Abrahamic / Middle Eastern Christianity Stephen in the Bible Was the First Christian Martyr Meet Stephen, Early Church Deacon Share Flipboard Email Print Ipsumpix / Contributor / Getty Images Christianity The New Testament Christianity Origins The Bible The Old Testament Practical Tools for Christians Christian Life For Teens Christian Prayers Weddings Inspirational Bible Devotions Denominations of Christianity Funerals and Memorial Services Christian Holidays Christian Entertainment Key Terms in Christianity Catholicism Latter Day Saints View More By Jack Zavada Christianity Expert M.A., English Composition, Illinois State University B.S., English Literature, Illinois State University Jack Zavada is a writer who covers the Bible, theology, and other Christianity topics. He is the author of "Hope for Hurting Singles: A Christian Guide to Overcoming Life's Challenges." our editorial process Jack Zavada Updated August 15, 2018 In the way he lived and died, Stephen catapulted the early Christian church from its local Jerusalem roots to a cause that spread across the entire world. Little is known about Stephen in the Bible before he was ordained a deacon in the young church, as described in Acts 6:1-6. Although he was just one of seven men chosen to make sure food was fairly distributed to the Grecian widows, Stephen soon began to stand out: Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. (Acts 6:8, NIV) Exactly what those wonders and miracles were, we are not told, but Stephen was empowered to do them by the Holy Spirit. His name suggests he was a Hellenistic Jew who spoke and preached in Greek, one of the common languages in Israel in that day. Members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen argued with Stephen. Scholars think these men were freed slaves from various parts of the Roman empire. As devout Jews, they would have been horrified at Stephen's claim that Jesus Christ was the much-awaited Messiah. That idea threatened long-held beliefs. It meant Christianity was not just another Jewish sect but something entirely different: a New Covenant from God, replacing the Old. First Christian Martyr This revolutionary message got Stephen hauled before the Sanhedrin, the same Jewish council that had condemned Jesus to death for blasphemy. When Stephen preached an impassioned defense of Christianity, a mob dragged him outside the city and stoned him. Stephen had a vision of Jesus and said he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. That was the only time in the New Testament anyone other than Jesus himself called him the Son of Man. Before he died, Stephen said two things very similar to Jesus' last words from the cross: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them." ( Acts 7:59-60, NIV) But Stephen's influence was even stronger after his death. A young man watching the murder was Saul of Tarsus, who would later be converted by Jesus and become the apostle Paul. Ironically, Paul's fire for Christ would mirror Stephen's. Before he converted, however, Saul would persecute other Christians in the name of the Sanhedrin, causing early church members to flee Jerusalem, taking the gospel wherever they went. Thus, Stephen's execution began the spread of Christianity. Accomplishments of Stephen in the Bible Stephen was a bold evangelist who was not afraid to preach the gospel despite dangerous opposition. His courage came from the Holy Spirit. While facing death, he was rewarded with a heavenly vision of Jesus himself. Strengths Stephen was well-educated in the history of God's plan of salvation and how Jesus Christ fit into it as the Messiah. He was truthful and brave. Life Lessons The Holy Spirit equips believers to do things they could not humanly do. Stephen was a gifted preacher, but the text shows God gave him wisdom and courage. What seems like a tragedy can somehow be part of God's great plan. Stephen's death had the unexpected consequence of forcing Christians to flee persecution in Jerusalem. The gospel spread far and wide as a result. The full impact of our lives may not be felt until decades after our death. God's work is constantly unfolding and goes forth on his timetable. Key Takeaways Stephen's martyrdom was a foretaste of what was to come. The Roman Empire persecuted members of The Way, as early Christianity was called, for the next 300 years, finally ending with the conversion of Emperor Constantine I, who adopted the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., allowing Christians religious freedom.Bible scholars are divided on Stephen's vision of Jesus standing by his throne. Typically Jesus was described as sitting on his heavenly throne, indicating his work was finished. Some commentators suggest this means Christ's work was not yet done, while others say Jesus stood to welcome Stephen into heaven. References to Stephen in the Bible Stephen's story is told in chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Acts. He is also mentioned in Acts 8:2, 11:19, and 22:20. Key Verses Acts 7:48-49“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be?'" (NIV)Acts 7:55-56But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (NIV) Sources The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger.Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Trent C. Butler, general editor.The New Compact Bible Dictionary, T. Alton Bryant, editor.