quinta-feira, 13 de setembro de 2012


By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr

stephen stoned
In yesterday’s blog I noted how the Jewish temple became an idol for Israel. I will continue that theme today as we look at Stephen’s denunciation of it.
This becomes all the more suggestive when we realize that two references in Acts move along these lines, Ac 7:48 and 17:24. Both of these verses to be a part of the tradition deriving from Christ’s teaching as recorded in Mark. In Ac 7:48 Stephen uses this term in warning the Jewish leaders of their spiritual failure. A great many scholars agree with Marshall who notes that “this is a derogatory word used of idol worship (e.g. Is. 31:7; Wisdom 14:8). To apply it to the temple (cf. Mk. 14:58; Heb. 9:24) could well enrage the Jews.”
An idolatry-equation is almost certainly Stephen’s intent as we can discover from his defense. He is standing before the religious authorities of Israel (elders, scribes, Sanhedrin, and the high-priest; Ac 6:12, 15; 7:1). There his accusers charge that he was preaching against the Temple just as Christ did: “we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place” (6:14; cp. Mk 14:58). Instead, of disputing the charge as altogether fraudulent, he provides a redemptive-historical argument defending his teaching when properly understood —  even to the point of bringing in the additional fact from Christ’s trial that their temple was “made with hands” (7:48). In this he utters a “radical condemnation” regarding the temple (Marcel Simon).
Remarkably, just before Stephen speaks of the temple as “made with hands,” he mentions Israel’s fathers making the golden calf and “rejoicing in the works of their hands [ergois t n cheir n]” (7:41b) while they were “unwilling to be obedient” (7:39). G. K. Beale sees this as making “it probable that Stephen has idolatry in mind in verse 48.” He then reminds them that God declares their sacrifices in the wilderness were “not to me” but for Moloch and “the star of the god Rompha” (7:42-43; here he is referencing Am 5:25-26). Charles Scobie observes that “the superstitious attachment of the Jews to their temple is made to appear as a continuation of their idolatry in the desert.” Stephen’s “condemnation of the Temple includes condemnation of the sacrificial cult” in that sacrifices are not mentioned by Stephen “in connection with the Temple, but in relation to the [golden] calf” (Marcel Simon). He drives this point home in his closing when he declares that the Jewish leaders are virtually gentiles in having “uncircumcised ears” in not understanding God’s will (Acts 7:51).
Regarding Ac 7, Ferdinand Hahn states that “the temple worship practised by the Jews is, as the word of the prophet in vv. 48ff. shows, a service of idols which denies the true godhead of God.” He continues: “In the same way the statements regarding the idols and the temple worship together with the prophetic judgments are referred to the time of the Jews then living. With this there also harmonies the inclusive word in v. 51 regarding obstinacy and impenitence with the concluding ‘as your fathers did, so do ye.’” He argues that “the word of threatening from Amos 5:25-27 shows that vv. 39ff. also must be understood typologically and consequently the end of v. 43 ["I also will remove you beyond Babylon"] must be referred to the catastrophe of A.D. 70.”
By several means Stephen diminishes the temple and suggests that it has become an idol for Israel: (1) He speaks highly of the “tabernacle” over against the temple, calling it “the tabernacle of testimony” (Ac 7:44a), whereas the temple is spoken of more negatively (7:48-50). (2) He notes that the tabernacle was erected by God’s word to Moses (Ac 7:44b), who is the central redeptive-hisotircal figure in his sermon (7:20-44) and who serves as  a type of Christ (7:37). (3) It led Joshua in dispossessing the nations as he secured the promised land (7:45). (4) It was in use until the time of  David, who “found favor in God’s sight” (7:46). (5) Then over against beloved David he states: “But it was Solomon who built a house for Him” (7:47). He probably has in mind Solomon as the one whose “wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1Ki 11:4; cp. 11:4-9). Solomon’s actions led to his ruin: “So the Lord said to Solomon, ‘Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant’” (1Ki 11:11). Thus, the one who built the temple brought idolatry into Israel where it was to remain as a recurring plague.
Most significantly, Stephen supports his argument against the temple by specifically citing Isa 66:1-2 (7:49-50) — the two verses leading up to God’s denouncing Israel’s temple worship as idolatrous (Isa 66:3; see discussion above). “If Isaiah 66:4-5 is echoed [in Acts 7:51-52], then Stephen’s Jewish enemies are also to be identified with the idolaters in Isaiah 66:3, which would fit with Stephen’s earlier depiction fo Israel as idolatrous (Acts 7:42-43)” (G. K. Beale). He then concludes by equating those authorities with their idolatrous forbears, calling them “stiff-necked and uncircumcised [like Gentiles!] in heart and ears” for “always resisting the Holy Spirit . . . just as your fathers did” (7:51; v 39). The idolatrous overtones are clear and unmistakable: he “suggests that the Temple was a form of idolatry” – in the way they revered it.
