I cannot help but note the irony in our efforts to reconstruct the deductive reasoning employed by an angry mob--anger can so often turn reason on its head and lead people to ask later “what was I thinking?”
Nevertheless, I agree with the general framework of the OP--several specific statements can be identified that enraged the people (I don’t know that I can craft that so much as a deductive proof as an axiom of human nature). Then, there came a point in which anger boiled over into murderous rage. How did the people connect the dots from step 6 to step 8?
Some Legal background
As explored in greater detail in a post here, the Jewish Sanhedrin had the authority to try criminal cases, but could not (at the time of Jesus' death) carry out the death penalty (see John 18:31). This is why the Sanhedrin had to take Jesus to Pilate for condemnation (though they may well have had other ulterior motives as well, see here ).
The Talmud may indicate that the Sanhedrin was stripped of the power of carrying out capital punishment in approx. AD 30 (see here), though the precise timing & meaning of the Talmud's statement is uncertain.
This didn't entirely put a stop to executions that weren't sanctioned by Rome. The people in Jerusalem used the leadership vacancy after the death of Porcius Festus in AD 62 to illegally put James (the Lord's brother) to death (see Josephus Antiquities 20.9). Each of the New Testament stonings (or attempted stonings) follow a similar pattern--the leaders want a troublesome teacher killed, but they know they lack legal authority to do it, so they rile up a mob to do the dirty work. There is no formal trial. That way if Rome investigates, the murder can be blamed on a mindless mob, and the true instigators can (probably) go free.
These are not legal executions, they are lynch mobs.
Once before this passage led me to pursue an abductive argument to try to explain what happened. I believe that course of action may again be helpful.
The people stoned Stephen in a furious rage. Possible motives include all of premises 1-5 and 7 above--I can see any of these eliciting furor from the Sanhedrin and the crowd.
However, their response to the first five was not to attack him with stones but to attack him with words (see Acts 7:54). If calling them murderers or claiming Jesus was greater than the prophets was sufficient cause for stoning, verse 52 should be the end of the speech. #’s 1-5 above were put to use by the leaders to serve their diabolical purposes--they were useful for making a crowd angry (I can just see them working the crowd, vituperating Stephen for what was said pre-verse 54). But we must look to something after verse 54 for the motive to take the terrible risk of putting anger into action, and risking retaliation by the Romans.
There is only one statement Stephen makes after verse 54 and before rocks are thrown:
Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the
right hand of God (Acts 7:56)
Then--and only then--we are told they covered their ears and attacked him with stones. The people administered the punishment for blasphemy and hypocritically covered their ears so as not to defile them with such evil words (evil in their view, not mine):
14 Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let
all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the
congregation stone him.
15 And thou shalt speak unto the
children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his
16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall
surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone
him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he
blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. (Leviticus
24:14-16, the context of the passage is the penalty being declared for
a man who had blasphemed the name of the Lord and cursed)
Abductively, I conclude that it is the testimony of the vision that resulted in Stephen’s stoning. But why?
[Blasphemy was] the most heinous offense known in Jewry (see Talmage,
Jesus the Christ, p. 627).
The exact details of what constituted blasphemy were not spelled out in the Torah, but the case law was based upon the case in Leviticus 14 described above. This allowed some judicial discretion to the Sanhedrin.
"And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord,"...does not seem to
signify that the mere pronunciation of the Ineffable Name was
considered blasphemy, but that it was blasphemous to curse or revile
the same. The later law, however, took the word "noḳeb" in the sense
of "pronouncing," and declared that the Ineffable Name must have been
pronounced before the offender could be subjected to the punishment
provided by the Law.
The Gemara goes further and extends the crime to an impious use of any
words which indicate the sacred attributes of God, such as "The Holy
One" or "The Merciful One." (see here)
Talmage’s summary of the practical application is helpful:
The essence of the deep sin of blasphemy lies not, as many suppose, in
profanity alone, but as Dr. Kelso, Stand. Bible Dict., summarizes:
“Every improper use of the divine name (Lev. 24:11), speech derogatory
to the Majesty of God (Matt. 26:65), and sins with a high hand--i.e.
