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A zealous Jewish convert who became the first Christian martyr. He was one of the Seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to take care of the needy so that they could devote their time to preaching (Acts 6:1-6). The deacons were involved in preaching as well, and this led to Stephen's tragic death. He was brought before the Sanhedrin on the ground that his preaching was inflammatory and threatened the destruction of the Temple (Acts 6:12). His eloquent defense was interpreted as blasphemy. Not waiting for Roman authorization, they took him out and stoned him to death. Among the approving witnesses was Saul, who had not yet taken his fateful ride to Damascus. Stephen's death dramatized the widening rift between orthodox Jews and the Christian Church (Acts 7).
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.