Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stephen and Zechariah Parallels

In reading through Acts again for my New Testament survey course at Phoenix Seminary I was reminded of the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 and a parallel passage in the Old Testament--2 Chronicles 24.2-22.  As I looked at this passage and discussed this in class I was struck by the number of interesting parallels.  Here is 2 Chronicles 24.20-22:
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.  Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which his father Jehoiada had shown him, but he murdered his son.  And as he died he said, "May the Lord see and avenge!"
What is often noted is the obvious difference in the prayer that is called out by Zechariah from that of Stephen.  The one is a cry for justice whereas Stephen's calls out for mercy: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" (Acts 7.60)  There are a number of other parallels as I note below.

1.  The Spirit of God is mentioned in association with both men.  Zechariah: "Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah... (2 Chron 24.20).  Stephen: "But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven..." (Acts 7.55).

2.  Both spoke of breaking God's law.  Zechariah: "Why do you transgress the commandments of God?" (2 Chron 24.20).  Stephen: " who received the law as ordained by angels and yet did not keep it."  (Acts 7.53)

3.  There is a conspiracy against both men.  Zechariah: "So they conspired against him..." (2 Chron 24.21).  Stephen: "They put forward false witnesses..." (Acts 6.13)

4.  Both revolved around the temple precincts:  Zechariah: "they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord." (2 Chron 24.21).  Stephen is brought before the Council (Acts 6.12) and they bear false witness against him.  They charge Stephen with speaking "against this holy place" by saying that Jesus "will destroy this place" (Acts 6.13,14).  The reference to "this place" is the temple and they are obviously close enough to it to refer to it as "this place."

5.  Both suffer the same death.  Zechariah: "...they stoned him to death..." (2 Chron 24.22).  Stephen: "They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord..." (Acts 7.59)

Another interesting item: Zechariah is the last prophet martyred in the Old Testament and Stephen is the first martyr in the New Testament after the inauguration of the New Covenant by Jesus.  This seems to be confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 23.34-35:
Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
Leon Morris comments on this passage in regards to Zechariah:
This appears to be the death recorded in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21, which in the order of books in the Hebrew Bible (the Law, the Prophets, then the Writings of which 2 Chronicles is the last book) is the last martyrdom recorded in Scripture.  Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, pp. 589-590.
Morris goes on to add an explanatory note regarding the identity of Zechariah since 2 Chronicles speaks of him being "the son of Jehoiada" whereas the Matthew citation speaks of him as "the son of Berechiah."
There is a difficulty in that in 2 Chronicles Zechariah is said to be the son of Jehoiada; therefore a number of other Zechariahs have been suggested.  But none of them has any plausibility.  It seems better to think of this Zechariah as being named from his grandfather rather than his father.  That this was sometimes done is clear from the fact that the prophet Zechariah is called "the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo" in Zechariah 1:1, but the same man is also named from his grandfather; he is "the son of Iddo" in Ezra 6:14.  Apparently the same procedure is followed in the case of the Zechariah of this passage also.  Another view is that the man had two names.  Lenski accepts Luther's suggestion that Jehoiada also had the name Barachiah (Ryle is another to accept this view), and he cites the son of Joash who had the name Gideon and also Jerubbaal (Judg. 8:29, 32; Lenski, p. 920).  Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, pp. 589.