37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
Acts 7:37-43 (ESV)
The congregation in the wilderness, Stephen now begins to draw some sharp parallels between Moses and Jesus and his relation to Israel. God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.” Stephen is quoting Moses in Deuteronomy. The people know Stephen is talking about Jesus, and saying that Jesus is that prophet of whom Moses spoke. Jesus is that prophet that God raised up. The phrasing is actually a little peculiar. Not so peculiar that you would notice it right off, but peculiar enough that when Jesus is raised from the dead to the glory of the Father, you realize it was packing more meaning than originally thought. Prophets aren’t normally spoken of as being raised up. God sends them is generally the idea. And God sent a lot of prophets over the years. One could draw parallels between all of them and Moses to one degree or another. But Jesus wasn’t merely sent, he was raised up, he was resurrected.
This isn’t something easily disputed. It is much easier to dismiss it without any thought. But the people whom Stephen was speaking to were not in a position to dismiss it without thought. No one could say what happened to the body of Jesus, or where it was. If the Romans or the Pharisees could have put it on display they would have. But here were perfectly sane people saying that they had seen him. Furthermore they were showing from scripture that this was prophesied all along. And they couldn’t get the twelve to budge. The record shows that many more saw the risen Christ than the twelve apostles (including Matthias at this point). The old saying is that three can keep a secret if two are dead. Here we have twelve and people say they concocted the story. Under pain of death, trial and torture and not one of the twelve crack. If they had we would have heard about it. No, the resurrection of Christ is not something easily disputed. If you don’t want to believe it, you have to dismiss it without thought.
God had raised this one up. But just as the congregation in the desert was not willing to follow Moses, or God for that matter, so now Israel would turn their way and go on to worship Moloch. Stephen quotes Amos as it is translated in the Septuagint. Most modern translations of the Old Testament follow Hebrew manuscripts. The Early Church though, they used the Septuagint almost exclusively and the New Testament especially so. It wasn’t until Jerome came along that the Old Testament was translated from the Hebrew, and those manuscripts started to get wider traction in the church, but not without controversy! When the new translation was used in Carthage and the priest read Jonah the people rioted because vine was changed to ivy. Today I doubt most would notice the change at all. Probably most didn’t notice it then either, but the one who did was good at inciting riots. It’s a funny story from church history though.
What is great is that in the translation the false gods are updated. No one really knew the gods of whom Amos spoke, so they just switched them out for modern false gods. Evidently this was acceptable enough for God, because the changes made their way into the New Testament that we also find to be the inspired inerrant word of God. The message is greater than the details, and the Holy Spirit can use God’s word in any language to work faith. So yeah, as one who has been trained to read Greek and Hebrew, I get frustrated with translations from time to time. I have a particular qualm with English translations because they so often seem to be intentionally misleading especially where there are references to the Sacraments, or if the reformed translators can read their ideas of sanctification into the text and skew the translation to support them. And yet, the Holy Spirit works through these translations despite the best attempts of the translators to obscure the nature of the gospel in them. But the Early Church’s treatment of the Septuagint is an interesting study in translation and a Christian treatment of not only translation but our ideas of inspiration, interpretation and inerrancy and what it all means. It has nothing to do with proper spelling or grammar for that matter. The entire New Testament was written in Koine Greek which is the equivalent of street language. But neither is it as concerned with historical details in the same way a modern historian might be. Yet it communicates truth, and works salvation.
The other truth that lies behind this is that it doesn’t really matter what you call your false god, they are really all the same god anyway. We could say the Israelites in the desert followed Buddha and it would be just as true. All false gods are the same, in that ultimately it is Satan who is being worshiped behind the mask. And this is what happens even today when the synagogue rejects Jesus who is the only true God, and the only prophet God has ever raised up from among us who are dead in our trespasses without him.