Character Sketch Bible Study
Section: BIBL 104 –B72
Step One: For this character-sketch Bible study I will be studying: Nehemiah
Step Two: Identify and list all the Bible passages on the person. You may find it helpful to use a Bible dictionary, Bible handbook, or a study Bible. Remember that some Old Testament characters are mentioned in the New Testament.
Nehemiah 4:21, 23
Nehemiah 8:1, 6, 10, 12
Step Three: Read through each passage, making general observations based on first impressions. List (in complete sentences) at least 10 general observations from the Bible passages on your character.
1. Hachaliah is the father to Nehemiah. (Neh 1:1, KJV)
2. Nehemiah kept the fact that God sent him to Jerusalem to himself. (Neh 2:12, KJV)
3. Nehemiah asks the Lord to help the people of Israel. (Neh 1:8-11, KJV)
4. Nehemiah was appointed to be governor in the land of Judah. (Neh 5:14, KJV)
5. While building the wall, the Nehemiah and his people held swords, so they were prepared to fight enemies. (Neh 4:21& 23, KJV)
6. Nehemiah considered sin as the cause of all the evil that has befallen his people. (Neh 1:6, KJV)
7. Nehemiah asks Artaxerxes the king for permission to go rebuild Jerusalem, and is granted permission in the month of Nisan, in the twentienth year of Artaxerxes the king. (Neh 2:1-10, KJV)
8. There are three Nehemiah’s mentioned in the Bible. One Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel in the early wave. (Ezra 2:2). Another Nehemiah, a son of Azbuk, worked along those of the second wave (Neh 3:16). Lastly, there is Nehemiah, son of Hacaliah, and the author of the book that carries his name. (Neh 1:1)
9. Nehemiah put his brother Hanani in charge of Jerusalem. (Neh 7:2) NIV
10. The people celebrated because they had heard God’s words, and they understood them. (Neh 8:12, KJV)
Step Four: Ask the key questions and observe other structural or grammatical elements.
Observations related to “Who?”
Stephen was one of the seven leaders selected to “wait tables” in order to ease the burden of activity on the disciples. The other seven men who were chosen were Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). Stephen’s ministry also included teaching and performing miracles. This created a conflict and debate with Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. These men were from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves. As a result of this conflict, Stephen was brought to the Sanhedrin. In front of the High Priests Stephen taught from Israelite history connecting the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the Israelites to Jesus Christ. His teaching resulted in the religious leaders stoning Stephen while Saul (later named Paul) agreed to this killing.
Observations related to “What?”
There are several “what” observations that can be made in the life of Stephen.
What led to the selection of the seven men (incuding Stephen) in Acts 6:2-4? A disagreement arose between Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking believers as to the care their widows were receiving.
What was the result of the selection of these seven men? With these seven men selected, the disciples where able to spend their time in prayer and teaching the Word (Acts 6:2 ; 4).
What is the Sanhedrin? According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary the Sanhedrin is the “highest Jewish council in the first century. The council had 71 members and was presided over by the high priest. The Sanhedrin included both of the main Jewish parties among its membership. Since the high priest presided, the Sadducean priestly party seems to have predominated, but some leading Pharisees also were members.”
What is significant about Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin? Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin highlights how God was at work in Israel to bring the events and circumstances of her past to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He understood the stories of the Old Testament as leading to and pointing to Jesus Christ.
Observations related to “Where?”
A first important “where’s” in the life of Stephen is the “where” that led to his selection of seven men to lead in the church. At Jerusalem, there was a conflict between the Greek-speaking believers and Hebrew-speaking believers that required the selection of 7 men to make sure that all widows were cared for properly. A second important “where” in the life of Stephen deals with the location of the men that led to him being brought before the Sanhedrin. These men were from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. Thus, they were not from Jerusalem but from out of town. A third important “where” in the life of Stephen highlights the result of the persecution that started with his killing. After Stephen’s death, all the believers (except the apostles) were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. Stephen’s death caused the church to scatter.
Observations related to “When?”
The events of Stephen’s life take place early on in the history of the church. Thus, they take place after the ascension of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit but before the start of the persecution of the church.
Observations related to “Why?”
There are three notable “why” questions that are answered through the life of Stephen in Acts 6-8. A primary question of why is, “Why did the early Christians spread out from Jerusalem?” The early Christ-followers spread out from Jerusalem because the killing of Stephen caused them to scatter Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). Another important why question deals with the selection of the seven to care for the widows. Why were these seven selected and singled out by the disciples to lead this new ministry? These seven men were selected because they were “well respected and full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). A third why question addresses why Stephen was brought before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Stephen was brought before the high priest and Sanhedrin because men from the Synagogue of the Freed Slaves could not “stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke” and “they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen” (Acts 6:10-11).
