This is the title by which one of the Bible books has been called since the second century C.E. It covers primarily the activity of Peter and Paul, rather than that of all the apostles in general; and it provides us with a most reliable and comprehensive history of the spectacular beginning and rapid development of the Christian organization, first among the Jews and then among the Samaritans and the Gentile nations.
The overriding theme of the entire Bible, Jehovah’s Kingdom, dominates the book (Ac 1:3; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:31), and we are constantly reminded of how the apostles bore “thorough witness” concerning Christ and that Kingdom and fully accomplished their ministry. (2:40; 5:42; 8:25; 10:42; 20:21, 24; 23:11; 26:22; 28:23) The book also provides a superb historical background against which to view the inspired letters of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
The Writer. The opening words of Acts refer to the Gospel of Luke as “the first account.” And since both accounts are addressed to the same individual, Theophilus, we know that Luke, though not signing his name, was the writer of Acts. (Lu 1:3; Ac 1:1) Both accounts have a similar style and wording. The Muratorian Fragment of the late second century C.E. also attributes the writership to Luke. Ecclesiastical writings of the second century C.E. by Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian of Carthage, when quoting from Acts, cite Luke as the writer.
When and Where Written. The book covers a period of approximately 28 years, from Jesus’ ascension in 33 C.E. to the end of the second year of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome about 61 C.E. During this period four Roman emperors ruled in succession: Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Since it relates events through the second year of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, it could not have been completed earlier. Had the account been written later, it is reasonable to expect that Luke would have provided more information about Paul; if written after the year 64 C.E., mention surely would have been made of Nero’s violent persecution that began then; and if written after 70 C.E., as some contend, we would expect to find Jerusalem’s destruction recorded.
The writer Luke accompanied Paul much of the time during his travels, including the perilous voyage to Rome, which is apparent from his use of the first-person plural pronouns “we,” “our,” and “us” in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-37; 28:1-16. Paul, in his letters written from Rome, mentions that Luke was also there. (Col 4:14; Phm 24) It was, therefore, in Rome that the writing of the book of Acts was completed.
As already observed, Luke himself was an eyewitness to much of what he wrote, and in his travels he contacted fellow Christians who either participated in or observed certain events described. For example, John Mark could tell him of Peter’s miraculous prison release (Ac 12:12), while the events described in chapters 6 and 8 could have been learned from the missionary Philip. And Paul, of course, as an eyewitness, was able to supply many details of events that happened when Luke was not with him.
Authenticity. The accuracy of the book of Acts has been verified over the years by a number of archaeological discoveries. For example, Acts 13:7 says that Sergius Paulus was the proconsul of Cyprus. Now it is known that shortly before Paul visited Cyprus it was ruled by a propraetor, or legate, but an inscription found in Cyprus proves that the island did come under the direct rule of the Roman Senate in the person of a provincial governor called a proconsul. Similarly in Greece, during the rule of Augustus Caesar, Achaia was a province under the direct rule of the Roman Senate, but when Tiberius was emperor it was ruled directly by him. Later, under Emperor Claudius, it again became a senatorial province, according to Tacitus. A fragment of a rescript from Claudius to the Delphians of Greece has been discovered, which refers to Gallio’s proconsulship. Therefore, Acts 18:12 is correct in speaking of Gallio as the “proconsul” when Paul was there in Corinth, the capital of Achaia. (See GALLIO.) Also, an inscription on an archway in Thessalonica (fragments of which are preserved in the British Museum) shows that Acts 17:8 is correct in speaking of “the city rulers” (“politarchs,” governors of the citizens), even though this title is not found in classical literature.
To this day in Athens the Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill, where Paul preached, stands as a silent witness to the truthfulness of Acts. (Ac 17:19) Medical terms and expressions found in Acts are in agreement with the Greek medical writers of that time. Modes of travel used in the Middle East in the first century were essentially as described in Acts: overland, by walking, horseback, or horse-drawn chariots (23:24, 31, 32; 8:27-38); overseas, by cargo ships. (21:1-3; 27:1-5) Those ancient vessels did not have a single rudder but were controlled by two large oars, hence accurately spoken of in the plural number. (27:40) The description of Paul’s voyage by ship to Rome (27:1-44) as to the time taken, the distance traveled, and the places visited is acknowledged by modern seamen familiar with the region as completely reliable and trustworthy.
Acts of Apostles was accepted without question as inspired Scripture and canonical by Scripture catalogers from the second through the fourth centuries C.E. Portions of the book, along with fragments of the four Gospels, are found in the Chester Beatty No. 1 papyrus manuscript (P45) of the third century C.E. The Michigan No. 1571 manuscript (P38) of the third or fourth century contains portions of chapters 18 and 19, and a fourth-century manuscript, Aegyptus No. 8683 (P8), contains parts of chapters 4 through 6. The book of Acts was quoted from by Polycarp of Smyrna about 115 C.E., by Ignatius of Antioch about 110 C.E., and by Clement of Rome perhaps as early as 95 C.E. Athanasius, Jerome, and Augustine of the fourth century all confirm the earlier listings that included Acts.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF ACTS
The beginning of the Christian congregation and a record of its zealous public witnessing in the face of fierce opposition
Time covered: 33 to c. 61 C.E.
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus commissions followers to be witnesses of him as Jehovah’s Messiah (1:1-26)
After receiving holy spirit, disciples boldly witness in many languages (2:1–5:42)
Jews in Jerusalem from many lands are given witness in their own languages; about 3,000 baptized
Peter and John are arrested and taken before Sanhedrin; fearlessly declare they will not stop witnessing
Filled with holy spirit, all the disciples speak the word of God boldly; multitudes become believers
Apostles are arrested; an angel releases them; brought before the Sanhedrin, they declare: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men”
Persecution results in expansion of the witness (6:1–9:43)
Stephen is seized, gives fearless witness, dies a martyr
Persecution scatters all but apostles; witness given in Samaria; Ethiopian eunuch baptized
Jesus appears to the persecutor Saul; Saul is converted, baptized, begins zealous ministry
Under divine direction the witness reaches uncircumcised Gentiles (10:1–12:25)
Peter preaches to Cornelius, his family, and his friends; these believe, receive holy spirit, and are baptized
Apostle’s report of this prompts further expansion among nations
Paul’s evangelizing tours (13:1–21:26)
First tour: To Cyprus, Asia Minor. Paul and Barnabas boldly witness publicly and in synagogues; thrown out of Antioch; mobbed in Iconium; first treated like gods in Lystra, then Paul is stoned
Circumcision issue decided by governing body at Jerusalem; Paul and Barnabas assigned to inform brothers that circumcision is not required but that believers must abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from fornication
Second tour: Back through Asia Minor, into Macedonia and Greece. Imprisoned in Philippi, but jailer and his family get baptized; Jews stir up trouble in Thessalonica and Beroea; in Athens, Paul preaches in synagogue, in the marketplace, then on the Areopagus; 18-month ministry in Corinth
Third tour: Asia Minor, Greece. Fruitful Ephesian ministry, then uproar by silversmiths; apostle admonishes elders
Paul is arrested, witnesses to officials, is taken to Rome (21:27–28:31)
After mobbing in Jerusalem, Paul before Sanhedrin
As prisoner, Paul gives fearless witness before Felix, Festus, and King Herod Agrippa II, also on boat en route to Rome
A prisoner in Rome, Paul continues to find ways to preach about Christ and the Kingdom