I heard in a sermon that it was not allowed for the Jewish leaders to convict a person without permission from the Roman governor. My question is: how did they stone Stephen (Acts 7:58) without a trial in front of the Roman governor?
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The Bible does not reveal the the legalities or illegalities of all the killings it records. From the scanty histories available, most scholars seem to think that at the time of Pontius Pilate, only the Roman governor had the authority to order capital punishment . We must remember, however, people back then did not enjoy the equal protection of the law we enjoy today in a democratic nation.
Politically, Rome would not have had any interest in this case, so the murderous mob may have had little to fear. On the other hand, many people knew and admired Jesus, so there may have been some political motivation for Rome to take notice of this case and assume the duty of legal arbitration. From Pilate's perspective, however, he may have thought that in this matter, being forgiven for an error in judgment was better than obtaining permission to make a judgment. Then, too, the crowd in its demonic hate gave Pilate a not-so-veiled threat,
By referring to comments by Josephus, some of the better commentaries try to work out a scenario in which the lack of interest by Rome was only natural in this instance. From the Baker New Testament Commentary, p280, we read,
Stephen was not killed pursuant to a lawful trial and execution. He was murdered by a mob. Mobs pretty much by definition don't obey the law. Just because something is illegal doesn't mean that nobody ever does it. If that was true, there would be no need for such things as prisons.
To the best of my knowledge, neither the Bible nor Fox's Book of Martyrs nor any other history book I know of mentions any action by the Romans against those responsible. Of course the Jewish authorities weren't going to punish anyone as they were in favor of the whole thing. Maybe the Romans did nothing because they didn't want to create a conflict over one religious fanatic.
Whether or not the Jews were allowed to stone without direct Roman approval in each case is the question. Where does the idea that they were not allowed by the Romans to do this come from?
In the gospel of John this is what the Jewish leaders say to Pilate. But were they being entirely truthful? And what did they even mean by this?
Traditionally preachers have interpreted this as a legal statement conceding that under Roman rule they don't have the authority to execute anyone without Roman approval. But if that were the meaning, then surely Pilate had just given them the approval!