Does God actually “receive” the spirits of the dead in the Old Testament?
At first sight, Stephen’s request to “receive my spirit” does look like the sort of thing we would expect to God to do, not Jesus. The somewhat surprising thing is that the terminology of God “receiving” men’s spirits does not actually occur in the Old Testament.
The nearest parallel in the Old Testament is probably this:
“and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
But that breath/spirit returning to God, is in the context of Ecclesiastes only the same “breath/spirit” (Hebrew ruakh) entering the womb in Ecclesiastes 11:5. The Ecclesiastes 11:5, 12:7 breath/spirit is the same as the recycling of breath with new generations in Psalm 104:29-30:
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath [or spirit, Hebrew ruakh], they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your Spirit [or breath, Hebrew ruakh] they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)
So Jesus actually “receiving” Stephen’s spirit (or in Old Testament terms breath) is something new that Jesus would do for Stephen, but which God did not do for even Abraham, Moses or David in the Old Testament.
So what did Stephen expect?
What Stephen meant, or wanted by “receive my spirit” is a bigger subject than the question – which is whether “receive my spirit” means that Jesus is God. To answer that question please see many other questions on this site related to After death what?
But, put simply, Stephen’s belief would be in line with Old Testament and New Testament teaching that the “names” (or memory) of the dead are remembered (or written in a book) by God until the future resurrection at the coming of Jesus. This is what Paul also means:
23 “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
So does this make Jesus God?
So does Jesus receiving Stephen’s spirit (or breath, or memory) make Jesus God? No. All Stephen is saying is what he said “Lord Jesus receive my spirit”. The statement is only equivalent to Paul’s saying in Colossians 3:
3 “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. ” (Colossians 3:3)
That was Paul speaking to the living, but he was saying their (eternal) life was already entrusted, or hidden with Christ, in God. That makes Christ the way to God, the access to God, but it does not make Christ God.
Appendix – King James Version insertion of ‘God’ in Acts 7:59
Another related problem is how the King James renders Acts 7:59 with inserting (in italics) the word “God” which is not in any Greek text:
7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (KJV)
7:59 καὶ ἐλιθοβόλουν τὸν Στέφανον ἐπικαλούμενον καὶ λέγοντα Κύριε Ἰησοῦ δέξαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου
There’s really not much to say about this. Since no Greek manuscript has the word ‘theos’ (God) here, and since the Greek verb ‘calling out’ doesn’t require a transitive object. This is simply a gloss inserted possibly since the translators had a problem with Stephen calling out to Jesus himself, or possibly because of some Trinitarian consideration. The addition of ‘God’ is not found in the Latin nor the Tyndale or Coverdale or Bishops’ Bibles, but is found in some variants of the Wycliffe Bible.
59 et lapidabant Stephanum invocantem et dicentem Domine Iesu suscipe spiritum meum (Latin Vulgate)
59 And thei stonyden Steuene, that clepide God to help, seiynge, Lord Jhesu, resseyue my spirit. (Wycliffe 1382)
59 And they stoned Stephen, that called God to help, saying Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (Wycliffe modernised 1382)
59 And they stoned Stephen in-calling, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (Wycliffe variant text)
59 And they stoned Steven callynge on and sayinge: Lorde Iesu receave my sprete (Tyndale New Testament 1526)
59 And they stoned Steuen, which cryed, & sayde: LORDE Iesu, receaue my sprete (Coverdale Bible 1535)
59 And they stoned Steuen, callyng on, and saying: Lorde Iesu receaue my spirite (Bishops Bible 1568)
In any case it is not there in any modern version except the NKJV which is a modernization of the KJV not a translation from Greek.