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Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Introduction.

The Book of Acts is the second volume of a two part work of which the first volume is the Gospel of Luke. Both books are based on the same general plan. Luke’s claim is to ‘have traced all things accurately from the first’ (Luke 1.3) and to be concerned that his sources were both eyewitnesses and Christian teachers (Luke 1.2). This does indicate a determination to arrive at the facts, and to do it on the basis of what actually happened specifically from a Christian viewpoint. He is not therefore to be looked on as someone who just writes about things without taking the trouble to check his sources. He brings historical truth. But he does stress the fact that what he brings to light has the authority of leading Christian teachers behind it. Note the emphasis on the Apostolic witness. These men are witnesses to what they have ‘seen and heard’ (see Luke 7.22; Acts 4.20; 22.15 compare John 3.32; 1 John 1.3).

The Gospel of Luke can be seen as basically divided into three:

  • The birth and rise of Jesus and His going out as the Great Prophet full of the Holy Spirit to minister to Israel and proclaim the Good News (1.1-9.50).
  • The long ‘journey to Jerusalem’ followed by His triumphant entry into Jerusalem and revelation of Himself as God’s Son (9.51-20.18)
  • Jesus’ rejection, trial, crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation (20.19-24.53).

The Book of Acts similarly divides into three:

  • Ministry to the Jews. The birth and rise of the church and its going out full of the Holy Spirit to minister to the Jews and proclaim the Good News, and finally its application to the Gentiles. In this part Jesus commissions and empowers His Apostles from Jerusalem and they spread the word throughout Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and Galilee, finally including Gentiles who live in Caesarea, leading up to Jerusalem’s second and final rejection of their Messiah (1.1-12.24).
  • Ministry to the Gentiles. The Spirit commissions and empowers Paul and his compatriots from Syrian Antioch and in two missionary journeys they spread the word, first throughout Cyprus and Asia Minor, and then throughout Europe (12.25-18.22). Central to these ministries is the declaration of the freedom of the Gentiles from the Law (15). This section has a postscript with reference to ministry to the Disciples of John the Baptiser. In this postscript to this section a replacement is raised for Paul, as he begins his journey towards Jerusalem and Rome, the disciples of John the Baptiser are incorporated into the church, and we have a resume of the proclaiming of the Good News which is revealed as greater than that of John (18.23-19.20).
  • Paul commences a journey to Jerusalem which will lead to Rome (19.21), and which will finally result in his being arraigned before Caesar, but meanwhile results in his triumphant ministry before kings and rulers, and then in Rome itself (18.23-28.31).

Each of these three sections of Acts follow a deliberate pattern:

SECTION 1. The Ministry to Israel and The Way Opened to the Gentiles: The Ministry Issues From Jerusalem Until Jerusalem Is Rejected (1.1-12.24).

This section is arranged on the following chiastic pattern:

  • a Jesus speaks of the things concerning the Kingly Rule of God (1.3). He is asked, ‘Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? (1.6). His reply indicates that the present concern is to be the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God throughout the world in accordance with the teaching of Jesus, through the preaching of the word. Any other idea of a kingdom must be left with God.
  • b He declares the Great Commission - they are to be His witnesses and the Good News is to be taken to the uttermost parts of the world, and the resulting preparations for this are described (1.7-26).
  • c Through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, life is given to the people of God at Pentecost. God is among His people (2).
  • d The lame man is made to leap like a deer indicating that Messianic expectation is being fulfilled (3).
  • e Persecution comes under the High Priest and its results are described (4-5).
  • f Within this scenario comes sin within the church - Ananias and Sapphira (5.1-11).
  • g The ministry of the Hellenist Stephen (6).
  • h The pivotal speech of Stephen and his martyrdom (7).
  • g The ministry of the Hellenist Philip (8).
  • f Within this scenario comes sin within the church - Simon the Sorcerer (8.18-24).
  • e Persecution comes under the High Priest and its results are described (9.1-31).
  • d The paralysed man is made to walk (9.32-35).
  • c Through the resurrection, physical life is given to Tabitha - and spiritual life to Joppa - God is among His people (9.36-42).
  • b The Good News goes out to the Gentiles confirming that God has given to the Gentiles ‘repentance unto life’ (9.43-11.30).
  • a Israel choose their last and final earthly king in Jerusalem who is destroyed because of blasphemy and because he has attacked the Kingly Rule of God. The kingdom is definitely not to be restored to Israel, and from now on Jerusalem virtually drops out of the frame as a factor in the expansion of the Kingly Rule of God. Peter ‘departs to another place’. (12).

It will be noted that in ‘a’ the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God is emphasised, with the instruction that they should ignore the idea of an earthly Kingdom, while in the parallel ‘a’ at the end the Kingly Rule of God is contrasted with an earthly Kingdom of Israel, a Kingdom whose king is brought into judgment and whose people are rejected. In ‘b’ the commission is given that they are to go as witnesses to the end of the earth and in the parallel the Good News is opened to Gentiles ready for the fulfilment of this task. In ‘c’ the dead bones of Israel receive new life, and in the parallel the dead are raised. The remaining parallels speak for themselves.

SECTION 2. Ministry to the Gentiles: The Spirit Commissions and Empowers Paul and His Compatriots from Syrian Antioch and They Spread the Word Throughout Cyprus, Asia Minor and Europe (12.25-18.22).

This also follows a chiastic pattern;

  • a Paul and Barnabas are sent forth from Antioch (12.25-13.3).
  • b Ministry in Cyprus results in their being brought before the pro-consul Sergius Paulus (13.4-13).
  • c Ministry in Pisidian Antioch results in a major speech to the Jews with its consequences, including those who desire to hear him again (13.14-52).
  • d Successful ministry in Iconium results in the crowd being stirred up and their having to flee (14.1-6).
  • e A remarkable healing in Lystra results in false worship which is rejected and Paul’s stoning by the Jews, and leaving the city (14.7-20).
  • f Ministry in Derbe and a round trip confirming the churches and return to Antioch (14.21-28).
  • g The Gathering in Jerusalem of the Apostles and elders of Jerusalem, and the Antiochene representatives, resulting in acknowledgement that the Gentiles are not to be bound by the Law (15).
  • f Paul and Silas (and Barnabas and Mark) leave Antioch to go on a round trip confirming the churches (15.36-16.5).
  • e A remarkable healing in Philippi results in true worship which is accepted (the Philippian jailer and his household) and Paul’s stripes being washed by the Roman jailer. The magistrates declare them innocent and Paul leaves the city (16.6-40).
  • d Successful ministries in Thessalonica and Berea result in the crowds being stirred up and their having to flee (17.1-14).
  • c Ministry in Athens results in a major speech to the Gentiles with its consequences, including those who desire to hear him again (17.15-34).
  • b Ministry in Corinth results in their being brought before the pro-consul Gallio (18.1-17).
  • a Paul returns to Antioch (18.18-22).

Ministry to the Disciples of John the Baptiser and Activity In Ephesus Which Emphasises that The Work Goes On Unfailingly (18.23-19.20).

Here we have a summary demonstrating how all that has gone before continues, showing how God’s work advances, commencing with the work of John the Baptiser and proceeding to the present day. As a result men’s eyes are opened, and they are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (compare 26.18)

  • a The ministry of the disciples of John through Apollos leads up to the full proclamation of Jesus (18.24-28).
  • b The disciples of John the Baptiser are incorporated into the church by the Holy Spirit coming on them (19.1-7).
  • c The Good News of Jesus is proclaimed to the Jews, who are revealed to be hardened (19.8-9a), and then to the Gentiles in a continually successful ministry so that all in Asia heard ‘the word of the Lord’ (19.9b-10).
  • d Great wonders and signs continue to be performed by God through Paul (whereas John did no miracle). Aprons and handkerchiefs (or headbands and leather belts) from his touch are God’s instruments in the performing of such signs and wonders (19.11-12).
  • c False witnesses (who are Jewish) are defeated, and the name of the Lord, Jesus is magnified (19.13-17).
  • b The books which are the instruments of Satan are burned (19.18-19).
  • a The word of the Lord grows mightily and prevails (19.20).

In ‘a’ the ministry of John develops into the ministry of Jesus, and in the parallel mightily grows the word of God and prevails. In ‘b’ the disciples of John are immersed in the Holy Spirit, in the parallel the books which are the instruments of Satan are dealt with by being immersed in fire. (‘He will immerse you in the Holy Spirit and in fire’). In ‘c’ the Jews as a whole are hardened and thus become false witnesses, while the Gentiles continually respond, and in the parallel the false witnesses who are Jews are defeated, while the name of the Lord Jesus is magnified. Central to all in ‘d’ are the signs and wonders which confirm Paul’s ministry to be of God and to be continuing what happened at Pentecost. The pattern set here parallels the opening chapters of both Luke and Acts, the witness of John, the coming of the Spirit (Luke 3.22; 4.1) , the expansion of the word. See the commentary.

From this point on Paul purposes in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem on his way to Rome (18.21; 20.16, 22-23; 21.10-13, 17), and this will be followed by the Journey to Rome itself. The whole journey is seen by Luke deliberately to commence from the very centre of idolatry at Ephesus, where there is uproar and Paul is unable to preach, and deliberately to end in contrast with the triumph of a pure, unadulterated ministry in Rome. We can contrast how initially in Section 1 the commission commenced in a pure and unadulterated fashion in Jerusalem (1.3-9) and ended in idolatry in Caesarea (12.20-23).

Thus we could briefly summarise Acts as follows:

  • The Great Commission is given in Jerusalem in the purity and triumph of Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement as King which results in Jerusalem’s rejection of Him and the false King’s idolatrous response and judgment (1-12).
  • The triumphant ministry to the Dispersion and the Gentiles (13-19.20).
  • Paul’s journey to Rome commences amidst rampant idolatry and comes to completion with him triumphantly proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God from his own house in Rome (19.21-28.31).

That being so this final section may be analysed as follows.

