New Testament scholars seem pretty unanimous about it: Paul's letters (epistles) are the earliest/ first Christian writings.
Scholars seem in pretty solid agreement the so-called Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) came later.
I think few would disagree the writings of Paul were extraordinarily IMPACTFUL.
Christians throughout the community of Jesus followers were split on what was true and not true.
Many did NOT approve of the teachings of Paul (especially when Paul told practising Jews that the O.T. Laws were abolished!)
I would like to present the story of Stephen's murder in this context.
The person telling this story is FICTIONALIZING to bring about a shift in understanding.
Jews in this story are VERY DEVOUT according to--what? According to the LAW of MOSES!
In rabidly insisting on STONING this sweet, humble, beloved young Christian, Stephen . . .
GOADED into doing so by SAUL the PHARISEE (twirling his black moustache with an evil laugh)
the stage is set to pull the rug out from under the pious Jews.
Over a period of decades, the Christian movement (before it became the Catholic Church) divided over Paul and his teachings.
In the (according to)Luke Gospel, there is paranoia among Christians. Another overriding theme in the book of Acts is opposition. We read about imprisonments, beatings, stonings and plots to kill Jesus' apostles!
The writer of LUKE had the thankless task of solving this argument and addressing the TRANSITIONAL PARANOIA in Judaism.
What was the argument?
HOW DID DEVOUT JEWS lose out to GENTILES and have their most beloved LAW OF MOSES done away with?
Thanks to PAUL and his teachings, the Messiah was now in the hands of non-circumsized, ceremonially unlcean heathens!
LUKE's solution was to introduce SAUL, the antagonistic agitator, the villain in cahoots with the Pharisees (Jesus' arch-nemesis).
The Stoning of Stephen
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 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. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
WHY IS THE STORY OF THE STONING OF STEPHEN likely to be pure fiction?
Note: There have been many questions as to whether the Sanhedrin had the right to both try capital cases (which would be indicated by those above) and also to execute punishment for them. ySanh 18a, 24b states that the right to try capital cases was taken from Isræl forty years before the destruction of the Temple. This would put it about 30CE, which is three years before the traditional date for Jesus' execution.
Point of reference:
Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. (John 18:31 NIV)
Also, remember, the story of the Woman Taken in Adultry has been discredited by scholars as a later interpolation. That story too depends on the spurious notion that JEWs WERE PERMITTED to stone people to death!
If you read ACTS 7 and the long, rambling, contrived speech of Stephen it smacks of authorial liberty to pontificate and sermonize.
The dramatic flourish of "Meanwhile, the witnesses had laid their coats at the feet of a young man name Saul" is all very melodramatic.
WHY is it written this way?
The writer of Luke and Acts wants the Jewish reader to see themselves reflected in the person of the devout persecutor, SAUL.
Saul is going to have a miraculous encounter and CHANGE HIS MIND.