THE BOOK’S TITLE
The author of Acts perhaps did not put a title at the beginning of his book. But one early copy of the book gives it the title “Acts,” meaning “accomplishments” or “works.” Whose acts or accomplishments are referred in the title? “The Acts of the Apostles” is one answer to the question. In fact some early copies give the book that more complete title. The Book of Acts indeed tells of the acts of the Apostles Peter and Paul and others. But a more accurate title of the book would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” It is the Spirit’s work that the book relates. The Holy Spirit is mentioned directly in the book about 70 times. It is the Spirit who caused the church to grow through the Gospel of Christ. It is the Spirit who made Peter and Paul and the others bold to witness of Christ. It is the Spirit who caused the book’s human author to write of His work in the infant years of the Church. “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” would therefore be a fitting title for the fifth book of the New Testament.
THE AUTHOR OF ACTS
We have already discussed the authorship of Acts in connection with the Gospel of Luke. See New Testament Lesson 6, page 111, for that discussion. It is commonly accepted that Luke, the doctor, is the author of Acts as well as the third Gospel. From the “we sections” of Acts we know that Luke was an eyewitness of many of the events he relates. He was with Paul at Philippi (ch.16); he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem (chs. 20-21); he sailed with Paul on the shipwrecked voyage to Rome (chs.27-28). The events that he did not witness himself he had opportunity to hear about first-hand from Paul, Barnabas and the other church leaders. We can be sure that he “carefully investigated everything” before he recorded it in Acts, just as he did before writing his Gospel [Luke 1:3].
WHERE, WHEN, AND TO WHOM WRITTEN?
The place of writing is not mentioned in Acts, but many scholars think the book was written in Rome. Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial in Rome. Since this is told in one of the “we sections,” Luke was with him in Rome. This may suggest that Luke wrote Acts while still in Rome. Acts was probably written about 61-63 A.D. These are the approximate years of Paul’s Roman imprisonment while awaiting trial as told in the last chapter of Acts. The sudden ending of the book makes it sound like the book was written at the end of his imprisonment. Acts, like Luke’s Gospel, was written first to Theophilus. It was probably intended first for Gentile readers.
SOME SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF ACTS
- The work of the Holy Spirit is stressed in Acts. Jesus’ words in 1:8 already prepare us for this emphasis on the Spirit’s work in Acts: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s great day, is told of in ch. 2. It is the Spirit who fills the disciples and makes them able to witness (4:8; 13:9 etc.). It is the Spirit who causes the young Church to grow by creating faith in hearts (2:47). It is the Spirit who chooses men for His work (13:2). It is the Spirit who continuously guides the Church (15:28; 16:6-10).
- The Book of Acts is all about mission work. One of its main purposes is to tell how the Christian Church grew from a small group of Jewish believers in Jerusalem into a world-wide Church.
- The Book of Acts contains many speeches. Many of the speeches are sermons telling the Good News of Christ and urging faith in him. Others are speeches defending the Christian faith. It is important to notice that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is often the main theme of these speeches. Without his resurrection, the apostles would have nothing worth talking about.
A THEME AND GENERAL OUTLINE FOR ACTS
Theme: “THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT THROUGH THE APOSTLES” 1. In Jerusalem (1-7) 2. In Judea and Samaria (8-12) 3. Around the Mediterranean world (13-28) Notice that this theme and outline is derived from Jesus’ words in 1:8.
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE CONTENTS OF ACTS
The Book of Acts covers a period of about 30 years, from the Ascension of Jesus to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. This would be about 30-63 A.D.
1.IN JERUSALEM (1-7)
Luke first summarizes what he wrote in his Gospel. The disciples wait for the coming of the Spirit and choose Matthias as the successor Judas. The Holy Spirit is poured out on Pentecost. After Peter’s Pentecost sermon, the “mustard seed” Church begins its growth. A crippled beggar is healed by Peter. The Sanhedrin tries to stop Peter and John from teaching in the name of Jesus. But the young Church prospers. The Church is generous in its giving, but Ananias and Saphira lie to the Holy Spirit. The Apostles heal many. When they are persecuted for preaching of Christ, they are happy to be considered worthy of suffering for their Savior. They never stop telling the Good News that Jesus is the Christ. Seven special men are chosen to help distribute food to the poor. One of them, Stephen, is seized and stoned to death. He becomes the first Christian martyr. A young enemy of the Church named Saul is present at the stoning of Stephen.
