The original church was built by the Empress Eudocia at the end of the fifth century to house the Relics of Stephen, the first Martyr.
The original church having been destroyed in the 12th century by crusaders not wanting to give Salah id-Din a base outside the walls, the new church was re-dedicated in 1900, based considerably upon the remains of the old.
“Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith).
Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.
So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council.
At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s.”
(Acts 6:5, 8, 10–12, 15 NLT-SE)
“Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”
This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran.
The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.
As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.)
Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. And I was in complete agreement when your witness Stephen was killed. I stood by and kept the coats they took off when they stoned him.’”
(Acts 7:1–2, 54–55, 59; 8:1–2; 11:19; 22:20 NLT-SE)
Stephen, member of the Seven, evangelist and the first known Christian martyr, makes his appearance in the NT solely in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 6:1–8:3). The Jerusalem church, acting at the direction of the Twelve, chose Stephen and six others to administer its charitable distribution of food in such a way that the widows among the Hellenistic Jewish Christians would be equitably served (Acts 6:1–6). Stephen also performed miracles and preached the new faith in one or more Hellenist synagogues in Jerusalem (Acts 6:8–10). This led to charges that he was guilty of blaspheming both Moses and God (Acts 6:10–11). Upon being arrested, he appeared before the Sanhedrin and delivered a speech that so infuriated his hearers that they stoned him to death (Acts 6:12–8:1). Saul of Tarsus, present at and consenting to this stoning, forthwith led a persecution of the Jerusalem church, many of whose members were forced to flee the city (Acts 8:1–3).
1. Stephen Within the Literary and Theological Context of Luke-Acts
2. Tradition-Historical Issues Surrounding Stephen
“Stephen,” DLNTD, 1123.
STEPHEN (Stē′ vən) Personal name meaning “crown.” The first Christian martyr; foremost of those chosen to bring peace to the quarreling church (Acts 6:1-7) and so mighty in the Scriptures that his Jewish opponents in debate could not refute him (Acts 6:10) as he argued that Jesus was the Messiah. Saul of Tarsus heard Stephen’s speech to the Jewish Sanhedrin accusing the Jewish leaders of rejecting God’s way as their forefathers had (Acts 6:12–7:53). Saul held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen to death; he saw him die a victorious death. Stephen may well have been the human agency that God used to conquer him who would become the great Christian missionary.
Stephen was in the forefront of those who saw Christianity as much more than a Jewish sect. They took seriously the commission of Jesus to carry the gospel to the whole world and led to the founding of the world mission movement that took the gospel to the whole Roman Empire in the first century. The believers had to flee Jerusalem after Stephen’s death while the apostles alone remained there (Acts 8:1).
“STEPHEN,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, paragraph 16042.
“And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold. Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground. I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt. This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years. This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.”
(Acts 7:30–41 KJV)
“But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph. The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live. In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father’s house three months: And when he was cast out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday? Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.”
(Acts 7:17–29 KJV)