“But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.”
As soon as Stephen began to perform these wonderful things, immediately opposition arose. This is always the case when a person is controlled by the Spirit and begins to get cranked up for the Lord. The Freedmen were the descendants of Jewish slaves who were taken to Rome. They were later granted freedom and formed a Jewish community. The Cyrenians and Alexandrians were from two of the mayor cities of North Africa, Cyrene and Alexandria. Both cities had large Jewish populations. Cilicia and Asia were also Roman provinces. Paul’s hometown of Tarsus was in Cilicia.
The people involved in this opposition to Stephen were all Jews. These Jews had been scattered throughout the region and many of them had come back to Jerusalem to live. The freedmen in the King James version of the Bible is translated “libertine,” which means a liberated slave. So the first group of Jews who were in opposition to Stephen were Jews whose ancestors had been in slavery. They had later been freed by the Romans and were now citizens of the Roman Empire.
Numerous synagogues were set up in Jerusalem, including one for freedmen, or ex-slaves. There were no less than 480 synagogues in Jerusalem during Jesus' time. The first synagogues may have been built by Jews held captive far from the temple during the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century B.C., but synagogues were important religious and social institutions in the time of Jesus.
The original Greek word synagogue means merely "a place of meeting." In the Jewish world synagogues were second only to the temple in Jerusalem as religious institutions. They also served as schools of religious instruction and communal halls for civic functions under the direction of a council of elders. Typically, a synagogue was a small structure built on a rise above the neighboring houses. Opposite the entrance, a portable ark contained the scrolls of the Law and the Prophets. In front of it, facing worshipers were the "chief seats" for religious leaders. For public worship, which was conducted on the Sabbath, a minimum of 10 adult males had to be in attendance. The five-part service included prayers, psalm-singing, blessings, readings from the Scriptures, and commentaries on the sacred passages, but there were no sacrifices. Although a rabbi might be recognized as the leader because of his distinguished teaching, there was no official clergy. In fact, any Jew who felt himself qualified could ask for permission to teach the Scriptures-as Jesus did at Nazareth.
Argued with Stephen means that they simply tried to refute his position. So Stephen not only understood doctrine (wisdom) but he was very strong (power of the Holy Spirit) in the field of apologetics (defending his faith). Even Saul of Tarsus as an unbeliever, but a genius, could not handle Stephen the believer. None of these people could break down his arguments and refute his position. We will see in the following verses how well Stephen knew the Scriptures.
“But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”
We know nothing about the background of Stephen, but we know one thing about him as a believer: he knew Bible doctrine. The best defense is to know doctrine and to state it clearly. In his defense he kept on presenting Bible doctrine. This is the power of the Word of God. It is not necessary to quote the Bible, but to know and state Biblical position. That is exactly what Stephen did. As a result the opposition had no argument.
All of the inherent genius, all of the brilliance of these very intellectual Jews could not break down Bible doctrine. They were up against something bigger than any of them. Stephen just kept presenting the truth of God’s Word, the Biblical viewpoint. Unable to cope meant they could not refute the truth because it came directly from their own Scriptures. But notice that Stephen won the argument but he didn’t win these people to Christ. You will never win people to Christ even though you win the argument, if they negative toward God and his Word. God the Holy Spirit using Stephen cannot change the volition of any person.
Stephen spoke in the power of the Holy Spirit. The word speaking is the Greek word for speaking extemporaneously (“just off the top of his head”), which means he knew doctrine, he understood doctrine, and he knew it so well that he could stand up and teach it extemporaneously to these people as they brought up various problems and difficulties with regard to God, His existence, His plan, the Cross, etc. In other words, they cross-examined him very thoroughly and he was able to answer everything that they had to offer.
“Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in theCouncil saw his face like the face of an angel.”
Now, we see opposition from the Sanhedrin (Council) once again, but now directed toward Stephen. They bribed men. They couldn’t refute his argument, so these religious leaders decided they would pay people to lie about him. Immediately their evidence should have been ruled out. This was hearsay evidence (we have heard).
Then the elders, the rulers of the various tribes some who were part of the Sanhedrin stirred up the people. Dragged him away means to seize by violence and force. In other words, they decided he was already guilty and they beat him up on the way to the Sanhedrin, he was already tried and condemned before he came to court. This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law struck a nerve because the temple was sacred and holy to the Sanhedrin as was the Law of Moses. For we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us is Biblically correct: the customs were changed—no Sabbath worship, no specialized priesthood, no legalistic system of any kind.
