Acts and the Temple: Possible Insights from Hebrews

William Manson suggested over fifty years ago that the author of Hebrews was a Hellenist of the same sort as Stephen had been. We might now more appropriately reverse his suggestion. The author of Acts, writing after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, portrayed Stephen similarly to a certain segment of Christian Judaism in his own day, a segment typified by the author of Hebrews. Several scholars have recently explored the possibility that Hebrews might be more of a “coping strategy” in the wake of Jerusalem and the temple’s destruction, rather than a polemic against the temple per se. If this interpretation is correct, it might have implications for our understanding of Acts 7, as well as of the author of Acts’ own understanding of the temple in general. This paper makes some suggestions as to what those implications might be. For one, this understanding of Hebrews potentially provides a via media between those, on the one hand, who see no word against the temple in Stephen’s speech (e.g., those in Acts 16:13 are false witnesses) and those who highlight some of its inflammatory language (e.g., cheiropoietos in 7:48). If Stephen is meant to resemble the author of Hebrews, we might take him to recognize the transitory and anticipatory nature of the Jerusalem temple, while not opposing it as a holy place per se, particularly at that point in time. His words ironically echo God’s judgment on the temple leadership and the foolhardiness of those who participated in the Jewish War, while not opposing the sanctuary itself. Meanwhile, we have no clear indication on the author of Acts’ own part from which to argue that he or she saw no role for a rebuilt temple in the future, particularly after the “times of the Gentiles” would be fulfilled.