Acts 7:51-53

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.

  • 2
    This need not be an "either", "or" question. It could be both. Given that the law only permitted the killing of false prophets, Stephen was condemning them for unlawful killing of true prophets. Further, they had also murdered the prophet greater than Moses, the foretold Christ. They had also broken the law in other respects. If Stephen was going to be killed, he might as well be killed for a sheep as for a lamb, and throw The Book at them. Which he did.
    – Anne
    Sep 23, 2022 at 15:55
  • @Anne That sounds like the beginning of an answer.
    – agarza
    Sep 23, 2022 at 16:02
  • @agarza Well, yes, thank you. But it's also the beginning and the end! I could pad it out but the essence is there and, basically, says it all.
    – Anne
    Sep 23, 2022 at 16:23

3 Answers 3


Disclaimer: I do not speak for any sect.

I would not recognize a page in the Bible that doesn't contain some screeds against Jews for being Jews. I'm not just talking about the NT, but in the OT. Stephen's screed is a typical example of "Judean bashing." Here Isaiah complains about the futility and mockery of the Temple and the whole sacrificial system:

[Isa 66:1-4 NKJV] [1] Thus says the LORD: "Heaven [is] My throne, And earth [is] My footstool. Where [is] the house that you will build Me? And where [is] the place of My rest? [2] For all those [things] My hand has made, And all those [things] exist," Says the LORD. "But on this [one] will I look: On [him who is] poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word. [3] "He who kills a bull [is as if] he slays a man; He who sacrifices a lamb, [as if] he breaks a dog's neck; He who offers a grain offering, [as if he offers] swine's blood; He who burns incense, [as if] he blesses an idol. Just as they have chosen their own ways, And their soul delights in their abominations, [4] So will I choose their delusions, And bring their fears on them; Because, when I called, no one answered, When I spoke they did not hear; But they did evil before My eyes, And chose [that] in which I do not delight."

He says that if they want forgiveness, they don't need to offer an animal, just ask with a contrite heart:

[Psa 51:14-19 NKJV] [14] Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, [And] my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. [15] O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. [16] For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give [it]; You do not delight in burnt offering. [17] The sacrifices of God [are] a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart--These, O God, You will not despise. [18] Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. [19] Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

The Temple Not Made With Hands is the New Jerusalem, the Lambkin's "Bride-City." It is not just a fancier building, but one composed of living stones:

[1Pe 2:4-6, 9-10 NKJV] [4] Coming to Him [as to] a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God [and] precious, [5] you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. [6] Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." ... [9] But you [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; [10] who once [were] not a people but [are] now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

[Eph 2:19-22 CSB] [19] So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God's household, [20] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. [21] In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. [22] In him you are also being built together for God's dwelling in the Spirit.

[Rev 21:22-27 NKJV] [22] But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. [23] The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb [is] its light. [24] And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. [25] Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). [26] And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. [27] But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.

And note that the building was already on the land, surrounded by various sinners, and was adding more and more stones to the Temple, and the nations are bringing tribute.

The difference between Cain's sacrifice and Abel's sacrifice was the state of their heart, not type of gift (although that might have provided evidence about the state of their hearts).

His point, then, is that their hearts are not right, they are murderers and they don't keep the law, and the sacrificial system won't help them.


It should not be necessary to explain to this audience that killing a prophet of God is against the law and the sacred covenant. However, to be sure, here is a sample of the many places recorded in the Bible of God's prophets being murdered:

  • 1 Kings 18:4 - for when Jezebel destroyed the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water.)
  • Nehemiah 9:26 “But they became disobedient and rebelled against You, And cast Your law behind their backs And killed Your prophets who had admonished them So that they might return to You, And they committed great blasphemies.
  • 2 Chron 24:20, 21 - Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.’” So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD.
  • Matt 23:35 - so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
  • Jer 2:30 - “In vain I have struck your sons; They accepted no chastening. Your sword has devoured your prophets Like a destroying lion.
  • Matt 23:37 - “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

[The oral Rabbinic tradition (outside the OT) contains much more information, impossible to verify, about specific prophets and how they died such as https://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/bb/bb32.htm ]

Thus, it is not necessary to choose between the fathers killing the prophets, or not keeping the law - killing the prophets breaks the law!


"As your fathers did, so do you" refers to a consistent pattern of killing the prophets, the last of whom is Jesus, in the current generation. But there is a problem here: in the biblical record, not so many prophets were killed by the Jews or their ancestors. Unless Stephen was exaggerating to the extreme (a hyperbole), the implication of a consistent pattern of murder of the prophets by the Jews' ancestors is not supported in the OT. However, Stephen may have had something else in mind, namely oral and written traditions outside of the Bible that preserved legends about how the prophets died.

One such record has come down to us, namely the little known Lives of the Prophets. It was preserved by Christian scribes but includes several stories that are repeated in rabbinic tradition, so at least some of its stories may have been known to Stephen, as well as generally. Among it's reports are:

  • Isaiah. Following the tradition found in the Jewish sections of the apocryphal Ascension of Isaiah, the text reports that this prophet was killed by being sawed in two under the evil King Manasseh of Judah.

  • Jeremiah. Having escaped death several times previously, Jeremiah was later stoned to death by "his people" at Taphnai in Egypt and buried in honor near Pharaoh’s palace.

  • Ezekiel. The "leader of the Israelite exiles" killed him after being reproved for worshiping of idols.

  • Micah. Killed by Joram of Israel, the son of King Ahab, after Micah rebuked him for Ahab's impiety.

  • Amos. Tortured severely by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, against whom Amos had prophesied. He was then mortally wounded with a club by Amaziah's son, dying in his home district of Tekoa.

  • Zechariah son of Jehoiada. This Zechariah was the high priest's son who denounced his cousin, King Jehoash of Judah, and was immediately stoned to death in the Temple courtyard.

The Lives of the Prophets also reports that many of the prophets died of natural causes and were buried with honor. But if Stephen was aware of these extra-biblical reports of prophets being murdered, his declaration is not so much of an exaggeration as if he relied only on biblical data.

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