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Temple-Criticism and the Jewish Heritage: Some Reflexions on Acts 6–7*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2009

Edvin Larsson
(Tiundagatan 41, S-752 30 Uppsala, Sweden)


1) In the exegetical discussion the word ‘temple-criticism’ is capable of several meanings. Generally speaking it is used to characterize critical statements in the New Testament concerning the Jerusalem temple. It is for example applied to sayings which express the view that the Jewish temple has been superseded by the coming of Jesus (Matt 12.6; John 2.19). Further, the word can signify a critical attitude towards the temple, when it is in a state of abuse (Mark 11.17; Matt 21.12). It also stands for a supposed criticism of the temple, taken as a static entirety and contrasted with the mobile tabernacle (Hebrews and Acts 7). Finally it is used to label certain New Testament statements and conceptions, understood as proclaiming a fundamental rejection of the temple, a rejection in principle of the temple as such (Acts 7.46–7). In discussing our theme we have to take all these aspects into consideration.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

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1 This enumeration is by no means complete. Other aspects could be added. The meanings just mentioned are, however, most common.

2 Manson, W., The Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1953).Google Scholar

3 See Michel, O., Der Brief an die Hebräer (KEK 13; (8th) 14th ed.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984) 553–4.Google Scholar

4 Bruce, F. F., Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1967).Google Scholar

5 Cullmann, O., Der johanneische Kreis. Ursprung des Johannesevangeliums (Tübingen: Mohr, 1975)Google Scholar. See also: Spicq, C., L'épître aux Hebreux 1 (EtB; 2nd ed.; Paris: Gabalda, 1952) 202–3.Google Scholar

6 Manson, , Epistle, 36, further 86.Google Scholar

7 F. Chr. Baur and the Tübingen-school have been dealt with in recent studies: Lüdemann, G., Paulus, der Heidenapostel 2: Antipaulinismus im frühen Christentum (FRLANT 130, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983) 1357;Google ScholarNeudorfer, H. W., Der Stephanuskreis in der Forschungsgeschichte seit F. C. Baur (Gieβen-Basel: Brunau, 1983) 1935;Google ScholarLarsson, E., ‘Die Hellenisten und die Urgemeinde’, NTS 33 (1987) 205–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 Hengel, M., Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period (London: SCM, 1974).Google Scholar

9 In my article ‘Die Hellenisten’, NTS 33 (1987) 205–25,CrossRefGoogle Scholar1 briefly dealt with the question of temple-criticism in discussing the problem of a special Hellenistic theology. In this paper I intend to develop and substantiate some of the view-points indicated in this article.

10 Professor Kl. Haacker has kindly given me access to his forthcoming article in ANRW II 26.2: ‘Die Stellung des Stephanus in der Geschichte des Urchristentums’. Regarding the trial-scene see especially part 3.

11 Haacker convincingly points out the complicated relation between the accusations in v. 11 and v. 13–14, ibid. – Regarding the problem of Luke's omission of the false accusations against Jesus in his gospel see Arai, S., ‘Zum “Tempelwort” Jesu in Apostelgeschichte 6.14’, NTS 34 (1988) 397410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 Haacker thinks that the Jesus-logion in John 2.19 represents the beginning of the tradition concerning the destruction of the temple: ‘Dieses johanneische Jesuswort zu unserem Thema könnte, wenn man die Deutung durch den Evangelisten in V 21 (‘Er aber redete vom Tempel seines Leibes’) ignoriert, einen historischen Kern haben, der neben Mk 13.1–2 Parr, am Anfang der Überlieferungsgeschichte zum Thema Tempelzerstörung steht’ (ibid.).

13 The texts most relevant are those about the temple-cleansing and the trial-scene: Mark 11.15–19 par; 14.55–64; Matt 26.59–66, cf. Mark 15.38 par. – In addition to these synoptic texts some Johannine passages are to be taken into account. They differ considerably from the texts just referred to in stressing that Jesus himself is the new temple (John 1.14, 51; 2.13–22; 7.27–38; 10.36–8). A recent study on the issue is Legarth, P. V., Guds tempel. Tempelsymbolisme og kristologi hos Ignatius af Antiokia (Ǡrhus: Kolon, 1992) 4772.Google Scholar

14 Stephen is the dominating figure in 6.8–8.1a. The narrative can be divided into two parts: 1) The martyrdom of Stephen, 6.8–15; 7.54–8.1a. 2) The speech of Stephen 7.1–53. – The situation thus seems to be that there existed a ‘Hellenist’ narrative of the martyrdom of Stephen into which the Stephen-speech has been incorporated. Cf. Schneider, G., Die Apostelgeschichte 1 (HThK 5; Freiburg: Herder, 1980) 432–40.Google Scholar

15 Haacker, 4.3 maintains on the basis of his ‘Leitworte’-interpretation (cf. below note 19) that the Stephen-speech functions as an apologia against accusations for temple-criticism. At the same time it confirms these accusations: ‘Die Stephanusrede erweist sich damit gerade an dem Punkt als eine Apologie, an dem sie weithin als eine Bestätigung der Anklage verstanden wird.’ Cf. ibid., 5.

