Acts vii.Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Are these things so? The high priest speaks after this mild manner, being either terrified, or charmed with his angelical countenance. St. Stephen’s design in this discourse, was to shew them, first, that he was falsely accused of speaking either against Moses, or the law, for which he shews so great a veneration. 2. He puts them in mind, that the true worship of God may subsist without a temple, as it did in the time of Abraham, and the patriarchs, before the law was given, or the temple built. 3. That as their forefathers had been rebellious to Moses, and disobedient to the prophets, whom they many times persecuted even to death, so they had lately resisted, persecuted, and crucified their Messias. (Witham)
Ver. 5. Not the pace of a foot; not so much as a foot of land, that is, to dwell in, though he bought there a place to bury in. (Genesis xxiii. 9.) (Witham)
Ver. 6. For four hundred years, counting from the birth of Isaac, which was twenty-five years after the call and promises made to Abraham. It is certain the Israelites were not four hundred years in Egypt. (Witham) — Four hundred. These words are taken from the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, in which Moses mentions the same number of years. This calculation is made from the entry of Abraham into Chanaan, to the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt. Strictly, the Israelites did not remain in Egypt more than two hundred and fifteen years.
Ver. 7. The nation which they shall serve, I will judge. The meaning is, that God would afflict the Egyptians with divers plagues, or visible punishments, before they dismissed the Israelites. (Witham)
Ver. 8. The covenant, or the testament, and alliance of circumcision, by which the Israelites should be known to be the elect people of God. (Witham) — Literally, he gave them the alliance of circumcision; he made with him an alliance, of which circumcision was the seal. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 10. Gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharao. Some understand divine graces, and gifts of prophecy, and the like: others, that he made him find favour in the sight of king Pharao, who appointed him to be governor of Egypt. (Witham)
Ver. 16. Which Abraham bought … of the sons of Hemor, the son of Sichem. This purchase made by Abraham must be different from the purchase of a field made afterwards by Jacob. (Genesis xxxiii. 19.) See a Lapide, the author of the Analysis, dissert. 23. P. Alleman, &c. (Witham) — Abraham bought. There must be an error of the copyist in this verse. Either the word Abraham ought to be omitted, or changed into Jacob. For it is plain, from Genesis xxxiii. 19. that the latter bought the land from the sons of Hemor. The Hebrew says, he bought it for one hundred kesitha, which some translate pieces of silver; others, lambs. As for Abraham, and Jacob, they were buried in the cavern of Mambre, which Abraham had purchased from the children of Heth. (Genesis xxiii.) (Calmet) — It is supposed that originally the name of Jacob was given, abridged JAB, and that the first letter having disappeared, the two remaining letters were taken by misprision, for the abridgment of the name of Abraham. Hemor was the father of Sichem, and here the Greek text simply calls him Hemor of Sichem. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 19. Dealing craftily, circumventing craftily, afflicting, and endeavouring to extirpate the race of the Israelites. (Witham)
Ver. 20. Moses … was acceptable to God. Greatly favoured both with gifts of nature and grace. Some expound it, was extremely fair or beautiful. (Witham)
Ver. 21. Philo believes that the princess feigned him to be her own child; Moses denied that he was, and would not take advantage of this adoption. (Hebrews xi. 24.)
Ver. 22. In words and in deeds. Moses was persuasive and powerful in reasoning; but had an impediment in his speech, as we know from Exodus iv. 10. and vi. 12. He possessed, moreover, strength, energy, and grandeur, in his discourse. Of this we have abundant proofs in his books. He is inimitable in narrating, as often as he writes laws, composes canticles, or makes harangues. He is simple, clear, sublime, vehement, concise, prolix, and rapid, in turns, as the nature of his subject requires. He was likewise powerful in work. All his conduct was wise, virtuous, enlightened, as well in affairs of policy, as in war. He was an able captain, before he put himself at the head of the Israelites. (Calmet) — Josephus assures us that he became a great conqueror.
Ver. 29. Moses fled upon this word; because he perceived the murder he had committed was become public, though he thought it to be secret. (Menochius) He fled, to avoid the anger of the king, into Madian, where during his sojourning, he had two sons of Sephora, whom he married there. (Bible de Vence) — Moses of Moyses, in the Egyptian dialect, means, saved from water. He slew the Egyptian by particular inspiration of God, as a prelude to his delivering the people from oppression and bondage. (ver. 25. above) — But such particular and extraordinary examples are not to be imitated. (Challoner) — He was inspired to stand up, as the Egyptian law required, in defence of the innocent. (St. Thomas Aquinas, ii. 2. q. 60.)
