Artwork by Doug Kallerson
Friday, 3 June 2022
and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. Acts 7:58
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
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The previous verse saw the council in a tizzy, and they ran at Stephen with one accord. With that remembered, it now says, “and they cast him out of the city.”
The verb is an aorist participle and should read, “And having cast him out of the city.” One action is taken before the next in a lively description of what occurred. As for the act itself, offenders were to be taken outside of the gates of the city to be stoned. This is not stated in every instance where stoning was outlined as the punishment, but it is generally understood that it was to be so.
This was to show the heinous nature of the crime. It was as if the person was cut off from the community’s favor, blessing, and protection. There are exceptions to this, such as Deuteronomy 22:21 where a certain infraction required a young woman to be stoned at the door of her father’s house. In the case of perceived blasphemy, being taken outside of the city was the appropriate spot for this to take place. As such, it says they cast him outside the city “and stoned him.”
Here, the verb is imperfect. It more correctly reads, “and they were stoning him.” Again, the presentation by Luke is lively and active, detailing it as if the reader is there watching the events unfold.
As for the process of stoning, there are some rabbinic commentaries on the method of stoning that was prescribed, but they may or may not match what Scripture actually says and should be avoided for this reason. When a person was stoned, the general practice would follow that stated in Deuteronomy 13 –
“If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, 7 of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, 8 you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; 9 but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. 10 And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. 11 So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you.” Deuteronomy 13:6-11
There are variations to the practice (as noted above concerning Deuteronomy 22:21), but the general idea was to symbolically excommunicate the person from the congregation by taking him out of the gates. This would also keep the city from defilement. From there, those who were personally aware of the offense were to be the first to cast the stones, and then all of the people were to join in until the offender was dead.
This could be the accusation that Jesus wrote with His finger in John 8. When they brought the woman caught in adultery to be stoned, they asked Him what should be done. He simply stooped down and wrote. It can only be speculated what He wrote, but it could have been this very law. They had failed in two ways. First, they only brought the woman, not both of them. Secondly, they brought her to the temple, not out to the gates of the city –
“If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.” Deuteronomy 22:23, 24
With the reason for mentioning that Stephen was taken outside the city understood, the narrative continues, saying, “And the witnesses laid down their clothes.”
The word “clothes” should read “garments.” It is a long flowing outer garment that would inhibit the casting of stones. In other words, these witnesses – meaning those who were to cast the stone first – wanted to ensure they got the maximum amount of effect out of their toss. And so, they would take the outer garment off. The laying down of the clothes is specifically noted to introduce the next person. It is obvious they laid them down in order to cast, but it says they laid them down “at the feet of a young man.”
Vincent’s Word Studies notes that the term “young man” used by Luke “gives no indication of his age, since it is applied up to the age of forty-five. Thirty years after Stephen’s martyrdom, Paul speaks of himself as the aged (Plm 1:9).”
All we can know is that the person standing there watching over the garments is a man less than forty-five years old “named Saul.” This is the first time Saul, later called Paul and who will become the apostle to the Gentiles, is named in Scripture. This act of guarding the clothes of those stoning Stephen is alluded to in Acts 22:20, where Paul speaks of what is now recorded by Luke –
“And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.”
By guarding the clothes of these men, he was agreeing to the execution.
Life application: As you read the Bible, pay attention to the introduction of names or events that seem disconnected from the continuing narrative. Quite often, what is introduced at one point, and which seems to have nothing to do with what is said at the time, is a vital key to knowing where the narrative will soon be going. An example of this is found in Genesis 22.
There, the account of Abraham taking Isaac to be a whole burnt offering to the Lord is given. At the very end of the chapter, it suddenly says –
“Now it came to pass after these things that it was told Abraham, saying, ‘Indeed Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: 21 Huz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.’ 23 And Bethuel begot Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah, Gaham, Thahash, and Maachah.” Genesis 22:20-24
This family line comes after the account of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah, and before the record of Sarah’s death and burial in Genesis 23. But then the reason for it is realized in Genesis 24:15 when Rebekah is suddenly reintroduced into the ongoing narrative. This instance is not unique, but it happens again and again in the ongoing biblical account.
Pay attention to these introductory clues. The reason for them will be made manifest as you continue along with your reading. The Bible is showing us that it is a logical, orderly, and planned out document that leads in a steady fashion to its ultimate purpose – the coming of the Messiah. Everything in it makes sense when it is taken with that in mind.
What a wonderful treasure of wisdom and order is Your precious word, O God. Thank You for how it is presented, and how it leads slowly and inevitably to the revealing of what is most important of all, meaning the coming of Jesus. Thank You for such wisdom and detail that fills us with the surety that we are truly dealing with Your word. Yes, thank You for this wonderful word. Amen!