Stephen, the subject of our title was a remarkable man, in the early decades of the first century. His name is derived from the Greek word, Stephanos, meaning “crown” (The Int. Std. Bible Ency. pg. 2850). This word is denoted as “the victor’s crown” in W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of NT Words on page 258. I’d like to think that Stephen’s parents had this in mind, when they named him. But whether they did or whether they didn’t, we’ll never know, but their son sought the greatest crown of all; the victor’s crown of righteousness found in 2 Tim. 4:8, which awaits all the faithful.
We first learn of Stephen back in Acts 6:5, where his name appears first, in a select group of seven men, Luke the writer; identifying him as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit”. Also in verse 8, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people”.
In Acts 6:1-4, the reason is given for their selection, “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word”.
As a side note, the New Testament church has a mission, it is three fold, evangelism, edification and benevolence (caring for needy saints). It’s interesting that the apostles mentioned in the text of Acts 6:1-4, two of them, evangelism and benevolence [the caring for needy saint].
In the first century, when food was mentioned, in most instances it was translated from the Greek word, TROPHE, which “denotes nourishment, food”, W.E. Vine, Expository Dict. Of NT Words, pg.113, and it was never used as today, as an incentive or gimmick in order to draw individuals. Jesus recognized a problem and addressed it in John 6:26, “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat the loaves and were filled”.
“This is a lesson which many in the modern church need badly to learn. They have attempted to appeal to the stomach and to the physical man in their effort at bringing in a larger number from a materialistic culture. What they have reaped from this is a membership which is rotten from within, unwilling to yield to the moral demands of Christ and the apostles and interested only in what the church can and will do for them. Let it be remembered that when Christ had the opportunity to enjoy large numbers of such folks among his followers, he set forth this discourse, aimed at either reforming them or turning them away. Sadly, as is so often the case with the carnally-minded, in the end they went elsewhere looking for satisfaction of their carnal desires. When carnal inducements and enticements are withdrawn today, the result is precisely the same. These are not followers of the Savior; they are mere “bread-seekers”. Truth Commentary, John pg. 118-119, Daniel King
Though Stephen, and the others, were pulled away from their evangelistic work, in order to resolve an urgent matter regarding the physical needs of the Grecian widows. With the urgency resolved, these first century preachers were soon back at work, preaching the gospel, their message being confirmed by great wonders and miracles which they did among the people, as in verse 8, as was done in Mark 16:20, “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen”, notice further in Hebrews 2:3-4, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?"
For added emphasis and clarity, regarding wonders and miracles during the first century, I want to mention Philip, since he too, was one of the seven men of Act 6. Please take into account what Luke wrote in Acts 8:5-6,”Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did”. In Acts 8:12, they believed and were baptized, both men and women. And as a results, in verse 14, the apostles back in Jerusalem heard that “Samaria had received the word of God” and sent unto them Peter and John.
So far, much of what has been said has centered on wonders and miracles being done by Stephen and others, but no mention has been made as yet, about how he and the others received this power. Arriving at the correct answer is not difficult at all, if we allow scripture to interpret scripture, please note carefully, that the power which he and the others had received, came through the laying on of the apostle’s hands, an apostolic example of this is found in Acts 8:17-18, the two apostles there were Peter and John.
In connection with the previous paragraph, even though Stephen and the others had the power to work great wonders and miracles. They didn’t have the authority to pass this power on to someone else. This power was vested in the apostles; common reason, sanctioned by scripture would show that with the death of the last apostle, this power ceased, and with the death of the last subject on whom an apostle had laid his hands, the powers demonstrated by one such as Stephen ceased, and for good reason, that which is perfect has come 1 Cor.13:10; James 1:25.
Heaven’s message to man was completed when John the apostle laid down the pen of inspiration upon finishing the book of Revelation while on the Isle of Patmos. With God’s will to mankind being complete, there was no further need for confirmation 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Jude 3; Rev. 22:18-19.
In part 2, the work of Stephen, his death as the first recorded New Testament martyr will be discussed more fully.
Don Craven is a member of the McArthur Heights Church of Christ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org