Truth, Understanding, Insight

How do we know the Bible is true?

16th December 2012, hej


2) Witness One: Stephen

As a jury person in a courtroom all we have to go on is the words and a feel of who the witnesses are. Stephen was put on trial. One witness says:

“This man ceases not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.” (Acts 6:13-14)

This witness says Stephen is blasphemous.

Another witness for Stephen's character says:

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business..... And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost... (Acts 6:1-5)

This witness says Stephen was honest, and would not lie and would not blaspheme. In addition this witness says,

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. (Acts 6:8)

This witness indicates these wonders and miracles could not be doubted. We remember in a courtroom that we were not there, but we are listening to the evidence. Is this witness lying or is it the truth? Did Stephen do miracles? We keep it in the back of our mind.

Another witness comes forward and tells of Stephen disputing. This is true as this is the reason he is on trial.

Then 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. (Acts 6:9)

The witness for Stephen says

And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. (Acts 6:10)

This witness for Stephen may be right as we know people don't attack others unless there is a reason. It's human nature to want to catch out someone you can't win an argument against. The reason that Stephen is on trial would be agreed. The Elders and Scribes of the city had been persuaded to catch him to put him on trial.

They stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council (trial), (Acts 6:12)

Let us remind ourselves of the accusation

For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. (Acts 6:14)

This question is really, 'Is Jesus the Messiah?' If Jesus is the Messiah then what Jesus says is right and true. (As an aside the temple ceased to exist in AD 70 exactly as Jesus predicted, even to the date. It appears no Christians who followed Jesus' advice and believed him died in the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70.)

The Judge (in this case the high priest) stands up and asks Stephen:

“Are these things so?” (Acts 7:1)

This is Stephen's own defence. We can get a feel for who he is:

“Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show you. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from there, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein you now dwell. And he (God) gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. (Acts 7:2-5)

He is respectful. Though a Greek he knows his Hebrew history and identifies with them. He thinks God is real and can speak to humans. He is intelligent and able to draw in ideas from history. He is honest in that the says that promises were made but not kept at that time. The other witnesses though they hate Stephen don't disagree with this! To this point they all agree with him. He continues..

“And God spoke on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. (Acts 7:6-7)

Stephen says that it was a prophecy written into the history of Israel, that Israel would be in bondage in Egypt, and would be badly treated there. All there agreed that this prophecy was made and that it came to pass. Stephen continues.

“And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him, And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. (Acts 7:8-10)

Stephen states a fact that is obvious today. All Jewish boys are circumcised on the 8th day (even on a Sabbath). Stephen also does not lie to make it sound nicer. He says the fathers of Israel (the ancestors of those putting him on trial) envied Joseph and harmed him. This was agreed as a fact by these people who had Stephen on trial as they let him continue.

So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem. But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph. The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live. In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months: And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. (Acts 7:15-25)

Stephen a Greek, is pulling no punches, he says the Jewish ancestors did not understand Moses was their deliverer. These adversaries of Stephen accept this assessment as unarguable! This is fact. Stephen continues.

And the next day he showed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Will you kill me, as thou did the Egyptian yesterday? Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Midian, where he begat two sons.

And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold. Then said the Lord to him, Put off your shoes from your feet: for the place where you stand is holy ground. I have seen, 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, I will send you into Egypt.

This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush. (Acts 7:26-35)

Again Stephen hits a sore spot they cannot gainsay. This is the Jewish history. This is the history as we would see in a school text book, its not nice, its not admirable – it happens to have the weight of witnesses back then to have carried through the 1450 years since it happened. It is accepted as fact. Stephen is allowed to continue.

He brought them out, after that he had showed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years. This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall you hear. (Acts 7:36-37)

This is was a prophecy they were all familiar with. We know that before the New Testament was written there were copies of this prophecy. We have the Dead sea scrolls taking this text back before the year AD. All agreed, even those that hated Stephen that Moses had predicted a prophet would be sent by God who would be of the Jewish people. Stephen continues.

This is he, that was in the assembly in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon. (Acts 7:38-43)

Stephen is hitting very hard here and quoting the Jewish prophets to condemn the ancestors of these Jewish people who accused him. And we note that these other witnesses accept that what Stephen says is true, even though they hate him. This is a messy incident in the history of Israel where the people rebelled against Moses. The great Moses is shown as losing control totally. The text says their God condemned them. What other nation has it in their history that their God gave them to serve other gods for disobedience? But it was accepted as true in this court case. Stephen is allowed to continue.

Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David; Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built him an house. Howbeit the most High dwells not in temples made with hands; as said the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? said the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Has not my hand made all these things? (Acts 7:44-50)

This is the heart of the issue, now this is the point of dispute. But note how Stephen respects the Tabernacle. He also says that Solomon built God a house. This says that he agrees with the people who are attacking him. So what's this trial all about? Stephen who is a Greek, says that a Jewish prophet said that God does not dwell in the temples made with hands! No wonder they hated him. He used their own scripture to say they had a wrong view! But they accept this as they cannot argue again this prophet. This prophet wrote before the years AD. A scroll dated before this is in a museum in Israel. This is the next part of the passage Stephen quotes, showing he know the Bible better than the people accusing him.

Thus said the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things has mine hand made, and all those things have been, said the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:1-2)

With this context Stephen is saying to us that God wants people to serve him from their hearts, and to be humble. Even at this the crowd of people who hate Stephen accept what he says. They let him continue.

You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. (Acts 7:51-53)

Here Stephen says that those that hate him have killed “the Just One” whom they have murdered. Jesus has been crucified. All there agree on that. The question was Jesus the Messiah?

Do we believe Stephen?

At this point in the record we have of events it says that the crowd picked up stones and killed Stephen. Stephen has some last words.

Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (Acts 7:56)

The 'Son of man', is what Jesus called himself, he is also the 'Just One'. Stephen says he saw Jesus. Is he to be believed? We see what type of person he was. While they stone him he said,

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge”. (Acts 7:59-60)

This shows Stephen as a kind person who forgives people who hate him. But is this account to be believed?

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