16 For the discussion see Schneider, G., ‘Stephanus, die Hellenisten und Samaria’, in Les Actes des Apôtres. Traditions, rédaction, théologie (ed. Kremer, J.; BEThL 48; Leuven:University/Gembloux: Duculot, 1979) 215–40 (230–7).Google Scholar In the same volume Sabbe, M. offers a radical criticism of the whole idea of a pre-Lukan source of the speech of Stephen; ‘The Son of Man Saying in Acts 7.56’, Les Actes, 241–79.Google Scholar

17 Dahl, N. A., Jesus in the Memory of the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1976) 6686.Google Scholar The part of the book here referred to was originally published in Studies in Luke-Acts: Essays Presented in Honor of Paul Schubert (ed. Keck, L., Martyn, J. L.; London: SPCK, 1968)Google Scholar under the title ‘The Story of Abraham in Luke-Acts’. Dahl's stimulating essay, strangely enough, has been neglected in studies of Acts, especially with regard to the prophecy-fulfilment-theme. – Kilgallen, J., The Stephen Speech. A Literary and Redactional Study of Acts 7.2–53 (AB 67; Rome: Biblical Institute, 1976)Google Scholar also stresses the importance of Acts 7.6–7. But his view differs considerably from the interpretation of Dahl. So, e.g., the idea of ‘Promise’, is in his opinion, inadequate as a key to the Abraham story (37–44). He emphasizes, however, the purpose of Israel as a coming to ‘worship in this place’ (7b).

18 Haacker (‘Stephanus’, 4.3) sees in the expression ‘God of glory’ an allusion to Ezek 1, where the prophet describes his vision of God's glory in the Jerusalem-temple and its subsequently leaving this sanctuary (Ezek 10), the latter event being to the prophet a sign of the coming destruction of the temple. ‘Es besteht also ein Zusammenhang zwischen der Frage nach dem Ort der Herrlichkeit Gottes und der Denkbarkeit einer Zerstörung “dieses Ortes”, d.h. des Heiligtums in Jerusalem’. – Whether the expression ‘God of glory’ can be taken as Stephen's indication of a (possible) destruction of the Jerusalem temple seems rather uncertain to me (in spite of Ezek 1 and 10). A safer interpretation is to understand ‘God of glory’ as an emphasizing of God's universal sovereignty. Cf. J. Kilgallen, The Stephen Speech, 43: ‘No doubt, the “God of Glory” (v 2), though practically nonexistent in the Tradition (cf Ps 29.3; 1 Enoch 25.7), is another attempt to heighten the role of God, the majesty and divinity of God's commencing the history of Israel.’

19 An inclination to question the role of the temple in the Holy Land is discernible also by Haacker (cf. the preceding note). The Stephen-speech is, in his opinion, characterized by a ‘Leitwortstil’, typical for many Biblical authors. The ‘Leitworte’ are in our text τόπος and κατοικεν. He finds a tendency in the speech to combat the idea of God being ‘ansässig’ in the Jerusalem-temple: ‘In diesem Sinne wird auch im Jesaja-Zitat in V.49 der Begriff des “Hauses” für Gott ergänzt durch “Ort meiner Neiderlassung” (τόπος τ⋯ς καταπαύσεώς μου). Man beachte, wie sich hier die beiden Leitwortlinien sub voce τόπος und sub voce οἰκ-treffen! Die durch diese Leitworte markierten Aussagen haben die gemeinsame Tendenz, eine allzu enge Bindung Gottes an Jerusalem und sein Heiligtum in Frage zu stellen.’

20 Roloff, J., Die Apostelgeschichte (NTD 5; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981) 121:Google Scholar ‘Ein Stück weit scheint Josef als Prototyp der Diasporajuden gezeichnet zu sein.’ This is, however, not the main-point, he thinks. ‘Zentral dürfte hingegen die Verwerfung Josefs durch seine Brüder und seine Errettung aus seinen Nöten sein. Hier liegt bereits der Anfang des Widerstandes Israels gegen Gott und die von ihm Gesandten (vgl. V.52).’

21 Kilgallen stresses the saviour-aspect and also compares Moses to Joseph. Both are presented in a way that allows the Christian reader to see in them forerunners of the final revelation of salvation to the Israelites: Christ, 73–6. – Concerning the role of Joseph cf. Roloff, 121.

22 Bruce, F. F., The Acts of the Apostles. The English Text with Introduction and Commentary (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1951) 159–61.Google Scholar Bruce admits that the supposed difference is questionable: ‘In many respects the tabernacle and the temple were comparable. Both were copies of divinely given patterns.’ The fault was ‘rather the state of mind to which the temple gave rise – a state of mind to which the mobile tabernacle could not have engendered.’ Bruce here refers to Jer 7.1–7; 26.1–6 as a possible background for Stephen's attitude.

23 Simon, M., Verus Israel: a Study of the Relations between Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire (135425) (Oxford: Oxford Univ., 1986.Google Scholar First published in 1948) 86.

