Acts – An Introduction…

After a year and a half in the gospel of John, we began a new book this fall for our men’s breakfast Bible study – Acts!

The following is the introduction to Acts study – they are my notes,  with the questions.

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Men’s Tuesday Morning Bible Study

Acts

Introduction

Today we start our study of the book of Acts.

Most Bibles entitle this book The Acts Of The Apostles, and this has the support of the early church fathers, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian. But interestingly, apart from listing the 12 apostles in the opening chapter, Luke discusses only the ministry of Peter and Paul. John accompanies Peter to the temple in Chapter 3 and to Samaria in chp 8 but Luke records no specific words or deeds of John. So maybe we should call it the Acts of Peter and Paul. But the problem to that is that this book also relates the ministry of Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, Silas and Timothy.

Maybe it should be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. While Luke does emphasis the outpouring of the spirit in Jerusalem, (2:1-4), Samaria (8:17), Caesrea (10:44-46) and Ephesus (19:6) the content of the book is much broader. And, as the first verse of Acts says, he is writing a continuation of the gospel. The emphasis then falls not so much on the Holy Spirit, but rather on what Jesus is doing through the HolY Spirit in developing the church in Jerusalem, Samaria, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy – the continuation of the ministry of Christ through those who are his servants.

So maybe we should just call it ACTS – the book which relates the history of the early church.

Acts is unique among the NT writings in that it’s main purpose is to record a selective history of the early church.

READ ACTS 1:1-2

To whom is this book written to?

Theophilus!

Anyone know what the name means?

It means the friend of God.

How does Luke’s gospel address Theophilus?

Most excellent – which seems to suggest Theophilus was a real person who was part of the ruling classes – and a gentile who was a god fearer. A God fearer was someone who might worship in the synogugue but objected to circumcision – like Cornelius in chp 10 – so he was not a convert to Judiasim.

Some commentators have argued that Theophilus is not a real person but symbolic for any Christian seeker or convert – but I think that is needlessly obscure for it to be valid.

Both Acts and Luke are anonyomous. The early church of the first and most of the 2nd centuries are silent on who wrote Luke and Acts. 175AD is the first mention of Luke being the author. In 185AD Ireanus talks of Luke as the author. Why Luke? The latter chapters of Acts (starting at chp 16) begins a first person narrative which happens throughout the later chapters. This strongly suggests that the author was a companion of Paul.

Luke is mentioned 3 times in the NT – Col 4:14 Our dear friend Luke the physician and Demas greet you. 2 Tim 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help  to me in ministry. Philemon 24: Mark, Aristarchus,  Demas  and Luke, my colaborers, greet you too.

Also, Eusebius and Jerome testify that Luke was from Antioch. Out of the 15 times Antioch is mentioned in the NT, 14 of them are in Acts. For the writer of Acts, Antioch is important. If Luke did reside in Antioch then this is almost certainly where he would have met Barnabas (11:22 – A report  about them came to the attention of the church in Jerusalem,   and they sent Barnabas  to Antioch.). V26 of Acts 11 tells us that Barnabas brought Paul to Antioch, while Gal 2:11 tells us Peter and Paul were at Antioch at the same time. Luke would have undoubtedly have heard the gospel message and converted and became a disciple of the apostles.

This, along with the fact that in the ‘we’ narratives in Acts, the names of Silas and Timothy are referred to in the third person, Luke is most likely to the person who composed the books.

When was Acts written?

Some argue for 70AD. However, the book ends fairly abruptly – with Paul in Rome under arrest. We know that Paul was released before 70AD and Luke does not mention this, nor his subsequent journeys. A better date would be 62AD.

There are two major distinctive features in Acts.

First, are the Speeches and sermons. In fact they constitute nearly a third of the total text of Acts: Peter – 2:14-36, 3:11-26, 10:34-43 – Stephen – 7:1-53 – Paul – 13:16-47, 17:22-31, 20:18-35, 22:1-21, 24:10-21, 26:1-29.

Second, the frequent summaries where Luke provides broad generalization about the life the church, e.g:

READ ACTS 2:42-47; 4:32-35; 5:12-16

What are the Key Themes?

There are a number.

READ 1:8

What is a key theme from this verse?

The witness of the gospel is now worldwide.

READ 16:34

What key theme might come from this event?

The witness is inclusive of all kinds of people, Jews, Gentiles, physically handicapped, pagan’s and women.

READ ACTS 12:6-11

What key theme might come from this event?

The witness is guided by the providence of God

READ Acts 5:41-42

What key theme might come from this event?

Faithful witnesses must be prepared to suffer for their testimony.

READ ACTS 9:13-16

What key theme might come from this event?

The Christian witness of the church continues the ministry that Christ begun.

CONCLUSION

Here is a summary of the book of Acts:

After his ascension, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to empower the apostles as witnesses to spread the message of the gospel and to draw to himself people from all nations.

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