In several letters Paul confesses that he once persecuted the followers of Jesus and caused the death of some. In Acts Luke associates this violent persecution with the preaching of Stephen, a deacon who delivers a prophetic speech in Acts 7 arguing that Jesus is superior to the Temple.
The response of the Hellenistic Jewish synagogue is in fact violent: Stephen is seized by an angry crowd, taken outside the city and executed. Saul “approved” of this execution (Acts 8:1), but if he was a “legal representative” of the Sanhedrin is unclear. Saul is described as “ravaging the church” (λυμαίνω, Acts 8:3), a word which is used of violent actions in war (Josephus, JW 4.534). What was it about Stephen’s speech that pushed Saul to such a violent response?
It is important to observe that Stephen was speaking to Diaspora Jews living in the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6:8-10). He is not standing int…
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