Introduction to the Book of Acts Week 1
In these next few lessons, we’re going to be diving into some background material for Acts.
While it may be tempting to skip ahead and dive right in to studying the passages in Acts, I think you’ll find this introductory material quite interesting and (more importantly) very useful for having a better understanding the Book of Acts.
- Lesson 1 will cover authorship, date, purpose and main themes.
- Lesson 2 will sketch a very high level view of the main divisions and events in Acts. This will orient you to the book as a whole.
Who wrote the book of Acts?
Read the following sets of verses and answer the questions below:
Set #1 – Col 4:14, Philemon 24, 2 Tim 4:11.
Set #2 – Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-3
Set #3 – Read Acts 16:10; 20:6; 28:13.
Questions to reflect on the passage
- What do the first set of verses reveal about Luke who is mentioned there?
- What do the second set of verses reveal about the author of Acts?
- What do the third set of verses reveal about the author of Acts?
Comments on Authorship
Tradition holds that Luke, the physician and Paul’s co-worker wrote the Book of Acts (as well as the gospel that bears his name).
This would imply that Luke was an eyewitness to some of the events in Acts (for example when he switches to first person narrative “We sailed…(20:6)).
Many commentators argue that Luke did not write Acts based on certain elements:
- Luke never quotes any of Paul’s letters in his book. There are many places in Acts where a quote from Paul would have bolstered his arguments.
- The Paul of Acts is someone who obeys the law even to the point of submitting to a Nazarite vow (Acts 21) and does not critique the law. This is in contrast to the Paul of Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians who no longer sees the law as necessary.
- Paul’s preaching to pagan Gentiles is accommodating to their lack of understanding (Acts 14 and 17), whereas in Romans 1, Paul’s tone toward Gentile unbelievers is quite harsh.
There may in fact be many good literary reasons for why the author of Acts did not quote Paul. Furthermore, as to the differences in Paul’s thought in Acts, the apostle demonstrated many times that he was willing to change his message to meet the context of his audience.
In the absence of overwhelming evidence, we will refer to author of Acts as Luke, Paul’s companion.
Date of Acts
The dating of Acts is largely determined by the author. If Luke, Paul’s companion wrote the book, then we are looking at a fairly early date around 65 AD.
The consensus of scholars puts the date of Acts between 65-80 AD.
Purpose of Acts
Read Luke 1:1-4.
Some argue that this prologue extends through the two volume set Luke-Acts.
- If we accept the above premise, what does this prologue tell us about the purpose of Acts?
The following have been suggested as purposes for Acts as well.
- Luke wanted to demonstrate how God fulfilled his promise to incorporate the Gentiles into a Spirit-filled community through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- Luke desired to tell the story of how the church extended from Jerusalem to the rest of the Mediterranean world.
- Luke wanted to encourage believers who were experiencing political and religious persecution.
Questions to reflect upon the text
- How do you see each of these purposes portrayed in the Book of Acts?
- Can you think of another purpose for Acts based on your knowledge of the book?
Main Themes in Acts
Read the following passages in Acts. Each set represents a main theme in Acts:
- 1:8; 8:5;
- 15:7; 28:28
- 2:4; 13:2; 16:6, 7
- 8:1; 14:19
Questions to reflect on the passage
- Given the above passages, what would you guess are some of the main themes of the Book of Acts
A careful reading of the Book of Acts reveals the following themes:
- The Holy Spirit is the initiator, guide and agent of God’s mission to spread the gospel. He empowers his servants for ministry and affirms the work by signs and wonders.
- The people of God are no longer determined by race, ethnicity, religion, the keeping of the law or geography but by faith in Jesus Christ.
- No amount of persecution (social, religious or political) can stop the spread of the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Questions to reflect on your life
- How might you appropriate each of these themes in your life today?
- What is the role of the Holy Spirit in your life today? Are you in need of a new understanding or a fresh theology of the Holy Spirit in your life?
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