How did the Jews stone Stephen without Rome’s permission?

Author: BibleAsk Team


Who was Stephen?

Stephen is a significant figure in the New Testament of the Bible, particularly in the Book of Acts. He is traditionally recognized as one of the first Christian martyrs. The story of Stephen is found in Acts 6:1–7:60.

In the Biblical narrative, Stephen was chosen by the early Christian community in Jerusalem to serve as one of the seven deacons, a group appointed to assist in the distribution of food and aid to widows. However, Stephen was not merely involved in practical matters; he was also described as being full of faith and the Holy Spirit and was known for performing great wonders and signs among the people.

Stephen’s prominence and bold preaching attracted opposition from certain Jewish religious leaders. They accused him of blasphemy against Moses and God, and he was brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council. In his defense, Stephen delivered a powerful speech recounting the history of Israel and accusing the religious leaders of resisting the Holy Spirit and rejecting the message of the prophets.

His speech infuriated the religious leaders, and Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, saw a vision of heaven with Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This further enraged the authorities, and they took Stephen outside the city and stoned him to death. As he was being stoned, Stephen prayed for forgiveness for his persecutors, echoing the words of Jesus on the cross.

The account of Stephen’s martyrdom is a significant moment in the early Christian narrative and is often cited as an example of steadfast faith and the willingness to endure persecution for the sake of one’s beliefs. The story of Stephen is a key episode in the early spread of Christianity and the challenges faced by its followers.

The Stoning of Stephen

Stephen was not known to Rome since he was not a public figure like Jesus. And he didn’t have a background of opposing the Jewish religious leaders. Therefore, Rome would not respond to his stoning since the matter didn’t bear political connotation. The stoning of God’s faithful man was a strictly a Jewish matter that could be settled by the Sanhedrin without any Roman interference. It was not an issue of national security. So, the Jews took the liberty to stone Stephen to death in Jerusalem (Acts 7:58).

Stoning was the penalty for blasphemy under the Mosaic law (Leviticus 24:14–16; John 8:7). But even if the Jewish leaders have been adhering to this law, under the Romans they had no right to take life, particularly if Stephen was a Roman citizen (Acts 6:5). The Sanhedrin figured that the Roman officials could be bribed into convenient silence as was the case at Jesus’ death. Pilate, who was still procurator, may have been out of the city at the time, but would be unlikely to get involved with the opposition to Stephen after his humiliating experience at the trial of Jesus.

Unlike Stephen, Jesus was a national figure and loved by all people but hated by the religious leaders (John 11:57). Therefore those leaders sought permission from Rome to kill him. If they attempted to kill Him, this would have caused a national uproar against them. So, they feared that their authority may be crushed by the Romans. They wanted the Romans to administer the punishment themselves to relieve them from that responsibility. The Jewish religious leaders wished to appear loyal to Rome for they said to Pilate “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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