  • a Satan counterattacks against Paul’s too successful Ministry in Ephesus and throughout Asia Minor and causes uproar resulting in Paul’s ministry being unsuccessfully attacked by the worshippers of ‘Artemis (Diana) of the Ephesians’. This city, with its three ‘temple-keepers’ for the Temple of Artemis and the two Imperial Cult Temples, is symbolic of the political and religious alliance between idolatry and Rome which has nothing to offer but greed and verbosity. It expresses the essence of the kingly rule of Rome. And here God’s triumph in Asia over those Temples has been pictured in terms of wholesale desertion of the Temple of Artemis (mention of the emperor cult would have been foolish) by those who have become Christians (19.26) and will in the parallel below be contrasted and compared with Paul freely proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God in Rome (19.21-41).
  • b Paul’s progress towards Jerusalem is diverted because of further threats and he meets with disciples for seven days at Troas (20.1-6).
  • c The final voyage commences and a great sign is given of God’s presence with Paul. Eutychus is raised from the dead (20.7-12).
  • d Paul speaks to the elders from the church at Ephesus who meet him at Miletus and he gives warning of the dangers of spiritual catastrophe ahead and turns them to the word of His grace. If they obey Him all will be saved (20.13-38).
  • e A series of maritime stages and prophecy (verses 4 and 11) lead to Jerusalem follow (21.1-16).
  • f Paul proves his true dedication in Jerusalem and his conformity with the Law and does nothing that is worthy of death but the doors of the Temple are closed against him (21.17-30).
  • g Paul is arrested and gives his testimony of his commissioning by the risen Jesus (21.31-22.29).
  • h Paul appears before the Sanhedrin and points to the hope of the resurrection (22.30-23.9).
  • i He is rescued by the chief captain and is informed by the Lord that as he has testified in Jerusalem so he will testify in Rome (23.11).
  • j The Jews plan an ambush, which is thwarted by Paul’s nephew (23.12-25).
  • k Paul is sent to Felix, to Caesarea (23.26-35).
  • l Paul makes his defence before Felix stressing the hope of the resurrection (24.1-22).
  • k Paul is kept at Felix’ pleasure for two years (with opportunities in Caesarea) (24.23-27).
  • j The Jews plan to ambush Paul again, an attempt which is thwarted by Festus (25.1-5).
  • i Paul appears before Festus and appeals to Caesar. To Rome he will go (25.6-12).
  • h Paul is brought before Agrippa and gives his testimony stressing his hope in the resurrection (25.23-26.8).
  • g Paul gives his testimony concerning his commissioning by the risen Jesus (26.9-23).
  • f Paul is declared to have done nothing worthy of death and thus to have conformed to the Law, but King Agrippa II closes his heart against his message (26.28-32).
  • e A series of maritime stages and prophecy (verses 10, 21-26) follow (27.l-26).
  • d Paul speaks to those at sea, warning of the dangers of physical catastrophe ahead unless they obey God’s words. If they obey Him all will be delivered (27.27-44).
  • c Paul is delivered from death through snakebite and Publius’ father and others are healed, which are the signs of God’s presence with him, and the voyage comes to an end after these great signs have been given (28.1-13).
  • b Paul meets with disciples for seven days at Puteoli and then at the Appii Forum (28.14-15).
  • a Paul commences his ministry in Rome where, living in peace and safety, he has clear course to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God to all (28.16-31).

Thus in ‘a’ the section commences at the very centre of idolatry which symbolises with its three temples (depicted in terms of the Temple of Artemis) the political and religious power of Rome, the kingly rule of Rome, which is being undermined by the Good News which has ‘almost spread throughout all Asia’ involving ‘much people’. It begins with uproar and an attempt to prevent the spread of the Good News and reveals the ultimate emptiness of that religion. All they can do is shout slogans including the name of Artemis, but though they shout it long and loud that name has no power and results in a rebuke from their ruler. In the parallel the section ends with quiet effectiveness and the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God being given free rein. This is in reverse to section 1 which commenced with the call to proclaim the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God (1.3) and ended with the collapse of the kingly rule of Israel through pride and idolatry (12.20-23).

In ‘b’ Paul meets with God’s people for ‘seven days, the divinely perfect period, at the commencement of his journey, and then in the parallel he again meets with the people of God for ‘seven days’ at the end of his journey. Wherever he goes, there are the people of God. There is a colony of Heaven.

In ‘c’ God reveals that His presence is with Paul by the raising of the dead, and in the parallel reveals His presence by protection from the Snake and the healing of Publius.

In ‘d’ we have a significant parallel between Paul’s warning of the need for the church at Ephesus to avoid spiritual catastrophe through ‘the word of His grace’ and in the parallel ‘d’ the experience of being saved from a great storm through His gracious word, but only if they are obedient to it, which results in deliverance for all.

In ‘e’ and its parallel we have Paul’s voyages, each accompanied by prophecy indicating God’s continuing concern for Paul as he journeys.

In ‘f’ Paul proves his dedication and that he is free from all charges that he is not unfaithful to the Law of Moses, and in the parallel Agrippa II confirms him to be free of all guilt.

In ‘g’ Paul give his testimony concerning receiving his commission from the risen Jesus, and in the parallel this testimony is repeated and the commission expanded.

In ‘h’ Paul proclaims the hope of the resurrection before the Sanhedrin, and in the parallel he proclaims the hope of the resurrection before Felix, Agrippa and the gathered Gentiles.

In ‘i’ the Lord tells him that he will testify at Rome, while in the parallel the procurator Festus declares that he will testify at Rome. God’s will is carried out by the Roman power.

In ‘ j’ a determined plan by the Jews to ambush Paul and kill him is thwarted, and in the parallel a further ambush two years later is thwarted. God is continually watching over Paul.

In ‘k’ Paul is sent to Felix, to Caesarea, the chief city of Palestine, and in the parallel spends two years there with access given to the ‘his friends’ so that he can freely minister.

In ‘l’ we have the central point around which all revolves. Paul declares to Felix and the elders of Jerusalem the hope of the resurrection of both the just and the unjust in accordance with the Scriptures.

It will be noted that the central part of this chiasmus is built around the hope of the resurrection which is mentioned three times, first in ‘h’, then centrally in ‘l’ and then again in ‘h’, and these are sandwiched between two descriptions of Paul’s commissioning by the risen Jesus (in ‘g’ and in the parallel ‘g’). The defeat of idolatry and the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God have as their central cause the hope of the resurrection and the revelation of the risen Jesus.

What is the Book About?

It is often stated that the book is misnamed because it concentrates on Peter and Paul and is not about the ‘Acts of the Apostles’. But that is not fully true. Luke is actually at pains to point out in the first chapters of the book that all the Apostles are acting as one. He certainly sees in this the ‘Acts of the Apostles’.

Consider for example:

  • It was to all the Apostles that Jesus appeared when He called on them to go out to the uttermost parts of the earth with the Gospel (1.8).
  • The Apostles stood with Peter on the day of Pentecost and partook in the incredible infusion and in the other tongues and stood with him as he spoke (2.1-14).
  • The Apostles as a whole taught the early believers (2.41).
  • It was through all the Apostles that wonders and signs were done (2.43).
  • It was the Apostles and those who were with them who prayed that God would cause His word to be spoken boldly, accompanied by signs and wonders in the name of God’s holy Servant, Jesus (4.29-30).
  • It was the Apostles who stood and preached in Solomon’s porch when none dared join with them, and were held in high honour by the people (5.12).
  • It was the Apostles who were arrested and imprisoned, and who were released from prison by an angel during the night (5.18-19), and went back at daybreak to the Temple, boldly to continue their ministry (5.21).
  • It was the Apostles who were set before the council and questioned (5.27), and who, when they were reminded that they had been charged not to preach in the name of Jesus, replied that they had no alternative but to do so (5.28-32).
  • It was the Apostles who were beaten, and charged not to speak in the name of Jesus and who were let go, and who subsequently rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Name, and continued preaching and teaching (5.40-42).
  • It was the Apostles who insisted that no hindrance should be put on their teaching ministry (6.2) and who appointed the servers.
  • It was the Apostles who remained in Jerusalem when persecution caused the believers to be scattered (8.1).
  • It was the Apostles who determined to send Peter and John to oversee the ministry among the Samaritans (8.14). (Note how Peter is subject to the authority of all the Apostles).
  • It was the Apostles who, with the elders, formed a part of the general assembly and made the decision to accept Gentiles without circumcision and not put on them the whole burden of the ceremonial Law (15).
.

Thus the first part of the book (1.1-9.31) is clearly in Luke’s eyes the ‘Acts of the Apostles’, even though Peter is the leading spokesman. Peter’s sole ministry, along with some disciples, then comes into prominence in 9.32-11.18. And from then on the prominence falls on Paul and Barnabas (13.1-15.39), followed by Paul and Silas with Timothy (15.40-21.26), because they go to the Gentiles, with the final chapters concentrated on Paul’s arrest and journey to Rome (21.27-28.31).

In a very real sense then the book contains the Acts of the Apostles, first of all the Apostles, then of Peter, then of Paul and Barnabas, then of Paul and Silas and then finally of Paul in his captivity.

Can We Have Confidence In Luke’s Accuracy?

The first point that we do need to note is that Luke does claim to have taken great care to ensure the accuracy of the facts on which he based his history. He wanted it known that what he wrote was on the basis of carefully researched facts, and that he did so because so much had been written and he felt that it was necessary to sift what was true from what was not (Luke 1.1-4). If we are to be fair to him this is something that we must not overlook. We must accept that either he was a barefaced liar, or he did take great trouble to sift fact from fiction.

Furthermore, contributing to our confidence in what he wrote is the undoubted fact that the writer has been shown to be historically accurate in his use of terms. He clearly knew his way about very complicated structures of the Roman Empire. He knew that a proconsul was in charge of Cyprus at the time when Paul was there. He knew that the officials at Philippi were called strategoi. At Thessalonika he correctly refers to the politarchs. At Malta the chief man is correctly referred to as the primus. While at Ephesus he rightly calls the controllers of religious affairs Asiarchs. All these diverse titles have been confirmed archaeologically. He also knew that (at this period in history only) Iconium was not in Lycaonia. Thus we know that he was always precise and accurate in his use of such titles and place names in a world which was by no means straightforward. He has proved himself to be very competent, at least in this regard.

We also know that he reveals a good knowledge of Roman law and medical practise, and that his familiarity with geographical, political and territorial details in the areas of which he speaks is clear and verifiable. In the light of the complicated world of that day, all this can only be looked on as evidence that the writer gave careful consideration to the facts and knew what he was talking about. We are thus able to conclude that he was not just a hearer of stories. He was someone who looked carefully into what he wrote about.

The Spirit’s Work In Luke and Acts.

The first thing that we must draw attention to about both his books (Luke and Acts) is that they each commence with a great emphasis on the new work of the Spirit which was taking place in the days of which they write, which was then mainly assumed as going on in the remainder of each book, with but an occasional reminder necessary to confirm it. And while the happenings at Pentecost in Acts 2 in one sense open up a new era, they are seen as by no means the beginning of the work of the Spirit. The emphasis is rather on a second surge of the Spirit, following on the one which was the mainspring of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. But whereas the first resulted in a Spirit filled Jesus carrying forward a Spirit filled ministry, so that His disciples participated in the Spirit through Him (they were born from above and cast out evil spirits and healed), Acts reveals directly Spirit filled Apostles as carrying it on. In Luke the Holy Spirit descended visibly on Jesus. In Acts the Holy Spirit descends visibly on His Apostles.

The beginning of Luke’s Gospel laid great emphasis on the work of the Spirit. John the Baptiser was described as "filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb" (Luke 1.15). The word for ‘filled’ is pimplemi which always refers to a special gift for a particular occasion or ministry. In other words John was prepared from birth to be the instrument of God's sovereign work, working by the power of the Spirit. He would walk "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1.17). But he would do no miracles (John 10.41). It was not yet the new age. The Spirit’s power was rather revealed in the success of his preaching. Notice in the prophecy of John's birth the contrast between strong drink and the Holy Spirit (Luke 1.15). Paul the Apostle also points out that the man who would be filled by the Spirit must avoid excess of wine (Ephesians 5.18).

