Irony and Figurative Language: Inverted Guilt in Acts 7:55-60

Ancient rhetoricians commonly turned accusers’ own charges against them, a strategy both recommended in rhetorical handbooks and exemplified in preserved forensic speeches. Writers also employed this inversion of guilt to provide irony in other literary forms as well, for example claiming that it was Socrates’s accusers, rather than Socrates himself, who were truly guilty of the crimes of which they accused him.

Stephen’s speech clearly inverts accusations of law violation against his accusers (Acts 7: 51-53), but it appears likely that Luke further accentuates this inversion in the ensuing narrative of Stephen’s martyrdom. This additional inversion is suggest by the collocation of three independent but likely mutually supportive factors: the Son of Man standing (7:55-56); the witnesses stripping off their own garments rather than Stephen’s (7:58); and Stephen confessing their sins rather than his own (7:60).

This content is by Craig Keener, but edited and posted by Defenders Media.

For more, please check out Dr. Keener’s Between History and Spirit.

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