Step Five: Construct a timeline that details the life of your Bible personality.
Stephen was selected to be a leader in the church.
Stephen teaches and performs miracles.
Stephen’s ministry leads to a conflict with Jews from out of town.
Stephen is falsely accused by these men and is brought before the Sanhedrin.
Stephen is stoned as a result of his testimory before the Sanhedrin.
Saul (later Paul) is a witness to the death of Stephen
The death of Stephen and the persecution of the church causes the church to scatter.
Step Six: Determine what Biblical wisdom can be gained from this character. Carefully look through your general observations based on your first impressions, your deeper study, and your timeline. What biblical wisdom can you gather about your character? Write out five elements of Biblical wisdom that can be understood from your character. Provide a concise explanation of each of these elements.
A. Knowledge of the Scriptures
Stephen’s life is a demonstration of the kind of knowledge that Christians should have of God’s Word. In the two primary chapters that record his life, there is a diligent and concerted use of the Scriptures. First, his debate with those from the synagogue would seem to imply that he had such a command of the Scriptures that these men were unable to respond to him. Thus, they resorted to lies and falls accusations in order to deal with him. Second, Stephen’s knowledge and skillful use of the Old Testament is on display in how he responds to the High Priests in the Sanhedrin. He is so familiar with the Scriptures and deft at using them that they resort to killing him as the means to shut him up.
Stephen was bold in his proclamation of the Gospel message. This boldness is evident in the way he debated the men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves. Even when the boldness led to lies and accusation about what he was claiming, Stephen continued to courageously proclaim the Gospel message. Stephen’s boldness was also evident in his presentation before the High Priests. Facing leaders of the Sanhedrin, he did not back down or temper his message. He fearlessly connected the stories of the Old Testament to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Stephen is listed as a man of wisdom (Acts 6:3). Biblically wisdom carries with it the idea of skill (Exodus 28:3). It is the skill and ability to make excellent choices in life so that these choices honor God and benefit others. As a man of wisdom, Stephen’s life demonstrated that wisdom. It is tempting to think of Stephen’s wisdom in terms of knowledge due to the command he had of the Scriptures. However, it is more than just knowledge that is evident in Stephen’s life. He has the skill to use that knowledge in a way that persuasively communicates the Gospel and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
D. Spirit empowered ministry
Stephen is empowered by the spirit to minister in the early church. This ministry involved caring for widows, teaching, leading with wisdom, and performing signs and wonders. It would be easy to mistake Stephen’s success with human skills and abilities. However, this fails to account for the fact that Stephen was “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:3). Consequently, Stephen’s ministry bears the marks of one whose life is full of and led by the Spirit. This impacted how he handled things like the task of caring for widows or the task of proclaiming Christ to the high priest.
E. “Full of…”
Acts 6:3, 6:5, and 6:8 describe Stephen as being “full of” certainly qualities. In Acts 6:3 he is described as being “full of the Spirit and wisdom.” In Acts 6:5 he is described as being “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Finally, in Acts 6:8 Stephen is described as being “full of God’s grace and power.” These three sets of “full of” descriptions paint the picture of a person whose life was maximally full of faith, grace, power, wisdom, and the Holy Spirit. He was not a 50/50 person. He was “all in” as a follower of God, In this commitment we see a follower of God who is described as being “full” of faith, grace, power, wisdom, and the Holy Spirit.
Step Seven: Ask, “How does this character’s life reflect other truths found in the Scriptures?” List and explain 3 truths from this person’s life that fit within the entire Bible. Your explanation must note how these truths fit the framework of God’s Word.
A. Followes of God are concern for the overlooked.
Stephen’s ministry involved concern for those who were being overlooked. Specifically, the selection of the seven is tied to a controversy between the Greek-speaking followers of Christ and the Hebrew-speaking followers of Christ over the care of their widows. It was the role of the seven to make sure that regardless of nationality, no followers of Christ were properly looked after. This is a common theme in the prophetic literature. Both the Major and Minor Prophets speak of care for the widows, orphans, and the oppressed. As such passages like Isaiah 1:23, 10:1-2 and Jeremiah 7:4-16 point out how Israel had failed to keep the same priority that God has in His care for the widows, the orphans, and the poor. Later on James would highlight the importance of this type of care for the overlooked as “pure and genuine religion in the sight of God” (James 1:27).