The power within John as a result of the permanent fullness of the Spirit would be all the stimulation that he needed, and would enable him to "turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God" so as to prepare a people for the Lord's coming (Luke 1.14-17). As he grew the 'hand of the Lord' was 'with him' (Luke 1.66; compare Psalm 89.21, Acts 11.21). This would remind Luke's readers of Elijah (1 Kings 18.46) and Ezekiel (1.3 and often), although the preposition here is different signifying a more permanent, but less outwardly emphatic an experience.

It was not, however, only on John that the Spirit was depicted as coming. Luke seems at pains in his first chapters to stress the new activity of the Spirit. The coming age, the age of the Spirit, was seen as dawning. Elizabeth (Luke 1.41) and Zechariah (1.67), his mother and father, were also "filled (pimplemi) with Holy Spirit" and prophesied, while Simeon, an aged servant of God, was described as having Holy Spirit 'upon him' (Luke 2.25). Indeed the Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the coming king (2.26). It was in preparation for that King, that the Spirit was at work. And when the baby Jesus was taken to the Temple in accordance with God's law, Simeon was 'inspired by the Spirit' to go there. It is stressed that he was righteous and devout, and looking for ‘the consolation of Israel’ (2.25), as were Elizabeth and Zechariah (1.6) and a number of others in Jerusalem (1.38), including a godly prophetess (1.36-37). Thus in Luke the Spirit prepared for Jesus.

Being "filled with the Holy Spirit" is seen to be a temporary experience for Elizabeth and Zechariah, enabling them to prophesy the once, while it is a permanent experience for John, the specially chosen instrument of God's purpose. The fact that he is filled with the Spirit from birth demonstrates that in him God had begun the new work of the Spirit in Sovereign power without outside intervention, even from John. It was all God’s work. The same continuing idea of sovereign power carries on in Acts. The phrase "filled (Gk. pimplemi) with Holy Spirit" is clearly synonymous with the phrase "the Spirit of the Lord came upon --" in the Old Testament (e.g. in Judges). There also it was usually temporary, but could be permanent in certain cases, and was for those chosen out for special service, or for a special prophetic word.

This phrase is used in Acts in a similar way, thus identifying the experiences of Acts with those of the past. In this regard we must distinguish “being filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit” (2.4; 4.8; 4.31; 13.9), which is limited to certain people, is always for some only, is for a specific purpose, and very often occurs in a particular circumstance, and is mainly with rare exceptions temporary, and “being filled (pleroo) (13.52) and therefore full (pleres) (6.3, 5; 7.55; 11.24) of the Holy Spirit” which is a more general and continuing experience, is for all, and produces general spiritual benefit, the latter being in mind in Ephesians 5.18.

When Jesus was to be born Mary was told, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. And the power of the Most High will overshadow you, Therefore the child who is to be born will be called holy, The Son of God.” (Luke 1.35). Thus it was through the Holy Spirit’s activity that Jesus came into the world.

John began his preparatory ministry with great success. People flocked to him from Jerusalem, Judaea and Galilee and he called them to change their ways in readiness for One who would come. He made it clear that he was only the preparer of the way. He had come to call men to turn from sin, and, as a sign of a changed heart and mind, to be baptised (drenched) in water for the forgiveness of sins, but with the promise that the Greater One who was coming “will baptise (drench) you with Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3.16 compare Matthew 3.11). The thought here is of comparison with the lifegiving rain and the fires of purification and judgment, two Old Testament themes. This will produce the harvest of wheat to be gathered in, while the fire will burn up the useless chaff (Luke 3.17). But he stressed that he was preparing for the coming of Jesus Who ‘will drench men in the Holy Spirit’. That is what his baptism pointed to. All this resulted from the fact that John the Baptiser had been filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb.

Furthermore we should note that Jesus made clear that the Kingly Rule of God (Heaven) was available through John’s preaching from the beginning. According to Him the tax collectors and prostitutes who heard John and repented went into the Kingly Rule of God, preceding any Pharisees who repented later (Matthew 21.31-32).

When Jesus went into the water to be baptised, as He came out “the Holy Spirit came down on him in a bodily shape like a dove” (Luke 3.22 compare Matthew 3.16; Mark 1.10). At the same time a voice from Heaven said, “You are My son, My beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” This immediately linked Jesus with the kings of Israel/Judah who were crowned with the words, “You are my son --” (Psalm 2.7), along with the promise of eventual worldwide rule. Thus He is depicted as the king who is coming, upon whom will rest the Spirit of the Lord (Isaiah 11.2) resulting in wisdom and understanding. The final part of the sentence links with Isaiah 42.1, the promise of a coming Servant of God who will have God’s Spirit upon him and proclaim God’s justice to the nations of the world. (The final destiny of this Servant is found in Isaiah 53). So Jesus was from the commencement of His ministry seen as both King and Servant and endued with the Spirit of God.

Jesus returned from the Jordan ‘full (pleres) of the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 4.1), something which would carry Him through His ministry, and it was by the Holy Spirit that He was led into the wilderness (Luke 4.1) to face up to the temptations of Satan and the significance of His ministry. He began His ministry in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4.14) and immediately proclaimed Himself to be the anointed prophet on whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest as promised in Isaiah 61.1-2 (Luke 4.18-20). He declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are bruised and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”. This idea of the anointing of the Spirit on Jesus also appears in Acts 4.27; 10.38. Luke then brought out how exactly Jesus was carrying out this ministry of the great prophet. He taught the people with authority (4.32), He released the captives of the demons (4.33-36), He delivered those oppressed with diseases (4.38-40) and He proclaimed the good news of the Kingly Rule of God (4.43 compare Matthew 11.4-6). The new age was commencing.

It is made quite clear then that His ministry was to be in the power of the Holy Spirit. But having abundantly and quite clearly established that the new work of the Spirit was taking place in a number of ways Luke now almost ceased to mention Him. In the remainder of Luke there is a remarkable silence about the Holy Spirit, especially in the last chapter. The reason for this can only be that having established the source of the power in Jesus’ ministry, Luke wanted all attention now to be turned on Jesus. Thus while he wants us to recognise that the Spirit’s work was going on through Jesus (‘full of Holy Spirit’) and in a continuing manner, at the same time he wants to put the focus on Jesus Himself, as the One Who has come uniquely from God and acts in God’s power so that He may go to Jerusalem and die, and rise again. Unlike all others His success comes from within Himself.

John’s Gospel in fact makes clear the continual nature of the Spirit’s work throughout (John 3.1-11; 4.1-26 based on the fact that God is Spirit; 6.63; 7.37-39), and stresses that the Spirit is given to Jesus in full measure with no restriction (John 3.34). Luke, however presents things differently. In Luke Jesus does later rejoice over the fact that God has revealed His truths to the lowly, He does describe Him as rejoicing “in Spirit” (Luke 10.21), and we are probably justified in seeing here the idea of the joy-giving work of the Spirit (Ephesians 5.18-19). Luke also tells us that He promises his disciples that when they are dragged before accusing judges the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say (Luke 12.12; compare Matthew 10.20), and this must in context be seen as including while Jesus Christ was on earth. The Spirit is thus seen still to be there and active. But on the whole it cannot really be doubted that He is kept in the background by Luke from chapter 5 onwards.

That it is probably fair to say that there is in Luke’s Gospel from chapter 5 onwards a studied absence of mention of the Holy Spirit, comes out in that he deliberately translated the Aramaic as ‘the finger of God’ (Luke 11.20) where Matthew uses ‘the Spirit of God’ (Matthew 12.28) and even more emphatic is the fact that while pointing to the coming pouring out of power from above during Jesus’ resurrection appearances he seems specifically and deliberately to refrain from mentioning the Holy Spirit (Luke 24.49). In view of Acts 1 this can surely not be accidental. It would seem to us that the reason for this is twofold. Firstly, it is in order that, once he has established the new working of the Spirit, and has made clear that Jesus Himself is full of the same Holy Spirit, he might then concentrate all the attention on Jesus. Thus his Gospel from 4.1 onwards majors on Jesus and Jesus only. But secondly it is in order to allow for the greater impact on the reader of the second great surge of the Holy Spirit in Acts when His manifestation in power occurs as a new climactic event. The rather vague ‘power from on high’ with which the Gospel finishes is introduced in Acts as resulting from the powerful and effective drenching of the Holy Spirit. So much so that popular opinion often incorrectly sees Acts as when the Spirit commenced His work.

Acts can then overall at first be said to follow a similar pattern to Luke. Like Luke it commences by emphasising the drenching of the Holy Spirit connected with John the Baptiser’s ministry (1.5) and stresses that it will occur through Jesus’ activity (‘He will drench you in the Holy Spirit’), and he also emphasises that the Holy Spirit spoke through Jesus’ ministry (1.2). Then he explains that the power from on high mentioned previously in the Gospel (Luke 24.49) will be because the Holy Spirit comes on His disciples (1.8), which then results in an epoch-making experience of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. But then after that Acts follows up with abundant references to the Holy Spirit over a number of chapters (44 times in the first thirteen chapters). In these chapters the Holy Spirit is emphasised as working everywhere.

Reference to the Holy Spirit becomes less in the middle chapters (12 times in chapters 14-21), although still frequent enough to draw attention to His continued presence, and then after that there is no further reference to the Holy Spirit at all until we arrive in chapter 28, and there the reference is simply to the Holy Spirit as speaking through the Scriptures. Again this must be seen as significant, especially so as Paul’s being brought before governors for the sake of Christ is undoubtedly one scenario where we might have expected mention of the Holy Spirit. For Luke 12.12 makes clear that it is in precisely such circumstance that the Holy Spirit will step in on behalf of His people.

This might to some extent be seen as due to his sources, but unless we accuse Luke of merely being an editor, which he most decidedly was not, that cannot be seen as sufficient explanation for the phenomenon. Nor does it explain why in chapter 19 there is a momentary reversal back to the experiences of the first chapters of Acts. The main reason, therefore would seem to be the impression that Luke is seeking to give. In the first part of Acts up to chapter 13 he places all attention on the powerful, direct activity of the Holy Spirit, as He sweeps on in reaching out first to Jerusalem, then to Judaea and Samaria, then to the Gentiles as represented by Cornelius, and then in the commencement of the ministry of Paul. We are intended to see here the Holy Spirit working in irresistible and unceasing power. Nothing can prevent His activity. We are reminded of Isaiah’s words, ‘He will come like a rushing stream which the wind of the Lord drives’ (Isaiah 59.19 RV RSV).

But then in the second part from chapter 14 onwards, while he intends us to see that the Holy Spirit is still active in guiding God’s people, it is in a more gentle and controlled fashion (16.7, compare 13.2). Having irresistibly driven His people to recognise that Jew, Samaritan and Gentile must all be included in His saving work, and having brought it about by His powerful activity, and having filled both Paul and His people ready for the next stage, He is seen as consolidating His work among the Gentiles, still effectively, but more quietly. His message goes out to peoples and nations through Paul and his associates, and the Holy Spirit guides the church to a wise solution with regard to Gentile participation in the church (chapter 15), but it is only in 19.1-6 that we again sense the atmosphere of the early part of Acts.

