The Acts of the Apostles: Notes

The Acts of the Apostles: Notes

Notes by David Istre

 

WORKS CITED

  • Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Acts (Martin, F., & Smith, E.)
  • Authentic Christianity: Acts (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
  • College Press NIV Commentary: Acts (Gaertner, D.)
  • Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Acts (Longenecker, R. N.)
  • New Bible commentary (Gempf, C.)
  • New American Commentary: Acts (Polhill, J. B.)

 

The Purpose of Writing

The Acts of the Apostles is written in such a way that weaves many themes together to address a number of purposes, which will be reflected in the following commentaries:

Acts may be seen to be answering a complex question about Christianity. What is Christianity? If it is a Jewish sect, then why are all the Jews apparently against it and so many Gentiles in it? If Christianity is a religious rather than a political matter, why is Jesus called a ‘king’ and his movement a ‘kingdom’—and why does it seem to cause riots and trouble?

Gempf, C. (1994). Acts. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1068). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

Certainly when receiving his first instruction in the gospel, Theophilus had been told of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But, judging from Luke’s Gospel, apparently the meaning and implications of that death and resurrection were not quite clear to him… Likewise, the subsequent experiences of the early Christians seem to have been somewhat vague to him. The advent and activity of the Holy Spirit, the early ministries of the disciples, the conversion of Paul and his relation to the Jerusalem apostles, the nature and extent of Paul’s ministry—and probably more—were all things that Theophilus had questions about. So Luke writes to deal with his friend’s uncertainties and the queries of others like him who will read his account.

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 217). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Acts, therefore, like many another work, was probably written with multiple purposes in view. Primary among the reasons for its composition was undoubtedly a kerygmatic purpose. It proclaims the continued confrontation of men and women by the Word of God through the church and shows (1) how that gospel is related to the course of redemptive history, (2) its rootage in and interaction with secular history, (3) its universal character, (4) how it has been freed from the Jewish law, and (5) how that behind the proclamation of the Word of God stands the power and activity of the Holy Spirit.

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 217). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

One of the prominent features of Acts is to present illustrate the meaning and implications of the death and resurrection of Christ for the followers of Christ (the Church).

This kind of purpose for Luke-Acts makes sense of many features of Acts: the sweep from the church’s Jerusalem beginnings to the mission in Rome, the focus on various apostles and the spread of the word as well as the opposition it encountered. It also makes sense of the statement by Luke in the first chapter of the gospel—that he was writing in order to clarify and explain the things that Theophilus had already heard concerning Jesus Christ and the movement that he had caused to come into being.

Gempf, C. (1994). Acts. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1068). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

The idea that the Book of Acts illustrates the meaning and implications of the death and resurrection of Christ helps provide context and purpose to the wide range of themes that Luke weaves together in the Acts of the Apostles.

Another careful observation about Luke’s purpose in writing the Acts of the Apostles must be observed:

In any consideration of an author’s purpose, the logical starting point would be his own statement on the matter. Luke did in fact provide such a statement in the preface to his Gospel. If the preface was intended to introduce both volumes, as is likely the case, then v. 4 provides Luke’s intent. The preface is very general: “that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4).  The preceding verses have described how he went about reaching this goal—by closely following the events as they had come down to him through eyewitnesses and servants of the word and by arranging them in an orderly fashion. The emphasis on literary predecessors, eyewitnesses, and careful investigation would indicate a historian’s interest…  The emphasis on “certainty” (literally “firm foundation”) would point to his “theologian’s” interest… His reference to “the things you have been taught” would indicate that he was writing to someone who had already received some instruction in the Christian traditions. To give “Theophilus” a solid grounding in the faith by means of an orderly account was Luke’s stated purpose.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 55–56). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Some have seen a clue to a more specific purpose in Luke’s “addressee,” Theophilus. The name is a well-established Greek name. Since its etymology yields “lover of God,” it has often been concluded that Luke intended the name symbolically…

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 56). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Acts opens with a statement from Jesus which seems to set the tone for the entire work. Jesus promises the Apostles that they will receive power in the form of the Holy Spirit (see 1:8). He then tells them that they will be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NIV). This theme of being a witness for the gospel is carried throughout the Book of Acts.

Consider the following verses in Acts:

  • 1:22 — The replacement for Judas had to be a witness of Christ’s resurrection
  • 2:32 — Peter’s sermon on Pentecost emphasized that the apostles were witnesses of the resurrection
  • 3:15 — After healing the beggar Peter proclaimed the apostles were witnesses of the resurrected Christ
  • 4:20 — The apostles testified on trial that they could not stop preaching what they had seen and heard
  • 5:32 — The persecuted apostles testified that they must obey God because they were witnesses along with the Holy Spirit
  • 8:25 — Peter and John went to Samaria where they “testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord”
  • 10:39 — Peter proclaimed to Cornelius that he was a witness to the ministry of Jesus
  • 13:31 — Paul told the crowd in Pisidian Antioch that Jesus’ followers had witnessed Christ’s resurrection
  • 22:15 — Ananias went to Paul with the message that Paul would be a witness to all men of what he had seen and heard
  • 23:11 — God appeared to Paul encouraging him that he would testify in Rome concerning the Lord

These references do not include the numerous passages in which individuals are found witnessing falsely (e.g., 6:13; 7:58; 24:1; 25:7).

Gaertner, D. (1995). Acts. Joplin, MO: College Press.

The Christian reader is meant to step into “Theophilus’ place” so that “you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” and become witnesses through faith of the “word that was confirmed to us by God with many signs and wonders” (Heb. 2:4).  In this sense, Hebrews 2:3b-4 could be seen as a “mission summary” for the “Luke-Acts” account.

