Arrest of Stephen

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The young Saul (Paul) played an active part in the martyrdom of Stephen. The first attempts, however, to put down the new faith came from the Sadducees. The high priest and his immediate adherents (Acts 4:1, 5:17) belonged to this party. They hated the doctrine of the resurrection and the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the cornerstone of all Peter's teaching.

After they arranged for the arrest of the Apostles they were brought before the Sanhedrin, who in the first instance were content to enjoin silence on them. The order was disobeyed, and they were summoned again. The consequences might have been fatal, but that the jealousy between the Sadducees and Pharisees was overruled, and the instrumentality of one man's wisdom was used, by Almighty God, for the protection of His servants.

Gamaliel, the eminent Pharisee, sometime before the arrest of Stephen argued that if what Jesus' disciples were doing were not of God, it would come to nothing, like the work of other impostors. If, however, if it were of God, they could not safely resist what must certainly prevail. After their arrest and brief questioning the apostles were scourged and allowed to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41). But it was impossible that those Pharisees, whom Christ had always rebuked, should long continue to be protectors of the Christians.

In many particulars Stephen was the forerunner of Apostle Paul. Up to this time the conflict had been chiefly maintained with the Aramaic Jews but he carried the war of the Gospel into the territory of the Hellenists. The learned members of the foreign synagogues endeavored to refute him by argument or by clamor. The Cilician Synagogue is particularly mentioned (Acts 6:9, 10) as having furnished some conspicuous opponents to Stephen, who "were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit with which he spake."

Leading the persecution

We cannot doubt, from what follows, that Saul (Paul) of Tarsus, already distinguished by his zeal and talents among the younger champions of Pharisaism, bore a leading part in the discussions which here took place before the arrest of Stephen. He was now, though still "a young man" (Acts 7:58), yet no longer in the first opening of youth. This is evident from the fact that he was appointed to an important ecclesiastical and political office immediately afterwards. Such an appointment he could hardly have received from the Sanhedrin before the age of thirty and probably not so early, for we must remember that a peculiar respect for seniority distinguished the Rabbinical authorities.

We can imagine Saul (Paul), then, the foremost in the Cilician Synagogue, "disputing" against the new doctrines of the Hellenistic Deacon, in all the energy of vigorous manhood, and with all the vehement logic of the Rabbis. How often must these scenes have been recalled to his mind, when he himself took the place of Stephen in many a synagogue, and bore the brunt of the like furious assault.

But this clamor and these arguments were not sufficient to convince or intimidate Stephen. After his arrest false witnesses were then suborned to accuse him of blasphemy against Moses and against God. They asserted, when he was dragged before the Sanhedrin, that they had heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth should destroy the Temple and change the Mosaic customs.

It is evident, from the nature of the accusation against Stephen, how remarkably his doctrine was an anticipation of the Apostle Paul's. As a Hellenistic Jew, he was less entangled in the prejudices of Hebrew nationality than his Aramaic brethren and he seems to have had a fuller understanding of the final intention of the Gospel than Peter and the Apostles had yet attained to.

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