2.IN JUDEA AND SAMARIA (8-12)
Because of the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, many of them scatter throughout Judea and Samaria. This helps the Church to grow. Saul works at destroying the Church. Philip proclaims Christ in Samaria and later to an Ethiopian in the south. Miraculously, Saul is converted to Christ when he is on his way to Damascus to imprison Christians. The former enemy of the Church begins to speak boldly about his new-found Savior. At Caesarea Peter receives a vision showing that the time of “clean” and “unclean” meats is finished. The Old Testament ceremonial laws no longer apply. At the home of Cornelius Peter explains that God now accepts Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus is the Lord of all. The Judean Christians accept the fact that Jesus is Savior of both Jew and Gentile. The church in Antioch of Syria grows. Saul (Paul) and Barnabas minister to the church in Antioch, where disciples of Jesus were first called “Christians.” The Christians of Antioch help the Christians in Judea during a time of famine. Herod Agrippa I put to death James, the brother of John. He also imprisons Peter, but Peter miraculously escapes.
3. AROUND THE MEDITERRANEAN WORLD (13-28)
Paul begins his first missionary journey. The church at Antioch sends off Paul, Barnabas and John Mark, their helper. They go to Cyprus, Perga in Pamphylia, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, and finally back to Syrian Antioch for furlough (13-14). After a council in Jerusalem Paul again leaves from Syrian Antioch on his second missionary journey. Silas goes with him. At Lystra Timothy joins them. At Troas Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul goes, and the Gospel is preached on European soil. Paul proceeds to Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth. From there he goes to Ephesus and on to Jerusalem and Syrian Antioch (15:40 – 18:22). Paul begins a third missionary journey. He travels throughout Galatia and Phrygia to strengthen the disciples. He returns to Ephesus and then journeys through Macedonia and Greece and on to Troas. From Troas he travels back to Jerusalem (18:23 – 21:16). At Jerusalem Paul is arrested after some Jews from Asia stir up a crowd against him and a riot follows. In Caesarea Paul appears before Felix, Festus and Herod Agrippa II. Because Paul is a Roman citizen, he appeals to be taken to Rome for trial before Caesar. Festus gives permission and says “To Caesar you will go!” (12:17 – 26:32). Paul sails to Rome, suffering shipwreck on the way. Acts closes with Paul awaiting trial in Rome. He never stops teaching about Jesus Christ (27-28).
SOME CHAPTER NUMBERS FROM ACTS TO MEMORIZE
2The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost 5Ananias and Saphira 7The Stoning of Stephen 8Philip and the Ethiopian 9Saul’s Conversion 13-21Paul’s Three Missionary Journeys 27-28Paul’s Journey to Rome for Trial
A TIME-CHART OF ACTS EVENTS
(Note that dates are only approximate) A.D. 30Pentecost 32/35Paul is converted 46/47First Missionary Journey 48-51Second Missionary Journey 53-58Third Missionary Journey 58Paul Arrested in Jerusalem 58-60Paul Imprisoned in Caesarea 60-61Paul’s Journey to Rome for Trial 61-63Paul’s Imprisonment in Rome (end of Acts)
EMPERORS, GOVERNORS, AND HERODIAN KINGS DURING NEW TESTAMENT TIMES
ROMAN EMPERORS Augustus(27 B.C. – 14 A.D.) Jesus’ birth and youth Tiberius(14-37) Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection Caligula(37-41) Paul converted Claudius(41-54) Paul’s missionary trips Nero(54-68) Christians persecuted; Peter and Paul martyred Galba, Otho, Vitellius(68-69) Vespasian(69-79) Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Titus(79-81) Domitian(81-96) Christians persecuted; Revelation written
GOVERNORS OF JUDEA AND PALESTINE MENTIONED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
HERODIAN KINGS MENTIONED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) Jesus’ birth Archelaus(4 B.C. – 6 A.D.)son of Herod the Great; ruled in Judea Herod Antipas (4 B.C. – 39 A.D.)son of Herod the Great; killed John the Baptist; Jesus’ trial in Galilee and Perea Philip (4 B.C. – 34 A.D.) in Iturea and Trachonitis Herod Agrippa I (37-44)killed James the brother of John and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12); ruled all of Palestine; grandson of Herod the Great Herod Agrippa II (50-93)great-grandson of Herod the Great; Paul’s trail in Caesarea (Acts 25-26)
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