Thursday, 23 September 2021
The Book of Acts; an Introduction.
The book of Acts is comprised of 28 chapters of 1007 verses (as in the NKJV). Therefore, a daily evaluation of Acts, one verse per day, will take approximately 2.76 years to complete.
Explanation of the Title:
The name, Acts, is a shortened form of “The Acts of the Apostles.” That is often dismissed in favor of another title, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Though it is true that the Holy Spirit is behind the events occurring throughout the book, this is actually true throughout the entire body of Scripture.
The “Acts of the Apostles” is an acceptable title because it details exactly that. In particular, it details the acts of Peter and Paul as the church goes through a particular transition that will be noted below. It is these two that are the main focus of what occurs in the book. Thus, the title, “The Acts of the Apostles” is both pertinent and acceptable.
It is almost unanimously agreed upon that the book of Acts was written by Luke the physician and the author of the Gospel of Luke. Both Luke and Acts are addressed to a person named Theophilus –
“Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” Luke 1:1-4
“The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:1-3
There are other clues that Luke is, in fact, the author of Acts. The writing style, meaning structure and vocabulary, are noticeably similar. There are sections within Acts, known as the “we” sections, where Luke is with Paul and he writes in the first person – “We did this,” or “We went there.” When analyzed, it becomes clear that Luke is the only person who fits the identity of the author. For example, those referred to in the “we” sections in the third person can be excluded. Also, those known to have not traveled at such times can be excluded. In this, only Luke is the obvious author.
Also, there are topics common to both Luke and Acts. Luke details aspects of individuals that others would simply brush over. He has a particular interest in Gentiles. He refers to aspects of the resurrection appearances consistently in both books – specifically mentioning only the appearances related to Judea. Along with this are details found only in Luke among the gospels that are repeated in Acts.
As Luke is a Gentile (see Colossians 4:14) with no noticeable role in the gospels or Acts, it becomes notable that so many early church commentaries and witnesses so heavily agreed upon him as the author. It is its own mark of agreement that he is, in fact, the true author. For these, and numerous other reasons that stand out, it is certain that Luke is the author of both the gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts.
As this is the case, it is of value to understand who Luke is. The anti-Marcionite Prologue to the gospel that bears his name, and which is believed to date to around AD170, says –
“Luke was an Antiochian of Syria, a physician by profession. He was a disciple of the apostles and later accompanied Paul until his martyrdom. He served the Lord without distraction, having neither wife nor children, and at the age of eighty-four he fell asleep in Boeotia, full of the Holy Spirit. While there were already Gospels previously in existence, that according to Matthew written in Judaea, and that according to Mark in Italy, Luke, moved by the Holy Spirit, composed the whole of this Gospel in the parts about Achaia, showing in the Prologue this very thing, that others had been written before it, and that it was necessary to expound to the Gentile believers the accurate account of the dispensation, so that they should not be distracted by Jewish fables, nor be deceived by heretical and vain imaginations and thus err from the truth.”
Later, the same source states, “And afterwards the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.”
The detail of Luke’s writings makes the dating of Acts rather certain. If there were major events that occurred during the time of his writing, he would have included them. Such an event is found in Acts 18:2 with the expulsion of the Jews from Rome –
“And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.”
As such, the dating of Acts can be reasonably assigned to the period of AD62-64. The book ends with Paul being imprisoned in Rome. That was in AD62, and so it was written (or at least completed) after that. But there is no mention of Nero’s persecutions (AD64), the war between the Jews and Rome (AD66), nor – most poignantly – the destruction of Jerusalem/the temple in AD70. The lack of these evidences points, rather certainly, to around AD62-64.
There are innumerable patterns running through Acts that reveal a wisdom that goes beyond a careful human planner of such a book. Rather, these patterns demonstrate a higher wisdom that guided the hand of Luke, inspiring him to reveal a transition in the redemptive narrative prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures long before his time.
One main structure, however, which still fits that theme, is the transition of the church from predominantly Jewish to one which is predominantly Gentile –
The book begins in Jerusalem; it ends in Rome.
The book carefully details the acts of Peter (the Apostle to the Jews) from Chapter 1 until Chapter 12. After this, it carefully details the acts of Paul (the Apostle to the Gentiles) from Chapter 13 until Chapter 28.