Great attention has been given to the nature of Acts as “history” versus “theology”, as articulated by the following commentaries:

The description of the book as ‘history’, and the author therefore as an ‘historian’, seemed self-evident for centuries until modern students of the Bible recognized that in many senses Acts and all four gospels can just as correctly be classified as ‘theology’. Rather than being primarily concerned with an unbiased and simple statement of the facts and events, the authors clearly had a purpose that involved sharing the good news and convincing or teaching their readers. Recently, increased attention has been paid to the skill these authors display in the way that they ‘tell the story’, and students of the NT have been trying to focus on Acts as a well-crafted piece of literature rather than as ‘objective and dry history’ on the one hand or ‘theology’ on the other. All these approaches should be affirmed, but in such a way that they support each other rather than cancel each other out. In Luke-Acts, and in the other books that make up the Bible, the theology is based upon the historical truth.

Gempf, C. (1994). Acts. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1066). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

When surveying the great body of work that has been dedicated to Acts, it becomes evident that the Acts of the Apostles should be treated as both “Historical” and “Theological”; we should, therefore, approach the Acts of the Apostles as theological narrative

Still two more vital observations regarding the purpose of the Acts of the Apostles should be taken into account:

In his first volume, Luke shows how men and women were confronted by the Word of God in the earthly ministry of Jesus (cf. Luke 5:1; 8:11, 21; 11:28). In Acts Luke seeks to show how men and women continue to be confronted by that same Word through the ministry of the church (cf. 4:29, 31; 6:2, 4, 7; 8:4, 14, 25; 10:36; 11:1, 19; 12:24; 13:7, 44, 46, 48–49; 14:25; 15:35–36; 16:6, 32; 17:11, 13; 18:5, 11; 19:10).

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, pp. 217–218). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

The role of the Holy Spirit is part of the emphasis on God’s providence in Acts. It is primarily through God’s Spirit that the community was aware of the divine power at work among them. So central was the work of the Spirit in Acts that some have suggested that a more appropriate title for the book would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 64). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

It is impossible to escape the centrality of the “Holy Spirit” and of “being witnesses” in the Book of Acts.

THEMATIC PURPOSES

Another way to understand Luke’s purpose in writing the Acts of the Apostles is to note its themes:

If Luke gave an explicit clue to his purpose anywhere in Acts, it would be the thematic 1:8. In answer to the disciples’ question about the restoration of the kingdom, Jesus set before them a mission to the world. They were to be witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  The term “ends of the earth” is an Old Testament phrase for the ultimate limits of civilization and appears in Greco-Roman literature with the same connotation.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p.61-62). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

That the mission of the church is under the direct control of God is perhaps the strongest single theme in the theology of Acts.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 63). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The issue of mutual acceptance and genuine unity was vital. An expanding mission and a truly inclusive gospel demand a unity of fellowship where no barriers exist.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 69). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

It is not only with regard to Scripture that one finds this emphasis on the “divine necessity” (Greek, dei) in Acts.129 The suffering of Paul as Christ’s faithful witness was part of the divine purpose (9:16), as was his destiny to appear before Caesar (19:21; 23:11; 27:24). The miracles likewise attest to the divine providence behind the entire life and witness of the Christian community in Acts.130 This aspect of God’s providence is most apparent in the activity of the Spirit.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 63–64). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The most characteristic role of the Spirit in Acts is his activity in the Christian mission. Every major breakthrough in mission occurs through the guidance of the Spirit. Sometimes this is explicitly stated, as when the Spirit called the church at Antioch to set apart Paul and Barnabas for a mission (13:3f.) and when the Spirit prevented Paul from working in Bithynia and Asia and literally forced him to the first mission on European soil at Philippi (16:6–10). Sometimes the Spirit’s activity is more subtly depicted in story form. Philip’s pioneering witness to the Ethiopian eunuch is a good example.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 65). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Through all of Luke’s record, the role of the Holy Spirit is highlighted. From the Day of Pentecost when he was poured out (see 2:14ff), the Spirit was essential to God’s purposes for the proclamation of the gospel. When the men were chosen to administer the benevolence to widows, Stephen was appointed because he was a man full of “faith and of the Holy Spirit” (see 6:5). In Samaria the new converts received a visit from the apostles who placed their hands on them, granting them the power of the Holy Spirit (see 8:17). This was a power which Simon the Sorcerer wanted to buy (see 8:18). Philip heard from the Spirit that he was to go to the chariot of the Ethiopian (see 8:29). While Peter was preaching to Cornelius, the Holy Spirit came on the listeners, interrupting Peter’s address (see 10:44). Barnabas and Saul were first selected as missionaries at Antioch when the Spirit spoke to the church (see 13:2). Their travels were guided by the Holy Spirit (see 16:7) and in Ephesus Paul rebaptized believers who had not received the Spirit (see 19:1–7).23 When Paul addressed the Ephesian elders, he reminded them that they had become leaders because of the Spirit’s ministry (see 21:28).

Gaertner, D. (1995). Acts. Joplin, MO: College Press.

One of his reasons was to commend Christianity to the Roman government. Again and again, he goes out of his way to show how courteous Roman magistrates were to Paul. In Acts 13:12, Sergius Paulus, the governor of Cyprus, becomes a Christian. In 18:12ff., Gallio is absolutely fair-minded in Corinth. In 16:35ff., the magistrates at Philippi discover their mistake and apologize publicly to Paul. In 19:31, the Asiarchs in Ephesus are shown to be concerned that no harm should come to Paul. Luke was pointing out that, in the years before he wrote, Roman officials had often been well-disposed and always just and fair to Christianity.

Barclay, W. (2003). The Acts of the Apostles (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., p. 4). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

One of Luke’s aims was to show that Christianity was for all people of every country. This was one of the things the Jews found it hard to grasp.