Then in the last part of Acts, while God is still clearly in control and working out His sovereign purpose, the emphasis is no longer on the Holy Spirit but on man’s activity (but always under God’s control) in dragging Paul to Rome. It is that which is stressed and the Holy Spirit is not mentioned at all. (Satan is seen to be doing God’s work for Him as he did in the crucifixion of Christ). The Holy Spirit could in fact have been mentioned a number of times, for Paul is brought before governors for Christ’s sake (compare Luke 12.12), but Luke’s silence deliberately brings out that it is men, not the Holy Spirit, who, having taken charge, are forced to bring about God’s will in bringing Paul to Rome where he can proclaim the Kingly Rule of God. In these chapters Paul still speaks powerfully, and surely by the Holy Spirit, but that is no longer Luke’s emphasis. His emphasis is now on man’s sinfulness and brutality and on God’s sovereignty. Man is seeking to direct God’s affairs, but God overrules.

Having said this, throughout Acts the Spirit is seen as paralleling Jesus’ ministry in teaching the people with authority (1.8; 2.4; 4.8, 31-33; 5.32 etc), releasing the captives of evil spirits (8.7; 16.18; 19.12), delivering those oppressed with diseases (3.1-11; 6.5-8; 19.12) and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (8.12; 14.22; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23). The prophetic ministry of Jesus is thus clearly being carried on by the Apostles in the power of the Spirit. The Servant’s work continues (13.47).

This all confirms that He wants us to concentrate on the work of the Holy Spirit as being that of carrying forward the movement from Jerusalem to Rome, with a kind of hiatus occurring once Paul has been arrested. It is as though Luke sees Paul’s arrest as having somehow interfered with that process, while at the same time being part of it.

The hiatus is powerful. It is not that he doubts that Paul’s arrest is within God’s purposes, only that he sees it as an indication of an interruption in the forward flow of the preaching of the Gospel, which God turns to His own account, and indeed He is behind it all the time. Although we may also be intended to see here an indication that Satan’s hand is at work (26.18) but as one who is defeated (27.5)..

Depending on when Luke wrote this could well have been helpful to his readers. By then the first exciting years had passed and they were having to face a world where the Holy Spirit was not quite so openly active, a world which was resistant to them, as it was to Paul in those final chapters. The sense that God was at work, even in the bleakest of circumstances, would have been a great encouragement to them.

So we may argue that Luke wants us to see that Paul’s final journey to Rome, while being in God’s purposes (23.11), was not a matter of being borne along by the Holy Spirit but of seemingly being borne along by the hand of men, although finally being something which God would turn to His own account. He is saying that while men might have appeared at this time to have taken over control so as to stem the onward moving work of the Spirit, God turned it to His own purposes. For in the end he makes it quite clear that all was in God’s hands, and that it resulted in His sovereignty prevailing, with Paul being firmly established in Rome and able freely to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God at the very heart of the Roman Empire. Here again the Holy Spirit is mentioned (28.25), and he is seen as established for the purpose of proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God in Rome.

So what happened did not prevent God’s work continuing. Witness was made to governors and kings, people were converted. There was thus still evidence of God’s power. But what he wants us to see was that in general it was not God’s positive purpose, but was brought about by man under God’s sovereignty, with Him turning their evil purposes to good. It revealed that Paul was in his own way delivered out of the power of Satan to God (26.18).

We may compare this part of his life with the last days of Jesus, when Satan was active (Luke 22.3) in doing all that he could to destroy Him. But he makes clear that both Jesus and Paul triumphed in the end. God was in the experiences of both. We may also note that after the journey to Jerusalem in Luke Jesus’ enemies were thwarted by the resurrection, while after Paul’s journey to Rome they were thwarted by Paul’s being able to live in his own house and declare the Kingly Rule of God to both Jews and Gentiles.

These silent chapters at the end of the book demonstrate that while revealing the work of the Holy Spirit must be seen as one of Luke’s main purposes in Acts it cannot be seen as the one central one, otherwise He would have been mentioned in these final chapters in places where mention of Him might be expected. The Holy Spirit’s work is to be seen as only one aspect of the book, not its major theme.

The Language of Luke and Acts.

Interestingly the same general picture of a change between two part of each book also applies to the language of both books, but with the split being very different. Speaking generally, in Luke’s Gospel the first two chapters,although not the opening words of introduction, are suffused with Aramaic Greek, followed by the remainder in more general Greek. In Acts the first fifteen chapters can be said to give strong suggestions of Aramaic Greek while the remainder may again be said to be in more general Greek. To some extent this may well be seen as due to his sources, whether written or oral, (for parts of Acts 1-15 would mainly tend to come from witnesses who used Aramaic Greek, as would Luke 1-3), and to the use of the Septuagint and other Greek texts for the benefit of his readers (for both include much quotation from Greek texts). This would then suggest the careful way in which Luke did not alter his sources overmuch, while considering his readers. But that could be said to be equally true of the whole of Luke’s Gospel, and yet that did not prevent Luke from putting it in more general Greek. It must be seen therefore as quite probable that Luke wanted chapters 1-2 to reflect the Old Testament prior to the commencement of Jesus’ ministry, while feeling more at home in general Greek, and that he wanted parts of Acts 1-15 to reflect the mainly Jewish Christian background of that section of Acts, changing to more general Greek in Acts 16 onwards once the Jew-Gentile Christian conflict was officially resolved. It suggests that he was no mean author. He wanted us to recognise the source from which the church sprang, while at the same time emphasising that it eventually became universal.

The Significance of Jerusalem in Acts.

Luke has carefully constructed Acts in order to portray how Jerusalem fits into the purposes of God. He commences with it as the centre from which the witness of the Good News will go out, ever more widely, to the uttermost part of the earth (1.8). For a while it is then the centre of all activity. From 1.8-6.7 all is Jerusalem, and from 6.8-11.30 the Word of the Lord goes forth from Jerusalem and is overseen by Jerusalem.

But meanwhile the leaders of Jerusalem first reluctantly tolerate (4.13-23; 5.33-41) and then oppose the word and God’s people (6.12; 8.1-3; 9.1-2), along with the Jews (6.9-13; 9.23, 29), until in chapter 12 Jerusalem as a whole finally rejects its Messiah and His people and chooses a false Messiah who is finally doomed for his blasphemy. It is significant that at this point, James the apostle having been martyred, Peter, seemingly the last of the Apostles in Jerusalem, ‘went to another place’ (12.17) and all evangelistic activity from Jerusalem ceases.

From this point on Syrian Antioch becomes the major centre for the mission of the Holy Spirit and the sending out of the word of the Lord. It is true that the church in Jerusalem (not Jerusalem itself which has been rejected) is called in. But this time it is not as the Jerusalem church overseeing the work, it is as the Apostles and elders advising what they consider to be the mind of God. And significantly it advises only in order to pronounce its own demise (15). The decision made here releases the Gentiles from any tie with Jerusalem and its Temple (but not the tie with the Jerusalem church).

And from this point on Luke only brings in Jerusalem in order to demonstrate that Paul, rejected by Jerusalem, with the gates of the Temple closed against him, goes from Jerusalem to Rome, (although he still stresses that the work of the church in Jerusalem and Judaea still prospers (21.20).

We may portray this in more depth as follows:

1). Jerusalem Is Blessed And Offered Its Messiah (1.8-6.7).

  • The Spirit comes from above (2.1-4; 4.31).
  • The world has come to Jerusalem (2.5-11).
  • The Apostles proclaim the word to the Jewish world in Jerusalem (2.15-36; 3.12-26).
  • The Apostles perform great signs and wonders in Jerusalem (2.43; 5.12).
  • Jerusalem is the great centre of healing as people come from all parts (5.16).
  • The Messianic signs are being fulfilled - the pouring out of the Spirit (2.1-4); - the Messianic banquet (2.46; 4.35; 6.1-6); - the Messianic signs (3.1-10; 4.30).
  • The Sanhedrin itself is challenged with the Good News (4.8-12; 5.29-32)
  • The ‘church’ (the assembly of God’s people) is being firmly established in Jerusalem and growing rapidly and spreading (2.37-47; 4.32; 6.7).
  • A Messianic judgment takes place (5.1-11).

All the prophecies concerning Jerusalem are thus being fulfilled.

2). The Word of the Lord Goes Out From Jerusalem (6.8-11.30).

The martyrdom of Stephen is then the signal for the word to go forth from Jerusalem as promised in Isaiah 2.2-4, as further prophecies are fulfilled. It goes out to Samaria (8.4-25), to Ethiopia (8.26-39), to the cities along the coast (8.40; 9.32-43), to Damascus (9.19-25). Churches are established and prosper throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria (9.31). And then finally the word goes to the Gentiles (10.1-48; 11.19-30).

3). Jerusalem Rejects Its Messiah For A False Messiah (12).

The hailing of a false Messiah and rejection of the true Messiah is clearly portrayed in chapter 12. (We are dealing here with Luke’s portrayal making use of the historical facts). ‘Herod the King’ as the people pleaser attacks the Apostles, is hailed by the people (they approve his persecution of the Apostles) and he then allows himself to be exalted as a god. But the inevitable consequence is that he is judged and his judgment is final. Here we have the anti-Messiah (one who sets himself up in place of the Messiah) who worshipped Satan in order to receive his kingdom (Luke 4.6). What folly it proved to be. The only reason that Luke can have for bringing this in here, especially in view of the fact that Jerusalem now drops out of the reckoning, is in order to demonstrate that Jerusalem has forfeited its final opportunity by rejecting the Messiah and choosing the anti-Messiah. From now on the word of the Lord will go to the world and it will go from Antioch.

There is, however, a rather touching picture here of God’s care for His people. Surrounding this description of affairs in Jerusalem in chapter 12, as Jerusalem loses its significance under God, is the description of the love and care of the church at Antioch for the church of Jerusalem (11.27-30; 12.25). It is as though the people of God in Jerusalem and Judaea are cocooned in their love. God has not forgotten them.

4). The Church of Jerusalem Pronounces Its Own Demise (15).

While they were probably not aware of it at the time, the gathering at Jerusalem of the Apostles and the elders with the representatives from Antioch in chapter 15 would release the tie that bound the world to Jerusalem. From this point on universally speaking even the church in Jerusalem was mainly redundant. It no longer had any purpose. Having given the world the Messiah they had nothing further to give. From this point on they just fade into the background, until finally historically they disappear into the wilderness to linger on as nonentities (except to God) as the destruction of Jerusalem approaches.

Paul Sets His Face Towards Jerusalem and the Temple Closes Its Doors Against Him and Jerusalem Despatches Paul To Rome (19.21;20.16, 22; 21.4, 11-14, 17-26).

Considering these verses it is difficult to avoid the conclusion, firstly that Paul’s ‘journey to Jerusalem’ (19.21;20.16, 22; 21.4, 11-14) in defiance of all warnings, in some way parallels that of Jesus Himself as portrayed in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9.51). Paul too is driven on by a compulsion that he cannot refuse, and yet not in his case to be present at the Passover, but in order to be present at Pentecost. Jesus was anticipating His sacrificial death, Paul was anticipating renewal of the Holy Spirit. And that secondly it is in order to portray the end of Jerusalem’s influence. He arrives in Jerusalem and the Temple closes its doors against him (21.30) only for God (not Jerusalem) to despatch him to Rome in order that the word of the Lord and the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God might go forth in Rome to both Jew and Gentile.

