Overview of this Weeks Reading Week of November 22-30 Acts 1-13
Acts Overview –The book of Acts is structured around Acts 1:8 as the church moves the Gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and then to Rome and the world. Summary statements referring to the progress of the Gospel are made through the book (6:7, 9:32, 12:24, 15:5 and 19:20). Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit and by the power of the Spirit the church continues the ministry of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is responsible for every major turning point in the book of Acts. I’ve provided an extensive overview of the book of Acts. Select what you find most pertinent for your study.
Title – Originally no title was attached to the book. The name Acts of the Apostles (or Acts of Apostolic Men in the literal Greek) was probably given it in the second century A.D. The Gospel of Luke and The Acts are two volumes of a single work. Acts speaks of actions or deeds, because it is a book full of action. The longer title of Acts of the Apostles likely comes from the predominance of apostles in the book, particularly Peter and Paul. Yet, the book does not describe the authority of an elite group of leaders, but the work of the Holy Spirit through the lives of common believers. It has rightly been suggested a better and enlarged title for the book would be “The Acts of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit In and Through the Church.”
Author – Neither the book of Luke nor the book of Acts identify their author, yet most authorities agree Luke was the author of both. Extant ancient witnesses, dating as early as A.D. 170, are practically unanimous in identifying Luke. here is significant internal evidence to suggest Lucan authorship. First, both books are addressed to Theophilus, and Acts mentions a “first account,” which obviously was the third gospel. Second, there are three “we” sections, where the narrative is written in the first person plural (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16). Church tradition falls in line in identifying Luke as Paul’s fellow traveler. Third, the writings of Luke have similar style and language, as well as a natural flow between each other.
Date – Luke probably wrote Acts while in Rome, toward the end of Paul’s two-year imprisonment in A.D. 61-63. It couldn’t have been earlier, due to the record of Paul’s imprisonment (Acts 28:30), which is dated around A.D. 59-61. The book was probably not written at a later time because the Jewish wars (A.D. 66-70), the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) and Nero’s great persecution of Christians (A.D. 64) are not even alluded to. The book spans approximately a 31-year period.
Source – The gospel of Luke begins by saying, “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:1-4). In these verses we learn, that in his two works, Luke compiled significant research in preparing his writing of the accounts. He could be seen as a First Century investigative report. By the three “we” sections, it is evident he witnessed portions of the events himself. Luke’s main source must have been Paul, who was able to supply events of his conversion, missionary journeys and early church history. His remaining sources probably included prominent characters throughout his account (Peter, John, James, Mark, Mnason, Paul, Philip and Barnabas). Since Luke was in Palestine during Paul’s Caesarean imprisonment (21:18: 27:1), he had the opportunity to gather information from these eyewitness, including Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Purpose – Luke wrote his gospel to Theophilus “that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:1-4). Acts provides a follow-up to the Gospels. It is a look at the post-resurrection ministry of Jesus, through the key figures of the early church. In the strictest sense, Acts is not a history of the early church. There are many events of the first thirty years of Christendom that are excluded. His is primarily telling the story of the movement of the church from its origins in Jerusalem to the heart of the Roman Empire.
The Acts gives the Roman world a clear understanding of the origins of Christianity. It tells of the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews and the reception of the gospel by the Gentiles. In so doing, it demonstrates the definite distinction between “The Way” and Judaism. Acts provides evidence for the apostleship of Paul, Peter, James and John, allowing their writings greater acceptance. Because it vindicates Christianity and the New Testament writers, Acts is a pivotal book in the New Testament.
The primary purpose of the book as all scripture is described in 2 Tim 3:16-17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The book of Acts gives us great instruction on how a passionate follower of Jesus Christ is to live.
Acts and the New Testament – The gospels and the epistles are joined together by Acts. It stands as a sequel to the gospels and gives background, as well as attestation to the writings of the apostles. In chronicling the first 31 years of the church, it gives testimony to the living out of the New Testament scripture. Both the gospel and the apostolic writers give great attention to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Acts details the actual experiential working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fifty-one times the Spirit is mentioned or referred to.
Survey – In the book of Acts the key verse, key word and basic outline are found in the same passage. The key verse is 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.” The key word is witness, which appears in various forms about twenty times. The basic outline is the witness in Jerusalem (1:1-8:3); the witness in Judea and Samaria (8:4-12:25) and the witness to the end of the earth (12:25-28:31).
