Stephen Brought Before a Council Part 3 of 6
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
And they were not able to resist the wisdom.
“The wisdom they were not able to resist” refers to his knowledge of the Scriptures and his skill in what “the Jews” regarded as true wisdom; acquaintance with their sacred writings, opinions, etc. In Beza's most ancient copy, and in another manuscript it is added, "which was in him"; that divine wisdom, which the Spirit of wisdom gave him. They were no match for him with respect to the knowledge of divine things; they could not answer the wise arguments he made use of, which were taken directly from the Holy Scriptures, in which he was well versed. It is rather remarkable that wisdom would have been ascribed to Stephen, in view of the fact that in the Gospels it is attributed to our Lord “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they asked’” (Matthew 13:54)., and mentioned as belonging to Solomon “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42).. It implies something higher even than the “consolation” from which Barnabas took his name. It was this great wisdom of Stephen that enabled him to completely vanquish all opponents of the truth he proclaimed.
The force of his reasoning was so strong that they were not able to resist the wisdom rooted in it—they could neither support their own arguments nor answer his. He proved Jesus is the Christ by using irresistible arguments, and he delivered them with so much clearness and evidence that they had nothing of any consequence with which they could rebut what he advanced: though they were not convinced, yet they were stunned and confused.
Observe, that it does not say they were unable to resist him, but rather to resist the wisdom and the Spirit — That is, the Spirit of wisdom which spake through him. They thought they disputed only with Stephen, and could make their case against him; but they were disputing with the Spirit of God in him, before whom anyone would be at a lop-sided disadvantage, and lose the argument. This encounter fulfilled the promise given in Luke 21.15: “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” They were unable to take a stand against him on the basis of Scripture, truth, and logic. Stephen knocked them down, Saul included, as fast as they got up.
And the Spirit by which he spake.
“OF the HOLY Spirit” is better than “And the Spirit,” which is how the above examples of Beza, and the Ethiopic version read; the meaning is, they could not resist the Holy Spirit, by which Stephen spake, and for that reason, they were unable to overcome him, or silence him, or refute him; but they did resist him, or oppose him, but all their efforts were in vain, and without success. In fact, they always resisted the Holy Ghost in Christ and in His apostles, just as their fathers before them resisted Him in the prophets, as Stephen declares to them “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51.. This great sermon preached before the Sanhedrin was a fulfillment of what our Lord promised to his disciples “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say” (Matthew 10:19)..
The Holy Spirit aided Steven by putting thoughts and words into his mind; but Steven added to it, his energy, ability, and passion. He “showed” a spirit of zeal and sincerity which they could not withstand; which served, more than a mere argument could have done, to convince them that he was right. The evidence of sincerity, honesty, and zeal in a public speaker will often go further to convince the great mass of mankind, than the most able argument if delivered in a cold and indifferent manner.
“And they were not
able to resist the wisdom and the spirit with which he spake.” Oh! What a contrast we have here between the wisdom, intellect, learning, and resources of the world and the wisdom of God! Here, with the greatest intellectual and scholar (Saul) the world could produce, surrounded by a platoon of preachers, one humble, uncultured layman proves more than a match for them all; as the Holy Ghost says they were “not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.” Can you see what is happening here—the whole crowd with their mighty leader, Saul of Tarsus, are put in total eclipse and literally snowed under by one solitary layman. Therefore, to their lasting shame, they resort to bribery, raising up false witnesses so that they may bring an accusation against him. Stephen preached the perfect sufficiency of Jesus, His vicarious atonement and cleansing blood, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost; of course, he relegated the types and shadows of the Mosaic dispensation to bygone years, declaring they were no longer significant because they were supplanted by Jesus Christ. This they construed as deprecating the Law of Moses. Then they cry out that he is attacking the church; although he is defending the church of God with all his might, they charge him with disloyalty to the church and kill him for it. He was the first martyr, leading the way and showing the people how to die for the truth. Two hundred million have followed in his bloody track, dying under charges of disloyalty to what carnal preachers call the church, as they did in case of Stephen. If they had the co-operation of the secular arm these defenders of what they call the church would kill us, as they did Stephen and the mighty host of his successors. Beware of the outcry for church loyalty! That is the very shibboleth1
that piled the rocks on Stephen, fed the martyrs to the lions and burnt them at the stake. It is impossible to be loyal to God and disloyal to His church. When they talk to you about loyalty to God, open your Bible and shout Amen! When they talk to you about loyalty to the church, look out! That is the old hackneyed cry of persecution, from Stephen down to the present day.
11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
Then they suborned men, Which said.
The opponents of Stephen found they were incapable of defending themselves in a fair argument and believed they would very likely lose the debate; therefore, they used lies and secret strategies to shape popular opinion against Stephen, because they could do nothing until they got popular opinion on their side. Popular opinion can be easily shaped, as it was in Jesus’ case. The same crowds that praised Jesus when He entered Jerusalem (Luke 19:35-40) soon called for His crucifixion (Luke 23:18-23). The success of these tactics against Jesus encouraged them to repeat the same actions against Stephen. They bribed men to make false statements, and secretly instructed them as to what they should say. Previously, persecution against the apostles had been limited because popular opinion was with them, in fact, the people seemed to love the apostles “All the believers were together . . . praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:44, 47)
, but now the religious leaders cry out against Stephen. This is why we should never let popular opinion shape the vision or focus of the church, but let it rest on God’s eternal Word.
We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
According to the Law of Moses, blasphemy consisted of contempt for Moses and his institutions, and was a capital offence “If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known), Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deut. 13:6, 10).
. This charge brought against Stephen was the same charge made against Christ, and for which, as far as the Jews were concerned, He was sentenced to death.