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Introduction to Acts

 

Summary of the Book of Acts

This summary of the book of Acts provides information about the title author(s) date of writing chronology theme theology outline a brief overview and the chapters of the Book of Acts.

Author

Although the author does not name himself evidence outside the Scriptures and inferences from the book itself lead to the conclusion that the author was Luke.

The earliest of the external testimonies appears in the Muratorian Canon (c. a.d. 170) where the explicit statement is made that Luke was the author of both the third Gospel and the "Acts of All the Apostles." Eusebius (c. 325) lists information from numerous sources to identify the author of these books as Luke (Ecclesiastical History 3.4).

Within the writing itself are some clues as to who the author was:

    1. Luke the companion of Paul. In the description of the happenings in Acts certain passages make use of the pronoun "we." At these points the author includes himself as a companion of Paul in his travels (16:10-17; 20:5 -- 21:18; 27:1 -- 28:16; see notes on 16:10 17; 27:1). A historian as careful with details as this author proves to be would have good reason for choosing to use "we" in some places and "they" elsewhere. The author was therefore probably present with Paul at the particular events described in the "we" sections.

      These "we" passages include the period of Paul's two-year imprisonment at Rome (ch. 28). During this time Paul wrote among other letters Philemon and Colossians. In them he sends greetings from his companions and Luke is included among them (see Col 4:9-17 and notes; Phm 23-24). In fact after eliminating those who for one reason or another would not fit the requirements for the author of Acts Luke is left as the most likely candidate.
    2. Luke the physician. Although it cannot be proved that the author of Acts was a physician simply from his vocabulary the words he uses and the traits and education reflected in his writings fit well his role as a physician (see e.g. note on 28:6). It is true that the doctor of the first century did not have as specialized a vocabulary as that of doctors today but there are some usages in Luke-Acts that seem to suggest that a medical man was the author of these books. And it should be remembered that Paul uses the term "doctor" in describing Luke (see Col 4:14 and note).

Date

Two dates are possible for the writing of this book: (1) c. a.d. 63 soon after the last event recorded in the book and (2) c. 70 or even later.

The earlier date is supported by:

    1. Silence about later events. While arguments from silence are not conclusive it is perhaps significant that the book contains no allusion to events that happened after the close of Paul's two-year imprisonment in Rome: e.g. the burning of Rome and the persecution of the Christians there (a.d. 64) the martyrdom of Peter and Paul (possibly 67) and the destruction of Jerusalem (70).
    2. No outcome of Paul's trial. If Luke knew the outcome of the trial Paul was waiting for (see 28:30 and note) why did he not record it at the close of Acts? Perhaps it was because he had brought the history up to date.

Those who prefer the later date hold that 1:8 (see note there) reveals one of the purposes Luke had in writing his history and that this purpose influenced the way the book ended. Luke wanted to show how the church penetrated the world of his day in ever-widening circles (Jerusalem Judea Samaria the ends of the earth) until it reached Rome the world's political and cultural center. On this understanding mention of the martyrdom of Paul (c. a.d. 67) and of the destruction of Jerusalem (70) was not pertinent. This would allow for the writing of Acts c. 70 or even later.

Recipient

The recipient of the book Theophilus is the same person addressed in the first volume the Gospel of Luke (see Introduction to Luke: Recipient and Purpose).

Importance

The book of Acts provides a bridge for the writings of the NT. As a second volume to Luke's Gospel it joins what Jesus "began to do and to teach" (1:1; see note there) as told in the Gospels with what he continued to do and teach through the apostles' preaching and the establishment of the church. Besides linking the Gospel narratives on the one hand and the apostolic letters on the other it supplies an account of the life of Paul from which we can learn the setting for his letters. Geographically its story spans the lands between Jerusalem where the church began and Rome the political center of the empire. Historically it recounts the first 30 years of the church. It is also a bridge that ties the church in its beginning with each succeeding age. This book may be studied to gain an understanding of the principles that ought to govern the church of any age.

Theme and Purpose

The theme of the work is best summarized in 1:8 (see note there). It was ordinary procedure for a historian at this time to begin a second volume by summarizing the first volume and indicating the contents anticipated in his second volume. Luke summarized his first volume in 1:1-3; the theme of his second volume is presented in the words of Jesus: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (1:8). This is in effect an outline of the book of Acts (see Plan and Outline below).