The whole situation is tense. He was clearly warned by the Spirit against going to Jerusalem (21.4, 11-12), and yet he insisted on going (21.13-14), and even ‘purposed it in spirit’ (or ‘in the Spirit?) - 19.21), and declared that the Holy Spirit had him in bonds (20.22). He was seemingly driven on by an urge that he could not deny, his purpose being in order to participate in the anniversary of the day of Pentecost (20.16). We can only assume that his desire was to enjoy the celebrations of the anniversary of Pentecost with his fellow-believers in Jerusalem (as well as to deliver the Collection). And as we know, humanly speaking it ended up disastrously, with the lesson given that Jerusalem had nothing more to offer of the Holy Spirit and that the Temple closed its doors on God’s messenger. However, as so often, God overruled what happened for good, and he ended up proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God in Rome.

The seeming purpose of Luke’s detailed description of this can only surely be in order once and for all to stress the cessation of the importance of Jerusalem except as a place which rejects God’s people because of its own fixations, while underlining the fact that the witness has gone from Jerusalem to Rome. Possibly also it was a warning to all Christian Jews of the danger of nostalgia for the past in view of what it did for Paul, the message being, ‘let go of Jerusalem, otherwise it will be an albatross around your neck’. If this is so it would confirm that Acts was written before the destruction of Jerusalem when such a message would become almost irrelevant. The result would be that when that destruction came it caused hardly a ripple for the Christian church (except that it did then throw them more into the limelight as being non-Jews and therefore an illicit religion).

Luke’s Aim In Producing Acts.

Apart from wanting to report on the doings of the early church, and the advance of the Spirit, we may ask, what were Luke’s purposes in writing Acts? While we must not reduce Luke’s purpose to only one specific aim, for he is not to be so limited, there would certainly seem to be good grounds for seeing one main aim as being expressed in the words of the risen Jesus in 1.8, “But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come on you: and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.” He wanted the world to know that Jesus’ words and God’s purposes were being fulfilled. For there is no question but that the book of Acts does portray the witness about Jesus Christ being proclaimed in Jerusalem (1-7), moving to ‘Judaea and Samaria’ (8.1), with the ministry to Samaria then being overseen by Apostles (8.14-25), and finally going out into the Roman world, first through Peter with Cornelius (10-11), then with Paul’s missionary journeys (13-21), then before kings and governors (21-27) and finally with the presence of an Apostle in Rome, dwelling there and proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God (28.31). And this is confirmed by 23.11, ‘as you have borne witness concerning me at Jerusalem, so must you bear witness also at Rome’. God saw it as important that Testimony be given concerning His purposes in Jesus firstly at the centre of the Jewish world, and then at the centre of the Gentile world, and he wants us to see that the movement from the one to the other was with the approval of God. Indeed it is made clear that it was God Who made absolutely sure that Paul arrived in Rome.

We can compare here how in Luke the author laid great emphasis on the journey to Jerusalem. It was there that God would manifest His glory and provide the springboard for the future. In Acts the concentration is on movement from Jerusalem towards Rome, not in order to glorify Rome, but because Rome was the hub of the world, and while it must be recognised that the information given about the Samaritan ministry fits in badly with other aims, it does fit in with this one.

Furthermore the book makes clear that all this was due to the sovereign power of God. It is seen not to be a humanly planned scenario, but one forced on men by the power of God. Necessity forced the appointment of the Hellenistic Jews as ministers, one of whom began to preach to the Samaritans. Persecution drove the Christians out of Jerusalem, when they were settling down snugly to form their own Utopia. The angel of the Lord forcibly directed Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch. Paul was converted by the direct, enforced and unexpected appearance of Jesus to him. Two visions were responsible for Peter being called to meet Cornelius. The Holy Spirit called on the Antioch church to send out Barnabas and Paul. A vision of a man from Macedonia called Paul over to Macedonia. Circumstances beyond his control, then stated to be of God (23.11), sent Paul to proclaim the Gospel before kings and governors, and then finally in Rome. It was all to be seen as of God.

But Acts not only speaks of the spread of the message concerning the Kingly Rule of God (1.3; 8.12; 14.22; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31) over a wide area, it also stresses its growing impact within those areas. Thus it declares boldly that, "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (2.47). "The number of the disciples was multiplied" (6.1). "The word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem" (6.7). "Walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it was multiplied" (9.31). "The word of God grew and multiplied" (12.24). "So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily" (16.5). "So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily" (19.20). And it speaks of "the multitude of those who believed" (4.32). "The multitude of the disciples" (6.2). "Many believed in the Lord" (9.42). "Almost the whole city (Pisidian Antioch) came together to hear the word of God" (13.44). "The word of the Lord was spread abroad throughout all the region" (13.49). "All those who were in Asia (Minor) heard the word of the Lord" (19.10). So part of the emphasis of the book is undoubtedly on the fact that the word spread widely and was powerfully effective in all the areas which it reached.

Another parallel aim, although very similar, was equally certainly in order to portray that the proclamation of the new Kingly rule of God began with Jesus Christ, continued with the Apostolic ministry, with the first outreach being by the Jewish Christian Apostles to Jews, including the Jews of the Dispersion (Acts 2). Then under Jewish Christian Apostolic authority the witness is seen as expanding to Samaritans, and then finally to Gentiles, at which point the important decision was reached that those who united with the new Israel did not need to be circumcised or keep the ritual law. The proclamation of the Good News then expanded outwards among Gentiles until it was being successfully proclaimed by an Apostle in Rome on a continual basis to both Jew and Gentile. The Kingly Rule of God was being established in Rome.

Alongside this was emphasised the fact that to begin with in every city the ministry was to Jews first, which was a sensible procedure as it was in the synagogues that Jews could be found whose background had prepared them for the message, and there also God-fearers could be found, Gentiles who had been attracted by the monotheism and morality of the Jewish teachings but had not become proselytes, who were ripe for the Christian message of the fulfilment of Old Testament teaching in Jesus but without the need for circumcision. But eventually the Jews disqualified themselves from special treatment by their behaviour, so that the Gospel became more freely available on equal terms to all. The old Israel having been given its opportunity the new Israel became separated from the old, although firmly founded on the Jewish Apostles (Ephesians 2.11-22) and in the end was freed from its grip and became the true Israel. Thus is emphasised Paul’s injunction, ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Romans 1.16). But the book ends with Paul emphasising that the fulfilment of Judaism is found in Christianity. Anything else is redundant.

This in fact paralleled the ministry of Jesus which was first for the Jews (Matthew 10.5-6; 15.24), but then after the incident of the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15.21-28; Mark 7.24-30) began to also include on its periphery Gentiles, although strangely enough this is stressed in Matthew and Mark rather than in Luke.

A third subsidiary aim would appear to have been in order to vindicate the Apostleship of Paul, that is to say, to demonstrate that Peter and Paul operated on equal terms and that Paul was approved by the Apostolate, for the first part of Acts largely centres on Peter, with Paul then taking over the centre stage with the approval of the Apostles, and parallels are clearly drawn in order to demonstrate that Peter and Paul performed the same ministry. But Acts cannot rightly be described as a life of Peter and Paul, for Peter drops from view after the Jerusalem Council. And while it is Peter who first goes as an Apostle to Judaea, Samaria and then to the Gentiles, it is Paul who goes extensively among the Gentiles, and finally goes as an Apostle to Rome.

Examples of parallels demonstrating their equal effectiveness are as follows:

  • Both begin with the healing of a man lame from birth (3.2; 14.8)
  • Both heal another man who has been ill for a long time (9.33ff. (long time palsied); 28.8 (a fever and bloody flux)
  • Both heal many men at once, both directly (5.16; 28.9) and through different mediums (5.15 (by shadow) compare 19.12 (by handkerchiefs).
  • Both perform signs and wonders generally (2.43 5.12; compare 14.3; 15.12; 19.11).
  • Both have encounters with sorcerers (8.18; 13.6).
  • Both bring a dead person to life (9. 36-42; 20.9-12).
  • Both perform a miracle revealing God’s judgment (5.1-10 (died); 13.6-11 (blinded)).
  • Both, by the laying-on of hands, confer the gift of the Holy Spirit (8.14-17; 19.1-7).
  • Both bring about speaking in tongues (10.44-46 (while speaking); 19.6 (by laying on of hands).
  • Both have a vision which coincides with one experienced by another man (10.1-22; 9. 3-16).
  • Both are miraculously delivered from prison (5.17-23; 12.3-11 (by angels secretly); compare 16.23-34 (by an earthquake).
  • Both are scourged (5.40; 16.23).
  • Both decline to be honoured/worshipped, and do so in fairly similar words (10.25f; 14.11-18).

The list appears to be impressive. On the whole, however, most of the above are what might be expected from men gifted and chosen as they were, operating in the circumstances of the day, and we should note the differences. Apart from the differences above we should note that he has not, for example, introduced in the case of Peter, as compared with Paul, a stoning (14.19), or threats against life (9.23-29; 14.5), or an exorcism (16.16-18), or in the case of Paul, as compared with Peter, that the Holy Spirit aided his defence against rulers (contrast 4.8) even though in the latter case he could have. Thus we must recognise that while he probably does select from the facts, he does not invent them or alter them in order to achieve his purpose.

Similarly, in respect of Paul, we should note that many of the items enumerated in 2 Corinthians 11.23-27; 12.12 are omitted. This last may be explained, at least in part, by the supposition that the writer had no definite knowledge about them. It would seem that he has, in fact, confined himself to matters genuinely preserved by tradition of which he was made aware by witnesses, and has not invented events or spoken by general hearsay. He has merely made a selection of what he did receive and put them into reasonable shape. But it also suggests that he was not interested in writing a complete life of Paul. For he could have obtained the information from Paul. What he was more interested in was the advance of the Gospel and the revelation of the power of God, first through Peter and then through Paul, until Apostolic ministry was established in Rome.

A fourth subsidiary aim was clearly in order to demonstrate that, while the unbelieving Jews were antagonistic to the church, and sought to bring it into disrepute, which explained why there were so many seemingly questionable incidents, (although this did not apply to all), the Roman authorities continually looked with favour on the church, rejected accusations against it and made its decisions in its favour, looking on it with general approval.

For example, in the third Gospel we have already found Pilate, a Roman governor, declaring that he found no fault in Jesus, a judgment confirmed by Herod, a Roman appointee, who in the other Gospels is not mentioned at all in connection with the examination of Jesus. Pilate then declares three times that he will release Jesus, and is prevailed on to pass adverse sentence only by the insistence of the Jews (Luke 23 1-25). In Acts, which has even been regarded by some as an apology for Christianity intended to be laid before Gentiles in Paul’s defence, or as a general defence of Christianity before the authorities, Pilate is again seen as having been determined to let Jesus go (3.13), the first converts of Peter and Paul are Roman officers (10.1;13.7), while it is the civil authorities who continually and definitely declare Paul not to be a political criminal in spite of the insistence of the Jews (18.14f: 19.37; 23.29; 25.18ff; 26.31ff) ; it is also by them that he is protected, in more than one instance, from conspiracies (18. 12-17; 19.31; 21.31-36; 23.10, 22-33; 25 2-4), and it is made quite clear that he was welcome in Rome and was allowed to preach from his own home without being forbidden. The strong and continual emphasis on these latter instances certainly confirms that one aim of Acts is to clear Christianity of any charge of subversion made against it, and to demonstrate that it was a religio licita, an officially approved religion. But it can only be seen as one aim among many. For the large amount of material that does not contribute to this aim, and is clearly irrelevant to it, prevents us from seeing it as its main purpose.

