Stoning of Stephen


Why did those who stoned Stephen lay their cloaks at Paul’s feet?


I have never seen a definitive answer, but one conjecture was to show that while Saul approved of the stoning that he himself was not involved. The few things I’ve read state it is unclear why St Paul included that detail so we may never know.


Wearing a cloak is not suited for extreme movement. Plus, it could be a sign (this is the opposite idea of what Usige said in the last post) that Saul/Paul was the ringleader of this lynch mob: he was not just a passive bystander, which is why the mob could entrust their cloaks - which was a very important piece of clothing; without an outer cloak to wear, you could be considered ‘naked’ or destitute - to him.


Thanks! Is there any authority for the idea that those doing the stoning wanted to avoid getting their clothing bloody? Or for the idea that the law prescribed that a criminal was to be stripped (which the guilty stoners were, whereas nothing is mentioned about Stephen’s clothing)?


I would agree with that possibility (not that I’m a biblical scholar with skin in the game ;)) What I ment by him not being involved, was that he wasn’t actually hurtling the stones.


I think that’s why it such a mystery of why he includes this detail. He might have been trying to show their unconscious guilt, but really it’s all conjecture. We can hypothesis, but I’ve never seen any contemporary writing to imply those theories. Each time I’ve seen it brought up it was by modern scholars. Admittedly, I am not well read on the early Church fathers so they might have a comment I’ve not seen.


Here’s what one of my commentaries says:

The Christians had laid goods “at the feet of the apostles” as an acknowledgment of their leadership role in the Church (Acts 4:35, 37; 5:2); likewise here the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. By this parallel, Luke seems to hint that Saul had some kind of responsible role among Stephen’s executioners. The fact that “Saul was consenting to his execution” (Acts 8:1) and soon afterward took a leadership role in persecuting Christians (Acts 8:3; 9:1–2; 22:5) seems to confirm some such responsibility.

—William S. Kurz, Acts of the Apostles, ed. Peter S. Williamson and Mary Healy, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 135.


Yeah, poor Paul. He had to live with that memory all his life. I’m sure it tormented him, like our past failures torture us even though we know we are forgiven by the blood of the Lamb…


Maybe they just wanted someone to look after their clothes while they stoned Stephen.


I’ve always found the stoning of Stephen one of the most moving chapters in the Bible.

I mean the guy must have known this would get him into trouble:

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. 53 You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.”


That is exactly what I was thinking.


I’ve always loved Acts 7. When you break down Stephen’s speech, you can really see how he would have upset his audience. He speaks mainly about Abraham, Moses, and Joseph and all the places God spoke to them that were not in Israel (undercutting the importance of the land). In verse 41, he calls the golden calf a “work of their hands” and 7 verses later he refers to the Temple as being made with hands (insinuating they have made the Temple an idol). So even before we get to this part, I’m sure they were none too pleased with him.

Since Luke wrote both Luke and Acts, an interesting exercise is to put the passages of Jesus’ Passion (Luke 22-23) and Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7) side by side. There are a lot of parallels.


Paul likely understates his role in the early persecution of the Christians.

Paul doesn’t SAY that he picked up a stone to hurl at Stephen, but not long afterward we see him riding off to Damascus with quasi-diplomatic papers from the High Priest himself- Jonathan in late A.D. 36 according to a late crucifixion scenario.

No small feat, to take on Christian men in a foreign country and wrangle them back to Jerusalem for some sort of punishment.

Saul was young, tough, and probably saw this as a way to stand out in front of the High Priesthood. Being only half-Jewish, and a Roman citizen, worked against him in the Priest hierarchy in Jerusalem, even though he was a brilliant student and probably outshone his peers in many categories.

Coming from Tarsus, near Antioch, his family was wealthy- at least they had a useful occupation. And many years later Paul’s family were still thriving in Jerusalem.

Did the family move just so their brilliant son could train at the Second Temple? Saul probably found early that what mattered most was pedigree to the High Priesthood when it came to advancement and not ability.

We can speculate that Saul’s father- or grandfather- was a Greek soldier who gained citizenship through service in the Roman army. Saul himself states it was not purchased.

So Saul- an outsider- had every reason to be an anti-Christian ringleader early on. Did he downplay his role in the persecutions knowing that it was unforgivable? Did he not only cast a stone against Stephen to defend Jonathan, was he also a lackey of Caiaphas’ when it came to the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus earlier in the year?


Good point. I hadn’t thought of it like that before.



Yes. Even Stephen’s and Jesus’ last words are the same: “Do not hold this sin against them” - “Forgive them for they know not what they do;” “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” - “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

In fact, the overarching theme is the same in both: Luke crafts his narrative so that both righteous persons - Jesus and Stephen - are presented as dying unrighteous/unjust deaths as martyrs.

In Luke’s gospel, note that Luke doesn’t explicitly say, like Matthew or Mark, that it was Pilate who delivered the sentence - “he handed Jesus over to be crucified.” Instead, the narrator only says obscurely: “And their voices prevailed … Jesus he delivered up to their will.” Luke’s statement is open to the interpretation that the “they” to whom he handed Jesus over to is “the chief priests and the rulers and the people” mentioned earlier (to whom the earlier “theys” in the chapter refer to): in other words, in this reading the Jewish crowd is presented by Luke as the ones who actually crucify Jesus. In other words, Luke makes the crucifixion appear more like a mob lynching. (In fact, there is no explicit mention in Luke of Jesus being scourged, which was the preliminary ritual in a Roman crucifixion.)

This would fit in with his portrayal of Jesus’ death as an unjust rejection and murder of an innocent person by His own people: Jesus is cast in the same light as the OT prophets, who were rejected by their fellow Israelites.

Note also Stephen’s death in Acts, which is also described like a sort of lynching by the people who had enough of Stephen’s words, performed under no official sentence: “But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.” Luke’s Stephen, as a true disciple, dies in the same way as Jesus does: martyred by a lynch mob.


I don’t imagine Pontius Pilate was overly interested in what he would have seen as religious differences among Jews. He would only have crucified Jesus to appease the Sanhedrin who, I suppose, you could regard as forming a collaborationist government with the Roman occupying power.

So, yes, I think Jesus’ crucifixion, regardless of the details of the procedure followed, was something in the nature of a lynching.

BTW it is the “Agony in the Garden” narrative that I find most moving in Luke. It demonstrates that Jesus was genuinely human as well as divine. He understood the nature of the suffering he was to endure.

39 Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 When he arrived at the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.” 41 After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” [n] [43 And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. 44 He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.] 45 When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. 46 He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.”


It does seem a little odd that this would happen after a stoning. I’ve been told stoning was a way of execution or killing that was anonymous in that now one knew who threw the fatal stone. Possibly laying all of their cloaks at Saul’s feet was indeed saying … Saul, this is on you.

Edit: I think Joe 5859 said this better than I …just read it…sry

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