Marshall concludes that Stephen “rests on the negative point, that temple-worship imposes a false limit on the nature of God.” That is, it suggests limits such as associated with idols housed in shrines. According to Witherington, the point of these verses “is not that God’s presence can’t be found in the temple . . . , but that God’s presence can’t be confined there, nor can God be controlled or manipulated by the building of a temple and by the rituals of the temple culture or the power moves of the temple hierarchy. What is being opposed is a God-in-the-box theology that has magical overtones, suggesting that if God can be located and confined, God can be magically manipulated and used to human ends. Such an approach is idolatry — the attempt to fashion or control God with human hands according to human devices.” Stephen is arguing that “the Temple was not intended, any more than the Tabernacle, to become a permanent institution, halting the advance of the divine plan for the people of God” (F. F. Bruce). “Nothing is wrong with the temple itself nor with building it, but it is wrong to believe that it (and perhaps it alone) is the habitation of God. Moreover, allegiance to a temple built with human hands could place Israel in danger of repeating its earlier wilderness sin, for the golden calf had also been made by ‘their hands’ (v. 41). Although it is not certain, the repetition of this phrase might have invited such comparison” (Craig Evans).
In fact, “the beginning and end of the speech, in particular, insist that the presence of God is not restricted to any one land or any material building. God revealed Himself to Abraham long before Abraham settled in the holy land; He gave His law to the people of Israel through Moses when they were wanderers in a wilderness” (Bruce Acts 141). Stephen’s speech also reduces the Land’s significance by arguing “that God’s significant activity has usually taken place outside the confines of Palestine (Alan Johnson): Abraham was called by God while in Mesapotamia (Ac 7:2-3), God was with Joseph in Egypt (7:9-16; “Egypt” appears six times), Israel “increased and multiplied in Egypt” (7:17), God raised up Moses in Egypt (7:22), and Israel received “the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness” (7:44). Now is the time for God to remove the local temple so thyat the world might have access to his worship (Jn 4:21-23), as the flow of Acts demonstrates (Ac 1:8), showing that God is now turning to the Gentiles (Ac 9:15; 11:1, 18; 13:46-47; 14:27; 15:14, 17; 18:6; 22:21; 26:17, 20, 23; 28:28).
D. L. Wiens argues regarding Stephen’s sermon that “idolatry is not so much an initial phase [of Israel's national experience beginning with Moses] as a continuing reality, and that one of Stephen’s main points here is to contrast false and true worship at every stage of Israel’s cult.” Stephen speaks of the golden calf (Ac 7:39-41), Moloch worship (v 43), and finally mentions the Jewish temple which was “made with hands” (v 48). Wiens points out that Israel apparently believed that when they made an idol, they made the god itself, for they requested that Aaron “make for us gods”  (v 40; Ex 32:1), whereupon we read that “they made a calf” and “were rejoicing in the works of their hands” (v 41). Thus, “that is what the authors of Exodus and Acts apparently wanted their readers to understand. People create their own gods if they do not worship the God who created the heavens and ‘all these things’” (Wiens).
Stephen traces Israel’s worship history and failure. He begins with Abraham’s leaving his country (Ac 7:2-5) in order to secure a “place” to worship God (7:7) through Moses’ tabernacle established in the Land (7:44-45) to his conclusion in Solomon’s building the temple “made by human hands” (7:47-48), which is “this place” against which Stephen preaches (6:13). But as he traces her worship through the ages, he highlights her rebellion against godly men (7:9, 20, 25-29, 35) and her involvement in idolatry (7:39-43). By this redemptive-historical survey Stephen emphasizes Israel’s constant failure to reach the goal of true worship. Despite the Sanhedrin’s alleged concern for Moses over against Stephen (6:13-14) Beale (Temple 218) cites John J. Kilgallen, noting that “the purpose of Acts 7:46-52 is to conclude that ‘as Moses was rejected and the people’s worship became blasphemous thereby [7:20-43], so with Christ rejected, the Temple worship becomes a blasphemy.’” This is because ultimately even Solomon recognized (1Ki 8:27) God “does not dwell in houses made by human hands” (Ac 7:48 citing Isa 66:1-2).
His overall point is that the goal of redemptive history is finally to come to the ultimate worship of God in a temple made “without hands,” that is, in the resurrected Christ who is the eschatological temple (cf. Jn 2:19-21; cp. Da 2:34, 45). Israel wanted to maintain her hand-made temple which “was a mere pointer to a time when God’s dwelling on earth would not be limited to a ‘handmade’ house. Israel’s physical temples were ‘handmade’ (Acts 7:44-47) and could never be a permanent dwelling place for God” (G. K. Beale). She was satisfied with holding to the old creation “handmade” temple rather than moving on to the new creation temple made “without hands.” She preferred the old, temporal order where men could fashion hand-made idols for themselves (7:41) rather than God’s new order made without hands. “Stephen’s point in citing Isaiah 66:1 appears to demonstrate that, just as God’s own hand created the first cosmos that had become tainted with idolatry, so God would create a new, eternal creation and Jerusalem, not by human hands but by his own hand (so Is. 65:17-19 and 66:22). . . . The second temple had become idolatrous, since Israel had supplanted their tradition for God himself. The temple became the central focus of their idolatry (cf. Rom 2:22)” (G. K. Beale).
