Summary: This study is taken from our ongoing series of "Fabulous Friday Morning Bible Studies" and describes the transformation of Saul from a coat watcher to the Arch-nemesis of the church, the problem of Simon the Sorceror during the Samaritan Revival, and Phil
Verse 1-3 “THE ARCH-NEMESIS OF THE CHURCH
Dr. Luke wants to make certain that the reader is aware of Saul’s presence and
attitude regarding the mob execution of Stephen. Some have assumed that Luke is
declaring that Saul had an actual vote in the Sanhedrin, but I really doubt that this is the
intent of Luke’s statement. I believe he would have stated explicitly that Saul had actually
been permitted to vote.
However, the death of Stephen somehow creates boldness within Saul as he begins
acting as an agent of the Jews and intensifies persecution by arresting and casting into jail
men and women of faith. The same “lynch mob” mentality which had permitted the
execution of Stephen seemed to take ahold of Saul. Later, he would describe his activity
during this period of his life as “exeedingly mad.” (See Acts 26:11) (Greek word is
emmaninomenos = fierce rage).
Verse three appears to offer a contrast between Saul’s behavior and that of others.
Some commentators believe that the godly men mentioned in verse 3 were devout Jews. In
fact, the same word that Luke uses of Simeon in Luke 2 to describe his dedication to the
Lord is used to describe these “godly” or “devoted” men. Why do they appear to be Jews?
If men from the church had buried Stephen wouldn’t Luke have said so? These appear to
be Jews who were distressed by the action of the Sanhedrin and those who stoned Stephen.
Like Joseph of Arimathea, they come forward and take his body bury him in an act of
The very fact that they mourned for Stephen indicates a likely open attitude
towards the Christian faith or a knowledge that Stephen was innocent and undeserving of
his fate. These devout men mourned deeply for Stpehen. Hebrew writings and culture
forbade open mourning for someone who had been stoned, burned, beheaded, or otherwise
executed under the judgment by the Sanhedrin. The Jews were told that that they were
only permitted to mourn within their heart for such a “sinner” who received such a tragic
execution. These men took a chance by mourning openly and publicly.
The contrast between Saul and these men is a powerful contrast. These men are
mourning what happened to Stephen and Saul has used what happened to Stephen as
justification to do more evil against the church. He is wrecking havoc and doing his best to
destroy the church.
What amazes me about Saul’s attitude is that it is exactly opposite of his own
teacher’s statement in Acts 5:34-39. Gamliel’s position was a hands-off policy regarding
the Christians. If Christianity was not of God it would be a movement that would quickly
burn out and go away. If it was of God, why would the Jews be against it? Saul’s
approach is in direct opposition to his famous teacher’s position. Saul felt that he was
acting as some sort of divine exterminator, stomping out what he viewed as heresy with
nothing short of brute force.
Is it Saul’s youth which leads him astray? We are told in Acts 7:58 he is a “young
man” but the Greek word could signify someone between the ages of 24 and 40 so he
needn’t be as young as we might think from an initial reading. There is a transformation
that takes place in this man’s life between 7:58 and 8:3. He is a delegated onlooker and a
witness in 7:58 but he has become the chief persecutor the church.
Do you know what an arch-nemesis is? This is the name given to the ultimate
enemy of a particular person or group. An example from comics would be Batman and his
arch-nemesis, the Joker. Or Lex Luthor from the Superman comics. Although these
heroes often fight other villains, these particular villains are considered the ultimate enemy.
Saul has transformed from a witness to the ultimate enemy of the church, the arch-nemesis.
Nobody hates the church and Christianity more than Saul. Of course, this makes his later
conversion so much more miraculous, doesn’t it?
For further study you may wish to look at Philippians 3:4-6 for a brief
autobiography of Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul.
Verses 4-8 “REVIVAL IN SAMARIA”
The King James Version hits a really good point here, one which is missed by the
New International Version of the same text. Luke connects the persecution of the church to
the evangelism of Samaria. The King James versions uses the word “therefore” to create
the transition. In the Greek, Luke uses men oun which means “then,” “so”. Luke sees the
persecution of the church as driving the people from Jerusalem into other areas where they
One of the first areas preached in was Samaria. The Jews despised the Samaritans.
They considered them a hodge-podge of race and religion. The animosity between these