And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in theCouncil saw his face like the face of an angel means there was something about Stephen that was absolutely different. They saw the face of an angel. This doesn’t mean they knew what angels look like because none of them had ever seen an angel, but it has the idea of Exodus 34:30 where they saw Moses’ face when it was animated. So the face of an angel means great animation. But even though they were totally fascinated by the marvelous way that he looked it didn’t keep them from stoning him because Stephen said that Jesus Christ was the God of Israel.
The Sanhedrin was the supreme council, or court, in ancient Israel. The Sanhedrin was comprised of 70 men, plus the high priest, who served as its president. The members came from the chief priests, scribes, and elders, but there is no record on how they were chosen.
During the time of the Roman governors, such as Pontius Pilate, the Sanhedrin had jurisdiction only over the province of Judea. The Sanhedrin had its own police force which could arrest people, as they did Jesus. While the Sanhedrin heard both civil and criminal cases and could impose the death penalty, in New Testament times they did not have the authority to execute convicted criminals. That power was reserved to the Romans, which explains why Jesus was crucified—a Roman punishment—rather than stoned, according to Mosaic Law. The Sanhedrin was abolished with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.
We need God’s supernatural power, as Stephen did, in order to be effective in the execution of His plan, purpose and will. This power has been given to each of us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus prophesied the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, He said He would send the Comforter. The word in Greek for Comforter is “parakletos” which means “someone called to the aid of another,” particularly in the legal process. The “parakletos” would have therefore been an advisor, intercessor, mediator, mentor or advocate in a courtroom setting. In English we would use the word “lawyer.”
We can see from the etymology of the word that “comforter” is a poor translation of “parakletos.” The word more correctly connotes ability, aid, and assistance, rather than comfort from pain or distress. God the Holy Spirit was not sent to “pat us on the head” and tell us that all will be okay. The Holy Spirit was given to us to empower us, to guide us and to teach us. (John 14:26, 15:26) Jesus said, “You shall receive power (“dunamis” in Greek) after the Holy Spirit is come upon you….” (Acts 1:8)
After salvation the Holy Spirit provides the spiritual I.Q. for learning and applying Bible doctrine on a consistent basis. (I Corinthians 2:9-14) The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for the unbeliever, and God’s Word (Bible doctrine) and the filling of the Holy Spirit is the power in the life of the believer. (Romans 1:16; II Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12) John 4:24, tells us to worship God in Spirit (the filling of the Holy Spirit) and in truth (Bible doctrine).
Without the power of the Holy Spirit the believer has no spiritual life. Stephen understood this principle as we have seen from the words wisdom and Spirit in verse 10. Wisdom is knowing and doing the will of God. Knowing and doing the will of God requires wisdom. Wisdom is defined as knowledge of what is true or right combined with good judgment. The good judgment is the mentorship of God the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26) Good judgment is related to the believer's scale of values, in which Bible doctrine is circulated in the stream of consciousness. You create a mirror in your soul, so that in the privacy of your priesthood you can look into the mirror of your soul anytime and see your spiritual status and your relationship with God or failure to have harmonious rapport with God.
Under the mentorship of God the Holy Spirit, Bible doctrine is to have number one priority in the life of Church Age believers as a members of the Royal Family of God. The foundation for wisdom is found in John 14:26. Wisdom is the sum total of the teaching of Bible doctrine under the mentorship of God the Holy Spirit and the positive response to that doctrine, resulting in perception, metabolization, and application. Wisdom understands both the will and the plan of God.
Wisdom therefore begins when you understand that God has a plan for your life and begin to see it from the Scripture, and then to understand the spiritual life and live it. From this comes wisdom. This wisdom must come from the accurate teaching of Bible doctrine. Therefore, you have to have humility (teachability) to have wisdom; for no one is teachable apart from humility. Without humility, your mind is not open to teaching. Humility is the basis for teachability, and teachability is the road to wisdom. The textbook for wisdom in the Christian life is the Bible with emphasis on the New Testament epistles for wisdom in the dispensation of the Church. (II Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 4:12)