It is noticeable that Stephen, the first Christian martyr we know of, ends his life without voicing revenge. (Acts 7:60) In this he mimics Jesus. (Luke 23:34) What a gift to bequeath a world so full of malice and revenge! He has seen through the justifications that allow us to act out our rivalries and self-rejection through acts of ostracism, anger and revenge. Stephen, changed by his encounter with the crucified-risen Lord, rewrites Israelite history from this new perspective (hermeneutic) of cross and resurrection. (Acts 7:1-53) We shouldn’t miss the irony here. Stephen, converted by the cross and resurrection of Jesus, tells the truth about who and what we are. Innocent of the crime of which he is accused, Stephen is murdered; and in his death reveals the truth of this re-reading of (Israelite) history. His persecutors kill Stephen to prevent the spread of this new reading of history, yet in murdering him they once again disclose the truth Stephen’s reading of history. An ironic recapitulation of the gospel.
2 thoughts on “The Martyrdom of Stephen as Recapitulation of the Gospel”
You have raised an important point, Warren. Most teaching that I have heard about this event emphasises that the result of Stephen’s martyrdom was the spread of the gospel. You highlight that martyrdom of Stephen is both a witness and is an embodiment of the Gospel.
Stephen’s martyrdom probably paved the way for Paul’s conversion. Not only did Paul’s intial response in perscuting Christians put him on the road to Damascus, but remembering what Stephen said and did, including that Stephen prayed for those responsible, which included Paul, would have made him psychhologically responsive in spite of his intial hostility.