A fifth aim, emphasised by the extent to which he introduces the teaching of others through their speeches, was clearly to bring home the message of these preachers to his readers. People wanted to know what Jesus had taught, and what the Apostles had taught. So, from his wide knowledge of this, Luke wanted to pass on to them what he knew and what he had learned. He was aware that the church were more interested in the words of Jesus and the Apostles than in what he thought, and humble enough to provide what they wanted (see Speeches in Acts below).

A sixth aim was that he wanted to remove from the minds of Christians the emphasis of some on the centrality of Jerusalem. The first few chapters of Acts major on Jerusalem, but then the work expands outwards as a result of persecution and by chapter 12 it is seen that Jerusalem is no longer the hub of the spreading of the word. That privilege has passed to Antioch. Apart possibly from chapter 15 Jerusalem becomes almost a backwater. While maintaining contact with Jerusalem, the church is freed from its hold.

A seventh subsidiary aim, although an extremely important one underlying the whole purpose of Acts so that it might even be seen as a main purpose, was in order to illustrate how people of all kinds personally came to Christ and found salvation through His name, and how testimony to Christ, with full details of what that testimony was, was given before men of all traditions and status. This was indeed at the heart of all that was happening. But in the end what was really of the deepest significance was undoubtedly the fact that the Gospel moved from Jerusalem to Rome under the auspices of God’s duly appointed Apostles.

The Sources of Acts.

It is clear that Luke must have gathered the information in the first part of Acts from people who were present at what happened. He had good connections with such people including among others both Mark and Philip the deacon, who had both been involved with the church from the beginning. And he would meet many others as he travelled around. He knew most of the companions of Paul at one time or another, would have met Peter, and as his set purpose was to write an accurate history, he would have taken the opportunities presented by his travels to discover and confirm all his facts (Luke 1.3).

Especially significant in Acts are the passages where the writer uses ‘we’, which on any reasonable interpretation suggests that the author was actually present at those times. These are found in 16.10-18; 20.5-16; 21.1-18; 27.1-28.16. Additional to these might be passages where ‘we’ would not have been expected because of the content of the passage.

So overall there is no really good reason to doubt that Luke was able to obtain accurate information from eyewitnesses for most of what he wrote, and was of course able to call on Paul for other information unobtainable elsewhere. Thus there are no real grounds for questioning the historical accuracy of the narrative.

Why Is There So Little Indication In Acts Of The Controversies So Prominent In Paul’s Letters?

The reason that there is so little reference to controversies which early on affected the Christian church is to be found in the purpose of the book. It was intended to reveal the forward movement of the Gospel against all opposition, rather than to look at the controversies of the church arising from the original Jewishness of the church (although some indication of them is certainly given), for the latter would only have sidetracked the reader from the main aim. The point is being made that the church triumphed as one and that therefore the controversies were of little importance. What mattered was the continual advance and establishment of the Gospel, and the fact that a solution to the controversies was agree on by the principle leaders of the church.

Why Did Luke End The Book Where He Did?

The most obvious solution to this question would be that the point at which he ended was about the time at which Luke ended his writings. For if the book was written after the stoning of James the Lord’s brother in Jerusalem had become generally known, or after persecution of Christians by Nero, or after Paul himself had been executed, or after the fall of Jerusalem, it might be thought hard to understand why none of these were at least mentioned. And yet we have already had cause to see that Luke can maintain a deliberate silence when it is within his literary purpose.

He had after all mentioned the martyrdom of James the Apostle (12.2), why not then that of James the Lord’s brother at the hands of the Jews? Furthermore Nero’s acts were despised by the people of Rome who suspected him of duplicity, and might therefore even have obtained sympathy for Christians, and would probably not have been counted against them, while Paul’s martyrdom could have been a genuine comfort and strength to Christians in the face of their difficulties. And reference to the destruction of Jerusalem would have had a great impact in releasing Christianity from its original Jewish ties, as it certainly did for the Jerusalem church that fled to Pella, and would have indicated God’s wrath against the Jews, and have finally distinguished the new message from the old. It would have been a fitting end to the journey from Jerusalem to Rome. Furthermore it must have been quite apparent, had Acts been written later, that anyone interested would know about the Neronic persecution and could soon check and discover what had happened to Paul, so that there was no point in pretending that they had not happened. Indeed such a book, ending like it does, might well have raised questions and resulted in an interest in the carrying out of such investigations. We might ask, if it was written later why does Luke not end with Paul in a place not quite open to such suspicion as being under guard by a Roman soldier?

But having said this it is always dangerous to suggest that an author must include certain things, just because it seems sensible to us, especially one who uses silence in his literary purposes. Possibly rather we need to review our ideas of what the book is aiming at. One possible explanation, apart from that which sees this as determining the date of the writing of the book, is that the writer had a particular aim in view, and that that aim might have been to demonstrate how the work of the early church had resulted in the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God in Rome along with a fruitful authoritative Apostolic ministry, which would have been seen by many in the early church as the ultimate of blessing and triumph. (To them Rome was the centre of all earthly things). It may be that he did not want anything to draw attention away from that. Thus he might have considered that any further information would have detracted from that message, that being the punch line at which he had been aiming. He might simply have in effect been saying, the next step will be the culmination in Heaven itself.

Indeed he might well have intended comparison with the way that Luke’s Gospel had ended with the final work of Christ, something which had resulted from the activity of His enemies, and which had resulted in His resurrection triumph which all knew was a huge blessing. A parallel may therefore have been intended between Jesus’ glorification in Heaven to the right hand of God as King, and Paul’s exaltation on earth by God to his own house in Rome as a servant of Christ, from which to declare the Kingly Rule of God in Rome. The Messiah was enthroned in heaven, while God’s rule could be seen as being established on earth in Rome through Paul His representative. And no one in authority would be able to suggest that Paul had come to Rome with evil intent, for it was by Caesar’s choice, and not by his own, that he had come. Thus anything that followed might have been seen as irrelevant or indeed as being a hindrance to the emphasising of this message. Perhaps he wanted it to be established that despite everything that man could do, God ruled in Rome.

Of course there was a church in Rome long before Paul arrived, for he wrote to them, and we do not know how it was established, (probably as a result of Christians moving or travelling to Rome) but the point being made here may have been the establishing of Apostolic authority, in other words Messiah’s authority, in Rome under God.

Furthermore, to record Paul’s death might also have been seen as unsuitable for a different reason. Luke’s Gospel ended with an emphasis on the death of Jesus, followed by His resurrection. It may well be that he felt that to end Acts with the martyrdom of Paul, as though his death could be paralleled with that of Jesus, might wrongly have suggested an equation between the two, which would not have been seen as acceptable, as Jesus’ death was unique. Comparison might have been seen as odious, as detracting from the message of the cross.

But silence concerning all four powerful events must unquestionably raise the thought in our minds of the very real possibility that the book ended here precisely because, events having reached the climax that Luke was looking for, he proceeded immediately to write his book.

Why Does Luke Not Draw Attention To The Atoning Significance of the Cross?

Much has been made of Luke’s failure to draw attention to the atoning significance of the cross. However, this is not a strictly accurate assessment, for there are certainly occasions when he does so. He cites the words of Jesus, ‘this is my body which is given for you’ and speaks about the new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:19-20). He cites the words of Isaiah 53.12, ‘he was reckoned among the transgressors’ as referred by Jesus to Himself, and the atoning significance of this idea in the context of Isaiah could hardly be overlooked (Luke 22.37). He informs us that Jesus pointed out that ‘the Messiah should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations’ (Luke 24.46-47), which connects the two ideas. And in Acts 20:28 the church of God has been ‘purchased with His own blood’. So Luke tends to let his sources speak for him. At the same time he might not have seen the presentation of the doctrine of the atonement as his main purpose, except generally in his emphasis on the cross. Once Theophilus and his other readers had been attracted to the resurrected Christ and His church, then would be the time to stress the doctrine of the atonement.

But Acts certainly proclaims that it is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that men find life (2.23-24, 33, 38). Compare also 13.29-30 with 37-39 where His death and resurrection are the means of men’s justification apart from the Law. This was preaching which offered eternal life (13.46). And he emphasises that salvation is by the grace of God and not through circumcision and legalism (15.10-11). Furthermore in many places these connections are simply assumed. Thus it is only true to say that Luke does not put a continual strong emphasis on the atonement, not that he does not include the idea at all. His emphasis is on the resurrection. But without the Atonement the resurrection could have no significance for us.

Could The Paul Of The Letters Have Behaved in The Way That Paul Does In Acts?

It is often argued that the Paul of the letters could never have done some of the things spoken of in Acts. Paul, it is said, was so firm in his belief concerning the freedom of the Christian from the Law, even for the Jewish Christian, that he could never 1). have agreed to the circumcision of Timothy (16.3) or 2). have agreed to subject himself to a vow in the Temple (21.20-26).

However, with regard to this it must be remembered that Paul had already passionately stated that he was willing, in order to convert Jews, to become as a Jew to them (1 Corinthians 9.20). This is a strong counter to the above argument. And this is especially so because his reason for circumcising Timothy, who was half Jewish by birth through his mother, was actually said to be in order to make him more effective in witnessing to the Jews in the area (16.3). Circumcising him was therefore a very different thing from circumcising the Gentile Titus at a time when circumcision was being required by the Judaisers as necessary for him in order to be a Christian, a thing Paul adamantly refused to allow because it would have surrendered his case. In view of Paul’s statement about his willingness to become as a Jew for the sake of winning Jews it is impossible to argue that he would not have behaved in this way, and have allowed Timothy to do the same. Indeed for such a reason, if it had not been for the arguments of the Judaisers, he may well have been willing to circumcise Titus as well. His refusal was because Titus had become a test case, and therefore because his being circumcised would have yielded the case to the Judaisers and prevented the full truth of the Gospel from being apparent.

This is rather an example to us of how, while we must never do anything to compromise the truth, we must always be ready not to allow secondary matters to hinder the presentation of the Gospel.

With regard to the Vow in the Temple (21.20-26), the first question is as to whether it was a Nazirite vow? 21.20-26 does not in fact say that Paul made a full Nazirite vow, and thus we have no right to assume so. We are not told that Paul grew his hair long, nor that he shaved his head at that stage. The point was that he would purify himself and pay the expenses of the four men, giving them assistance while they completed their vows. The truth is that our knowledge of the system of vows in Judaism at that time is strictly limited. And in view of the complications of religious ritual and religious vows in the religion of Israel, about which we do not have full information, it is absolutely impossible without further evidence for us to know all the different situations with regard to vows, and the types of vow that a Jew could make. (Compare Leviticus 27). Thus we cannot suggest that Paul’s participation did not follow the correct requirements, because we cannot know whether it did or not, and the only question needing to be dealt with is therefore whether Paul would ever, under any circumstances, assist in the fulfilment of a vow and pay the costs of the offerings for others who took such a vow?

