How are Stephen the Martyr and Moses connected? Is Stephen one of the Two Witnesses of Revelation? What does martyr really mean? Learn more here.
The name “Stephen” is a Greek name which means “crown”. There are only eleven (11) verses in the Bible that include the name “Stephen”, all of which are in the Book of Acts of the Apostles.
Almost everything we know of Stephen comes from chapters 6 and 7 of Acts, in which he is the primary focus of the storyline. Let us begin with a quick summary of Stephen’s narrative.
Acts 6:1-7 The disciples in Jerusalem needed to ensure that food was distributed to all of the widows with them. In response to this need, the brethren there chose seven men from among them, “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3) to take care of the food distribution. After the selection was made, the Apostles prayed and laid their hands on these seven men.
One of those chosen was Stephen, “full of faith and the Holy Spirit”. Stephen was a Jew by birth (as opposed to Nicholas, which the Bible specifically notes was a convert from Antioch, in Acts 6:5).
Acts 6:9-10 Many Jews from the so-called “Synagogue of Freedmen” disagreed with what Stephen said; “but they were not strong enough to withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke” (Acts 6:10).
Acts 6:11-15 The Jews that opposed Stephen falsely accused him of blasphemy; and he was forced into the law court called the “Sanhedrin” (the same court that said Jesus should be executed).
Acts 7:1-2 Stephen is asked if the charges against him are true, and Stephen begins his response. The first sentence of Stephen’s response is “Men, brothers, and fathers, listen to me!” (Acts 7:2). In the second sentence, Stephen refers to Abraham as “our father”, indicating that Stephen is a Jew by birth.
Acts 7:2-16 Stephen gives a brief history of the Jewish race from the time of Abraham to the time of Jacob’s death. In Acts 7:11 and Acts 7:15, Stephen refers to the fathers of the Jewish race as “our fathers”.
Acts 7:17-44 Stephen continues giving a brief history of the Jewish race, telling about the time of Moses. In Acts 7:19, Stephen refers to the Jewish race as “our race”. Stephen also again speaks of the fathers of the Jewish race as “our fathers” (Acts 7:19,39,44). In Acts 7:37, Stephen reminds those listening to him of the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, saying “from among your brothers, the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses]; listen to him!”
Acts 7:45-50 Stephen finishes his brief history of the Jewish race. In Acts 7:45, Stephen again calls the fathers of the Jewish race “our fathers”.
Acts 7:51-53 Stephen speaks of the Jewish race who were alive at the time of Stephen’s speaking. Stephen now ceases to refer to “our fathers” and starts talking about “your fathers”. Stephen claims that the fathers of those to whom Stephen is speaking “persecute(d)” all of the prophets, and “kill(ed)” those who prophesied the coming of the “Just One”, which is Jesus. Stephen also claims that the Jews of Stephen’s time had betrayed and killed that same Jesus.
Acts 8:1-4 Stephen was buried by godly men; but Saul approved of the killing of Stephen, and joined a great persecution of the church.
Acts 11:19 We are told that the persecution of the early church was directly related to what was done to Stephen.
Acts 22:17-21 The Apostle Paul (who previously was the Saul that approved of the killing of Stephen, and that persecuted the church) recalls a conversation that he [Paul] once had with Jesus. That conversation had taken place while Paul was in an ecstatic mental state. The phrase “Stephen the martyr” is found in Acts 22:20. This is the only occurrence in the Bible of this particular phrase.
This concludes the summary.
Notice that, in Acts 7:37, Stephen quotes Deuteronomy 18:15-18. Here is a full quote of that prophecy:
We already discovered that one “prophet like [Moses]” is one of the Two Witnesses in "Part 7: Moses" (this page opens in a new window; just close the window to return here). We will see the connection with Stephen by examining Deuteronomy 18:15-18 in detail, and showing that Stephen is also “a prophet like [Moses]”.
First, let’s note that Stephen only had the opportunity to make a short speech, with only a few Biblical quotes; nevertheless, one of those few quotes was this particular passage of Deuteronomy. That fact itself strongly associates Stephen with this prophecy of Moses.
