him crucified. Then after Christ’s ascension Christ told Peter to wait in Jerusalem until Pentecost. The Word of God never records our Lord or any of His disciples preaching on Pentecost during the Gospel period. Why was Peter told to wait in Jerusalem until Pentecost? Pentecost was the feast in which, according to the Mosaic Law, all Jewish men were to gather at Jerusalem (see Deut. 16:16). Those included, of course the dispersed Jews from every nation. As recorded in Acts 2 there were men from every nation in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. So by telling Peter to wait in Jerusalem until Pentecost, God’s ministry expanded to the dispersion..
Then at Acts 7 the leaders at Jerusalem rejected Christ. But as we read in Acts 9, Christ called Saul to further expand His ministry by going to the dispersed of Israel and even to the Gentiles.
The point is that Christ’s ministry did not end with the end of the Gospel period. The ministry of the risen Christ continued throughout the Acts period and expanded to include all Israel and Gentiles in an effort to make Christ’s return possible. So even though during His earthly ministry Christ went only to those of Judea, His ministry continued from heaven through His disciples and expanded to include dispersed Israel and the Gentiles.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: email@example.com