What is the…
Acts of the Apostles

This is the title now given to the Biblical book about early church history. The author of “Acts” calls it a “treatise” (1:1). In the early days, it was called “The Acts,” “The Gospel of the Holy Ghost,” and “The Gospel of the Resurrection.”

It contains no account of any of the apostles except Peter and Paul. John is noticed only three times; and all that is recorded of James, the son of Zebedee, is his execution by Herod. Therefore, the title “Acts of the Apostles” is not entirely accurate and is a title which was given to the book at a later date. It would be more accurate to call it “Some Acts of Certain Apostles.”

AUTHORSHIP—Concerning the authorship of Acts, it was certainly the work of Luke, the “beloved physician” (compare Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1). This is the uniform tradition of antiquity, although the writer nowhere makes mention of himself by name. The style and idiom of the Gospel of Luke and of the Acts, and the usage of words and phrases common to both, strengthen this opinion.

The writer first appears in the narrative in 16:11, and then disappears till Paul’s return to Philippi two years afterwards, when he and Paul left that place together (20:6), and the two seem henceforth to have been constant companions to the end.

He was certainly with Paul at Rome (28; Col. 4:14). Thus he wrote a great portion of that history from personal observation. For what lay beyond his own experience, he had the instruction of Paul. If, as is very probable, 2 Timothy was written during Paul’s second imprisonment at Rome, Luke was with him then as his faithful companion to the last (2 Tim. 4:11). Of his subsequent history we have no certain information.

DESIGN—The design of Luke’s Gospel was to give an exhibition of the character and work of Christ as seen in His history till he was taken up from his disciples into heaven; and of the Acts, as its sequel, to give an illustration of the power and working of the gospel when preached among all nations, “beginning at Jerusalem.”

The opening sentences of the Acts are just an expansion and an explanation of the closing words of the Gospel. In this book we have a continuation of the history of the church after Christ’s ascension. Luke here carries on the history in the same spirit in which he had started it. It is only a book of beginnings, a history of the founding of churches, the initial steps in the formation of the Christian society in the different places visited by the apostles. It records a cycle of “representative events.”

All through the narrative we see the ever-present, all-controlling power of the ever-living Savior. He works all and in all, spreading his truth among men by his Spirit and through his apostles.

TIME PERIOD—The time of the writing of this history may be gathered from the fact that the narrative extends down to the close of the second year of Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome. It could not, therefore, have been written earlier than A.D. 61 or 62, nor later than about the end of A.D. 63. Paul was probably put to death during his second imprisonment, about A.D. 64, or, as some think, 66.

WHERE WRITTEN—The place where the book was written was probably Rome, to which Luke accompanied Paul.

CONTENTS—The key to the contents of the book is in 1:8,

“Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the Earth.”

After referring to what had been recorded in a “former treatise” of the sayings and doings of Jesus Christ before his ascension, the author proceeds to give an account of the circumstances connected with that event, and then records the primary facts in regard to the spread and triumphs of Christianity over the world during a period of about thirty years. The record begins with Pentecost (A.D. 33) and ends with Paul’s first imprisonment (A.D. 63 or 64).

The book may be divided into three parts:

  1. Chapters 1-12, describing the first twelve years of the Christian church. This section has been entitled “From Jerusalem to Antioch.” It contains the history of the planting and extension of the church among the Jews by the ministry of Peter.

  2. Chapters 13-21, Paul’s missionary journeys, giving the history of the extension and planting of the church among the Gentiles.

  3. Chapters 21-28, Paul at Rome, and the events which led to this. Chapters 13-28 have been entitled “From Antioch to Rome.”

There is no mention in Acts of Paul’s writings. This may be due to the fact that the writer confined himself to writing a history of the planting of the church, and not to its training or edification.

The relation, however, between this history and the epistles of Paul brings to light many undesigned coincidences, proving the genuineness and authenticity of both, as was so ably shown by apologist William Paley in his Horae Paulinae, or the Truth of the Scripture History of St Paul (1790).

“No ancient work affords so many tests of veracity; for no other has such numerous points of contact in all directions with contemporary history, politics, and topography, whether Jewish, or Greek, or Roman—John Lightfoot.

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Article Version: February 12, 2019