The book of Acts records the activity of the early church. It covers events from the Ascension of Jesus (AD 30) to Paul’s ministry in Rome (AD 62). The content of Acts also fills in events between the Gospels and the Epistles.
The title of the book should be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit continued the work of Christ after His Ascension.
The book is a valid and accurate history of the church. For three decades the church exploded in size from a small group of Jewish believers in Jerusalem to churches across the Roman Empire. Acts first gives the account of Peter’s ministry and then Paul’s.
The book of Acts is the bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles. The church would have little knowledge of early church history without the book of Acts. Acts also shows the doctrine and ministry of the Holy Spirit through the church; Acts mentions the Holy Spirit 50 times. The author, Luke, alluded to the doctrines of regeneration, baptism of the Spirit, the filling of the Spirit, and sanctification. We see the Spirit’s control of the operations of the church throughout the book (Acts 8:29; 13:2; 15:28). The book references the Old Testament in many places (Acts 2:22ff; 3:12ff; 7:1ff; 8:26ff; 13:14ff).
Acts provides the transition between Israel and the church.
Acts is the only canonical, historical account of Christianity.
Acts is a sequel to the four Gospels.
Acts gives modern readers insight into the early church.
The nature of Acts is action.
Acts is the third-longest book in the New Testament; only Matthew and Luke are longer.
Luke and Acts together consist of 30% of the New Testament.
Central theme: to take the gospel to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Jew and Gentile acceptance of the gospel
Missionary enterprises of Peter and Paul
Growth of the local church
The ministry of the Holy Spirit
The relationship between Jews and Gentiles
The authority of the apostles
The purpose of the book of Acts was to record the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church (Acts 1:4).
Luke wrote to show the “certainty [asphaleia] of the things you have been taught” in his Gospel (Lu 1:4); that is, the clear evidence and assurance that what he taught was the truth. The Jews needed to know that Jesus was the Messiah, and the Gentiles needed to know with clarity who He was.
Luke in the book of Acts gave history, not primarily doctrine. The purpose of Acts was to demonstrate the universality of Christianity to all people, Jew or Gentile. Acts shows the transition from the nation Israel to the church. This book is not an exhaustive account of the early church, but it gives emphasis to God’s design for what the church needed to know. Acts was written for a broad audience.
Luke (Acts 1:1; Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16
The preface connects Acts to the book of Luke.
The Muratorian Fragment (second century), Irenaeus (AD 130-200) say Luke was the author.
The “we” passages show Luke’s eyewitness participation in Acts (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16); and the use of the first-person perspective in Acts (“we” passages) indicates an eyewitness account (Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1–28:16).
Luke did not mention his own name in the book of Acts.
Luke was a Greek physician and highly educated.
DATE OF COMPILATION
About AD 63
Includes events prior to Paul’s death but does not mention his death (AD 65-67).
Connection to the book of Luke.
Does not reference the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The time range of the book of Acts is about 33-35 years.
Narrative history with journeys and speeches.
The post-apostolic church attributed the writing of Acts to Luke: Clement of Rome, the First Apology of Justin Martyr, the works of Irenaeus, and the Muratorian Fragment.
Luke wrote Acts to Theophilus, a Gentile Roman. The book may have been written for the Romans in general, who despised the church.
RELATIONSHIP TO LUKE’S GOSPEL
Both Acts and Luke are addressed to “Theophilus” (Acts 1:1; Luke 1:3).
Acts 1:1 refers to the author’s “former account” about Jesus.
Acts is the only inspired account of church history.
Focus on the Lord Jesus Christ
Focus on the Holy Spirit
Focus on the church
Luke mentioned 110 people in the book of Acts
The importance of the Resurrection in the book of Acts
Nearly half of the book of Acts records speeches.
Peter at Solomon’s Portico (3:12–26)
Stephen before the Sanhedrin (7:2–53)
Peter before Cornelius’s assembly of believers (10:34–43)
Paul at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (13:16–41)
Paul at the Areopagus (Mars Hill) in Athens (17:16–34)
Paul to the elders of the church at Ephesus (20:18–35)
Paul to the crowd in Jerusalem after his arrest (22:1–21)
Paul before King Agrippa in Caesarea (26:2–23).
Dreams and Visions.
Jesus’ appearance to Paul on the Damascus road (9:3–7; compare 26:19)
Paul’s vision corresponding to Ananias’s vision (9:12)
Cornelius’s vision (10:3–6)
Peter’s vision (10:9–16; 11:5–10)
Paul’s vision of the Macedonian man (16:9)
Paul’s vision of his safety (18:9–10)
More than any other New Testament book, Acts shows interactions between Christians and other religions and philosophies.
Many false doctrines have arisen from the book of Acts because of misinterpretations of its literature. It is important to interpret a history book with care. First and foremost, Acts must be interpreted as a history book and not an Epistle. Epistles are didactic, setting forth doctrine in formal arrangement. However, we must not go to the other extreme to conclude that Acts does not teach doctrine whatsoever or that it cannot apply to our current culture.
God does not direct every promise in Scripture to the church or to our time. Some promises are directed to the church today, and others are not. We should not force passages directly addressed to a given people or time to our culture. If there is a principle that can apply to all generations, then we should carefully explain how we extract the principle for our generation. We can make applications based on broader principles. Above all, we should carefully honor normative interpretation; that is, we ask if Luke presents an unambiguous and normative principle for our time.
Jerusalem Church (1:4–5:42)
Promise of the Holy Spirit (1:4-8)
The Ascension of Jesus (1:9-11)
Matthias chosen to replace Judas (1:12-26)
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (2:1-41)
Beginnings of the local church (2:42-5:42)
Persecuted Church (6:1–9:31)
Peter’s Ministry (9:32–12:25)
Paul’s Ministry (Acts 13:1–28:31)
First Missionary Enterprise (13:1-15:35)
Second Missionary Enterprise (15:36-18:22)
Third Missionary Enterprise (18:23-21:16)
Paul’s Arrest (21:17-23:35)
Paul’s Trials in Caesarea (24:1-26:32)
Voyage to Rome (27:1-28:16)
Paul in Rome (28:17-31)