The main purposes of the book appear to be:

      1. To present a history. The significance of Acts as a historical account of Christian origins cannot be overestimated. It tells of the founding of the church the spread of the gospel the beginnings of congregations and evangelistic efforts in the apostolic pattern. One of the unique aspects of Christianity is its firm historical foundation. The life and teachings of Jesus Christ are established in the four Gospel narratives and the book of Acts provides a coordinated account of the beginning and spread of the church as the result of the work of the risen Lord and the Holy Spirit through the apostles.
      2. To give a defense. One finds embedded in Acts a record of Christian defenses made to both Jews (e.g. 4:8-12) and Gentiles (e.g. 25:8-11) with the underlying purpose of conversion. It shows how the early church coped with pagan and Jewish thought the Roman government and Hellenistic society.
        Luke may have written this work as Paul awaited trial in Rome. If his case came to court what better court brief could Paul have had than a life of Jesus a history of the beginnings of the church (including the activity of Paul) and an early collection of Paul's letters?
      3. To provide a guide. Luke had no way of knowing how long the church would continue on this earth but as long as it pursues its course the book of Acts will be one of its major guides. In Acts we see basic principles being applied to specific situations in the context of problems and persecutions. These same principles continue to be applicable until Christ returns.
      4. To depict the triumph of Christianity in the face of bitter persecution. The success of the church in carrying the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome and in planting local churches across the Roman empire demonstrated that Christianity was not a merely human work. It triumphed under the rule of the exalted Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Characteristics

    1. Accurate historical detail. Every page of Acts abounds with sharp precise details to the delight of the historian. The account covers a period of about 30 years and reaches across the lands from Jerusalem to Rome. Luke's description of these times and places is filled with all kinds of people and cultures a variety of governmental administrations court scenes in Caesarea and dramatic events involving such centers as Antioch Ephesus Athens Corinth and Rome. Barbarian country districts and Jewish centers are included as well. Yet in each instance archaeological findings reveal that Luke uses the proper terms for the time and place being described. Hostile criticism has not succeeded in disproving the detailed accuracy of Luke's political and geographical designations.
    2. Literary excellence. Not only does Luke have a large vocabulary compared with other NT writers but he also uses these words in literary styles that fit the cultural settings of the events he is recording. At times he employs good classical Greek; at other times the Palestinian Aramaic of the first century shows through his expressions. This is an indication of Luke's careful practice of using language appropriate to the time and place being described. Aramaisms are used when Luke is describing happenings that took place in the Holy Land (chs. 1 - 12). When however Paul departs for Hellenistic lands beyond the territories where Aramaic-speaking people live Aramaisms cease.
    3. Dramatic description. Luke's skillful use of speeches contributes to the drama of his narrative. Not only are they carefully spaced and well balanced between Peter and Paul but the speeches of a number of other individuals add variety and vividness to the account (see 5 below). Luke's use of details brings the action to life. Nowhere in ancient literature is there an account of a shipwreck superior to Luke's with its nautical details (ch. 27). The book is vivid and fast-moving throughout.
    4. Objective account. Luke's careful arrangement of material need not detract from the accuracy of his record. He demonstrates the objectivity of his account by recording the failures as well as the successes the bad as well as the good in the early church. Not only is the discontent between the Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews recorded (see 6:1 and note) but also the discord between Paul and Barnabas (see 15:39 and note). Divisions and differences are recognized (15:2; 21:20-21).
    5. Effective use of speeches. One of the distinguishing features of the book of Acts is its speeches. They may be classified as follows: (1) evangelistic -- two types: to Jews and God-fearers (2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 13:16-41) to pagans (17:22-31); (2) deliberative (1:16-17 20-22; 15:7-11 13-21); (3) apologetic (7:2-52; 22:1-21; 23:1-6; 24:10-21; 25:8 10; 26:2-23; 28:17-20 21-22 25-28); (4) hortatory (20:18-35).

The speeches are obvioiusly not verbatim reports; any of them can be read in a few minutes. We know e.g. that Paul at times could be a long-winded preacher (see 20:7 9; 28:23). However studies of these speeches (speakers audiences circumstances language and style of writing) give us reason to belive that they are accurate summaries of what was actually said.

Plan and Outline

Luke weaves together different interests and emphases as he relates the beginnings and expansion of the church. The design of his book revolves around (1) key persons: Peter and Paul; (2) important topics and events: the role of the Holy Spirit pioneer missionary outreach to new fields conversions the growth of the church and life in the Christian community; (3) significant problems: conflict between Jews and Gentiles persecution of the church by some Jewish elements trials before Jews and Romans confrontations with Gentiles and other hardships in the ministry; (4) geographical advances: five significant stages (see the quotations in the outline; see also map p. 2268; cf. note on 1:8).