Barclay, W. (2003). The Acts of the Apostles (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., p. 4). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Luke presents the apostolic ministry as the necessary extension of the redemption effected by Christ. Luke views both the accomplishment of salvation and the spread of the Good News as inseparable units in the climactic activity of God’s redemption of mankind—a truth probably picked up from Paul (cf. Rom 8:17; Philippians 3:10–11; Col 1:24).

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 233). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Observing the nature of the various themes that weave throughout Acts also indicates valuable restrictions on the nature of the Acts of the Apostles:

That Luke was not concerned with giving a complete history of the mission and expansion of the early church is amply evidenced also by consulting Paul’s epistles. There was a Pauline congregation at Colosse as we know from that epistle, but Luke did not mention Paul’s work there. Paul spoke of his having preached in Illyricum (Rom 15:19). Acts is silent on this. There was a strong Christian community in North Africa by the early second century, and Apollos seems to have learned of Christ there (Acts 18:24f.). Luke said nothing about it, nor did he relate the missionary activity of any of the Twelve apostles outside Judea, not even that of Peter. He gave only one line of the mission thrust—that of Paul. And through his picture of Paul he presented a paradigm of Christian mission for all time.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 62). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The ends of the earth are never reached in Acts. The mission goal is never completed. It remains open, yet to be fulfilled. Paul continued bearing his witness in Rome. The abrupt ending of the book is open-ended. There are many “completed” missions in Acts. Each of Paul’s has a sort of closure with his return to Antioch or Jerusalem.126 But each ending is the starting point for a new beginning. Perhaps that is the missionary message of Acts. The story remains open. There must always be new beginnings. The “ends of the earth” are still out there to receive the witness to Christ.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 63). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Exegetical Notes

How one understands the purpose and nature of Acts will determine how one exegetes the test:

Cadbury portrayed Luke as a conscious writer with a deliberate literary purpose. Conzelmann engendered consideration of Luke as a theologian, a person of faith. Both emphases are important for obtaining the full benefit from Luke and Acts.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 41). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

My position is one in which careful observation of both its “historical” and “theological” natures should be pursued as being mutually inclusive, rather than mutually exclusive.

STRUCTURE

The intentional structures that Luke used in writing Acts are vital to carrying its message:

Acts falls naturally into two divisions: the mission of the Jerusalem church (chaps. 1–12) and the mission of Paul (chaps. 13–28).

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 72). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Each of these may be subdivided into two main parts. In the Jerusalem portion chaps. 1–5 treat the early church in Jerusalem; chaps. 6–12, the outreach beyond Jerusalem. In the Pauline portion 13:1–21:16 relates the three major missions of Paul; 21:27–28:31 deals with Paul’s defense of his ministry.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 72). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Observing this structure draws attention to Acts 1:8, in which the Holy Spirit empowered Church was called to become “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”; understanding the nature of this witness becomes one of the primary themes that carries the message of the Acts of the Apostles to the reader.  Likewise, understanding this structure prevents misunderstanding why Peter disappears from Acts relatively soon after Paul is introduced; one of the central themes of Acts is the move of the gospel from “Jerusalem” into “the ends of the earth”.

Another aspect of the structure of Acts is its relationship to Luke’s first Gospel volume:

The Acts of the Apostles was originally written as the second part of a two-volume work, and its inseparable relation to Luke’s Gospel must be kept in mind if we are to understand the work. As Cadbury insisted over fifty years ago: “Their unity is a fundamental and illuminating axiom.… They are not merely two independent writings from the same pen; they are a single continuous work. Acts is neither an appendix nor an afterthought. It is probably an integral part of the author’s original plan and purpose.”

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, pp. 231–232). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

The book of Acts is in the style of the gospels, a book that primarily narrates events, although teaching is recorded in it as well. On the other hand, the subject is the life and growth of the earliest church, which links it more closely with the letters rather than the gospels. Its location in modern bibles between the gospels and letters is therefore appropriate.

Gempf, C. (1994). Acts. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1066). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

While the individuality of Acts must not be lost in its connectivity to Luke’s Gospel, understanding the structure of Acts requires that the structure and nature of Luke must also be considered.  The genre of acts is closely related to Luke’s gospel because Acts is primarily “narrative”, yet there are clear distinctives that are more closely related to the letters in their dealing with the “life of the Church”, thus positioning Acts as a “transitional book” between the gospels and the letters.

Another key structural observation about Acts is geographical in nature:

The city of Jerusalem functions as a ‘touchstone’ to which the narrative keeps returning. There is also a clear movement of the whole narrative from the backwaters of the Roman Empire in Galilee to Judea and the provincial capital Caesarea, and from there through Samaria and step by step through the rest of the Roman world until, at the end of Acts, the word has spread all the way to the imperial capital itself, Rome. The progression is an historical one, but Luke has chosen stories, even shifted focus from one set of characters to another, in order to emphasize this movement.

