Having mentioned his name for the first time in the previous section as one of the seven to be placed over the widows’ ministry, Luke now turns to the story of Stephen. It would appear that Stephen had been doing great work in his ministry, even including wondrous signs among the people, and a certain group of Jews became unhappy with his God-inspired work. Here, for the first time, Luke tells of opposition that had not come from the priests or the Sadducees, but this time from among the people.
The source of the opposition was certain members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen, which in those days was a center of Jewish social, educational and cultural life. The Freedmen were emancipated slaves, or their descendants from provinces in North Africa and Asia Minor, thus they were Hellenistic Jews. The synagogues were largely influenced by Pharisees rather than Sadducees, who were usually more interested in temple operations than synagogic operations.
From the text, it would seem that these people had interpreted Stephen’s teaching about salvation coming from Christ alone as a repudiation of the temple and the Law… which in a certain sense it is. They debated with Stephen on these themes, and Stephen more than held his own, surprising them with the knowledge that the Spirit had given to him. So, in the end, these good folk did what any God-fearing and righteous person would do, they accused Stephen before the Sanhedrin, and gave false testimony against him.
As this criminal behavior on the part of the good and righteous men of the Synagogue of the Freedmen was taking place, everyone who looked at Stephen saw a man without a care in the world, so unconcerned was he about the proceedings, for he appeared to them to be in the very presence of God; in the realm of angels.
Next time, it will be Stephen’s turn to speak, and what happens is one of the greatest addresses of the entire book of Acts; see you then!