Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Jesus and Stephen Parallels

I’ve been reading Roger Stronstad’s work The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (CPT Press, 2010 [originally published by Sheffield Academic Press in the Journal of the Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series (16) 1999]).  He has a fascinating discussion of Stephen in the book of Acts. Here are some of his comments:
Stephen is the first of the charismatic leaders about whom Luke reports.  Luke describes his charismatic life and ministry using a variety of terms.  For example, as one of the seven Stephen was ‘full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6.3).  When Luke subsequently names him as one of the seven whom the multitude chose he describes him as ‘a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 6.5).  Further, Stephen ‘was performing great wonders and signs among the people’ because he was ‘full of grace and power’ (Acts 6.8).  In addition, Luke reports how some men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen were ‘unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking’ (Acts 6.10).  Finally, Luke describes Stephen as having a vision of the exalted Lord Jesus moments before his martyrdom when he was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 7.55).

Luke’s fivefold description of his charismatic dimension of Stephen’s life and ministry is unparalleled in Acts.  Indeed, apart from his description of Jesus (Luke 3-4) no one else in the New Testament is described by such a concentration of references to the Holy Spirit.  On the one hand, then, Luke understands Stephen to be a typical representative of the ministries of these seven deacons.  On the other hand, Luke understands Stephen to be a charismatic deacon par excellence, unequaled among the apostles and other disciples in his experience of the Spirit.  Because of his experience of the Spirit, Stephen, Luke reports, witnessed both by the works which were empowered by the Spirit and by words which were inspired by the Spirit.  (pp. 84-84—bold face added)

Stronstad goes on to speak of a few implications of this narration of Stephen’s experience of the Spirit:
Luke’s report about Stephen (and next of Philip) shows that these acts of power, wonders, and signs are not exclusive to the apostles but are performed by other disciples as well. (p. 85)

This has obvious implications for those cessationist arguments that tend to see signs and wonders as exclusively the domain of apostles.  Stronstad also mentions that Stephen’s miracles were of even greater magnitude than the apostles.
Luke describes these miracles of healing power which Stephen performed as ‘great’ (megala) wonders and signs.  In other words, at a time when it was commonplace for ‘many’ wonders and signs to be performed by the apostles (Acts 2.43; 5.12), Stephen’s miracles of healing stood out as ‘great’ or very notable.  (p. 85)

Stronstad also has an interesting chart showing parallels between Jesus and Stephen on page 97 of his book.
Jesus (Gospel of Luke)
Stephen (Acts)
Full of the Holy Spirit (4.1)
Full of the Holy Spirit (6.3; 6.5; 7.55)
He kept increasing in wisdom (2.52)
Full of wisdom (6.3, 10)
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (4.14)
Full of grace and power (6.8)
Miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through him (Acts 2.22)
Performed great wonders and signs (6.8)
Accused of blasphemy (5.21)
Accused of blasphemy (6.11)
Rejected by elders, chief priests, and scribes (9.22; 22.66)
Opposed by scribes and elders (6.12);
False witnesses speak against him (6.13)
Speaks against Jerusalem and temple (19.41-46; 21.6)
Speaks against temple (6.13; 7.46-50)
His face became different and his clothing white and gleaming (9.29)
Had the (white/radiant) face of an angel (6.15; cf. Luke 24.4)
Rejection of the prophets motif (4.24-30)
Rejection of the prophets motif (7.51-53)
Trial: refers to heavenly Son of man (22.69)
Trial: refers to the heavenly Son of man (7.56)
Crucified cries out: “Father, into Thy hands I commit my Spirit” (23.46a)
Dying, prays: “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit” (7.59)
Crucified, prays: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (23.34)
Dying, prays: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (7.60a)
Crucified: he breathes his last (23.46b)
Martyred: he fell asleep (7.60b)

Stonstad then adds:
The full significance of these parallels between Jesus and Stephen must forever remain locked in Luke’s mind alone.  The reader, however, can infer that their significance relates to their unique position in the unfolding of salvation history.  It is through Jesus’ ministry and death as the rejected prophet that the provision of salvation is made; it is through Stephen’s ministry and death as a rejected prophet that Christianity begins its decisive break with Judaism and salvation begins to be taken to the Samaritans and ultimately to the Gentiles.  (p. 97)