Gempf, C. (1994). Acts. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 1067–1068). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

Therefore, there are four particular features that must be kept in mind in considering the structure of Luke’s Gospel:

  1. It begins with an introductory section of distinctly Lukan cast, dealing with Jesus’ birth and youth (Luke 1:1–2:52) before taking up the narrative held in common with Mark and Matthew.
  2. The Nazareth pericope (Luke 4:14–30) serves as the topic paragraph for all that Luke presents in his two volumes; most of what follows this pericope is an explication of the themes it contains.60
  3. In his presentation of Jesus’ ministry, Luke follows an essentially geographical outline that moves from the Galilean ministry (Luke 4:14–9:50), through the ministry in Perea and Judea (Luke 9:51–19:28), and concludes in Jerusalem (Luke 19:29–24:53).
  4. Luke deliberately sets up a number of parallels between our Lord’s ministry in Galilee and his ministry in the regions of Perea and Judea.61

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, pp. 233). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

These four considerations about Luke’s gospel provide insight into five phenomena relating to the structure of Acts:

  1. It begins, like the Gospel, with an introductory section of distinctly Lukan cast dealing with the constitutive events of the Christian mission (Acts 1:1–2:41) before it sets forth the advances of the gospel “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:7).
  2.  This introductory section is followed by what appears to be a thematic statement (Acts 2:42–47). This material, while often viewed as a summary of what precedes, alternatively may serve as the thesis paragraph for what follows.
  3. In his presentation of the advance of the Christian mission, Luke follows an essentially geographical outline that moves from Jerusalem (Acts 2:42–6:7), through Judea and Samaria (Acts 6:8–9:31), on into Palestine-Syria (Acts 9:32–12:24), then to the Gentiles in the eastern part of the Roman Empire (Acts 12:25–19:20), and finally culminates in Paul’s defenses and the entrance of the gospel into Rome (Acts 19:21–28:31).
  4. In his presentation, Luke deliberately sets up a number of parallels between the ministry of Peter in the first half of Acts and that of Paul in the last half.
  5. Luke includes six summary statements or “progress reports” (Acts 6:7; Acts 9:31; Acts 12:24; Acts 16:5; Acts 19:20; and Acts 28:31), each of which seems to conclude its own “panel” of material.

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, pp. 233–234). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Taking all these literary and structural features into account, we may conclude that Luke developed his material in Acts along the following lines:

Introduction: The Constitutive Events of the Christian Mission (Acts 1:1–2:41)

Part I: The Christian Mission to the Jewish World (Acts 2:42–12:24)

Panel 1—The Earliest Days of the Church at Jerusalem (Acts 2:42–6:7)

Summary Statement: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

Panel 2—Critical Events in the Lives of Three Pivotal Figures (Acts 6:8–9:31)

Summary Statement: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31).

Panel 3—Advances of the Gospel in Palestine-Syria (Acts 9:32–12:24)

Summary Statement: “But the word of God continued to increase and spread” (Acts 12:24).

Part II: The Christian Mission to the Gentile World (Acts 12:25–28:31)

Panel 4—The First Missionary Journey and the Jerusalem Council (Acts 12:25–16:5)

Summary Statement: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5).

Panel 5—Wide Outreach Through Two Missionary Journeys (Acts 16:6–19:20)

Summary Statement: “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts 19:20).

Panel 6—To Jerusalem and Thence to Rome (Acts 19:21–28:31)

Summary Statement: “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31).

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, pp. 234). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

In outlining the same six panels of Acts, William Barclay provides the following observations:

This plan of Acts answers its most puzzling question—why does it finish where it does? It finishes with Paul in prison awaiting judgment. We would so much have liked to know what happened to him; and the end remains a mystery. But Luke stopped there because he had achieved his purpose; he had shown how Christianity began in Jerusalem and swept across the world until it reached Rome.

Barclay, W. (2003). The Acts of the Apostles (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., pp. 5–6). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Rome was the center and gateway to “the furthest reaches of the world” in the first century.  By concluding the Acts of the Apostles with Paul being held in Roman confinement, Luke implicitly asserts that the Church is responsible for carrying the witness of God’s word into “all the world”.  This provides in part Luke’s answer regarding the “meaning and implications of the death and resurrection of Christ for the Church”.

GENRE

The Acts of the Apostles contains many different forms of genre, each having their own unique demands for interpretation that require close attention:

The book of Acts is in the style of the gospels, a book that primarily narrates events, although teaching is recorded in it as well. On the other hand, the subject is the life and growth of the earliest church, which links it more closely with the letters rather than the gospels. Its location in modern bibles between the gospels and letters is therefore appropriate.

Gempf, C. (1994). Acts. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1066). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

There is certainly a biographical interest in Luke’s Gospel, and to a certain extent this has been carried over into Acts in the treatment of Peter and Paul.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 42). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The use of formal speeches, of voyages, and the episodic style all link Acts with the Hellenistic historical monograph.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 42). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Greek literature, however, was not the only influence on the form of Acts. The Old Testament seems to have had an even more profound impact. Not only does Acts quote the Old Testament extensively, but the form of much of the Acts narrative is based on Old Testament precedents, like the call of the prophets and the divine commissioning narratives. The overall perspective of the book is not that of the Hellenistic histories with their concepts of fate and destiny but the biblical view that all of history is ultimately under the direction of a sovereign God.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 42). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

A final form that likely influenced Luke in his conception of Acts was the Gospel form itself. The parallels between the life of Jesus as pictured in Luke’s Gospel and the careers of Peter and Paul in Acts have often been noted. Sometimes they are quite striking—parallel miracles, parallel defenses, parallel sufferings. In some sense Luke saw a continuation of the story of Jesus in the lives of the apostles. What Jesus began to do and teach is continued by his faithful witnesses (Acts 1:1). For Luke the Gospel and Acts represent two stages of the same story.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 42–43). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Another type of material found throughout Acts is the travel narrative. Jesus is often depicted as traveling in the Gospels, but the travelogues are of a different nature in Acts with their extensive notes of cities visited, stopping places, and locations sighted from a ship. On the surface many of these “travel notes” seem almost superfluous, adding no content to the story… The notes, however, play their role in the story of Acts. For one, they are quite accurate and give a certain stamp of reliability… Many of the travel notes are a form of summary depicting how the gospel first reached a new area… The constant note of travel enhances the impression of movement as the Christian mission reached out in ever-widening circles.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 47). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The diverse range of genre employed in Acts includes the following forms: narrative, gospel narrative, biographical, speeches, voyages, stories/episodes, historical monograph, divine-commissioning narratives, and testimonials.  Each exerting influence on how Acts carries Luke’s message to his readers.

