The book of Acts is the only one of its kind in the New Testament. The book of Acts is the only book in the New Testament that deals with history. Unlike the gospels that address biography, the epistles that give instruction to the church, and Revelation that has a prophetic thrust; Acts is primarily historical. Without Acts, we would be in total darkness concerning the early church (Hiebert 246). There are so many thoughts prevailing in our current culture about what the church should be concerned with and how the church should behave. The book of Acts sheds light on what the church busied herself with in the early days as guided by the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts introduces us to how people became Christians, how the church was governed, the way the disciples responded to persecution, and the serious and sacrificial nature of Christianity.
Author and Purpose
The book of Acts was written by Luke, Paul’s doctor and traveling companion (cf. Col. 4:14). While the book of Acts has come under criticism recently concerning its authorship, as one scholar notes, the voice of church history for the first eight centuries contends for Luke, and no one else, as the author of both the Gospel of Luke and Acts (Plummer 33). One of the strongest internal arguments for Luke authoring the book is the “we” passages found throughout the book (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21; 27:1-28:16. The “we” passages show the author of the book to be a companion of Paul during his missionary endeavors. Wayne Jackson correctly notes, “When one assembles the data from Acts, along with the four letters Paul wrote from Rome during his two-year confinement in that city (Acts 28:30)—namely Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians—the only associate that can be fitted appropriately into the ‘we’ sections is Luke” (4).
The book of Acts is the second part of a two-part volume, with the Gospel of Luke being the first part. The book is addressed to a man named Theophilus (Lk.1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3). Luke is writing this second volume to inform Theophilus of the things that happened to Jesus’ followers after He was taken back to heaven. The purpose of the book of Acts can hardly be boiled down to a singularity, but allow me to suggest a few.
The book of Acts has an apologetic thrust in which the author attempts to show that the Christian movement is not begun by fanciful fisherman, but by the power of God at work among His people (Acts 2:1-4). The book of Acts focuses on the global mission of the church in taking the gospel message to the world (Acts 1:8). Also, Acts is written to show that Christianity is not a politically dangerous movement. In fact, the Christians are persecuted by the Jews throughout the book but often have the Roman authorities agree that Christianity is not treasonable (Acts 18:14-16; 26:30-32).
The book of Acts is sometimes called the Acts of the Apostle since they are the prominent figures throughout the book, but two apostles rise to the surface as key players. Acts 1-11 focuses primarily on the work of the apostle Peter, while Acts 12-28 highlights Paul and his work among the Gentiles. The Holy Spirit is mentioned more than 40 times throughout the book as the work of the Holy Spirit in gifting the disciples with miraculous abilities is emphasized.
There are some common themes that flow throughout the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit is the most popular theme. The Holy Spirit empowers the apostles to preach in various languages on the first Pentecost after the resurrection, as was promised previously by Jesus (Acts 1:4-5; 2:1-4). The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey the gospel (Acts 2:38; 5:32). Certain individuals are described in the book of Acts as either resisting or being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55; 9:17; 13:9).
The theme of evangelism runs throughout the book as well. Following the outline that was given by Jesus, the apostles were to begin in Jerusalem and then go toward Judea, Samaria, and finally throughout the known world with the gospel message (Acts 1:8). Christians found the synagogue as a great place to start a religious conversation as the people there were already interested in the scriptures (cf. Acts 17:2). It has been said that everywhere the Christians went with the gospel in the book of Acts they either started a revival or a riot.
There is a cycle that takes place, especially in Paul’s trips: the gospel is preached, some believe and obey, others are angered and agitated, the Christians are persecuted and forced to flee (Acts 16, 17, 18, 19). Lastly, there is a theme that emerges in Acts to present the church as a unique institution. The church, though having roots in the Old Testament scriptures, is not a Jewish institution, as gentiles are invited to enjoy equal fellowship (Acts 10-11). Nor is the church is not a political group vying for control over the Roman empire (Acts 24-26). The church is a spiritual institution founded by Jesus Christ and continued through the lives of His followers. This theme is taught and preached continuously throughout the book.
- The promise of the Holy Spirit/instructions for evangelism (1:4-8)
- The coming of the Holy SpiritApostles (2:1-4)
- The response that was given to sinners on how to become Christian (2:37-40)
- Continuing in discipleship (2:42-47)
- Prayer in the face of persecution (4:23-31; 12:12)
- Obeying God rather than man (5:29)
- Selecting seven servants (6:1-7)
- The preaching and death of Stephen (7:1-60)
- Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch (8:26-40)
- Conversion of Saul (9:1-19)
- Cornelius—the first gentile convert (10)
- Disciples first called Christians (11:26)
- Missionary Campaigns of Paul (13:1-14:28; 15:36-18:22; 18:23-20:3)
- First European converts (16:11-40)
- Baptism of John’s disciples (19:1-7)
- Paul’s Vow (21:15-26)
- Paul’s Voyage to Rome (27:1-28:15)
So much of what we see in Christendom is contrary to what we find as we study the book of Acts. People in the book of Acts were all taught to become Christians the same way, believing in Jesus, repenting of sin, and being baptized. When someone became a Christian in the book of Acts, he or she did not join a denomination—For there was none to join—they were simply added to the church of the Lord by the Lord (Acts 2:47). The book of Acts should be studied in our times because it too was situated in a period of political unrest and corruption, but the disciples did not waste their time lamenting those things. Instead, they went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4).
The church in the book of Acts was relevant, but it did not use gimmicks to gain attention. Instead, the church showcased its love for the Lord and His message. Even in a time of persecution, the church enjoyed the favor of outsiders (Acts 5:13). Luke wrote a great book that shows us that the Christian movement is based on trustworthy testimony, the blood-stained prophecies of the Old Testament. Further, that the church is man’s only hope before a just and merciful God. Acts is an exciting book that should be read and studied often. It helps us to appreciate how the church began and, if put into practice, will help keep her alive today.
Hiebert, D. An Introduction to the New Testament- Volume One: The Gospels and Acts. The Moody Bible Institute, 1975.
Jackson, W. The Acts of the Apostles from Jerusalem to Rome. Christian Courier Publications, 2005.
Plummer, A. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1901.