The following catechism is something I wrote while reflecting on the use of Stephen’s summary of Old Testament history in Acts 7. I thought it would be a good source for catechesis, and therefore decided to write a short catechism based on its content. I do intend on adding to it not too long from now, as there’s much more that could be explained.
The student should first read Acts 6 and 7 before going through this catechism, as The Martyr’s Catechism is based on Stephen’s defense in Acts 7. The catechism is meant to instruct the student in Israel’s history under the Old Testament, being based on Stephen’s historical presentation. Doctrinal points are then discussed from this historical summary, drawing out the biblical-theological nature of the subject matter. While not exhaustive, it seeks to ground new believers in redemptive history, sound doctrine, and biblical evangelism.
Q 1: Who was Stephen?
A: He was a Spirit-filled deacon of the Jerusalem Church, and the first martyr of the early Church.
Q 2: Where do we read about Stephen?
A: In the book of Acts, chapters 6 and 7.
Q 3: What did Stephen do in Acts 6?
A: Stephen performed great wonders and signs among the people and defended the Christian faith from the Scriptures.
Q 4: What happened to Stephen in Acts 6?
A: Stephen was falsely accused of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God and was brought before the Jewish Council.
Q 5: What did Stephen do in Acts 7?
A: Stephen boldly defended himself against his accusers by reciting Israel’s history to them.
Q 6: What does this history summarily consist of?
A: This history of Israel can be given in seven parts: 1) That the God of glory graciously called Abraham to Himself out of a pagan country with the promise of a new country that would be for his descendants, and gave him the covenant sign of circumcision; 2) that Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, and Jacob fathered the twelve fathers of the tribes of Israel; 3) that these descendants, the Israelites, would be in bondage in Egypt for a time; 4) that God graciously called Moses to Himself to lead His people out of bondage from Egypt; 5) that God gave to His people His holy law for them to live by, including the animal sacrifices of the tabernacle and temple; 6) that God promised a prophet like Moses would arise to speak God’s word to them; and 7) that the Israelites repeatedly broke God’s holy law and killed the prophets sent to them, just as they did with Jesus.
Q 7: Why is God called the “God of glory”?
A: God is called the God of glory because there is no god like God, majestic in holiness, worthy of all praise, working wonders (Ex. 15:11; Rev. 4:11).
Q 8: So, are there lesser gods than God?
A: Not at all, there is only one, true God; all others are idols (Ps. 96:5; Isa. 45:5-6, 18, 22).
Q 9: Is Abraham the father of Jews only, or also of Gentiles?
A: Abraham is the physical father of Jews, but is the spiritual father to all who believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, being children of promise (Rom. 3:13-17; Gal. 3:7, 29).
Q 10: Does this mean male Christians are to receive the sign of circumcision?
A: Not at all, for the sign of circumcision was unique to the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, signifying the need of regeneration or the removal of the sinful flesh, which is true of all those united to Christ by faith in the New Covenant (Col. 2:11-14; Acts 15:1-21).
Q 11: What does the Promised Land typify?
A: The Promised Land typifies the new and better Eden, the New Jerusalem of the New Heaven and New Earth (Heb. 11:8-10; Rev. 21).
Q 12: What are the names of the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel?
A: The names of the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel are these: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph (Ephraim/Manasseh), Benjamin, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali (Deut. 27:12-13).
Q 13: What does Israel’s bondage in Egypt typify?
A: Israel’s bondage in Egypt typifies our bondage to sin, being born with a sin nature, and by nature children of wrath (Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:16; Eph. 2:1-3).
Q 14: What does Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt typify?
A: Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt typifies our spiritual deliverance from bondage to sin to the forgiveness of sins and freedom to serve God willingly (Rom. 6:17-23; Eph. 2:4-10; Col. 1:13-14).
Q 15: Does Moses then typify Christ?
A: Yes indeed, for as Moses mediated between God and Israel under the Old Covenant, so Christ mediates between God and man under the New Covenant (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:15).
Q 16: Was salvation then obtained by virtue of Moses’s mediation under the law?
A: Not at all, for salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; whereas the law pointed to our need of a Savior, the grace of God in Christ for salvation applied to Old Testament saints retroactively who looked forward in hope and faith to the fulfillment of God’s promise (Rom. 3:19-26).
Q 17: Are Old and New Testament saints therefore one body in Christ?