Literary Devices & Linguistic Style

The literary devices and linguistic styles that Luke uses to write Acts will determine the hermeneutic one uses to interpret and apply the message of Acts in today’s setting:

The device of a literary preface with a formal dedication is without precedent in biblical literature; it is a formality of Greek literature.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 42). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The book of Acts is distinct in employing the literary device of a preface and a formal dedication.  This challenges the Bible student when understanding the proper use of Luke’s preface and dedication in Acts since there are no other Biblical parallels to draw from.

Luke has been described as “the most Greek of the New Testament writers.”  Certainly the vocabulary of Luke-Acts would indicate his proficiency in the language. His vocabulary is the largest of any New Testament writer and one that exceeds some secular Greek writings, such as those of Xenophon.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 43). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

He wrote in good Hellenistic Greek and often employed constructions from the classical writers, those “Atticisms” so prized by first-century writers, like an occasional use of the optative mode, of the future infinitive, and of the future participle. He used Greek figures of speech, having an especial love for litotes. Still his language is not that of the neoclassicists, but it is instead good literary koine Greek.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 43). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Atticism (ˈætɪˌsɪzǝm) n 1 the idiom or character of the Attic dialect of Ancient Greek, esp in the Hellenistic period 2 an elegant, simple, and clear expression > ˈAtticist n (2006).

Collins English dictionary. (8th ed., Complete & unabridged ed.). Glasgow: HarperCollins.

optative — The mood used by the writer to portray an action as possible, or to express a wish or desire. Heiser, M. S., & Setterholm, V. M. (2013; 2013).

Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Lexham Press.

infinitive — A word that has characteristics of both a verb and a noun; that is, a “verbal noun” (cf. “to swim”). The Greek infinitive is a verbal form that has no person and number, and though it functions like a noun it has no gender or case. It is therefore “indeclinable.”

Heiser, M. S., & Setterholm, V. M. (2013; 2013). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Lexham Press.

The Acts of the Apostle will challenge Greek students because the form and vocabulary are so advance, though they still properly fall within “koinine Greek” (i.e. “common Greek”).  Bible students will need considerable aid in exegeting Acts.

We must also note Luke’s overwhelming dependence on the Old Testament for literary style and device:

Luke’s writings are steeped in the language of the Old Testament. A full 90 percent of his vocabulary is found also in the Septuagint. There are, in addition, a number of Semiticisms not found in the Greek Old Testament. N. Turner suggests that these may be “Jewish Greek,” expressions that would have been common in the Jewish Diaspora. Most frequent in the infancy narratives of Luke 1–2 and in the “Jewish” portions of Acts, chaps. 1–15, these probably indicate Luke’s skill as a writer. Throughout Acts there is a verisimilitude in the narrative. Jews speak with a Jewish accent, Athenian philosophers speak in Atticisms, and Roman officials speak and write in the customary legal style. Luke showed not only a familiarity with such linguistic idiosyncrasies but also the ability to depict them through his style of writing.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 43). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The [OT] quotations are often presented with the formula “the Scripture had to be fulfilled” (cf. 1:16). These Old Testament quotations occur at almost every juncture of the church’s life. They establish the necessity for replacing Judas (1:16–21), provide the basis for the miracle at Pentecost (2:16–21), and prove the necessity of the death (2:25–28) and resurrection of Jesus (2:34–35). Scripture establishes the Gentile witness (13:47) and the Gentile inclusion in the people of God (15:16–18). The examples could be multiplied.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 63). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The Bible student will benefit from surveying Old Testament commentaries concerning the relevant Old Testament quotes to help understand the literary devices and styles that Luke takes for granted in writing the Acts of the Apostles. Likewise, Luke’s heavy use of the Old Testament draws the reader’s attention to Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa when Paul asserted that he was “saying nothing other than what the prophets and Moses said would take place” (Acts 26:22).

Literary Structures

The genres, literary devices, and literary styles used in Acts create important literary structures that carry Luke’s message to the reader:

One of the most characteristic features of Acts is the presence of many speeches interspersed throughout the narrative. Altogether these comprise nearly a third of the text of Acts, about 300 of its approximately 1,000 verses. In all there are twenty-four of these—eight coming from Peter, nine from Paul, and seven from various others.

Of the twenty-four, ten can be described as “major” addresses: three “missionary” sermons of Peter (chaps. 2; 3; 10); a trilogy of speeches from Paul in the course of his mission (chaps. 13; 17; 20), three “defense speeches” of Paul (chaps. 22; 24; 26), and Stephen’s address before the Sanhedrin (chap. 7).

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 43–44). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The trilogy of Pauline mission speeches is particularly striking, with one major address for each phase of the mission, each addressed to a different group. On the first journey Paul addressed the Jews in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch (chap. 13). On the second he addressed the pagans in his famous Areopagus speech (chap. 20). On the third he spoke to the Christian leaders of the Ephesian congregation in the address at Miletus (chap. 20). Luke presented a balanced variety of speeches with regard to both occasion and listeners.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 44). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

…for Acts [Luke] presented their teachings in the form of extended discourses or speeches. This speech form links him with the convention of Greek historiographers, who often depicted their characters making major addresses at crucial junctures, such as the eve of a battle.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 44). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Luke uses “speeches” and “stories/episodes” as anchors for the text that create flow, emphasize themes, and illustrate the overall progression of Acts.