Ver. 30. In a flame of fire, in a bush. Literally, in the fire of a flame of the bush. The sense must be, that the bush seemed on fire, and in a flame, and yet was not consumed. (Witham)
Ver. 33. Loose the shoes. This was a method of testifying respect among the eastern nations. The Mahometans do not wear their shoes in their mosques. The Jewish priests served in the temple with their shoes off. The angel who appeared to Josue ordered him also to take off his shoes. (Josue v. 16.) If the apparition of an angel, or of God himself, could make the place and ground holy so as to deserve external signs of respect, and veneration from Moses; how much more the corporal birth, abode, and miracles of the Son of God in Jewry, and the blessed Sacrament, must make that country, and all Catholic chapels and altars, holy? Is it not then the height of blindness to tax with superstition, the reverence Christians pay to things or places, rendered holy by the presence, or wonderful operations of God.
Ver. 35. Moses, whom they refused. Literally, denied. So have you rejected, and denied Jesus, of whom Moses prophesied, when he said that God would raise up to them a prophet like to himself, and commanded them to hear him. (Witham) — Redeemer. In the Greek Lutroten; Protestant version, Deliverer; though the learned Polus, in his Synopsis Criticorum, on this place, says, “that no greater injury is done to God, by calling Moses a Redeemer, in this place, than by calling him a Mediator, in Galatians iii. 19. He is called a Redeemer, says this learned Protestant commentator, in as much as he led forth, and preserved the people of God safe by the blood of a lamb, and thus exhibited a figure of the true redemption, through the blood of Christ.” We all own that Jesus Christ, as having paid the ransom of our delivery with his own blood, is, strictly speaking, our only true Redeemer, and Advocate with his Father, who asks and obtains all things immediately by his own merit; but this does not exclude the prayers of the saints, both alive and dead. Did not the apostles pray for the people, and desire the people to pray for them? “Our Lord Jesus Christ still intercedes for us, and all the martyrs that are with him, pray for us: nor will their intercession cease, till we cease our groanings,” says St. Augustine, in Ps. lxxxv. in fine.
Ver. 38. This is he who was in the Church in the wilderness, after God had by him delivered their Fathers out of their slavery in Egypt. — An angel spoke to him on Mount Sinai. By this St. Stephen owns that the law was given by an angel to Moses: and also shews how falsely he was accused to have spoken against Moses, or against the law.
Ver. 39. Whom our Fathers would not obey, murmuring, and rebelling from time to time. And in their hearts turned back into Egypt, as they shewed, by wishing themselves there again. (Witham)
Ver. 40. Saying to Aaron, make us gods: forcing him, in a manner, to make them the golden calf, while Moses was receiving the law from God. (Witham)
Ver. 42. And God turned. Turned as it were from them, punishing them, by permitting them to serve the host of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars. (Witham)
Ver. 43. And you, that is, your forefathers, took unto you the tabernacle of Moloch. He reproaches the Jews with their idolatry and worship of different false gods, from time to time, notwithstanding God’s comminations by the prophets, of which he puts them in mind by these words, and I will translate you beyond Babylon. The prophet Amos, chap. v, ver. 27. out of whom St. Stephen takes this citation, says, beyond Damascus, but the sense is the same, being a prediction, that the ten tribes of Israel should be carried away captives beyond Damascus by the Assyrians, and even beyond Babylon into Media, Persia, &c. (Witham)
Ver. 44. The tabernacle of the testimony, in which was the ark of the covenant, as they were made by Moses, which were moved from place to place with the Israelites in the wilderness; and which Jesus, or Josue, brought with the people, into the possessions of the Gentiles, that is, into the land of Chanaan, which had been before possessed by the Gentiles. — This tabernacle, in which was kept the ark, remained with the Israelites till the time of David, or rather of Solomon, who built the temple. (Witham)
Ver. 48. But the most High dwelleth not in houses made by hands. God is every where, nor is his presence confined to the temple, which was already once destroyed; and what if it be destroyed again, as Christ foretold? God must still be adored, worshipped and served, as he was before the temple was first built, which was only by Solomon. (Witham) — Dwelleth not in houses. That is, so as to stand in need of earthly dwellings, or to be contained or circumscribed by them. Though otherwise, by his immense divinity, he is in our houses, and every where else; and Christ in his humanity dwelt in houses: and is now on our altars. (Challoner) —It is not so much for God, as for ourselves, that we build temples, and it is a pure effect of his goodness and mercy, that he permits us to build them to him. Places consecrated in a particular manner to his service, where he gives the most sensible marks of his presence, are of assistance to us, when we render our homage, address our vows, and offer our prayers to the Deity. St. Stephen’s design in this part of his discourse, is to prove that the true religion may subsist without the temple; therefore, that he could not be guilty of blasphemy, supposing he had even used the words which the malice of the Jews put into his mouth, that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy this place. (Chap. vi. 14.)