Premeditated transgressions of the basal principles of the theocracy
(Numbers 9:13; 15:30; Exo. 31:14) -- were regarding as blasphemy; the
penalty was death by stoning”
Smith’s Bible Dict. states: “Blasphemy, in its technical English sense, signifies the speaking evil of God, and in this sense it is
found in Psalm 74:18; Isa. 52:5; Rom. 2:24...On this charge both our
Lord and Stephen were condemned to death by the Jews." (Jesus the
Christ p. 201)
If we are looking for a statute in the Torah that explicitly describes what is and is not blasphemy, we will search in vain. But in actual practice, stating the name of God, reviling God, or showing extreme disrespect for God were at times adjudicated as blasphemous.
How did Stephen commit blasphemy?
What blasphemy did Stephen commit? I’ll offer two separate deductive proofs, both of which are logically valid--as to whether they are sound (valid + the premises are true), you be the judge.
It is important to emphasize that regardless of what Stephen believed (I don’t care to get sidetracked into that debate here), the crowd did not believe Jesus was God, so they did not stone Stephen for claiming to see Jesus (nor was Stephen the first to claim to see the resurrected Jesus). To the audience in Acts 7, claiming to see Jesus in heaven may have been insulting to the people who killed Him, but it was no more blasphemous than claiming to see Abraham in heaven.
P1: The people believed Stephen was not a righteous man sent from God (would you believe someone who called you a murderer was a righteous man sent from God?)
P2: Stephen was a mortal man
P3: The people believed a mortal man could not see God in glory (a possible interpretation of Exodus 33:20-23) OR The people believed God would not appear to a wicked man (a possible interpretation of Exodus 33:11-17)
C1: The people believed God could not appear in glory to Stephen
P4: Stephen claimed to see Jesus in glory in heaven
P5: The people did not believe Jesus was God
C2: Stephen was not charged with blasphemy for claiming to see Jesus
P6: Stephen was charged with blasphemy
C3: The people understood that Stephen saw Jesus and someone else in glory in heaven, someone to whom Jesus showed deference
P7: The Being to whom Jesus showed deference was the Father (see John 14:28)
P8: Claiming God appeared to someone that God could not appear to was considered insulting to God
P9: Insulting God was considered blasphemy (see Kelso quote above)
C4: Stephen was charged with blasphemy because he claimed to see God the Father in glory
P1: If (B is at the right hand of A) => (B is accepted, acknowledged, and authorized by A)
P2: Stephen claimed Jesus was at the right hand of God
C1: Stephen claimed that Jesus was accepted, acknowledged, and authorized by God
P3: The Sanhedrin believed Jesus’ claims of divine authority were blasphemous
P4: Stephen claimed that God had vindicated Jesus’ claims
C2: Stephen endorsed the blasphemy the Sanhedrin believed was committed by Jesus
Both of the arguments above are logically valid, and are therefore sound if their premises are true.
It is tempting to say that Stephen was stoned for claiming that Jesus was greater than Abraham, Moses, and the other prophets, but that ground had already been covered by verse 52, and although the people were angry, nothing yet had been said that caused them to cover their ears in pious horror.
I conclude that Stephen was stoned either for claiming to see God the Father, or for claiming that Jesus’ claims of divine authority were vindicated by God, or both.
I recognize that some dislike my suggestion that Stephen saw God the Father. Perhaps you find it blasphemous. Please know that no disrespect is intended.
I explored this subject in greater detail in this post.
As some on the site are aware, I do in fact believe on separate grounds (outside the scope of this site) that God the Father is capable of appearing mortals (but I do not claim it is commonplace). I do not hold that this claim is proved by the Bible, but rather that it is consistent with the Bible. Two of the reasons I believe this are described here (verses 15-17) and here.