One important observation that will impact how we understand these “speeches” and “episodes” is presented in the following commentary:

It would be hard to deny that Luke provided the speech material in his own words. Even for the longest of them, the Acts speeches are quite short, taking only a few minutes to read aloud. This is one of the ways they differ from those of the Greek historiographers. The latter are generally quite long, many times longer than the speech of Stephen, the longest speech in Acts. The speeches in Acts are a summary, an example of the things said, not a full report of the address. For example, Peter’s speech in the temple square evidently began around three in the afternoon (3:1) and lasted until sundown (4:3); but Luke provided only a seventeen-verse précis of the sermon.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 45). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

This illustrates how much importance Luke places on the “understood message” of the speeches he records rather than attempting merely to record the exact words themselves.

The literary structures that Luke uses in Acts help the Bible student find important parallel texts throughout the Bible:

One form Acts has in common with the Gospels is that of the miracle story. In Acts the apostles continued the work of Jesus in performing the same kinds of miracles—healings of the lame, exorcisms, raising the dead. A major difference was that Jesus healed by his own authority; the apostles healed through the power of the Spirit “in the name of Jesus.”

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 47). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Another important observation that one should make regarding the literary structure of Acts is the consistency with which Luke uses the miracle-stories in Acts:

On the positive side the miracles in Acts are always shown serving God’s word. Whether it be the tongues of Pentecost or the healing of a lame man in the temple compound, the miracle prepares the way for the preaching of the word and the “greater miracle” of commitment to Christ.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 47). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

When considering Luke as a theologian, this consistency must be clearly noted: miracles served the word of God.  This draws a consistent link between the miracle accounts of Acts and theological texts like Hebrews 2:1-4.

Another type of material found throughout Acts is the travel narrative. Jesus is often depicted as traveling in the Gospels, but the travelogues are of a different nature in Acts with their extensive notes of cities visited, stopping places, and locations sighted from a ship. On the surface many of these “travel notes” seem almost superfluous, adding no content to the story. This is particularly true of those found in the account of Paul’s mission. The notes, however, play their role in the story of Acts. For one, they are quite accurate and give a certain stamp of reliability, as from one who was actually a participant in the events being related. Second, they picture movement and progress. Many of the travel notes are a form of summary depicting how the gospel first reached a new area, whether it be Azotus and Caesarea (8:40), or the cities such as Lydda (9:32) or Joppa (9:36) on the Plain of Sharon (9:32), or the cities of the Phoenician coast (11:19). The constant note of travel enhances the impression of movement as the Christian mission reached out in ever-widening circles.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 47). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Understanding how Luke employs the various travelogues further emphasizes the purpose of the “witness” and “mission” of the Church to spread the gospel into “all the world”, and helps the Bible student see greater purpose in the text so often skipped in most readings of Acts.

Likewise, “stories” form an important literary structure that shape the Acts narrative:

A third type of material found throughout Acts is the edifying story. Much of the text consists of short episodes. In fact, a great deal of the account of the progress of the Christian witness is told by means of stories. Chapter 19 might serve as an example. We are told that Paul’s ministry in Ephesus lasted for three years (20:31), and yet only the briefest account is given of Paul’s actual witness in the synagogue and lecture hall (19:8–10). The major portion of the chapter is devoted to a series of episodes, individual encounters with some disciples of John the Baptist (vv. 1–7), some itinerant Jewish exorcists (vv. 13–16), those who had practiced magical arts (vv. 17–19), and the shrine-makers’ guild of Ephesus (vv. 23–41).

One might ask what sort of account this is of a major three-year mission. The answer is that it is a rather full account. Luke chose to illustrate the success of Paul’s mission through these episodes. There are first disciples of John the Baptist—those with an incomplete and inadequate understanding of Christ. Paul led them to a full commitment. Then there were the charlatans and the magical papyri—the marks of pagan superstition. The charlatans were exposed, and the charm books were burned. And finally even those with economic interests in town were thwarted in their effort to overturn Paul’s witness.

Luke has taught us quite a bit about Paul’s work in Ephesus and about Christian witness in general—in its encounter with inadequate understanding, fraudulence, popular religion, and powerful forces in society. The theme in all instances is that truth prevails, and the gospel triumphs; Paul only had to remain true to his witness. Throughout Acts, Luke used this episodic style to portray the dynamic of the Christian witness. He conveyed the inner force of the Christian mission through the medium of these stories. Acts does not chronicle mere events; it is “narrative theology” at its best.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 47–48). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The final literary structure that impacts how the message of Acts is carried to its readers are the summary texts:

A final form that characterizes Acts is the summary. Sometimes these summaries are quite brief and point only to the growth of the Christian community (cf. 6:7; 9:31; 12:24). Others point to the inner life of the community—its prayer life (1:14), the hallmarks of its fellowship (2:42–47), its community of sharing (4:32–35), and the healing ministry of the apostles (5:12–16). In form these might be described as the antitheses of the episodes. The episodes teach by means of specific incidents. The summaries generalize, giving a broad impression of the main characteristics of the Christian community. The long summaries are the three found in chaps. 2; 4; 5. They thus belong to the first days of Christianity after the burst of the Spirit at Pentecost. They portray a community marked by mutual prayer and devotion, a total sharing of selves and substance, complete trust in one another, a passion for witness, a sense of the Spirit’s power among them, and a unity of commitment and purpose. They portray an ideal Christian community—the “roots” of the fellowship.90 These summaries are some of the most valuable material Luke provided in his story of the early church.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 48–49). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

THEOLOGICAL THEMES

Another way to understand the Acts of the Apostles is to pay attention to its theological themes:

Taking Luke-Acts together, [Conzelmann] saw Luke as dividing holy history into three distinct epochs—that of Israel (the old people of God), that of Christ (the center of all history), and that of the church (the new people of God). He maintained that Luke wrote in a time when the original eschatological expectation of the imminent return of Christ had waned, when Christians were settling down to a long wait and needed to come to terms with their existence in the world. Appealing to Acts 1:6–8, Conzelmann saw Luke as replacing the original eschatological fervor with the agenda of the mission of the church.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 52). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

While Conzelmann’s view has been overplayed, it is possible to learn from Conzelmann’s conclusions and include them in an eschatological-centric hermeneutic in order to draw the conclusion that Acts speaks to Christians who are “living in the world, awaiting the return of Christ”.

