Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Puzzling Martyrdom of Stephen

I've had a longstanding question about the martyrdom of Stephen. Why were the Jews able to kill him? Don't we always hear that they were not allowed to do capital punishment which is why they turned Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion? Ed Snow probes the question in a comment at BCC.
It appears, but this is not entirely clear, that the Jews were not allowed to exercise capital punishment (although there were likely exceptions, special “carve outs”–and there were occasional lynchings), but otherwise they could handle their own affairs pretty much on their own at the time of Jesus.

It is going to be interesting to watch the celestial videotape of history to straighten out some of these historical questions.


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  • Sounds like an lynching to me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/18/2006 7:59 AM  

  • Yes. This may not have been an official act, simply a murder.

    By Blogger Eric Nielson, at 4/18/2006 2:07 PM  

  • But isn't it hard to imagine a hyper righteous, though thoroughly misguided, Saul participating in that sort of illegal activity?

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 4/18/2006 8:37 PM  

  • What about John the Baptist? That wasn't a lynching and no one questions what happened to him. I think the "Jews were not allowed capital punishment" is highly suspect. There are too many instances - in and out of the New Testament - that seem to prove against the theory. I tend to think that the death of Jesus was a political (although religiously motivated)statement. The death of Stephen was nothing more than pure religious.

    By Blogger Jettboy, at 4/18/2006 9:13 PM  

  • Jettboy, I think I'm leaning your direction on this one. It is hard to throw out such a commonly held belief without a bit more evidence, though. I'll have to do a bit more digging and see what others are saying on this topic. I appreciate the thoughts that have been offered thus far!

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 4/18/2006 9:22 PM  

  • I wonder if it had something to do with the fact the Jesus was a much higher profile case than Stephen. With Jesus, the Jewish leaders feared the people because many accepted Jesus as a prophet. In other words, he was a celebrity. Stephen, on the other hand, was probably well known to the fledgling church but was merely an obscure figure in public. They could probably get away with killing him because it was unlikely to cause a public uprising.

    By Blogger Scott Hinrichs, at 4/25/2006 8:42 AM  

  • Jettboy points out John the Baptist, which may be a counter argument that Jesus was just too high profile to be put to death by the Jews alone. But that was 30 years earlier under a different King, so perhaps it isn't directly comparable.

    At the very least we can see that there was some flexibility in what the Jews would accept. If the martyrdon of Stephen was vigilante action that was technically against the laws of Rome, we don't read of any reprecussions to the Jews who killed him.

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 4/25/2006 8:28 PM  

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