26 December 2014

The Protomartyr

his second day of Christmas, the Feast of Stephen, is nothing to boast about either. Stephen of course was the First Martyr, or Protomartyr, who was supposedly stoned by an angry mob for making a speech. Apparently some men claimed to have heard him speak “blasphemous words against Moses and God.” Some witnesses said “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.”
By Wikipedia standards we apparently have to take these words at face-value, seeing that it was testimony given before some kind of court. Presumably then Stephen did say that Jesus came to destroy the temple and change the Torah, especially as he presented no testimony to rebut it. Instead he made a long rambling speech, concluding with insults: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” Quickly the audience became an angry mob and lynched the protomartyr, killing him by hurling stones at him. It was, so to speak, suicide by mob.
And there is some reason to believe that there were early Christians who taught that Jesus’ coming had changed the Torah; the author of Matthew or its source attacked them bitterly: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets,” he has Jesus say; “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Presumably these were the same “hypocrites” who prayed and fasted and gave alms openly, casting their pearls before swine, instead of doing things decently in secret, trusting that God will see them and reward them even if others don’t.
Well, Stephen showed the wisdom of keeping things secret, at least on an individual level, as “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.” It would be interesting to know who turned him in. Why, exactly, were the “apostles” left unmolested when the rest of the church was persecuted? What were the connections among the “apostles,” the accusers, and the authorities? Likely we’ll never know, but there’s no law against speculation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good summation! We wonder, naturally, and speculate without answers. Martyrdom-- or making someone a martyr-- seems an inept response to teachings. RFH

Copyright © 2005-2021