Bible students must be careful not to treat Acts strictly as a theological work, but rather, as a theological narrative that illustrates core Christian theologies:

To speak of a “theology” in Acts in any systematic sense probably would not be proper. If one assumes that Luke’s speeches reflect their actual settings, one would expect a certain theological diversity. This does seem to be the case—the primitive Christology in Peter’s speeches to Jews, the “natural theology” in Paul’s addresses to pagans, the cultic-reform element in Stephen’s speech.

Two observations with regard to treatments of the theology of Acts are noteworthy. First, it might be well to drop the hyphen in Luke-Acts and concentrate on each of Luke’s two writings separately in dealing with Luke’s theology, as M. Parsons has suggested. A common procedure has been to run an analysis of the theological themes in the Gospel of Luke and then search for confirmation of these in Acts. The result has often been a lopsided picture that omits many of the major emphases in Acts. Acts has a different historical setting from Luke and utilizes different literary genres. It should stand on its own. The second observation relates closely to the first: a theology of Acts should derive primarily from its narrative movement. Acts is basically narrative, and its “theology” is to be found primarily there. What are the recurrent themes in the episodes? What motifs dominate in the movement of the story line? This is where the “theology” of Acts really lies. It is a “narrative theology.”

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 54). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

A few theological distinctives in the more traditional sense, however, have often been observed in Acts and should be considered. The Christology of Acts might best be described as a “messianic Christology.” Most of the Christological statements occur in the speeches to Jews where the emphasis is on convincing them from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Closely tied to this is the emphasis on the resurrection. Throughout Acts the decisive act of Christ is described in terms of his resurrection. The resurrection is the event that demonstrates Christ is Messiah. The messianic emphasis likely explains why atonement is not a major emphasis in Acts. By the resurrection God confirmed the messianic status of Jesus. Less emphasis falls on the death of Jesus. The atonement is present to a limited extent in Acts—in Paul’s reference to Christ’s death according to the Scriptures (13:27–29) and in his description of the church as being “purchased through his own blood” (20:28). It is probably implicit in the “servant” terminology of Peter’s sermon in the temple square as well as in the strong stress on repentance found throughout Acts (cf. 2:38; 26:20).

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 54–55). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Generally healings are performed “in the name of Jesus.” The name of Jesus, however, represents his presence and his power, and the presence of Jesus is experienced in the church through the Spirit. The Spirit is the abiding presence of Jesus; the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus (cf. “Holy Spirit” and “Spirit of Jesus” in 16:6–7).

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 64). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

The Acts of the Apostles: 1:1-2:13

The opening of Acts from his greeting to Theophilus to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost focus on laying the foundations for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church that would continue everything that Jesus began to do and teach during his earthly ministry.

Great emphasis in the first chapter is placed on the apostolic ministry:

Luke almost always reserves the term apostles for the Twelve, and that is probably the use here, perhaps reflected in the speech of the angels to what appears to be the same group of people in 1:11.

Gempf, C. (1994). Acts. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1069). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

The primary thrust of the first two chapters, however, is on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost:

The first two chapters of Acts revolve around the miracle of Pentecost. Everything in chap. 1 is related to that event. The risen Jesus instructed the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit (1:4–5). Immediately prior to his ascension, he commissioned them for a worldwide mission and promised that they would be empowered for this by the Holy Spirit (1:8). Following the ascension, the apostles returned to Jerusalem to the upper room and engaged in fervent prayer, awaiting the promised Spirit (1:12–14). But it was necessary that the apostolic circle of witnesses be complete so that all might experience the gift of the Spirit, and Matthias was chosen to replace Judas (1:15–26). Then the Spirit came with great power (2:1–5). The Spirit-filled apostles began to witness to a large crowd, which represented “every nation under heaven”; and all in the crowd heard this in their own native languages (2:6–13).

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 77–78). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

There are few details that may be surmised about Theophilus as the recipient of the text:

In Luke’s Gospel he is also named and is described as “most excellent” (1:3). This designation suggests that he was a person of some status.

Gaertner, D. (1995). Acts (Ac 1:1–3). Joplin, MO: College Press.

The uniqueness of Luke’s prologue and the structure of his two works deserves special attention:

Of all the New Testament writers, only Luke used the form of a literary prologue.1 Such prologues were a convention with the writers of his day, and the use of them suggests that Luke saw himself as a producer of literature for the learned public.2 Acts begins with a “secondary prologue,” a device used for introducing new segments to works consisting of more than one book. Luke’s, of course, was a two-volume work; and Luke 1:1–4 is the “primary preface” for his entire work, including Acts.3 In Hellenistic literature a secondary preface usually consisted of a brief summary of the prior volume followed by a short introduction to the matter to be covered in the new volume. The preface of Acts gives a summary of the Third Gospel: “All that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up.” There is, however, no introduction to the content of the new volume.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 78–79). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Luke referred to his Gospel as his “former book.” The Greek text reads literally “first” book, but the NIV translators were surely correct in translating “former.” In classical Greek the word “first” was used only in series that consisted of more than two, the word “former” being used for series of two.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 79). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The structural parallelism between Luke’s Gospel and his Acts is immediately seen in the comparative size of the two books and the time spans they cover. Each would have filled an almost equal-sized papyrus roll; each covers approximately thirty-three years

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 252). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

The parallelism is also evident in the plan and purpose of the opening chapters of each book. Luke 1:5–2:52 (after the Prologue of Luke 1:1–4) is essentially a preparation for Luke 3:1–4:13, and together these two sections constitute material introductory to the narrative of Jesus’ ministry that begins with the pericope of Luke 4:14–30. So, too, Acts 1:6–26 (after its Preface of Acts 1:1–5) serves to prepare for Acts 2:1–41, and together these two chapters comprise an introduction to the ministry of the church that commences with the thesis paragraph Acts 2:42–47 and continues by means of a series of illustrative vignettes beginning at Acts 3:1.