24 Haenchen, E., Die Apostelgeschichte (KEK 5; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1965) ad loc.Google Scholar

25 Wilckens, U., Die Missionsreden der Apostelgeschichte (WMANT 5; 3rd ed.; Neukirchen-Vluyn. Neukirchener, 1974) 214.Google Scholar Cf. Lüdemann, G., Das frühe Christentum nach den Traditionen der Apostelgeschichte. Ein Kommentar (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987):Google Scholar ‘Unter der Voraussetzung der luk. Gestaltung der Stephanusrede wäre eine Tempelkritik ja auch gar nicht zu erwarten gewesen, da Lukas das frühe Christentum eng mit dem Tempel verbindet.’ (93). Lüdemann quotes with approval Storch, R., Die Stephanusrede Ag 7.2–53 (Diss. Theol. Göttingen, 1967, masch.-schr.) 102:Google Scholar ‘Lukas konnte also den Tempel gar nicht als Produkt des Abfalls darstellen … Jesus konnte nicht entscheidende Epochen seines Wirkens im Götzenhaus zugebracht haben.’

26 Schneider, , Stephanus, 236, n. 121.Google Scholar

27 Schneider, ibid. 239–40.

28 Roloff, Apostelgeschichte, 125. It remains unclear how Roloff thinks about the making of the tabernacle. In spite of its being created after a heavenly archetype it surely was made with hands (Exod 25.22–27.21; 35–8). Another view by Stegemann, W., Zwischen Synagoge und Obrigkeit (FRLANT 152; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1991) 152:CrossRefGoogle Scholar ‘σκήνη το μαρτυρίου → σκήνωμα → οκος. Die Bauwerke werden gewissermaβen immer solider, doch für alle gilt: ⋯λλ' οὑχ ⋯ ὕψιστος ⋯ν χειροποίητοις κατοικε (7.48; vgl. 17.24).’ Cf. n. 54, where Stegemann seems to coincide with Schneider's view.

29 Kilgallen, , Stephen Speech, 89.Google Scholar

30 Haacker, ‘Stellung des Stephanus’, 4.3: ‘Auch das Zeltheiligtum der Wüstenwanderung fällt unter das Urteil χειροποίητος.’

31 Messianic figures as temple-builders and the role of 2 Sam 7 in this connection are dealt with in P. V. Legarth, Guds tempel, 12–38 (especially 16, 20, 31, 34).

32 Cf. Haaker, 4.3.

33 Dahl, Jesus: ‘The oracle in Acts 7.6–7 predicts the succeeding events in the history of Israel, and the following parts of Stephen's speech tell about the realization of God's word to Abraham’ (72–3). – Dahl's approach to the Stephen-speech has not been observed and discussed by commentators outside Scandinavia. As regards Scandinavian commentaries see Larsson, E., Apostlagärningarna 1–12 (KNT 5A; Stockholm: EFS, 1983)Google Scholar ad loc; Lövestam, E., Apostagärningarna (TNT 5; Stockholm: Verbum, 1988) 140–2.Google Scholar

34 The resistance-motive is to be observed already in the Joseph-narrative: Roloff, 121; cf. above n. 20.

35 For a broad discussion see B. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, 3rd ed. 1971) 351–3.Google Scholar

36 Dahl, Jesus, 75. Cf. also the worship-motive as main-theme in Kilgallen, Stephen-Speech, passim, e.g. Conclusion, 120.

37 Michaelis, W., Art. ‘σκήνωμα’, ThWNT 7 (ed. Friedrich, G.; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1964) 385–6.Google Scholar

38 Lohse, E., ‘χειροποίητος’, ThWNT 9 (ed. Friedrich, G.; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1973) 425–6.Google ScholarRebell, W., ‘χειροποίητος’, EWNT 3 (ed. Balz, H., Schneider, G.; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1983) 1112–14.Google Scholar Both authors point to χ.'s function of emphasizing the difference between human and divine actions. Rebell also adds that the use of χ. in Acts 7.48 does not signal a fundamental temple-criticism. – It should further be remarked: there is no reason to equate the use of χ. in Acts 7.48 with Paul's use of the term in the Areopagus-speech (17.24), where he offers criticism to non-Jewish temples.

39 Dahl, Jesus, 75.

40 Stephen's accusation (51–3) against his compatriots and their subsequent violent reaction is often interpreted as a signal of his radical criticism of the temple. So for example Haenchen, comm ad v. 51: ‘Nur wenn das Vorhergehende eine radikale Absage an den Tempeldienst ist, ist der Übergang von V.50 zu 51–53 unmittelbar gegeben, eine Flut von Anklagen, welche die Hörer zur Raserei bringt.’ Hemer, C. J., The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (WUNT 49; Tübingen: Mohr, 1989)Google Scholar remarks: ‘The violence of the reaction against Stephen again seems to fit his implied radical attack on the Temple and priestly religion at the time of their special ascendancy’ (177). – According to my view, Stephen's accusations and his adversaries’ reaction are not to be interpreted in this way. The whole scene can be understood as a climax of Stephen's accusing of Israel for its resistance to God's acts on its behalf (these acts including the building of the temple).