Acts 7:54-56

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

– Acts 7:54-56, New International Version


Stephen was appointed by the early church as one of the seven who would oversee the daily distribution of food. While serving as an administrator, he began to do wonders and miracles among the people. He was (Acts 6:8) “full of faith and power.” When opposition arose, his opponents (Acts 6:10) “were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”

He was brought before the Sanhedrin, gave a long address, and accused the present generation of being stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears. Emotions against him rose higher. His opponents drove him out of the city and stoned him to death.

Being Full

Facing danger, Stephen acted under the influence of the Spirit. Luke describes him as “being full” of the Spirit. He uses the Greek expression huparchon pleresHuparchon is the present participle of the verb huparcho, which means “to exist.” The English word “full” is a translation of the Greek word pleres. Thus, the literal translation this expression is “being full.”

The adjective pleres, in its various forms, is used by itself in Luke 4:1Acts 6:36:5, and 11:24. According to Luke 4:1, Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 6:3, Luke describes Stephen as “full of the Spirit and wisdom.” Then, in Acts 6:5, Luke pictures Stephen as “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.”

When Luke speaks of being filled with the Spirit, he normally uses the verb pimplemi. However, in Acts 13:52 he uses pleroo, which is the verbal form of the adjective pleres. He says that the disciples “were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Paul uses the same verb in Ephesians 5:18 where he exhorts, “be filled with the Spirit.”

Constant and Special Fullness

Does the expression “being full of the Holy Spirit” mean that Stephen was filled on this occasion to meet the momentary need? Or, does it mean that Stephen was living in a state of “being full” and, therefore, was prepared for this crisis moment? Or, could we say that the phrase includes both the continual and special fullness if the Spirit?

The expression “being full” can be used of past experience that carries over into the present. With regard to the present participle (being), Ervin (p. 68) says, “This form of the verb huparcho may be translated, ‘who is,’ since he is,’ thereby attributing one’s present state, or experience, to antecedent causes.” We add to this Dunn’s comment about the adjective “full.” He states (p. 71), “When Luke wants to indicate a lasting state of ‘fullness’ resulting from a past ‘filling’ the word he uses is pleres (Luke 4:1Acts 6.3587:5511:24).” (Transliteration Mine)

The existence of past and continual fullness, however, does not preclude the possibility of “being full” in a special way for the crisis at hand. According to Menzies (p. 140), the phrase “full of the Holy Spirit” implies a prior filling, but it can refer to a special and momentary state of inspiration. He cites Acts 7:55 as an example. Stephen, of course, had been described previously as being full of the Spirit. Similarly, Lenski (p. 303) writes: “Although he [Stephen] had spoken under the Spirit’s influence during his entire address, at this moment he became filled with the Spirit.”

Literally, Acts 7:55 says, “being full of the Holy Spirit.” Without regard to when Stephen was filled with the Spirit, we know that he was “full” of the Spirit. This is the key point. As for the timing of the filling, the present participle allows for, and suggests, previous fullness carried over into the present. It also allows for a present filling of the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit is not the same as a vessel being filled with water. When we speak of the Spirit, a person who has been filled, and continues to be full, can still be filled for a special occasion.

The Result

Many times in Acts the presence of the Spirit results in inspired speech. Here, Stephen is empowered to speak, but it is what he saw that most captures our attention. Being full of the Spirit enabled Stephen to “see” supernaturally. Let’s read verses 55 and 56 again.

55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;
56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” NASU

Very often, it is said that Stephen saw a vision. The text does not use the word vision, but we have no objection to using it so long as this does not detract from the reality of what he saw. Lenski (p. 303) writes:

By the help of the Spirit his mortal eyes were enabled to look right into heaven. The words atenisas (he gazed intently), eiden (he saw), and the following theoro (I see) are an answer to the idea that Stephen saw only mentally, in his own mind or imagination, or, as is usually said, ‘in spirit.’ No; this was an outward reality, even as the Holy Spirit is mentioned who gave this ability of sight to Stephen’s eyes. (Transliteration Mine)


The Holy Spirit is constantly present in our lives. As believers, it is our great privilege to be filled with the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, and to have the Spirit actively involved with us in all aspects of our lives. We can live in a state of fullness of the Spirit and yet experience his powerful fullness at special times of need. We live in a relationship with the Spirit that is dynamic, experiential, and constant. We must keep our hearts minds open always to His presence!


Arrington, French L. The Acts of the Apostles. Peabody: Hendrikson Publishers, 1988.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1970.
Ervin, Howard M. These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose. Plainfield: Logos International, 1968.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Menzies, Robert P. Empowered for Witness. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Stronstad, Roger. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.
Turner, Max. Power from On High. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1996. Wood, George O. Acts: A Study Guide. Springfield: ICI Press (Second Edition), 1996.

© Copyright 2002. GMF

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