8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
9 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen.
10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.
11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
12 And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council.
13 They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law;
14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
15 And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.
synagogue (v.9) — This one was made up of Hellenists, Jews who were brought up and trained in foreign countries.
A synagogue (gathering-together) was the place where Jewish communities assembled for the reading of their sacred Scriptures and public worship. We do not know when they first came into vogue, but have reason to suppose that they existed from the period of the Persian domination of Palestine. During apostolic times, every Jewish community had its own synagogue, and we shall frequently have occasion to notice them in the history of the Acts. In Jerusalem they were very numerous, each section of foreign Hebrews having a synagogue of their own, quite apart from those used by the natives of the city. The people who attended such a place of worship were called “sons of the synagogue.” Each synagogue had its rosh, i.e. head or ruler, who maintained order and arranged for the conduct of public worship. It had also a chazan or attendant, who had charge of the building and was responsible for its furnishings. It fell to him, too, to hand the roll of the Scriptures to the reader and to assist in the service in subordinate ways. Sometimes, moreover, he officiated as schoolmaster for the instruction of the children of the congregation. The service consisted chiefly in readings from the Pentateuch and Prophets, with a translating of the original Hebrew into the vernacular (in the case of the Aramaic synagogues), together with stated prayers, etc. An exposition of the lesson or sermon was added when competent speakers were present. The synagogue sometimes consisted of two apartments, the one being used for worship, while the other served for purposes of education and discussion. Our verse [vs.9] speaks of several synagogues belonging to various sections of foreign Jews. — Walker, pages 145-146
Most synagogues had schools and colleges attached to them, and most of their members appear to have been students.
Freedmen (v.9) — Libertines — Jews from Rome. In 63 B.C., under Pompey, Jews had been taken to Rome as slaves. Their descendants were freed. (“Libertines” does not mean “free-thinkers” here.) This may have been Stephen’s synagogue, as he was a Hellenist.
Cyrenians (v.9) — from Cyrene, a city in what is now Lybia.
Alexandrians (v.9) — from the capital of Egypt, founded by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. and under Rome since 30 B.C.. It had a large, influential Jewish population.
Cilicia (v.9) — Paul was from Tarsus, the chief city of this region in Asia Minor near Syria. He very likely was one who disputed with Stephen.
disputing (v.9) = questioning — not initiated by Stephen — This same word is used in Acts 9:29 of Paul’s ministry with Hellenistic Jews, perhaps in the same synagogues
It is not improbable that Saul of Tarsus was among them, for we learn from Acts 21:39 that Tarsus was “a city in Cilicia” and we know that Saul was now at Jerusalem, where he had been studying under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Since Saul was present at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58) and “consenting unto his death” (Acts 8:1); indeed, since Saul became the chief persecutor of the Pentecostal church very shortly after this, it seems quite probable that he was one of the company that sought to overcome Stephen in debate. — Stam, pages 212-213
secretly induced (v.11) = procured for the purpose of false witness
people (v.12) — up until this point, the people had been mostly favorable toward the believers
seized (v.12) — expressive of exceeding force — violence
council (v.12) — the Sanhedrin
this holy place (v.13) — the temple (John 4:21-23)
The charge that “this Jesus of Nazareth” (note the contempt in their reference to Christ) was to destroy the temple, was practically the same as that which had previously been brought against Christ Himself (Matthew 26:61). But neither the Lord nor Stephen had made any such statement.
Our Lord had indeed predicted, with heavy heart, that the temple would be destroyed (Luke 19:41-44, etc.) but He had never intimated that He would destroy it. It was also true that He had spoken of His body as “this temple,” but so far from saying that He would break it down, He had said that if they broke it down He would raise it up again in three days! (John 2:19). — Stam, pages 214-215
customs (v.14) — ecclesiastical traditions and institutions
If Stephen had indeed spoken of any changes from the Mosaic dispensation it could only have been in the same sense that our Lord spoke of such changes. For example, we find our Lord quoting from the law of Moses in His Sermon on the Mount and repeatedly adding the words: “But I say unto you,” etc. But this implied no contempt for Moses’ law, nor any suggestion of altering its precepts or lowering its standards. The fact is simply that under the Messianic reign a still higher standard was to be maintained. There was to be a change indeed, but only in the sense that God’s people, by the Spirit, would obey the law spontaneously from their hearts! Even their own prophet Jeremiah had prophesied such a change.
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people (Jeremiah 31:31-33). — Stam, pages 215-216