The book is preceded by the gospels, detailing Christ’s life in fulfillment of the law given to Israel. The book is immediately followed by Paul’s epistles (beginning with Romans) which detail Christ’s work and how it is pertinent not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.
The main thought of this transition from Acts 1 is found in these verses that anticipate the restoration of the kingdom to Israel –
“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7 And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’” Acts 1:6-8
The main thought of the transition from Acts 28 (the last chapter) is found in these verses that reveal the rejection of the message of Christ by the Jews, but its certain acceptance by the Gentile world –
“So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. 24 And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved. 25 So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, 26 saying,
‘Go to this people and say:
“Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand;
And seeing you will see, and not perceive;
27 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”’
28 “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” Acts 28:23-28
In the next introductory segment, several patterns found in Acts will be provided. Including them now would be too lengthy for a single commentary without a short division.
There are a multitude of themes running through the book of Acts. It is certain that Acts is given as a transitional book showing the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises that Gentiles would be included in God’s redemptive plans. This becomes evident early on in Acts 8 where Samaritans were brought into the young church. It is expanded upon in the same chapter when an Ethiopian eunuch is also noted as being accepted. Still, during Peter’s ministry, Gentiles of the house of Cornelius are accepted in Chapter 10. This not only continues, but it blossoms in the chapters where Paul becomes the main focus.
As such, a secondary theme, though not as obvious, is the rejection of the gospel by the Jews as a nation. This would lead to their exile and punishment set forth very clearly in the Old Testament.
In this, however, an interesting concept develops. Throughout Acts, the Jews consistently attempt to separate this new aspect of the faith from their authorized religion. In other words, only religions identified as Religio Licita, or “permitted religion,” were acknowledged by Rome and considered acceptable to be practiced in the empire. Judaism was considered Religio Licita.
Time and again, the Jews are seen to dismiss faith in Christ as an acceptable expression found under the umbrella of Judaism. And yet, each time this attempt is made, it is overturned by the Roman authorities, thus allowing the Christian faith to grow unimpeded in the empire. Further, it implicitly demonstrates that Christianity (meaning faith in Christ Jesus) is the logical, correct, and accepted outcome of the Scriptures held to by the Jewish nation.
There is also a historical theme running through the book. In Acts 1:8 (cited above), Jesus says that the faith was to be proclaimed “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This pattern, proclaimed by Jesus, is methodically and exactly followed in Acts. Exactly as stated by the Lord, the gospel goes forth beginning in Jerusalem, expanding to Judea and then Samaria, and then even throughout the Gentile areas of the Roman empire. The gospel continues spreading beyond these locations to this day.
There is an ecclesiastical purpose to the book as well. The edification of the church is certainly a determined purpose of Acts. It is further a book that demonstrates the effectiveness of the church in doing what it was commissioned to do because the Lord is directing it for His purposes and with a specific intent in mind. This is seen, at times, both implicitly and explicitly in the book. It is thus a reassurance to the church that the same Lord who began the church is even now surely working out His purposes within the church.
A Note Concerning Luke’s Writings:
Despite being a Gentile, Luke has been given the honor of penning more content in the New Testament than any other author. His writings (Luke and Acts) comprise approximately thirty percent of the New Testament, exceeding the writings of both John and Paul. Without his gospel, a full picture of the work of Christ in fulfillment of the law would be lacking. Without Acts, there would be a great deficiency in understanding the role of the church early on, and a void in our understanding of the importance of Paul’s writings.
Life application: With this all too brief summary of the book of Acts, and with more introductory comments to come – and before we begin to analyze the book’s content – a discussion of how to analyze, evaluate, and apply the book of Acts will be provided. Acts is a book that must be considered carefully. It is certain that almost all major theological errors within the church arise by a misapplication, or a misuse, of the book of Acts.
If the book is taken in its proper light, it is an invaluable tool for understanding what God is doing in the redemptive narrative in human history. If it is taken incorrectly, failed doctrine, and even heretical ideas, will arise (and consistently have arisen) within the church.
Let us consider the book of Acts in its proper light. In doing so, these errors in thinking and theology will be avoided.
Heavenly Father, how we thank You for Your precious word. Help us to consider it carefully, handle it with respect, and be filled with joy as we search out its treasures. May we find Your proper purpose and intent for us in it, and may we apply what we learn to our lives. Yes, may it be so to Your glory. Amen.