In “Stephen’s murder,” Jefferson Vann shares some notes on his translation of Acts 7:55-8:2. The text serves as a case study of Luke’s use of metaphors for death and murder. It shows that the theology of Acts is thoroughly conditionalist, with no trace of traditional dualism.

My independent translation project continues, and this morning I found myself in the last part of Acts 7, and the first part of Acts 8. It contains the story of a murder – the stoning of Stephen.

  • Acts 7:55-56 Stephen, full of the Sacred Breath, gazed into the sky. He saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He said, “Notice, I observe the sky opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

If you are following my articles on Afterlife or my devotionals, you will notice several of my peculiar translation glosses reflected in the above text.

I render πνεύματος ἁγίου1 as “Sacred Breath,” rather than the traditional “Holy Spirit.” It is my contention that the biblical authors are drawing attention to the role of God as animator when they use this term for him. The term does describe God as a person – more than simply an influence. But having the Sacred Breath inside me primarily means I am being empowered and animated by Him, not that I am being possessed by Him. That empowerment and animation is seen in the text above in the sense that Stephen could see something that the raging mob could not see. He could see Jesus in his glory in the sky. They could only see the sky.

The word “sky” might also seem out of place, since so many traditionally render the Greek word οὐρανός2 as “heaven” here. But the term consistently refers to the space above us. Luke uses the word quite consistently in Acts with that meaning up to this point:

  • Acts 1:10-11 While he was going, they were gazing into the sky, they noticed that two men in shining clothes had stood by them. And these said, ” Galilean men, why have you stood looking up into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been picked up from you into the sky, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into the sky.”
  • Acts 2:5 Now there were Jews residing in Jerusalem, devout people from every nation under the sky.
  • Acts 2:34-35 You see, it was not David who ascended into the sky, but he himself says: The Lord declared to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’
  • Acts 3:21 The sky must welcome him until the time of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about through his devoted prophets an age ago.
  • Acts 4:12 There is rescue in no one else, for there is no other name under the sky given to people by which it is necessary to rescue us.”
  • Acts 4:24 When they heard this, they raised their voices with the same passion to God and said, “Master, you are the one who made the sky, the land, and the sea, and everything in them.
  • Acts 7:42 God turned away and gave them up to worship the stars of the sky, as it is written in the book of the prophets: House of Israel, did you bring me offerings and sacrifices for forty years in the unpopulated region?
  • Acts 7:49 The sky is my throne, and the land my footstool. What sort of house will you build for me? says the Lord, or what will be my resting place?

I also render ἰδού3 as “notice,” rather than the traditional “behold.”

  • Acts 1:10 While he was going, they were gazing into the sky, they noticed that two men in shining clothes had stood by them.
  • Acts 2:7 They were astounded and amazed, saying, “Notice, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?
  • Acts 5:9 Then Peter said to her, “Why did you agree to test the Breath of the Lord? Notice, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”
  • Acts 5:28 “Didn’t we strictly direct you not to teach in this name? Notice, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

The term is the 2nd Aorist imperative of ὁράω,4 and is used figuratively for discern/perceive/experience/notice/attend-to.5 I like “notice” as a more up-to-date rendering, eschewing the archaic “behold.”

Interestingly, the next word – θεωρέω6 is also sometimes translated behold. Not wanting to appear redundant, most versions render it “I see.” But I like “I observe” better. It is not one of the usual words Luke uses for seeing (ὁράω7 or βλέπω8). It entails close scrutiny and detailed observation.

Here are the two other appearances of θεωρέω in Acts thus far:

Acts 3:16 And on the basis of faith in his name, his name has made this man strong, whom you observe and know. So the faith that comes through Jesus has given him this completeness in front of all of you.

Acts 4:13 When observing the boldness of Peter and John and realizing that they had been uneducated and amateur men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 7:57-59 They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and with the same passion rushed against him. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. And the testifiers laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my breath!”

This section also contains three of my peculiar independent translations. The word often rendered “together” (ὁμοθυμαδὸν)9 is a combination of ὁμός10 (same) and θυμός11 (passion), so I render it “with the same passion.” This word had also been used by Luke previously in Acts with the same meaning:

  • Acts 2:46-47 Every day they stayed busily engaged, meeting together with the same passion in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with delight and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to the same place those who were being rescued.
  • Acts 4:24 When they heard this, they raised their voices with the same passion to God and said, “Master, you are the one who made the sky, the land, and the sea, and everything in them.
  • Acts 5:12 Many signs and marvels were being done among the people through the hands of the missionaries. They were all with the same passion in Solomon’s Colonnade.

Some versions do not even translate the word in Acts 7, thinking that it merely means “together.” I think it deserves a rendering like that above.

The word I use instead of the usual term “witness” is “testifier.” I do not like witness because it suggests something that a person sees. Instead, μάρτυς12 refers to someone who says something, not someone who sees something. The mob who came against Stephen were testifying against him. Luke also uses this term consistently as people who testify to something.

  • Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Sacred Breath has come on you, and you will be my testifiers in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the land.”
  • Acts 1:22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day he was picked up from us – from among these, it is necessary that one become a testifier with us of his resurrection.”
  • Acts 2:32 “God got this Jesus up; we are all testifiers of this.
  • Acts 3:15 You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are testifiers of this.
  • Acts 5:32 We are testifiers of these things, and so is the Sacred Breath whom God has given to those who obey him.”
  • Acts 6:13 They also presented false testifiers who said, “This man never stops speaking against this sacred place and the law.

Believers in the gospel are not witnesses in the popular English sense of the word. We who are living today did not witness any of the events described in the Bible. We are believers, and because we are believers, we can testify to the truth of those events. In fact, Jesus spoke a very special blessing upon us because of that very fact. He said “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”13 The Sacred Breath empowers us to testify about what we know, which goes far beyond what we currently see or have seen.