I.           Peter and the Beginnings of the Church in the Holy Land (chs. 1-12)

    • "Throughout Judea Galilee and Samaria" (1:1 -- 9:31; see 9:31 and note)
      • Introduction (1:1-2)
      • Christ's resurrection ministry (1:3-11)
      • The period of waiting for the Holy Spirit (1:12-26)
      • The filling with the Spirit (ch. 2)
      • The healing of the lame man and the resultant arrest of Peter and John (3:1;4:31)
      • The community of goods (4:32;5:11)
      • The arrest of the 12 apostles (5:12-42)
      • The choice of the Seven (6:1-7)
      • Stephen's arrest and martyrdom (6:8;7:60)
      • The scattering of the Jerusalem believers (8:1-4)
      • Philip's ministry (8:5-40)

B.   "As far as Phoenicia Cyprus and Antioch" (9:32;12:25;11:19;)

      • Peter's ministry on the Mediterranean coast (9:32;11:18)
      • The new Gentile church in Antioch (11:19-30)
      • Herod's persecution of the church and his subsequent death (ch. 12)

                                    II.   Paul and the Expansion of the Church from Antioch to Rome (chs. 13-28)

 .    "Throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia" (13:1 -- 15:35; see 16:6 and note)

      • Paul's first missionary journey (chs. 13-14)
      • The Jerusalem conference (15:1-35)

A.   "Over to Macedonia" (15:36;21:16;16:9;)

B.      "To Rome" (21:17;28:31;28:14;)

──New International Version

 

Introduction to Acts

This book unites the Gospels to the Epistles. It contains many particulars concerning the apostles Peter and Paul and of the Christian church from the ascension of our Saviour to the arrival of St. Paul at Rome a space of about thirty years. St. Luke was the writer of this book; he was present at many of the events he relates and attended Paul to Rome. But the narrative does not afford a complete history of the church during the time to which it refers nor even of St. Paul's life. The object of the book has been considered to be 1. To relate in what manner the gifts of the Holy Spirit were communicated on the day of Pentecost and the miracles performed by the apostles to confirm the truth of Christianity as showing that Christ's declarations were really fulfilled. 2. To prove the claim of the Gentiles to be admitted into the church of Christ. This is shown by much of the contents of the book. A large portion of the Acts is occupied by the discourses or sermons of various persons the language and manner of which differ and all of which will be found according to the persons by whom they were delivered and the occasions on which they were spoken. It seems that most of these discourses are only the substance of what was actually delivered. They relate nevertheless fully to Jesus as the Christ the anointed Messiah.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Acts

 
Acts General Review
                             
TITLE
 
Commonly called "The Acts Of The Apostles"
it is simply titled "Acts"
in some of the oldest manuscripts.  It might appropriately be called
"Some Of The Acts Of Some Of The Apostles" since it does not try to
describe all of the acts of all the apostles.  Rather
the focus is
clearly on some of the acts or deeds of mostly Peter (the key figure in
the first half) and Paul (the key figure in the second).  It might also
be called "The Acts Of The Holy Spirit"
as that Person of the Godhead
is very much an active participant throughout the book.
 
AUTHOR
 
Though he does not mention himself by name
the author is undoubtedly
Luke
physician and frequent traveling companion of the apostle Paul.
From 1:1-3
we learn Acts is the second historical account to Theophilus
(see below)
the first being the gospel universally attributed to Luke
(cf. Lk 1:1-4).
 
Luke is described as "the beloved Physician" (Co 4:14)
and the
vocabulary of both the gospel and Acts shows evidence of a medical mind.
Mentioned as a "fellow laborer" (Phe 24) who was with Paul in his last
days (2 Ti 4:11)
Luke often accompanied Paul on his travels beginning
with his second journey.  By carefully noting the use of "we" and "they"
in the book of Acts
we glean that Luke joined Paul at Troas (16:10-11)
and remained at Philippi (17:1) until Paul later picked him up on his
way to Troas (20:1-6).  The book ends with Luke accompanying Paul to his
imprisonment in Rome (28:16).
 
It is evident Luke was very careful to provide a historically accurate
account in the both the gospel and Acts (cf. Lk 1:1-4
5; 2:1-3; 3:1-2).
Sir William Ramsay
archaeologist who started his career to prove Luke
to be in error
offered this testimony as a result of his research:
"Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of
fact trustworthy
he is possessed of the true historic sense...in short
this author should be placed along with the greatest of historians."  In
fact
Luke provides the only record of the first thirty years of the
early church.
 