From Acts 6:5 and Acts 7:2,11,15,19,39,44,45, we know that Stephen was racially Jewish; thus, Stephen was a Jewish “brother”, just as Deuteronomy 18:15,18 says that the “Moses” to come would be from “among your (their, the Jewish) brothers”.
From Acts 7:2, we know that Stephen began his speech before the Sanhedrin by saying “listen to me!”; this echoes Moses call for the people to “listen to him!” in Deuteronomy 18:15.
From Acts 6:8, we know that Stephen “did miracles and great signs among the people”; this shows that Stephen demonstrated the power of a “prophet”, as the man of the prophecy of Moses is called in Deuteronomy 18:15,18.
Stephen was “like [Moses]”:
All these things show that Stephen was “like [Moses]”, just as Moses wrote of “the prophet” in Deuteronomy 18:15,18.
From Acts 7:55, we know that Stephen possessed “the fullness of the Holy Spirit”; in this state, he necessarily did NOT speak for himself, but rather, he spoke what was given to him to speak--what he was “instructed” to speak--according to Matthew 10:17-22; Mark 13:9-13; and 2 Peter 1:20-21. This is the reason the Bible says that those who opposed Stephen “were not strong enough to withstand the wisdom and the spirit” with which he spoke. This is exactly what was prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:18, when Moses wrote “I [God] will give my words to him, and he will tell them all which I will instruct him.”
The Jews were afraid of what they heard and saw when Stephen came to them:
All these things show that the Jews of Stephen's time were afraid to be
confronted with the reality of God, just as Moses described the Jews
with which he went to Mount Horeb in Deuteronomy 18:16.
After looking at all these details of the Deuteronomy 18:15-18 prophecy of Moses, we see that Stephen’s life fits the prophecy of Moses in great detail. So Stephen certainly could be a fulfillment of this prophecy, based solely on a comparison of Stephen’s life with the prophecy itself. What other evidence is there that Stephen fulfills this prophecy?
Another thing we noted in “Part 7: Moses” (this page opens in a new window; just close the window to return here) is that Malachi 4:4-6 mentions Moses at almost the same time as it mentions the coming of Elijah; and we also noted that John 1:24-25 tells us that the Pharisees of John the Baptist’s time were anticipating the coming of the “prophet (like [Moses])” just as they were anticipating the coming of the Christ and the “Elijah” mentioned in Malachi. Both Malachi 4:4-6 and John 1:24-25 suggest that a form of “Moses” may come at the same time as a form of “Elijah” comes; and in “Part 7: Moses” (this page opens in a new window; just close the window to return here), we have already determined that a “Moses” and an “Elijah” do come at the same time, at the time of the Two Witnesses of Revelation.
Perhaps, then, there are a couple of rules here:
If these rules are correct, then that would indicate that a “Moses” should have come around the time of the birth of Jesus; and of the “Elijah” of that time, which was John the Baptist (see "Part 6: John the Baptist" on this site; the page will open in a new window).
In fact, Stephen is the first Christian that the Bible tells us was killed after Jesus died; but the Bible doesn’t tell us how old Stephen was when he died. However, it seems certain that Stephen was a mature adult, since in Acts 7:58 we read that Saul was a “young man”. This seems to differentiate him from everyone else at Stephen’s trial, including Stephen himself. Thus, we can at least say that Stephen was alive for several years before the deaths of both Jesus and John the Baptist: Stephen was a contemporary of both Jesus and the “Elijah” that was John the Baptist.
There is another thing about Stephen’s death which suggests that Stephen is “a prophet like [Moses]”. As was just mentioned, Stephen is the first person the Bible tells us was killed for believing in Jesus after Jesus had died. Christians have recognized this honor for centuries by referring to Stephen as “Stephen the Martyr”. In fact, even the Apostle Paul said “Stephen the Martyr” in Acts 22:20.
As a result of all this recognition, Stephen is more associated with the word “martyr” than any other person ever. So, to know more about Stephen, it is reasonable that we learn more about the word “martyr”. What does “martyr” mean?
In English, the basic meaning of the word “martyr” is someone who is killed because of his or her beliefs, especially religious beliefs. Stephen was killed for believing that Jesus is the Christ; so Stephen is certainly a “martyr”, as this word is generally used in English.