The third word in Acts 7:57-59 which I render in a peculiar way is the word πνεῦμα, which is traditionally translated “spirit.” I have explained elsewhere that both of the terms in the Bible that are traditionally translated “spirit” are better rendered “breath.” Luke also treats πνεῦμα the same way. Thus, as I have already shown, I prefer “Sacred Breath” to the traditional “Holy Spirit.” In Acts 6:10, Luke says that opponents to Stephen “did not have the strength to stand up against his wisdom and the Breath by whom he was speaking.”

But in Acts 7:59, Stephen is asking God to receive his breath. He is not giving the Sacred Breath back. He is admitting the fact that he is being murdered, and asking God to receive his breath in the same sense as death is described in Ecclesiastes 12:7.

  • Ecclesiastes 12:7 then the dust will return to the ground like it was before, and the breath will return to God who gave it.

Both Solomon and Stephen were talking about what happens at death. The same God who caused life to happen at the beginning can cause it to happen again. He can resurrect a dead person by putting his breath back in him. Stephen’s hope was not going to God as a disembodied spirit, but returning to life at his resurrection. Luke describes Stephen as giving his breath up, and lying unconscious in death afterwards, totally, helplessly dependent upon the Lord Jesus to raise him to life again.

Acts 7:60 He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this mistake against them!” And after saying this, he went to sleep.

Acts 8:1 Saul agreed with taking him out. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the missionaries were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria.

Acts 8:2 Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him.

This final section also contains wording which identified Luke as a conditionalist. Luke uses a metaphorical expression to describe Stephen’s death. Although the CSB renders the word ἐκοιμήθη as “he died,” most versions present Luke more accurately with the phrase “he fell asleep.” The idea of falling is not inherent within the Greek word κοιμάω,14 however, so I render it “he went to sleep.”

The footnote I attached to Acts 7:60 in my translation reads thus:

  • κοιμάω = go to sleep. (Metaphorically = to die Acts 7:60; 13:36 – Actual sleeping Acts 12:6).

Of the two other uses of κοιμάω in Acts, one is used in the same way as here – to describe death.

  • Acts 13:36-37 For David, after serving God’s purpose in his own generation, went to sleep, was buried with his ancestors, and decayed, but the one God raised up did not decay.

Paul in his sermon is careful to note that not only did David appear to die, he actually died, and decayed in the grave. It was not just his body, but David himself who went to sleep. It was not just his body, but David himself who decayed in his grave. Jesus died too, but he did not decay because he was raised to life again.

The other use of κοιμάω by Luke in Acts shows the term’s more literal meaning.

  • Acts 12:5-6 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was praying fervently to God for him. When Herod was about to bring him out for trial, that very night Peter, bound with two chains, is sleeping between two soldiers, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison.

Luke was not saying that Peter was dying to get away from those two soldiers. He is using the term in its literal sense, describing Peter’s sleeping position.

Luke’s word for the murder of Stephen is also significant. He says that Saul had agreed with “taking him out.” My footnote for this verse reads:

  • ἀναίρεσις15 = take out (murder, taking away someone’s life).

The word only appears in Acts once, but is the noun form of ἀναιρέω16 – which Luke often uses for murder.17 This word means to eliminate someone. It is a helpful addition to the text because it clarifies that Luke was talking about actual murder, not merely rendering of Stephen unconscious.

Luke concludes the narrative by describing Stephen’s burial. Note that the devout men buried Stephen, not just his body. The theology of death portrayed in the book of Acts is thoroughly conditionalist, with no trace of traditional dualism. The whole person dies, is unconscious in death, and is raised to life again at the future resurrection.

See Also:

two case studies – the meaning of ἀπόλλυμι in Acts

Resurrection Revealed — Resurrection in Acts part 2

expiration date

What Happens at Death

The seed picker speaks | Acts 17

Resurrection Revealed — Part 12

Sleep of death | Soul Sleep

A Conditionalist Word List

Did You Say “Sleep”? | Sleep of the dead

What Happens when we die

On The Intermediate State of the Dead (Part 1)

Waking a friend | The dead are sleeping

Refuting Calvin’s Psychopannychia

Is Death, Death?

After Death in the Bible | An outline

Defending a bit of unconsciousness

Psalm 31:5

the intermediate state | the waiting station

if you died today…

1pronounced Neumatŏs Hagiou.

2pronounced ouranŏs

3prounounced idou.

4pronounced horaō. It means to see.

5ἰδού (s. ὁράω)

6pronounced theōreō

7Acts 2:3, 17, 27, 31; 3:3, 9, 12; 4:20; 6:15; 7:2, 24, 26, 30-31, 34-35, 44, 55; 8:18, 23, 39; 9:12, 17, 27, 35, 40; 10:3, 17; 11:5-6, 13, 23; 12:3, 16; 13:12, 31, 35-37, 41, 45; 14:9, 11; 15:6; 16:9-10, 19, 27, 40; 18:15; 19:21; 20:25; 21:32; 22:14-15, 18; 26:13, 16; 28:4, 15, 20, 26-27.

8pronounced blepō. Acts 1:9, 11; 2:33; 3:4; 4:14; 8:6; 9:8-9; 12:9; 13:11, 40; 27:12; 28:26.

9pronounced hŏmothūmadŏn.

10pronounced hŏmŏs.

11pronounced thūmŏs.

12pronounced martūs.

13John 20:29 ESV.

14pronounced koimŏō.

15pronounced anairēsis.

16pronounced anairȇō.

17Acts 2:23; 5:33, 36; 7:28; 9:23-24, 29; 10:39; 12:2; 13:28; 16:27; 22:20; 23:15, 21, 27; 25:3; 26:10.