Acts 7-8

Chapter 7

Boring…. Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit, and he is moved to defend himself against his accusers by reciting the entire history of the Torah. As expected, he doesn’t get all his facts correct, so there are a number of contradictions between his version and the OT accounts (did god call Abraham before or after he moved to Haran? How many were in Jacob’s family when they arrived in Egypt? Where was Jacob buried? etc) – but who really cares? Zzzz…

Stephen references Amos 5:25 (v 42) and Isaiah 66:1 (v 49) to make his case, demonstrating that he’s also well-versed in the scriptures. Then in v 51-53 he gets really ugly with his anti-Semitic accusations (“name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute!”), and the council becomes enraged. As they proceed to stone him, he becomes the first Christian martyr, claiming to see the glory of god as he dies.

The Stoning of Saint Stephen, Rembrandt, 1625

The Stoning of Saint Stephen, Rembrandt, 1625

I see a definite parallel in Stephen’s final words ‘Lord Jesus receive my spirit’ and ‘Lord do not hold this sin against them’, compared to Jesus’ final words in Luke 23:46 and 23:34 – almost the same except Stephen prays to Jesus, whereas Jesus had prayed to god. And sadly, martyrs are still idealized by devout Christians and even held up as examples to children.

Chapter 8

We meet Saul, who witnessed Stephen being stoned and was quite fine with that, and in fact makes a hobby out of persecuting Christians. If you’re not familiar with him, take note, because he’ll become important later. Then Philip goes about preaching and faith-healing, and he runs into some competition from an established magician named Simon. Pot vs. kettle, I’d say. V 14-17 are curious. The Samaritans had been baptized in the name of Jesus but did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John arrived to lay hands on them. Huh? What special aura or power did Peter and John have that the others didn’t? Baptizing in the name of Jesus alone wasn’t good enough?

Next, Simon the magician tries to buy his way into heaven. Nuh-uh, says Peter, ‘your heart is not right with god’. Now there’s a phrase of Christianese I hear often. Funny that we are not told what happens to Simon after he apologizes. Was he forgiven?

The last story of the chapter, about the Ethiopian eunuch, seems to be making the point that no one can understand scripture unless it is interpreted to them by a believer first. I’m sure the guy was doing just fine before Philip arrived. And what happened to him after he was baptized? We aren’t told that, either. Philip was teleported to another town by the Holy Ghost and it sounds like we won’t hear about the eunuch again. This chapter is very disjointed and the stories are all incomplete – I don’t think the author gave one hoot for the people he was writing about; he only used them to further his own agenda.

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