Ver. 51. Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart. St. Stephen, inspired by the Holy Ghost, knowing he should die a martyr, boldly reproaches them for persecuting the prophets, for putting to death the just one, that is, the Messias, foretold by the prophets. (Witham) — Observe the holy indignation of St. Stephen at the obduracy of the incredulous Jews!
Ver. 54. They were cut to the heart: exasperated even to rage and madness. See chap. v, ver. 33. gnashing their teeth with indignation. (Witham)
Ver. 55. This is the comfort of all martyrs. (Bristow) — This the support of every Christian under the severest trials of either mind or body: this the sweetener of every burthen and cross.
Ver. 56. Stopped their ears, crying out, blasphemy: and they stoned him to death. He praying for them, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, in imitation of his Lord and Master, our Saviour Christ. And reposed in the Lord. Literally, slept. In most Greek copies, are now wanting, in the Lord; but it is no doubt the sense. (Witham) — Rushed in violently upon him. This proceeding, without any sentence, or form of law, was altogether irregular; and never used in the better times of the Jewish government. This was called, judgment of zeal, and only allowed in one instance, viz. when any one came to draw the people to idolatry. Afterwards, this kind of proceeding was extended to other crimes. See Deuteronomy xiii. 6; Numbers xxiv.[xxv.?]; 1 Machabees xi. 24.[ii. 24.?]; &c.
Ver. 58. Invoking. See with what arms St. Stephen defended himself against the fury of his enemies. He puts on charity for a breast-plate, and by that came off victorious. By his love of God, he resisted the enraged Jews; by the love he bore his neighbour, he prayed for those that stoned him. Through charity, he admonished them of their errors, in order to their amendment; through charity, he besought the divine goodness not to punish their crimes against him. Leaning on charity, he overcame the cruelty of Saul, and merited to have him a companion in heaven, who had been his chief persecutor on earth. (St. Fulgentius, Serm. de S. Steph.) — We here again see the powerful intercession of the saints; “for,” says St. Augustine, “if Stephen had not thus prayed, the Church would not have to glory in a St. Paul. Si Stephanus non sic orasset, Ecclesia Paulum non haberet.” (Serm. i. de S. Steph.)
 Ver. 8. Testamentum, ten diatheken. See Hebrews ix. 16.
 Ver. 20. Gratus Deo, asteios to theo. Acceptable to God. It may also signify, beautiful in the sight of God, that is, in the style of the Scriptures, very beautiful.
 Ver. 30. In igne flammę rubi, en phlogi puros batou. In flamma ignis rubi.
 Ver. 38. In the assembly. Literally, in Ecclesia, en te ekklesia.
 Ver. 56. [Ver. 60.] Obdormivit in Domino, ekoimethe.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Stephen’s speech before the council: his martyrdom.
1 Then *the high priest said: Are these things so?
2 He said: Ye men, brethren, and fathers, give ear. The God of glory appeared to our father, Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charan,
3 And said to him: *Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I will shew thee.
4 Then he went out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charan. And from thence, after his father was dead, he removed him into this land, in which you now dwell.
5 And he gave him no inheritance in it, no not the pace of a foot: but he promised to give it him in possession, and to his seed after him, when he had no child.
6 And God said to him: *That his seed should sojourn in a strange country, and that they should bring them under bondage, and treat them ill for four hundred years:
7 And the nation which they shall serve, I will judge, said the Lord: and after these things they shall go out, and shall serve me in this place.
8 *And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: **and so he begot Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day: and ***Isaac, Jacob: ****and Jacob, the twelve patriarchs.
9 And the patriarchs, moved with envy, *sold Joseph into Egypt: and God was with him.
10 And he delivered him out of all his tribulations: *and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharao, king of Egypt, and he appointed him governor over Egypt, and over all his house.
11 Now there came a famine over all Egypt, and Chanaan, and great tribulation: and our fathers found no food.
12 *But when Jacob had heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent our fathers first:
13 *And at the second time Joseph was known by his brethren, and his kindred was made known to Pharao.
14 And Joseph sending, called thither Jacob, his father, and all his kindred, seventy-five souls.
15 *So Jacob went down into Egypt; and **he died, and our fathers.
