Pages

Monday, May 7, 2012

Secret Slander and Public Deception

Secret Slander and Public Deception

"Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen." Acts 6:9 (ESV)

FREEDMEN: Libertinos (a Roman feedman)

CYRENIANS: Kyrenaios (a Cyrenaean, an inhabitant of Cyrene); from Kyrene (Cyrene, a region of Africa)

ALEXANDRIANS: Alexandreus (an Alexandreian, an inhabitant of Alexandria)

CILICIA: Kilikia (Cilicia, a region of Asia Minor)

ASIA: Asia (Asia, Asia Minor, usually only its western shore)

Libertinos had strong family connections with Roma, a major city in Italia, the nation we now call Italy.

Cyrenians immigrated from Cyrene, a major city in Cyrenaica on the northern coast of Africa, the nation we call Libya.

Alexandrians came from Alexandria, a major city in Aegyptus, the country we know as Egypt.

Cilicia was a region just north of Jerusalem, along the southern coast of the country we now call Turkey. The western region of Turkey, just across the Aegean Sea from Greece, was called Asia.

Jerusalem was a cosmopolitan city, with immigrants, merchants, polititians and pilgrims from all over the world. People naturally gather together with groups that share a common language, culture and religion. Many of these groups were Jewish, but foreign in language and culture, and they each established their own centers of worship, known by their original homeland names.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? It seems to be human nature to group together according to language and custom, even after choosing to move to a new country, a new town. Even Christians develop personal preferences which influence where they worship, who they spend time with, what they eat and how they relax. How does this natural human tendency hinder our ministry to others? Or does it strengthen our ministry?

These staunch Jews from other lands were most vocal against the preaching of Stephen, but they could not defeat his wisdom and boldness. They resorted to slander.

"They could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, - We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God. - And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, - This man never ceases to speak words 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 delivered to us." Acts 6:10-14 (ESV)

Libel and slander have identical effects and identical laws. Both are known as defamation: civil wrongs that harm a reputation. Libel is defamation that can be seen: writing, printing or an image, or statue. Slander is any defamation that is spoken and heard. (1)

The Jews attacked Stephen upon the very foundation on which Stephen was chosen by the church to represent them as a ministry leader: his reputation for being full of God's Spirit, wisdom and faith.

The Jews charged Stephen with speaking "blasphemous words against Moses and God." They claimed to have witnesses hearing Stephen speak "words against this holy place and the law," that "Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us."

BLASPHEMOUS WORDS: blasphemos rhema (scurriolous, calumnious or impious utterance); from blapto (to hinder or injure) and rheo (to utter, speak or say); from rheo (to flow, or run as water)

The "scurriolous" (low buffoonery, indecent or abusive) words of Jesus, the "calumnious" (false or deceptive) utterances of the Son of God were probably these:

"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." John 2:19 (ESV)

The apostle John heard Jesus say these words, and he explained that Jesus was speaking of His own body. The Jews arguing with Jesus took the words to mean the building used by the Jews for worship. At the time that Jesus spoke these words, the Jews objected, not to any sense in which Jesus would destroy the temple building, but that Jesus claimed to have the power to raise a ruined building that had taken forty-six years to build.

Months after Jesus had been killed, and after He had been raised from the dead and ascended into Heaven, Stephen preached about these words of Jesus, using them to prove His divinity.

Unable to dispute Stephen's integrity and faith in God, the angry Jews found a few people willing to give false testimony. They twisted the words of Jesus to imply that He had threatened to destroy the holy temple building.

The accusation that Jesus tried to discredit Moses, or that He declared the laws preached by Moses to be obsolete, is completely false. Many references show Jesus exalting Moses as a great leader, lifting up the Old Testament commandments as holy standards for Christians.

Perhaps it was from the words of John the Baptist that the Jews tried to manufacture evidence of heresy by Jesus:

"John bore witness about him, and cried out, - This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me. - And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." John 1:15-17 (ESV)

Jesus did preach about the insufficiency of Moses and the Law:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." John 6:32-33 (ESV)

The breaking point for the Jews may have come when Jesus boldly refused to support capital punishment of a woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus never judged Moses as wrong to mandate stoning, but He did require those who judge to be without sin before demanding punishment of others.

"The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, - Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say? - This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, - Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." John 8:3-7 (ESV)

The Jewish leaders relied upon dishonest witnesses, basing false testimony upon twisted references and half-remembered words. The council resorted to secret deception, implying that many citizens of Jerusalem admired and respected Stephen and his message concerning Jesus. Only until the false charges of blasphemy gained strength through rumour and gossip could the council win support for persecution.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What other words of Jesus can you think of that modern nonbelievers view as "defamation" or "culturally wrong"? Are there any verses of Scripture which are difficult for you to accept?

(1) Source: legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com

Image of slander provided by The Weston Times and Guide, December 12, 1917, Creative Commons License

Image of map provided by www.roman-empire.net, modified by the author using GIMP.org

Image of slander provided by The Weston Times and Guide, December 12, 1917, Creative Commons License