Thus, Israel’s clinging to her temple shows that here history is one of constant failure in coming to her proper goal: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (7:51).
Interestingly, Stephen employs the word tupos in consecutive statements in order to make an important point: He speaks of the “images” (tupous) made for the “tabernacle of Moloch” and Rompha, and then immediately of the “pattern” (tupon) of the “tabernacle of testimony.” His point appears to be that “only those who ‘see through’ the hand-made models to the God who does not dwell in created things can worship truly. Those who see only what they have made or projected worship idols. And this is as true for the tabernacle as for the temple” (Wiens).  Thus, the Jewish devotion to the temple “made with hands” blocks their view through that temple to its God, “the Most High” (Ac 7:48). That which is good has been made bad. Jesus can in one breath declare that the temple which was to be “a house of prayer” has become a “den of robbers” (Lk 19:46). “My house” (Mt 21:13) can become “your house” (Mt 23:38).
Thus, “in some respects Stephen’s polemic is the familiar and standard sort of fare Jews used against pagan temples and theology of God’s residence that was entailed in pagan thought (cf. Acts 17:16ff).” Certainly such language “is a point that any Jew might make in a polemic against paganism” (Craig C. Hill). P. W. L. Walker comments regarding Stephen’s use of cheiropoiotos in his defense: “despite the Temple’s true status in God’s sight, it has effectively become for them an idol. More startling still, perhaps the Temple has actually become an idol, not just subjectively in the hearts of his audience, but objectively in the sight of God. Their subjective idolatry of the Temple (seeking to preserve the ‘holy place’ against every criticism) has been an instrumental factor in causing them to dismiss Israel’s true Messiah when he dared to speak against it (Acts 6:14). This is so serious that God has allowed that idolatry to become objective as well. The Temple has lost its former status and is now in his sight too merely a human construct (cheiropotos), void of significance.”
The great tragedy of Israel was that their Messiah “came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive them” (Jn 1:11) so that he wept over them for their blindness (Lk 19:41-44). Martin Scharlemann argues: “Judging from the speech ascribed to Stephen, he saw the temple as one of the institutions of Judaism that kept the Jews . . . from accepting Jesus as the Messiah. This is one reason he engaged in a frontal attack on it, in all of its religious significance. Stephen called it a human institution, an idolatrous creation, like the golden calf. Contemporary Jews were sure that the temple had been created by God’s hands; but Stephen spoke of it as ‘made with hands.’” He notes further (119): “By applying to the temple in Jerusalem the adjective ‘made by hand,’ Stephen intended to say that it had become an object of idolatry, for this is the same language he used to describe the golden calf.” Stephen was not opposed to the temple as such. After all, this where Christ was dedicated to God (Lk 2:27), where he went to be in his “Father’s house” (Lk 2:46-49), and where he became enraged at the Jewish abuse of the temple (Jn 2:13-17). In fact, the temple had become “the premier symbol of a superstitious belief that God would protect and rally his people irrespective of their conformity to his will.” Beale (Temple 310) agrees: “The religious establishment superstitiously viewed the temple as a guarantee that God would guard and prosper the nation despite their disobedience to his will.”
As Stephen ends his speech he effectively deems the idolatrous Sanhedrin to be Gentiles, for they are “stiff-necked” and  “uncircumcised in heart” while reminding them of the golden calf episode (Ac 7:39-41), where both charges were originally laid against Israel (Dt 10:16; Ex 33:5). He relates the golden calf idol to the temple in that both are made by “hands” (Ac 7:41, 48). Speaking “like a prophet of old” Stephen notes that “God’s indictment rests upon you just as it did on your idolatrous and apostate ancestors” (Alan Johnson). We must remember that Jesus promised to give his persecuted followers the very words to speak when brought before councils (Lk 21:12-15//). Stephen is the first martyr and gives the longest speech in Acts as a most powerful expression of Christ’s warning. His circumstances very closely parallel Christ’s trial circumstances.
In that “the word ‘handmade’ (Acts 7:48) always refers to idols in the Greek Old Testament and is without exception a negative reference in the New Testament,” Beale (Temple 224, 225) finds it significant that “the only other use in Acts refers to an idolatrous pagan temple.” In Acts 17 Paul preaches to the Athenians about their many idols, one “To an unknown God” (Ac 17:16, 23): “God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands [cheiropoi tois]” (Ac 17:24). This also picks up on Jesus’ statement and, like Stephen’s defense, alludes to Isa 66:1-3. Still later Paul is accused of turning people from idolatry “saying that gods made with hands [dia cheir n ginomen (a different expression)] are no gods at all” (Ac 19:26). Rev 9:20 also mentions the idols which were “the works of their hands [ergon ton cheiron].”

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