In 18.18 we read of him that he had ‘shorn his head in Cenchreae because he had a vow’. There is no reason for mentioning it there if it did not happen. Nor is there any explanation given for it. Thus Luke clearly seems to have seen it as nothing out of the ordinary. He clearly saw vow-making as something that Paul took part in and treated seriously, and was a part of the tradition.

When we consider that in 21.23 ff. he was personally being pressed to do what he did by James, the Lord’s brother, who had sided with him in his contest with the Judaisers, and that he had said that he was willing to do anything reasonable to further the Gospel, there would seem no credible reason why he would not have done so. For his reason for doing so was to be because it had falsely been said that he forbade any Jewish Christian to continue to fulfil the Law or circumcise their children. As he had not forbidden it, and indeed would favour it where, as in the case of James, it helped him to make a good witness before Jews, such as in Jerusalem, there was no reason for him to refuse.

What he had taught was that it was allowable before God for Christians not to fulfil the full requirements of the ritual Law, (because they were seen as fulfilled in Christ), and he may well have been glad to put any misunderstanding right if it was causing offence. And if he thought at the same time that it would help his brethren in the Jewish church to survive in difficult times, it gives us even more reason for suggesting that he would be very willing to do so. After all he was simply being asked to take a minor part in a ritual that he had been through at least once before and probably also in his youth. If it would help to uphold the Jewish church in the Jerusalem community he may well even have felt obliged to do it, and at the same time have recognised that he could get some religious benefit from such a dedication, as it would not be compromising his firmly stated beliefs which had been upheld by the Council.

We must remember that Jesus had always fulfilled the Jewish Law during His lifetime. Paul would therefore be following in His steps. And it would give Paul an opportunity of upholding the other four vow-makers, and of witnessing to Jews in the Temple. Even if he was not very happy about the situation, and there is no real reason for thinking this, he would have been in a very difficult position, for he knew that he partly owed it to James that his arguments against the need to circumcise Gentiles had won the day. His gratitude may thus have helped to sway his decision. His position had after all been made quite clear to, and by, the Council, who had openly confirmed it, so that he would not see himself as compromising on essentials. And as God used it to get him to Rome, and so that he was able to witness to kings and governors in the meantime, we could well argue that it was in fact God’s intention for him as well (23.11).

Some have also argued that it would have been questionable, morally, if he could really have held his peace about his Christianity and have described himself, especially before a court of justice, simply as a Pharisee (23.6, compare 24.21; 26.5-8; 28.20), asserting that he was accused only on account of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. But Paul may well have seen Christianity, with its firm belief in eternal life and the resurrection of the dead, which were central to Pharisaism, as the true fulfilment of the Pharisaism that had once gripped him, and thus have seen himself as representing the true Pharisaic position, as one who had come to a position which was the fulfilment of Pharisaism. For the final aim of Pharisees was by all means to be faithful to God’s covenant, and that was certainly Paul’s aim, although now seen differently. It was not on the whole on basic doctrines, but in the detail, that he disagreed with the Pharisees. He was certainly far nearer to the Pharisees than the Sadducees. And we must remember that he had personally seen the finest side of Pharisaism in his connection with Gamaliel.

Furthermore Paul did see the church as the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16), and in Ephesians 2.11-22 made clear the acceptance of believing Gentiles into oneness with Jews in the covenant, and in Romans 11 stresses that Gentiles have been grafted in to the olive tree, while unbelieving Jews have been cut out of it. This being so there is no reason why he should not have argued for himself as being now a true Jew, a true Israelite and a true Pharisee.

It really is therefore impossible for us to know the nature of Paul’s thinking on such a matter, or to reach a verdict about how he saw things. Consider how some Christian Jews today can proudly proclaim themselves as Jews, and would certainly be prepared to defend that claim, even in a court of law, and see themselves as the true Jews, and might well side with certain Jews on some issues as in some ways one with them. Many a Pharisee probably did become a Christian and continue to see himself as a Pharisee, simply considering that he had found a better way to obtain what he as a Pharisee had been looking for. By still being a covenant fulfiller, and by receiving eternal life, which was the general aim of Pharisaism, he may well have seen himself as fulfilling the Pharisaic ideal in Christ (Who Himself was never criticised by the Pharisees for not on the whole following their customs).

Furthermore Paul may well, as he stood there and heard the accusations being levelled against him, especially if his view of the resurrection was part of what was being attacked, have felt at one with the Pharisees over the questions at issue, and have been quite happy to identify himself with them on these main points, because at least to that extent they agreed with each other, especially if he thought that by that tactic he might woo them to Christ. Thus it was not necessarily duplicity. He may well have seen himself as a genuine Pharisee just as he saw all Christians as genuine Israelites by adoption.

In all this then we see a man of great tact who, while he was firm for the truth when it was being questioned, was also willing to compromise where that truth was not at stake in order to woo men to following Christ.

The Speeches in Acts.

The question of whether the speeches in Acts genuinely reflect what was said at the time has been hotly debated. Part of the difficulty is clearly that most of the speeches were mainly a precis of actual speeches which would no doubt have been a lot longer, something which can hardly be doubted. So we are not really asking whether we have here the exact words, but whether we have the correct sense and phraseology. Certainly reputable writers did seek to ensure that, when they wrote down what men had ‘said’, their words gave the true meaning of their utterances, as Thucydides strongly affirms. He says that he was, ‘of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said’, even of speeches which he could not fully recall, and stresses that their content either came from his having heard them himself or from reliable sources. On the other hand he also spoke of making plain ‘those subjective elements which cannot easily be displayed in an impartial narrative, but are indispensable to a proper understanding of events’. He also wanted what the speeches were intending to covney to be made clear. Polybius was actually critical of this and went further, for he insisted that what should be recorded was what was actually said. So it is wrong to assume that it was ‘normal’ in those days just to invent speeches, although no doubt some writers did do so, as some do today.

Thus we would expect a reliable author like Luke, where he had not heard the speech himself, to ensure from his sources what was actually said, and to ensure that those sources would be people who had listened carefully with the intention of remembering, and were people who were used to remembering such things. And they would certainly be helped by the fact that the Biblical quotations used would be familiar to them. Furthermore, as they had no New Testament to consult for an understanding of their faith, and were used to memorising, they would be the more particular to remember words that came from a reliable source. Nor were they likely to forget them. For many of the listeners would treasure up the words that they had heard with a view to passing them on, and would have been careful to remember them correctly because they were Apostolic words, with the result that as they continually passed them on to one audience after another their words would take on a specific never to be forgotten form based on what was actually said, which would also become a treasured memory to others. Having nowhere else to turn for material they would preach what they had heard preached, and would be careful to remember it accurately so that they did not alter the inspired words of the original preacher. Indeed if they did alter the words there would be others who had also heard the original speech who would soon remind them accordingly. For, as Papias tells us, emphasising the importance laid on this by the early church, all would be eager to know what were the actual words of the Apostles. They did care about truth.

Analyses of the speeches have both recognised their different kinds, and to some extent their common approach, with differences seen as depending on the context. And this common approach would seem to be, not that of the writer, but of the early preachers themselves, for parallels to aspects of Acts speeches can be found both in the Gospels and in Pauline letters. Indeed it is now largely accepted that we actually know the main basis for most evangelistic speeches at that time, following a pattern which begins with a brief reference to past prophecy in order to indicate that the time promised by the prophets was at hand, followed by an explanation of the life and activities of Jesus, followed by a description of His death and resurrection duly explained, and all accompanied by explanatory texts from the Old Testament Scriptures, followed by the description of His exaltation, with an application to the need of the hearers at the end calling on them to repent and receive forgiveness. Where speeches differ from this it is mainly because of their special purpose or because of the particular audience that is in mind. We know therefore that we would expect Peter to have spoken as he is said to have done in Acts. Luke must therefore be acquitted from the charge of manufacturing speeches, although clearly he did have a hand in the selection of what part of the content he would use.

The pattern for such speeches was certainly not new. We can trace it backwards to the Gospels, and in Paul’s letters. John the Baptiser cited Old Testament prophecy, preached ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 1.4; Luke 3.3), declared, “Repent, for the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3.2 compare 4.17), and in proclaiming the coming judgment, promised also the coming of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3.11-12). When Jesus sent His disciples out to preach, no doubt having given them full instructions on what they were to say, He told them, ‘Preach, saying, “The Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10.7; ). Luke says they were to preach, “The Kingly Rule of God is come near to you” (Luke 10.9 compare 9.2). And in all cases they were to intimate that judgment awaited those who rejected their message (Matthew 10.14-15; Luke 9.5; 10.11-13). This is amplified in Mark 1.15 where the preaching of the good news of God was, “The time is fulfilled (spoken of by the prophets), and the Kingly Rule of God is at hand. Repent you and believe the good news”. So we already have a pattern of preaching with the central points emphasised that appear in Acts. Clearly Jesus would also have filled this out with references to the Scriptures and instructions on how to amplify this message. After all, the Apostles did not just go out repeating one sentence like parrots.

So the pattern He has given His disciples, and which they had preached on time and again, was:

  • 1) Reference to the fulfilment of the time promised by the prophets.
  • 2) The proclamation of the kingly rule of God as at hand or as having drawn near.
  • 3) The call to repent and believe.
  • 4) The promise of the forgiveness of sins,
  • 5) The warning of imminent judgment to come.

Added by John the Baptiser were the call to be baptised and await the reception of the Holy Spirit. And we may see it as certain that the disciples would also make reference to Jesus and His life and teaching, which were the basis of the Kingly Rule of God.

When Jesus was preparing His disciples for their ministry after His resurrection He ‘opened their minds to understand the Scriptures’, that is, to ‘all things which were written in Moses and the prophets and the Psalms concerning Him’, and informed them, ‘Thus it is written that the Messiah should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations’ (Luke 24.46-47).

In Matthew His commission was, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth, go you therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28.18-19).

We could now see the overall pattern of preaching taught them by Jesus as expanding to be as follows;

  • 1) Reference to the fulfilment of the time promised by the prophets.
  • 2) The proclamation of the kingly rule of God as at hand or as having drawn near.
  • 3) Reference to His suffering and rising again as declared in the Scriptures.
  • 4) The declaration that Jesus has openly been made Lord and Messiah.
  • 5) The call to repent and believe.
  • 6) The promise of the forgiveness of sins.
  • 7) The call to be baptised in anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit on them.
  • 8) The warning of imminent judgment to come.

Thus we should not be surprised to find that this was the pattern which Peter emphasised in his first preaching after the resurrection in Acts 2-4. It was in fact what he had been taught by Jesus Himself. In Acts 2-4 we have four speeches by Peter. The first (2.14-36, 38-39) was delivered by Peter to the crowds assembled on the Day of Pentecost, the second (3.12-26) was to the people after the healing of a lame man, the third and fourth (4.8-12; 5.29-32) were to the Sanhedrin after the arrest of the apostles, and all in general follow this pattern. The speech of Peter to Cornelius in 10.34-43 is similar to the earlier speeches, but it has some special features and suggests even more an Aramaic original.