Chapters 1-7 emphasize the ministry of Peter, with all of the action transpiring in Jerusalem. Stephen’s testimony to the Sanhedrin and his ensuing martyred end this section. Chapters 8-12 show the progression of the church from a sect within Judaism, to a movement which would sweep across the known world within three decades. In chapter 9 the conversion of Saul occurs, transforming him from the great persecutor of the church (Saul) to the great apostle of the church (who became Paul). This event is so significant it is detailed on three occasions in the book of Acts (9:1-31; 22:6-16; 26:12-18).
Chapters 13-28 emphasis the ministry of Saul. During a ten year period (A.D. 47-56), Paul lead three critical missionary journeys. All three evangelistic crusades begin from the headquarters of Antioch in Syria. The first trip takes him to the Island of Cyprus (Salamis and Paphos), through the region of Galatia (Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lysra, and Derbe) and back through that area (Lystra, Iconium and Antioch) to Perga and Attalia, and then home to Antioch of Syria. The second journey he travels to Asia Minor (Syria and Cilicia), Galatia (Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch of Pisidia), Troas, Macedonia (Neapolis, Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea), Achaia (Athens and Corinth) and then back through Ephesus and on to Jerusalem, eventually returning to Antioch. On Paul’s third missions crusade he once again goes to Galatia and Phrygia, then on to Ephesus, back to Macedonia and then to Greece, Troas and finally to Jerusalem, where he is arrested and imprisoned. (These are general itineraries and do not cover every city Paul traveled to).
As a prisoner Paul often appeared for examination. During these examinations he was able to give powerful witness to the Lord Jesus. In Jerusalem before the mob (22:1-21) and the council of the Sanhedrin (23:1-6). In Caesarea before governors (24:10-21; 25:8-11) and before a king (26:2-29). In Rome to the Jews and those who came to visit him (28:17-31). The book of Acts concludes with these words, “Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” (Acts 28:30-31).
Acts 1-13 – The book of Acts picks up where Luke left off. Acts 1:8 is the key verse of the book that summarizes what is coming in the rest of the book. In chapter one Divine Order is achieved as a new twelfth apostle – symbolizing a new twelve that symbolize a new Israel of God (not displacing Israel but becoming a new community). As John the Baptist foretold (Luke 3:16), in Acts 2 Jesus baptizes his followers in the Holy Spirit, to empower them to carry out His mission. It is a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Acts 2:42-47 portrays the church as God’s New Community in the Spirit. In Acts 3 the apostle continue the ministry of Jesus healing the sick and in Acts 4 are unmoved by the threats of the kingdoms of this world. God is doing a unique and powerful work in His new community and God deals with the infiltration of sin harshly (Acts 5). Following the judgment of Ananias and Sapphire, people no longer joined the church flippantly but the true church grew even more rapidly (5:13-14). Chapter 6 reveals the potential for division between the Greek-speaking (Hellenistic) Jews and the Aramaic speaking (Jerusalem) Jews. The church wisely handled the matter by putting the disgruntled Hellenistic minority in charge of the food distribution to widows. After delegating these responsibilities, the apostles are able to fully give themselves to prayer and the Scripture and through it the church has another season of extraordinary growth. In chapter 7, a Hellenistic Jew, Stephen, becomes the first martyr of the church. In chapter 8 the Gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Samaria through the ministry of a Hellenistic Jew, Philip the evangelist, who had served as a deacon in the Jerusalem church. Chapter 9 is a pivotal moment in the history of the church, as Saul of Tarsus (the persecutor of the church) is radically converted on the road to Damascus. He will become God’s spearhead for moving the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Acts 9:31 provides another summary statement of the progress of the church and the chapter ends with God still doing mighty works through His followers, with Peter being the focus. In chapter 10, for the first time the Gospel is being delivered to the Gentiles. It comes not through a Hellenist but through the reluctant Apostle Peter, who is compelled by the powerful, sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. The story is so critical to the future of the church, it is retold in chapter 11. In chapter 13, the center of Gospel ministry shifts from Jerusalem to the church in Antioch. The Antioch church is a multi-cultural church that, by the leadership of the Holy Spirit, becomes the first church to intentionally send out missionaries. In chapter 13, Saul’s name is changed to Paul (signifying his calling to the Gentiles) and he becomes the leader of the mission effort (his name is now listed first).