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Acts 7:54-60 (NASB):

54 Now when they heard this, they were infuriated, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they shouted with loud voices, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one mind. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.

What did Stephen mean when he said "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"? What was Stephen expecting to happen to his spirit in a literal sense? That his spirit would literally go to the presence of Jesus? Or that his spirit would go to somewhere else? What were Stephen's beliefs regarding the dead and the afterlife?

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  • peoples spirits go immediately to a place of punishment (not hell) or to Jesus' side when they die
    – snoopy
    Mar 20 at 23:30
3

Just before Jesus died on the cross, in Luke 23:46

Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Before Stephen died, in Acts 7:59

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

The parallel is striking. Stephen recognized Jesus' divinity, trusting Jesus to take his spirit away from his suffering body, away from the midst of the horrifying stoning process that was going on.

What were Stephen's beliefs regarding the dead?

Psalm 104:29 NASB 1995

You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust.

What were Stephen's beliefs regarding the afterlife?

John 11:23 “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

24Martha replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Was Stephen expecting that his spirit would go to the presence of Jesus or some other place?

Stephen expected that his spirit would be safe in Jesus' hands.

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  • I like this answer. However, I'm still confused by the last sentence: Stephen expected that his spirit would be safe in Jesus' hands. Do you mean this in a metaphorical sense, or do you mean that Jesus would literally hold Stephen's spirit in his hands? Mar 7 at 18:18
  • It's a metaphor: in Jesus' control.
    – Tony Chan
    Mar 7 at 18:21
  • That's what I thought. But then, what was Stephen expecting to happen to his spirit (literally, not metaphorically)? Mar 7 at 18:24
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    Nothing will happen to his spirit until the resurrection at the last day.
    – Tony Chan
    Mar 7 at 18:27
  • Good answer, +1. Simple, uncomplicated.
    – Dottard
    Mar 8 at 3:06
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It appears the Godly Stephen was alluding to numerous passages of the OT that describe God giving the "breath of life", the defining factor between death and life:

  • Job 33:4, The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
  • Gen 1:30, And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food." And it was so.
  • Gen 6:17, I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.
  • Gen 7:15, Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. See also Gen 7:22, Rev 11:11, Isa 2:22, Dan 5:23, Josh 10:40, etc.

Thus, all living creatures (literally souls) have the breath of life. Even animals are described as "souls", eg, Gen 1:20, 21, 24, 30, 2:19, 9:4, 5, 10, 15, 16, etc. Gen 1:20, 21, 24, 30, 2:19, 9:4, 5, 10, 15, 16, etc.

Further, when a living creature dies, this "breath of life" (whatever it is) returnes to God who gave it, eg,

  • Ps 146:4 - When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. ("thought perish", KJV)
  • Eccl 12:7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit/breath [of life] returns to God who gave it.

Stephen's prayer is quintessential Hebrew idiom for death and God recovering the "breath of life" common to all living creatures. It will be restored at the resurrection as per 1 Cor 15.

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  • and God recovering the "breath of life" - but Stephen directed his prayer to Jesus. Does it follow that Stephen believed that Jesus was God? Mar 7 at 22:16
  • 2
    @SpiritRealmInvestigator - some would argue that. We have many examples of prayer to Jesus in the NT (another question!) despite the injunction to pray to no one other than God.
    – Dottard
    Mar 7 at 22:19
  • The question has already been asked by the way: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/62358/… Mar 7 at 22:22
  • Jesus is Stephen's Lord. Jesus now, ascended, has life as the Father does and is at God's right hand. This makes Jesus no more God than when he was dead in the dirt, but it does make him just as God in terms of authority God gave him as His glorious representative and son. Stephen having seen Jesus in this heavenly vision would be a natural response to ask him to receive his spirit on behalf of God. +1
    – steveowen
    Mar 8 at 4:29
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Stephen is acknowledging Jesus' divinity, quoting Psalm 31:5 "Into your hands I commit my spirit", where the referent is God.

Does he mean that his created soul will continue life in the presence of Jesus? Yes, of course, for Jesus tells that whoever believes in Him will pass from death to life (cf. John 5:24). Otherwise Paul's longing for dying and being with Christ through this death (Phil. 1:23), which he considers more desirable than being alive, loses all sense and logic, for if dying means annihilation of both human consciousness and bodily life, then it cannot be more desirable at all than continuation of life, because Paul means that after death he will be in a fuller and thorougher presence of his beloved Christ than while alive, but if his consciousness/soul would co-die and co-disintegrate with body, then this statement would be groundless.

That soul co-dies with body was an old heresy of thnetopsychism. Unfortunately this heresy is very popular also now. Even those Christians, who, in theory, believe in post-mortem life of soul, in reality and in real psychological disposition and apprehension do not feel it, and thus neither they are outraged when they hear about the heretical doctrine of soul's co-dying with body. How can Catholics and Orthodox ask deceased saints to intercede for them to God, if those saints' souls have co-died with bodies? And then all that many-centuries' tradition of saints' souls post mortem relative bliss and boldness in front of the seat of God will prove a superstition of highest scales, which is both counter-intuitive and unscriptural.

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What did Stephen mean when he said “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” in Acts 7:59?

Speaking about man’s death, Ecclesiastes 12:7 states,

Ecclesiastes 12:7 (NASB)

7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 (NET Bible)

7 And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the life’s breath returns to God who gave it.

When the spirit or the breath of life returns to God, the body returns to where it came from--the earth. The spirit/ breath of life returns to where it came from--to God, this does not mean that something tangible returns to Jesus or God in heaven. Rather it means that the gift of life or hope for resurrection rests with Jesus.

All authority has been given me, including the power of the resurrection

Matthew 28:18 (NASB)

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me

John 5:28-29 (NASB)

28 Do not be amazed at this; for [a]a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come out: those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the bad deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

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