However, the Book of Acts, which tells us the story of Stephen, was not originally written in English: it was written in the Greek commonly used at the time, called “Koine” Greek. If we look at the original Koine Greek writing, we find something has been lost-in-translation when the Book of Acts was translated into English.
The Koine Greek word which Paul used to describe Stephen in Acts 22:20 is actually “marturos” in Roman characters; the Greek spelling is "ΜΑΡΤΥΡΟΣ" (you can see the verse in an online Greek Interlinear Bible here:
This page will open in a new window. You won't find the word “martyr”; instead, look for another word: “witness”. Also notice the “G3144”.)
The word “marturos” has the Strong’s Number G3144. The root word is “martus”; and the various forms of this word occur 34 times in the King James Bible. This “martus” is translated as “martyr” 3 of those 34 times; and it is translated as “record” 2 times. However, the primary translation of “martus” is “witness”, being translated this way 29 of the 34 times.
Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for martys (Strong's 3144)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2012. 5 Nov 2012. < http:// www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?
(This page will open in a new window.)
Clearly, Stephen was a witness, as his speech was testimony given before the high court of the land, the Sanhedrin. Thus, it is entirely appropriate to refer to Stephen as “Stephen the Witness”. Certainly, the first readers of Acts would have understood “marturos” usually meant “witness”.
In “Part 7: Moses”
(this page opens in a new window; just close the window to return
here), we concluded that Moses was one of the Seven Eyes (eyewitnesses)
of God. So we would expect that “a prophet like [Moses]” would also be a witness like Moses.
Now we see that the Bible itself says that Stephen is a witness. When Paul spoke of "Stephen the martyr" in Acts 22:20, what Paul actually meant was "Stephen the witness", since "martyr" in the Greek language used by Paul actually means "witness" in English.
Is Stephen a witness "like Moses"? Looking over the evidence presented here, we find:
(A Personal Note: The Holy Spirit began revealing the things of this Bible study to me many years ago: I had written most of these things by at least the spring of 1995. However, like so many others, I do not know Koine Greek: I must use a Greek Interlinear Bible, Bible dictionaries, etc. Because of this, I was also unaware that the Koine Greek word for “martyr” was the same as the word for “witness”.
Miraculously (and I truly consider it a miracle) there was a Christian show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (http://www.tbn.org ; this will open in a new window) where a minister mentioned that the same New Testament Greek word is translated as “martyr” and as “witness”. (I had been awake for many hours working on this Bible study and didn’t think to note which show was on at the time.)
What is so miraculous about this occurrence is that I began writing this Bible study over 17 years ago, in late 1994-early 1995; yet it was only on November 4th, 2012 (just as I was preparing to make this webpage) that this “veil” was removed for me, and I was finally able to see this very important piece of evidence. Over 17 years passed; and Yehovah (God) gave me what I needed, at just the time I needed it. Praise Yehovah!)
Therefore, with so much evidence available to us, we can conclude that Stephen is also “a prophet like [Moses]”
and a witness like Moses, just as one of the Two Witnesses of
Revelation will also be a witness and “prophet like [Moses]”. Just as John the
Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), Stephen
came in the spirit and power of Moses.
We are now better able to understand some of the things we noted in “Part 4: Zechariah, the Menorah, and the Number Seven” (this page will open in a new window). The two olive trees of Zechariah 4:11-14, which are two archetypal witnesses, are “Elijah” and “Moses”. The “oil” (anointing) of these two archetypal witnesses is “emptied” through their “hands” into the seven physical witnesses, the seven “lamps” (note that, when Christians anoint someone with oil, and lay their hands on the person, and pray, the Christians are imitating on Earth that which is done in Heaven).
Each of these seven physical witnesses are in one of the two archetypal lines. Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, and the “Elijah” Witness of Revelation belong to the “Elijah” line; and Moses, Stephen the Martyr (Witness), and the “Moses” Witness of Revelation belong to the “Moses” line.
Thus, the seven ("lamps" of the menorah, Zechariah 4:11-12) are two (witness lines: "Moses" and "Elijah"); and the two are seven.
It is important to mention that there are some people who think Jesus Christ was a fulfillment of the “prophet like [Moses]” prophecy. We will look at this and other things in Part 9: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
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