A: Yes indeed, for the redemption of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments is one of continuity, and the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile is abolished in Christ, whose blood brings peace (Eph. 2:11-22; Heb. 3:1-6).
Q 18: Is Jesus therefore that prophet spoken of who would be in the likeness of Moses?
A: Yes indeed, for Jesus came as the very Word of God incarnate and spoke to the Jews of the spiritual nature of the law, of repentance, of faith, and of coming judgment (Mtt. 5-7; Jn. 1:1-3, 14; 12:44-50).
Q 19: Is Jesus therefore only a prophet?
A: Not at all, for He holds the three-fold office of Messiah, who is prophet, priest, and king (Ps. 2; 110).
Q 20: Having seen the prophethood of Jesus, what constitutes His priesthood?
A: As the Priest, Jesus fulfills that which was typified in the Old Covenant temple and its sacrifices, serving as both priest and sacrifice, wherein He accomplished redemption through His perfect obedience to the law, His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, and His exaltation to glory where He now intercedes for His people (Mk. 10:45; Acts 2:23-24; Rom. 3:23-25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:11-14).
Q 21: Having seen the priesthood of Jesus, what constitutes His kingship?
A: As the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, sits in power at the right hand of God in glory where He watches over His Church and waits to finally abolish the last enemy, which is death (Mtt. 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 1:5-6).
Q 22: Can salvation be found apart from Jesus Christ?
A: Not at all, for the only means of our salvation is that which has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and there is no other name by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12; 1 Jn. 1:1-4).
Q 23: Must therefore people repent and believe in the gospel to be saved?
A: Yes indeed, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Acts 20:21; Rom. 10:9-10, 17).
Q 24: What is repentance?
A: Godly repentance is a gracious gift of God, whereby a sinner recognizes the sinfulness of their sin and the grace bestowed on them in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and therefore purposes in their heart to turn from their sins and to live unto God in holiness (Lk. 24:47; Acts 26:20; 2 Cor. 7:10).
Q 25: What is faith?
A: Saving faith is a gracious gift of God that touches the head, heart, and will, resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 5:1-2; Heb. 11; Jms. 2:14-26).
Q 26: If people must believe in the gospel to be saved, ought we then to take the gospel to them?
A: Yes indeed, for this is the faithful mission of the Church, as Christ uses the means of gospel proclamation to bring His people into His fold (Mtt. 28:18-20; Lk. 24:46-48; Acts 8:12; 11:19-21; Rom. 10:14-15).
Q 27: What happened to Stephen in Acts 7 when he faithfully proclaimed Christ?
A: The people, refusing to believe and being enraged at Stephen’s words, took Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death (Acts 7:54-60).
Q 28: Why do some believe the gospel while others do not?
A: To some the gospel appears as foolishness, whereas to others it is the wisdom of God; to some it is a stench of death, whereas to others it is the sweet aroma of life; ultimately, that some believe the gospel is by the grace of God, and it is given to us to be faithful stewards of the gospel, not manufacturers of conversions (1 Cor. 1:18-31; 2 Cor. 2:14-17; 4:1-6).
Q 29: How may I faithfully communicate the gospel to others?
A: There is no strict formula for evangelism, but we should seek to communicate the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man with God’s holy and just law, followed by the forgiveness of sins that is in and through Jesus Christ, who was crucified for sinners and bodily resurrected (defeating sin and death), to be received by faith (Ps. 5:4; 7:11; 89:14; Mk. 7:20-23; Rom. 3:19-26; 5:12-21; 6:23; 1 Tim. 1:8-11, 15; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Pet. 3:18).
Q 30: What should happen next if someone believes on Christ?
A: Evangelism should be performed in relation to a local church, and any who come to Christ through our evangelism should be brought into a local church whereby they will be placed under the authority of the elders entrusted with the ministry of the gospel, receive the ordinance of baptism, partake of the Lord’s Supper together with the assembly, and continually be discipled in God’s word (Eph. 4:4-16; Heb. 10:23-25; 13:17).
Q 31: Will I, too, die a martyr’s death?
A: It is not given us to know the details of our death, but only that we should trust in God and be faithful to the end, looking forward to the glory that is to come, as this world is not our true home (Jn. 21:22; 2 Cor. 5:1-5; Phil. 1:20; 3:17-21; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).