RECIPIENT
 
Both the gospel and Acts were written to one man:  Theophilus (Lk 1:3;
Ac 1:1)
whose name means "God lover".  Ramsay suggests the use of "most
excellent" (Lk 1:3) was a title like "Your Excellency" (cf. 23:26;
26:25) and that Theophilus was a government official of high rank.  It
is not used in Acts (1:1)
and one intriguing possibility is that he
became a believer in between receiving the gospel and Acts.  Some have
entertained the possibility that Theophilus was a Roman official in
charge of administering Paul's case before Caesar
and that the gospel
and Acts were written to help him understand the facts of Jesus Christ
and Paul's role in the history of the church.
 
TIME AND PLACE OF WRITING
 
The book ends abruptly with Paul under house arrest awaiting trial in
Rome (28:16
30-31).  This may indicate that the book was written before
Paul's trial and eventual release.  The dates for Paul's first
imprisonment in Rome are 60-62 A.D.  If the book was just before or
after Paul's release
then it was likely written around 63 A.D. from
Rome.
 
PURPOSE OF THE BOOK
 
As indicated previously
the original purpose of both the gospel and
Acts may have been to assist Theophilus in some official capacity in
learning about Jesus and His apostles.  Yet the inspiration and
preservation of the book would indicate an important future role in the
providence of God.  Based on its content
I would offer the following
purpose of this book:
 
   * To record the establishment and early growth of the church
 
Other reasons could be given for why this book was written.  The detail
given to conversions and the involvement of the Holy Spirit would
certainly suggest the book is designed to reveal:
 
   * Examples of conversions to the gospel of Christ
 
   * The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the apostles and the early
     church
 
The value of Acts is also seen in that it provides the historical
framework for the epistles found in the New Testament.  From Romans to
Revelation
names
places
and events are mentioned upon which light is
shown by the historical account of Acts.  Without Acts
the gospels of
Matthew
Mark
Luke and John would be left without a satisfying answer
to the question
"What happened next?"
 
THEME OF THE BOOK
 
The book begins in Jerusalem and ends at Rome.  It describes the
establishment and growth of the Lord's church throughout the
Mediterranean world through the work of the apostles and other
Christians under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  We read their
sermons and see the conversions which resulted as they carried out the
Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20; Mk 16:15-16).  We learn how local
churches were established
and much of their work
worship and
organization.  But mostly we see the faith and efforts of those charged
to be witnesses of the Lord and of His resurrection from the dead.  An
appropriate theme of this book might therefore be:
 
                 "WITNESSES FOR THE LORD JESUS CHRIST"
 
KEY VERSE:  Acts 1:8
 
   "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."
 
OUTLINE
 
I. THEIR WITNESS IN JERUSALEM (1:1-8:3)
 
   A. PREPARATION (1:1-26)
      1. Introduction to the book (1:1-3)
      2. The promise of the Spirit (1:4-8)
      3. The ascension of Jesus (1:9-11)
      4. The waiting for the Spirit (1:12-14)
      5. The selection of Matthias (1:16-26)
 
   B. ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHURCH (2:1-47)
      1. The outpouring of the Spirit (2:1-4)
      2. The reaction of the crowd (2:5-13)
      3. The explanation by Peter (2:14-21)
      4. The first gospel sermon by Peter (2:22-36)
      5. The conversion of 3000 souls (2:37-41)
      6. The beginning of the church (2:42-47)
 
   C. THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM (3:1-8:3)
      1. The healing of the lame man; Peter's second sermon (3:1-26)
      2. The first persecution against the church; the liberality of the
         church (4:1-37)
      3. The first trouble within; increasing persecution without
         (5:1-43)
      4. The disturbance within resolved; intensifying persecution
         without (6:1-15)
      6. The address and martyrdom of Stephen (7:1-60)
      7. The persecution involving Saul against the church (8:1-3)
 
II. THEIR WITNESS IN JUDEA AND SAMARIA (8:4-12:25)
 
   A. THE PREACHING BY PHILIP (8:4-40)
      1. The conversion of the Samaritans (8:4-25)
      2. The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26-40)
 
   B. THE CONVERSION OF SAUL OF TARSUS (9:1-31)
      1. The appearance of the Lord on the road to Damascus (9:1-8)
      2. The baptism of Saul by Ananias (9:9-19)
      3. The initial ministry and persecution of Saul (9:20-31)
 
   C. THE MIRACLES OF PETER (9:32-43)
      1. The healing of Aeneas (9:32-35)
      2. The raising of Dorcas from the dead (9:36-43)
 
   D. THE CONVERSION OF CORNELIUS (10:1-11:18)
      1. The account recorded by Luke (10:1-48)
      2. The account retold by Peter (11:1-18)
 