16 And they were translated to Sichem, and were laid in the sepulchre, *which Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Hemor the son of Sichem.
17 And when the time of the promise drew near, which God had promised to Abraham, *the people increased and were multiplied in Egypt,
18 Till another king arose in Egypt who knew not Joseph.
19 The same dealing craftily with our race, afflicted our fathers, that they should expose their children, to the end they might not be kept alive.
20 *At the same time was Moses born, and he was acceptable to God, and he was nourished three months in his father’s house.
21 But he being exposed, Pharao’s daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.
22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in his words, and in his deeds.
23 And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.
24 *And having seen one suffer an injury, he defended him: and striking the Egyptian, he avenged him who suffered the injury.
25 And he thought that his brethren understood that God, by his hand, would save them: but they understood it not.
26 *And the next day he shewed himself to them when they were at strife: and would have reconciled them in peace, saying; Men, ye are brethren, why hurt ye one another?
27 But he that did the injury to his neighbour, thrust him away, saying: Who hath appointed thee prince and judge over us?
28 Wilt thou kill me, as thou didst yesterday kill the Egyptian?
29 And Moses fled upon this word: and became a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.
30 And when forty years were expired, *there appeared to him in the desert of Mount Sinai an Angel, in a flame of fire, in a bush.
31 And Moses seeing it, wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to view it, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying;
32 I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses being terrified, durst not behold.
33 And the Lord said to him; Loose the shoes from off thy feet; for the place wherein thou standest, is holy ground.
34 Seeing, I have seen the affliction of my people, which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, and I will send thee into Egypt.
35 This Moses, whom they refused, saying, Who hath appointed thee prince and judge? him God sent prince and redeemer, by the hand of the Angel, who appeared to him in the bush.
36 *He brought them out, doing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the desert for forty years.
37 This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel; *A prophet will God raise up to you of your own brethren, as myself: him shall you hear.
38 *This is he who was in the church in the wilderness, with the Angel, who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the words of life to give to us.
39 Whom our fathers would not obey: but thrust him away, and in their hearts turned back into Egypt,
40 Saying to Aaron; *Make us gods to go before us: for as to this Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.
41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
42 And God turned, and gave them up to serve the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets; *Did you offer victims and sacrifices to me for forty years, in the desert, O house of Israel?
43 And you took unto you the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god, Rempham, figures which you made to adore them. And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
44 The tabernacle of the testimony was with our fathers in the desert, as God ordained for them, *speaking to Moses that he should make it according to the form which he had seen.
45 *Which also our fathers receiving, brought in with Jesus, into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, until the days of David:
46 *Who found grace before God, *and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
47 *But Solomon built him a house.
48 *Yet the most High dwelleth not in houses made by hands, as the prophet saith;
49 *Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool. What house will you build me, saith the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?
50 Hath not my hand made all these things?
51 Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you also.
52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One: of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers:
53 Who have received the law by the disposition of Angels, and have not kept it.
54 Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed with their teeth at him.
55 But he being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said: Behold I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.
56 And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord rushed violently upon him.
57 And casting him out the city, they stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul.
58 And they stoned Stephen, invoking and saying; Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
59 And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, saying; Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord. And Saul was consenting to his death.
1: about the year A.D. 33.
3: Genesis xii. 1.
6: Genesis xv. 13.
8: Genesis xvii. 10. — ** Genesis xxi. 24. — *** Genesis xxv. 25. — **** Genesis xxix. 32. and xxxv. 22.
9: Genesis xxxvii. 28.
10: Genesis xli. 37.
12: Genesis xlii. 2.
13: Genesis xlv. 3.
15: Genesis xlvi. 5. — ** Genesis xlix. 32.
16: Genesis xxiii. 16. and l. 5. and 13.; Josue xxiv. 32.
17: Exodus i. 7.
20: Exodus ii. 2.; Hebrews xi. 23.
24: Exodus ii. 12.
26: Exodus ii. 13.
30: Exodus iii. 2.
36: Exodus vii. 8. and ix. 10. and xi. 14.
37: Deuteronomy xviii. 15.
38: Exodus xix. 3.
40: Exodus xxxii. 1.
42: Amos v. 25.
44: Exodus xxv. 40.
45: Josue iii. 14.; Hebrews viii. 9.
46: 1 Kings xvi. 13.— ** Psalm cxxxi. 5.
47: 3 Kings vi. 1.; 1 Paralipomenon xvii. 12.
48: Acts xvii. 24.
49: Isaias lxvi. 1.