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 252). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

The setting of Acts picks up directly from Luke’s Gospel:

Events recorded in the Gospel of Luke lead up to the day Jesus was “taken up to heaven.” Fittingly enough, the Third Gospel ends where the Book of Acts begins—the ascension of Jesus. The disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven, but only after he appeared to them over a span of forty days.

Gaertner, D. (1995). Acts (Ac 1:1–3). Joplin, MO: College Press.

He describes his Gospel as “the former book” because he sees in Acts the second volume of his work. Any document which covered more than one roll of papyrus might be referred to as a “book.”

Gaertner, D. (1995). Acts (Ac 1:1–3). Joplin, MO: College Press.

The word for “convincing proofs” (τεκμηρίον, tekmērion) is a term which was used in logic to speak of a demonstration of evidence clinching the case. The sight of the risen Lord and their experiences with him were all the evidence needed to conclude that Jesus was alive again.

Gaertner, D. (1995). Acts (Ac 1:1–3). Joplin, MO: College Press.

THERE were three great Jewish festivals to which every male Jew living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to come—the Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost means ‘the Fiftieth’, and another name for Pentecost was ‘the Feast of Weeks’. It was so called because it fell on the fiftieth day, a week of weeks, after the Passover. The Passover was celebrated in the middle of April; therefore Pentecost fell at the beginning of June. By that time, travelling conditions were at their best. At least as many came to the Feast of Pentecost as came to the Passover. That explains the list of countries mentioned in this chapter; never was there a more international crowd in Jerusalem than at the time of Pentecost.

Barclay, W. (2003). The Acts of the Apostles (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., pp. 22–23). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Luke will weave together many complex themes to cast our divine vision for the great message of the Church:

We have seen that the great message of the church is, as Luke puts it here at the very beginning of Acts, a message about the Lord Jesus Christ. This is Christianity: “all that Jesus began both to do and teach”—what He is doing and what He is yet going to do. So now we continue from there because we see that our Lord addressed these men, these apostles of His, and gave them a commission. So we come, in this second chapter, to the origin of the Christian church. This is what throws light on the nature of the church, what she has been commissioned to do and how she does it. And here it is emphasized that the whole thing is the action of God.

Lloyd-Jones, M. (2000). The God Who Acts. In Authentic Christianity (1st U.S. ed., Vol. 1, p. 20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

These opening texts illustrate the great mandate of the Church:

Verse 8: Here the mandate to witness that stands as the theme for the whole of Acts is explicitly set out. It comes as a direct commission from Jesus himself—in fact, as Jesus’ last word before his ascension and, therefore, as one that is final and conclusive. All that follows in Acts is shown to be the result of Jesus’ own intent and the fulfillment of his express word.

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 256). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Understanding the value of the ascension in the Acts narrative is vital to understanding the life and mission of the Church:

The Ascension (1:9–11) Luke next speaks of the second constitutive factor of the Christian mission, the church’s ascended Lord. The Greek of v. 2 includes this as a fourth element in its logical listing of constitutive factors, but here Luke is proceeding more chronologically. So he speaks of the Ascension before mentioning the full complement of apostles and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Ascension, of course, has been referred to in Luke 24:50–51 and Acts 1:2, and many have questioned the appropriateness of three references to it. But each occurrence has its own purpose in Luke’s writing.

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, pp. 257–258). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Luke’s point is that the missionary activity of the early church rested not only on Jesus’ mandate but also on his living presence in heaven and the sure promise of his return.

Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 258). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Several important concluding observations should be made regarding these opening texts:

True Christianity is always the activity of God. “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind”—God. So, bright services and an entertaining and varied program is not Christianity either. It is livelier, but the life is not the life of the Spirit. Anything controlled by us, whether lifeless or lively, is not Christianity. Christianity is that which controls us, which masters us, which happens to us.

Lloyd-Jones, M. (2000). The God Who Acts. In Authentic Christianity (1st U.S. ed., Vol. 1, p. 22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

In one sense, it is the whole lesson of Acts that the life of Jesus goes on in his Church. The book of Acts tells of the Church that carries on the life of Christ.

Barclay, W. (2003). The Acts of the Apostles (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., p. 10-11). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

The world was turned upside-down not because of what they did, but because of what God did to them, in them, and by means of them. And that is the essential message concerning the Christian church—her meaning, her function, her message, her purpose.

Lloyd-Jones, M. (2000). The God Who Acts. In Authentic Christianity (1st U.S. ed., Vol. 1, p. 20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

2 Replies to “The Acts of the Apostles: Notes”

  1. Nice exposition on Luke’s writing. I agree with you that Luke-Acts needs to be read together as both an historical writing and a theological one. The two go together. I’m reading through this in church, waiting for worship to begin. Will read rest of it when I get home. Thank you for posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you brother! May the Spirit of God bring joy to your heart over our beloved Savior as your worship God with praise and thanksgiving!

      PS – These are just my personal study notes from my preparation this week for today’s sermon. I posted my actual exposition in a separate post. I don’t usually post my personal study notes, but there was just so much good content in my notes that I just wanted to post it here for those who might be interested in digging deeper. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, I wasn’t even able to cover 1% of these notes.

      Liked by 1 person

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