The Acts of the Apostles
A History of the rise of Christianity (or how they brought the good news from Jerusalem)
Acts is the second volume of a story that has no end - the story of the Christian church. It was written after Pauls Roman captivity in 61-63 AD, and before 100 AD, but there are no conclusive indications in the book of a date later than 70 AD. It was written by Luke, a doctor and the only gentile New Testament author, who was a most valued helper and most loyal friend of Paul. Acts, like Lukes gospel, is written to Theophilus, a lover of God (gk. Theos, and phiein - to love), and has a literary affinity with the gospel of Luke. Vocabulary, grammar and style are not only consistent throughout Acts, showing that is a literary unity, but they are also characteristic of Lukes gospel.
Luke was an eyewitness of some of the events in chapters 16-28, where he moves from an earlier use of they passages to we did this or that (16:10-17, 20:5-16, 21:1-18, 27:1-28:16). There are also the stories from Paul when they were in prison together. In chapters 1-15, Lukes sources were the local (Jerusalem, Caesarea and Antioch) churches, plus cycles of stories which were the Acts of Peter, of John, of Philip and of Stephen, for Lukes friendship with Paul would have brought him into contact with all the great men of all the Churches.
Acts only mentions three apostles:
In the Greek there is no The before Acts. The correct title for the book is Acts of Apostolic Men, giving us a series of typical exploits and adventures of those great heroic figures of the early Church. The whole lesson of the book is that the life of Jesus goes on in the Church, which is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
In Acts, Luke opens a series of windows giving us glimpses of the great moments and personalities of the early Church. His aim in writing Acts is threefold:
C H Turner has divided Acts into 6 sections, each finishing with a progress report:
So what are the main points that we can learn from the book of Acts?
The content of the earliest apostolic preaching is centred on faith in Christ, and in Acts we can see how this teaching develops. For example, the earliest Christians are shown as feeling no need to go beyond the stage of contemplating the triumph of the human Jesus who has become the Lord by his resurrection (2:22-36) - but later Paul is made to give him the title Son of God (9:20).
The most urgent problem facing the new Church was the admission of gentiles, and Acts provides important details about this without, however, revealing the full extent of the difficulties and disagreements this must have caused among the Christian community and its leaders. The Jerusalem brotherhood, led by James, remains faithful to the Jewish Law (15:1,5 and 21:20), but the Hellenists, for whom Stephen acts as spokesman, want to break away from Temple worship. Peter, and even more Paul, get the principle of salvation through faith in Christ recognised at the Council of Jerusalem, and this dispenses the gentiles from the need to be circumcised and from obeying the whole Law of Moses. As it is still true however that this salvation comes from Israel, Luke records how Paul always preached to the Jews first (13:5), and turned to the gentiles only after his fellow Jews had rejected him.
Acts also provides important details about life in the earliest Christian communities, for example:
Perhaps it is the recognition of the guidance of the Holy Spirit that really sets Acts apart. All of those developments in community life are attributable to the Spirits irresistible guidance, and just as Luke 4:1 insists on the importance of the Holy Spirit, so Acts 1:8 attributes the spread of the developing Church to the continuous activity of the Holy Spirit. This is why the book is sometimes referred to as the gospel of the Spirit or the acts of the Holy Spirit. And why it is so full of spiritual joy and of wonder at Gods works. Luke understands its story as the unfolding of the divine drama of redemption. The Lord has not yet returned, but in the meantime the word of God is being carried on by the Church.
To this wealth of theology can be added the detailed factual information which we should otherwise lack:
The book of Acts, the only one of its kind in the New Testament, is full of treasures.