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law of Moses P. The prisoner was stoned, and the hands of the witnesses were first upon him to put him to death 9. It is the case of the protomartyr Stephen.
To this it is objected, that there is no relation of any sentence pronounced, or of the high priest's collecting the opinions of the court r; that after Stephen had uttered these words, I see the Son of man standing on the right hand of God, the representation given us by St. Luke has more the appearance of a tumultuous proceeding of the people, than a regular administration of justice s.
Were historians to descend minutely to the detail of every particular t, who would be at the trouble to read their works ? and if it be incumbent on us, in order to prove that a people had the power of executing their own laws in cases which required the inflicting of death, to bring an instance from historians of credit, wherein is related the whole process of the court from beginning to end, I am apt to think it will be difficult, if not impossible, to shew that any one nation in the world, seven or eight hundred years past, had the power of trying capital causes. In relating the trial of the apostle James, and those others who suffered with him, Josephus tells us no
P Deut. xvii. 7.
1 Acts vii. 58. r Lard. Cred. vol. 1. p. 107.
108. * All that is said of Naboth's trial is, The men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died. Kings xxi. 13. Should any one from bence conclude that this was a tumultuous proceeding of the people, he may be convinced of the contrary by turning to the history.
more thạn that Ananus summoned the council, accused them as transgressors of the law, and delivered them to be stoned. Must we from hence conclude that there were no witnesses heard, no defence made by the prisoners, no debates among the members of the council, no collecting of opinions, no sentence passed ? This would be a very hasty proceeding, and most unfair treatment of the historian. It is very seldom he relates even so much as this, when he gives an account of the execution of criminals: must we thence infer that they had no trial, or were brought before no court of judicature ? No, such things are passed by, being supposed to be known to every one as things of course. And historians never dwell upon the circumstances of a trial, unless it be to relate something remarkable, and worthy our attention. We should never have known those few circumstances that are related in the trial of St. Stephen, had it not been to introduce that noble speech he made in his defence, and to shew us the temper of the apostle Paul at that time. So the circumstances mentioned in the trial of the apostles in Acts v. are evidently to shew us the courage of the apostles, and to give us the remarkable opinion of Gamaliel in favour of the Christians. But even in this case there is no relation of any sentence passed, only of the execution of the sentence ", as in the case of St. Stephen. The circumstances related in the trial of the apostles Peter and John in Acts iv, are to convince us how much they were changed in their temper and behaviour since the resurrection of Christ, and the pouring forth the Holy Spirit ; particularly to set before us the bold and undaunted spirit of the apostle Peter since his recovery after the base denial which he made of his Master. The relation of these circumstances was also necessary to introduce the account which follows of the second effusion of the Holy Ghost on the disciples *. And both in this and the two former cases they were highly fitting, in order to make us see the exact fulfilment of several of our Lord's prophecies y.
u Acts v. 40.
For my own part, I see no more reason to question whether sentence of death was pronounced by the council in the case of St. Stephen, than there is to doubt whether sentence of scourging was pronounced in the case of the apostles, related Acts v., or that of stoning in the case of James, the brother of our Lord, related by Josephus; or that of death in the case of almost any one person he speaks of as executed. Why might not sentence pass while St. Stephen was beholding the heavenly vision? or is it at all improbable that the members of the council should pronounce him guilty of death when they gnashed on him with their teeth, expressing their indignation against him at the same time both by
x Vid. Acts iv. 23–31.
y Such as those concerning Peter in particular; Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, Matt. xvi. 18. I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren, Luke xxii. 32. And the apostles in general ; Beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, Matt. x. 17. Take heed to yourselves : for they shall deliver you up to the councils, Mark xiii. 9. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer : for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversarics shall not be able to gainsay or resist, Luke xxi, 14, 15.
their words and actions 2 ? After this there appears nothing irregular in the whole proceeding; all is conducted in exact agreement with the Mosaic law. He is cast out of the city a, and the witnesses throw the first stone.
But should we allow that there was no sentence passed, and that St. Stephen was executed in a tumultuary manner, through the too great zeal and forwardness of the people, yet is here a plain instance of a prisoner's being brought before the Jewish council, and accused of blasphemy, of their proceeding to hear witnesses, and the defence of the prisoner : to what purpose, if they had no power to put this man to death in case he should be found guilty ? Did they meet together with an intent to pass sentence on him, and see that sentence executed, if they found him guilty ? or did they not? if they did, the thing contended for is granted; and it is of little import whether sentence were actually passed or not. If they did not meet with this intention, it is very strange it should not be hinted in a case where the person brought before them was actually executed; the more so, because in another case, when the persons brought before them were not executed, St. Luke tells us that it was the intention of the council to have put them to death. Thus is it expressly said, when the apostles stood before them, that they took counsel to slay them, and
? Acts vii. 54, 55. Vid. Grot. in Matt. xxvi. 66.
b Acts v. 33. éßovreúorto. They were cut to the heart, and determined to put them to death. Vid. Grot. in Joan. xii. 10. Bouneúcobar non est hic consultare, sed constituere, ut Actor. v. 33. et xv. 37. 2 Cor. i. 17
without doubt would have executed their design, had not Gamaliel diverted them from it. Is it an argument of no weight, that St. Luke, who gives us this account of their intention in the case of the apostles, and of their actual proceeding in the case of the protomartyr, never once intimates that they herein went beyond their power, and practised that which the Romans did not allow of?
SECT. XV. Further arguments from the History of the Acts. We have not only this plain and undeniable fact in the one case, and the intention in the other related in the History of the Acts, but we have also a clear and strong assertion that the Jewish magistrates had determined to proceed in the trial of a capital cause made in open court in the presence of the Roman governor himself, who sat there as judge, and this without any check or control from the bench. It is in the speech of Tertullus made to the governor Felix in the case of St. Paul, whom, says he, we took, and would have judged according to our law. Is it possible to imagine that any advocate or counsel, be his assurance never so great, could have asserted such a thing as this to the Roman governor himself, if at the same time the Romans had deprived the Jews of capital judgments ? That this was a capital cause appears most fully from the accusation d; and I dare say no one ever admitted the least doubt of it.
c Acts xxiv. 6.
• The accusation in the Jewish court no doubt was blasphemy, that he taught men every where against the people, and the law, and the temple, Acts xxi. 28. But as it was also in our Saviour's