One of the seven deacons first chosen by the church at Jerusalem, and distinguished among them as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." He seems from his name to have been a Hellenistic Jew, (see GRECIANS,) and to have been chosen in part as being familiar with the language, opinions, and customs of the Greeks, Acts 6:1-6. His mighty works and unanswerable argument roused the bitterest hostility against him, and he was brought before the Sanhedrin for trial, on the charge of blasphemy and heresy. His speech in his own defense, probably recorded only in part, shows historically that the opponents of Christianity were but the children and imitators of those who had always opposed true religion. His enraged hearers hurried him to death, a judicial tribunal becoming a riotous mob for the occasion. Compare John 18:31. With Christ-like magnanimity he forgave his murderers, and "fell asleep" amid their stones, with his eyes upon the Savior "standing at the right hand of God," as if rising from his throne to protect and receive the first martyr of his church, Acts 7:1-60.
The results of Stephen’s death illustrates the saying of Tertrullian, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," Acts 8:1,4 11:19-21. Augustine observes that the church owes the conversion and ministry of Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Paul, himself a Cilician, Acts 6:9 22:3, had undoubtedly felt the force of his arguments in the discussions which preceded his arrest; and long afterwards alluded to his own presence at the martyr’s death, Acts 22:19,20—that triumph of Christian faith and love which has taught so many martyrs and Christians how to die. Yet nothing he heard or witnessed availed for his conversion, till he saw the Savior himself, Acts 9:1-43. The scene of Stephen’s martyrdom is placed by modern tradition on the east side of Jerusalem, near the gate called after his name. Earlier traditions located it more to the north.