B. Followers of God can expect persecution and trials
The Old Testament and New Testament are full of example of people who suffered because they followed God. This is evident in the persection of the Israelites in Egypt. In the ministry of the prophets like Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah. Jesus Christ prepares his disciples to face persecution in John 15. The early church is filled with examples of persecution. Stephen is but one example of this. Later on, Paul would also list his numerous trials and persecutions. These include things like beatings, stonings, and shipwrecks (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
C. Followers of God should be people of forgiveness
Stephen, like Jesus exampled what it means to be a person of forgiveness. Yet, these are not the only two examples of this kind of forgiveness in Scripture. David demonstrated continual forgivenss of King Saul as he was being pursued by Israel’s leader. On two occasions he had the opportunity to take Saul’s life but he refused to return the evil that Saul was conspiring against him with his own evil actions. Instead of killing Saul, David spared his life. The story of the prophet Hosea is another story of forgiveness. Further this story was used as an illustration to demonstrate the depth of forgiveness God has for his unfaithful followers.
Step Eight: Ask, “How does this character’s life point me to Jesus?” List and explain 3 ways the life of your character can point to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
A. Like Jesus, Stephen was falsely accused by men who saught his destruction.
Jesus said in John 15:20-21, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” We see these words of Jesus fulfilled in the life of Stephen. He was persecuted in the same way Jesus was. Stephen’s teaching was rejected just as Jesus’ teaching was rejected. As Jesus, declares, followers of Jesus like Stephen will be persecuted on account of the rejection of God.
B. Like Jesus, Stephen demonstrated love and concern for his accusers and
At his crucifixion, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). At his stoning, Stephen fell to his knees and shouted, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60)! In Stephen’s death, he models the kind of forgiveness and mercy that Christ exampled in His death.
C. Like Jesus, Stephen understood the history of the Israelites (or the Old
Testament Scriptures) in light of Jesus Christ.
In Luke 24:13-35, the resurrected Jesus Christ meets two disciples who do not recognize him. Jesus begins to have a conversation with these two men about recent events as they related to his death and resurrection. Yet, these men still do not know that they are travelling with Jesus. Luke writes of this encounter, “Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus interpreted the Old Testament with an understanding that it pointed to and revealed himself. Similarly, in his speech to the High Priests, Stephen walks through the Old Testament or the history of Israel and reveals how it points to Jesus Christ. Both Jesus and Stephen understood the Old Testament in the same manner.
Step Nine: What points of application can be made using the Four Common Questions? List and explain 1 point of application for each of the Four Common Questions.
A. The question of duty
Stephen was instructed to “wait on tables.” This duty was ministering to others so that that widows who were getting overlooked would not be treated inequitably. Thus, he had a duty to bring justice to those who were being neglected. Stephen also taught and perfomed miracles. In these activities he performed the duty of proclaiming the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we must be about both of these duties as well. We should be people who persue justice for those who are overlooked, oppressed, and mistreated. Christians also ought to be people who regularly speak the Gospel through their actions and words. This is a duty that must be fulfilled even if it costs us our life, as it did Stephen.
B. The question of character
Stephen’s character is clearly on display in these passages in Acts. One reason he is selected for service is because of the obvious character qualities he possesses. Second, his character is evidences in his unflinching ability to boldy proclaim the message of the Gospel in front of people who were opposed to him. Third, rather than pray for vengeance of God as he was being killed by his oppressors, Stephen asks God that he forgive those who are murdering him. Christians should also display this type of character. Their godly character should be evident to all, they should have the kind of character that will stand up for the message of the Gospel despite opposition, and they should be gracefully forgiving even in the most dire of circumstances.
C. The question of cause
Stephen’s life was one that was clearly lived for the cause of service to others and service to Christ. He served others by helping to insure that the widows who had needs within the church were being properly looked after. He served Christ by faithfully proclaiming the Gospel. As believers, we ought to be motivated by the same two causes. We out to seek out practical ways we can serve others. We also ought to remain faithful in our service to God by unswervingly and boldly proclaiming the Gospel.
D. The question of discernment
Stephen’s masterful use of Israelite history represents one who is able to see how God is at work to bring the events and circumstances of life to the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. He discerned that these stories were markers that pointed forward to Jesus Christ. Conversely, the High Priests made no such discerning observation. In life we can make or miss this type of discernments. We can see the events of our life as a random set of circumstances with little meaning or purpose or we can see them as God’s good hand of providence working in our life to further His plan of redemption. Discernment means that I look at life differently. I see it in light of the redemption provided at the cross and in light of the purposeful plan of God.
New Living Translation. Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 2004.
Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. B&H Publishing Group, 2003.
Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp., 2008.