   E. THE MINISTRIES OF BARNABAS
SAUL AND PETER (11:19-12:25)
      1. The work of Barnabas and Saul in Antioch (11:19-26)
      2. The work of Barnabas and Saul in Judea (11:27-30; 12:25)
      3. The persecution by Herod; James beheaded
Peter arrested
         (12:1-4)
      4. The release of Peter from prison by an angel; Herod's death
         (12:5-24)
 
III. THEIR WITNESS TO THE END OF THE EARTH (13:1-28:30-31)
 
   A. THE FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY OF PAUL (13:1-14:28)
      1. The departure from Antioch of Syria (13:1-3)
      2. The ministry on the island of Cyprus (13:4-12)
      3. The preaching in Antioch of Pisidia (13:13-52)
      4. The work and persecution in Iconium
Lystra and Derbe (14:1-20)
      5. The confirmation of churches and appointment of elders
         (14:21-23)
      6. The return trip to Antioch (14:24-28)
 
   B. THE ISSUE OF CIRCUMCISION AND THE LAW (15:1-35)
      1. The problem surfaces in Antioch (15:1-3)
      2. The problem resolved in Jerusalem (15:4-29)
      3. The letter delivered to Antioch (15:30-35)
 
   C. THE SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY OF PAUL (15:36-18:22)
      1. The separation of Paul and Barnabas (15:36-41)
      2. The addition of Timothy to Paul and Silas (16:1-5)
      3. The call to come to Macedonia (16:6-10)
      4. The conversion of Lydia in Philippi (16:11-15)
      5. The conversion of the Philippian jailor (16:16-40)
      6. The proclamation of Christ in Thessalonica
Berea
and Athens
         (17:1-34)
      7. The year and a half at Corinth (18:1-17)
      8. The quick trip back to Antioch (18:18-22)
 
   D. THE THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY OF PAUL (18:23-21:17)
      1. The strengthening of disciples in Galatia and Phrygia (18:23)
      2. The conversion of Apollos by Aquila and Priscilla (18:24-28)
      3. The three years at Ephesus
ending with a riot (19:1-41)
      4. The trip through Macedonia
three months in Greece
and return
         through Macedonia (20:1-5)
      5. The breaking of bread and miracle at Troas; heading toward
         Jerusalem (20:7-16)
      6. The meeting with the Ephesian elders at Miletus (20:17-38)
      7. The warnings on the way to Jerusalem; brief stays in Tyre and
         Caesarea (21:1-14)
      8. The arrival in Jerusalem (21:15-17)
 
   E. THE ARREST OF PAUL AND JOURNEY TO ROME (21:18-28:31)
      1. The counsel of James and elders of the church in Jerusalem
         (21:18-25)
      2. The arrest of Paul in the temple (21:26-40)
      3. The defense by Paul to the Jewish mob (22:1-30)
      4. The defense by Paul before the Sanhedrin council (23:1-10)
      5. The plot against Paul and deliverance to Felix (23:11-35)
      6. The trial before Felix; procrastination by Felix (24:1-27)
      7. The appearance before Festus and appeal to Caesar (25:1-12)
      8. The defense before Festus and King Agrippa (25:13-26:32)
      9. The journey to Rome; shipwreck along the way (27:1-28:16)
     10. The explanation of Paul to the leaders of the Jews in Rome
         (28:17-29)
     11. The waiting in Rome for two years
yet preaching and teaching
         (28:30-31)
 
REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR THE INTRODUCTION
 
1) Who is the author of the book of Acts?  What was his profession?
   - Luke
   - Physician
 
2) To whom was this book written?  What other book is addressed to this
   person?
   - Theophilus (Ac 1:1)
   - The gospel of Luke (Lk 1:3)
 
3) What might indicate that this person was an official of high rank?
   - Being addressed as "most excellent" (Lk 1:3)
 
4) When was this book likely written?  From where?  What may be
   indicative of this?
   - 63 A.D.; Rome
   - It is when and where the book abruptly ends (Ac 28:30-31)
 
5) What is proposed as the primary purpose of the book of Acts?
   - To record the establishment and early growth of the church
 
6) Based on content
what else does the book appear designed to reveal?
   - Examples of conversions to the gospel of Christ
   - The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the apostles and the early
     church
 
7) What is offered as the theme of the book of Acts?
   - Witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ
 
8) What is the key verse?
   - "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." - Ac 1:8
 
9) What are the main divisions of the book as suggested by the key verse
   and the outline in the introduction?
   - Their witness in Jerusalem (1:1-8:3)
   - Their witness in Judea and Samaria (8:4-12:25)
   - Their witness to the end of the earth (13:1-28:31)

 

--《Executable Outlines