These first speeches of Peter cover substantially the same ground as we have described above. The phraseology and order of presentation may vary slightly, but there is no essential difference between them. They supplement one another, and taken together afford a comprehensive view of Peter’s approach which seems to have become the standard for early preaching on the basis of what Jesus had taught them. It was based on training given by Jesus when they went out preaching the Kingly Rule of God, but extended to take account of the crucifixion and resurrection, and the exaltation of Jesus. Peter was no longer a novice when it came to preaching, and now the Holy Spirit had come with power.

Consider the basis of the speeches in Acts:

  • Firstly that the time is fulfilled, that is, that the age of fulfilment spoken of by the prophets has come, and that the Messianic age has dawned. "This is that which was spoken by the prophet" (Acts 2.16). " The things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Messiah should suffer, He thus fulfilled" (3.18). "All the prophets from Samuel and those who followed after, as many as have spoken, told of these days" (3.24).

    And this tied in with Jewish teaching for it was a central feature of Rabbinic exegesis of the Old Testament that what the prophets predicted had reference to the "days of the Messiah." In other words they predicted the time of expectation when God, after long centuries of waiting, would visit His people with blessing and judgment, and bring to a climax His dealings with them.

  • Secondly, that this has taken place through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, of which a brief account is given, with proof from the Scriptures that all took place through "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (2.23).

    This could include, 1) His Davidic descent. "David, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, He would set one on his throne, foreseeing the resurrection of the Messiah ---," who is therefore proclaimed, by implication, to have been born "of the seed of David" (2.30-31; citing Psalm 131.11 compare Psalm 16.10. See Romans 1.3).

    2) His life and ministry. "Jesus of Nazareth, a man divinely accredited to you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by Him among you" (Acts 2.22). "Moses said, The Lord your God will raise up a prophet --- like me; him you must hear in all things that he may say to you" (Acts 3.22; regarded as fulfilled in the preaching and teaching of Jesus).

    3) His death. "Him being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you, by the hands of lawless men, did crucify and slay" (2.23). "His servant Jesus, Whom you caused to be arrested, and denied before the face of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. And you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of Life" (3.13-14). "Jesus Christ of Nazareth Whom you crucified" (4.10).

    4) His resurrection. "Whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. For David says with reference to Him, --- ‘You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor give Your Holy One to see corruption’ " (2.24, 27-28). "Whom God raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses" (3.15). "Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead" (4.10).

  • Thirdly, by virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God, as Lord and Messiah and head of the new Israel (receiving all authority in heaven and earth). "Being exalted at the right hand of God --- God has made Him Lord and Messiah" (2.33, 36 compare Psalm 110.1). "The God of our fathers --- has glorified His Servant Jesus" (3.13). "He is the Stone which was rejected by you builders, which was made the head of the corner" (4.11, citing Psalm 118.22). We can compare with this, "Him did God exalt with His right hand, as Prince and Saviour" (5.31). In the words of Jesus in Matthew 28.19, all authority had been given to Him in heaven and on earth.
  • Fourthly, the Holy Spirit in His people is the proof of Christ’s present power and glory. "Being exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts 2.33). This is referred to earlier by citing Joel 2.28-32 in Acts 2.17-21. See also, "We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit which God has given to those who obey Him" (5.32). The promised baptism (drenching) with the Holy Spirit had come.
  • Fifthly, the Messianic Age will shortly reach its consummation in the return of Christ, a consummation awaited from the beginning. "That He may send the Messiah appointed beforehand for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the times of the restoration of all things, of which God spoke through the mouth of His prophets which have been since the world began" (3.21). This is in fact the only reference in Acts 2-4 which speaks of the second coming of Christ, but in Acts 10 it is seen as part of the apostolic preaching, "This is He who is ordained by God as Judge of living and dead" (10.42). This is the only explicit reference to Christ as Judge in these speeches (compare John 5.22, 27), but as we have seen it was certainly an assumption of the Apostolic ministry during the lifetime of Jesus.
  • Sixthly, and finally, the preaching regularly closes with an appeal for repentance, an offer of forgiveness and of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of" salvation," that is, of "eternal life, the life of the age to come," to those who become Christ’s and one with His people. "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and to all who are far off, as many as the Lord your God may call to Him" (Acts 2.38-39, referring to 2,21 (Joel 2. 32), Isaiah 57.19). "Repent therefore and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out ---You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ To you first, God, having raised up His Servant, sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you away from your sins " (Acts 3.19, 25-26, having in mind Genesis 12.3). "In none other is there salvation, for nor is there any other name under heaven given among men by which you must be saved" (Acts 4.12).

    We can compare with this, " Him did God exalt at His right hand as Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins" (Acts 5.31); "To Him bear all the prophets witness, that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive remission of sins" (Acts 10.43).

This then is what the author of Acts meant by "preaching the Kingly Rule of God." It is very significant that it follows the lines of the summary of the preaching of Jesus as given in Mark 1.14-15 : "Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Good News of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled (spoken of by the prophets), and the Kingly Rule of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the Gospel", the lines of the preaching of John the Baptiser to whom Peter had been a disciple, and the lines Jesus Himself laid out in His resurrection appearances, which together covered everything that Peter said.

The first clause in Mark’s description, "The time is fulfilled," is expanded in the reference to prophecy and its fulfilment in accordance with what Jesus had no doubt taught them while He was alive, and had certainly taught them after His resurrection. The second clause, "The Kingly Rule of God has drawn near," is expanded in the account of the ministry and death of Jesus, and His resurrection and exaltation as Lord and Messiah to receive all authority in heaven and earth, having suffered as the Messiah. The third clause, "Repent and believe the Gospel," reappears in the appeal for repentance and the offer of forgiveness with which Peter’s sermons close. Even if we had not known what Peter preached we could have pieced it together from the Gospels.

That this pattern was acceptable to Paul comes out in the first four verses of Romans. There he describes the Gospel of God as being - promised beforehand by his prophets in the Holy Scriptures (verse 2), concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord (verse 3), Who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh (verse 3), and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. That this included the cross comes out in what follows (Romans 3.24-28) and is stressed in 1 Corinthians 1.18; 2.2; 15.3-4.

Parallels Between Luke and Acts.

There are some interesting parallels between Luke and Acts. In Luke the first part is in Aramaic Greek and the second part is in general Greek, and the same applies in Acts, although in different proportions. The general Greek section begins in Luke when Jesus goes out to preach, and in Acts it begins once the Gentile believers’ freedom from the Law has been confirmed. In Luke 3 John the Baptiser refers to his baptism in water as pointing to the Coming One Who will baptise in the Holy Spirit, while in Acts 1.5 Jesus refers back to this saying. In Luke 4 Jesus goes forth full of the Holy Spirit, and commences preaching the Kingly rule of God, healing, casting out evil spirits, as do His Apostles, and in Acts 2 the Apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth in the same way, healing, casting out evil spirits and proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God. In Luke 4 Jesus is immediately challenged about His ministry and His behaviour is treated as blasphemous, and a similar result follows the going out of the Apostles and their disciples. So the Acts ministry parallels the ministry of Jesus in a number of ways. And that this is a continuation comes out in that Jesus is the Servant of God, ‘His chosen’, in Luke (Luke 2.32; 3.22; 9.35 RV/RSV; 22.37; 23.35), while in Acts the early church (as well as Jesus) is the Servant of God (Acts 13.47).

In Luke Jesus calls His Apostles in order to expand His ministry (Luke 6.23-19), and in Acts 1 the number of the Apostles is made up ready for the expansion of the ministry through the Holy Spirit. In Luke Jesus is transfigured before His three main disciples (Luke 9.29), while in Acts He appears in glorious light to Paul, something drawn attention to three times (Acts 9.3; 22.6; 26.13 with 1 Corinthians 15.8). In Luke Jesus is ‘compelled’ to take His journey to Jerusalem (Acts 9.51-53;13.22; 17.11), while in Acts Paul is compelled to take his journey to Rome (Acts 21.32-27), both finally being held under restraint, something which finally results in the triumph of God. Luke finishes with Christ enthroned triumphantly in heaven with all authority in heaven and earth (Luke 24.51 compare Matthew 28.19), while Acts finishes with Paul firmly established in Rome proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 28.30-31). In Luke Jesus follows His ministry to the Jews with an attempted ministry to the Samaritans (Luke 9.52; 17.16), and in Acts 8.5 onwards the ministry to the Jews is followed by one to the Samaritans. However, Luke gives no obvious examples of a ministry to the Gentiles, although it is latent in Luke 7.1-10; 8.26-39. In Luke there is early concentration on the work of the Spirit, followed by silence, and the same applies, although to a lesser extent, in Acts, although in Luke the reason is probably in order to draw the whole of his reader’s attention to Jesus, whereas in Acts it is to draw attention to Paul’s being constrained and not free. In Luke Jesus passes his final days before His exaltation under restraint. In Acts Paul is held under restraint before his being established in Rome.

The parallels are far from exact, but they may well be deliberate (had they been too exact we might have doubted them). This is, however, no stereotyped representation. Rather it illustrates on the whole that we His people are called to follow in His steps.

Is There A General Consensus About the Book?

We do not intend to go into detail on the many controversies which have been fought over the book, for most of them merely arise from the disparity between the kinds of people who have studied the book. As we might expect of a book which is so important, (it is the only record of mid 1st century church history that we have), views about it are many and varied, and are the result of the thinking of atheists, deists, rationalists, and people of various other religions, to say nothing of wide varieties of ‘Christians’. We must thus expect diversities of views. They approach the book with their own agenda, and then they regularly each interpret in the light of their own ideas. They have thus tended to see in it what struck them from their point of view, and their interpretations are thus regularly the result of the viewpoint of the writer rather than something that is demanded by the text of the book itself. Each sees what he looks for.

Had a consensus been reached we might have seen things differently. But the fact that there is no consensus, and that widely differing views are still held, confirms that the views are solely just that and are not fully evidenced by the facts. Had they been so a consensus would have been reached. The fact that scholars are no nearer to coming to a consensus about it now than they have ever been, in spite of the time spent studying the book, serves to confirm that there is in fact no straightforward answer to the questions that have been asked.

This wide diversity of opinions demonstrates, not the unreliability of the book, but the general uncertainty and unreliability of the theories that have been raised. No theory is acceptable to the majority. This should rather make us recognise that if we do wish to grasp the truth about the book we will do it best by giving consideration to the text itself rather than by following one or other of the theories, which have simply been shown to be what they are, unproveable theories dependent on viewpoint which can obtain no wide agreement.

What, however, has been good about the theories is that they have made us think more deeply about the text itself, and given us new lines along which to think. Indeed the book is considered so important that its language has been analysed in detail over and over again, and its sources have been discussed continually, with no agreement having been reached, but as a result its historical accuracy has been thoroughly questioned, carefully examined, and then reinstated by competent scholars.

No other books in the world have been subjected to such detailed examination as the books of the Bible. And yet with all this what in the end tend to be put aside are not the books themselves, which still continue to stand firm, but rather all the theories that have been invented about them. Even today, after two hundred years or more of careful scrutiny by some of the most brilliant minds in the world, they are still not fully understood, and there is no consensus of opinion about them. Some people once thought that they would reach such a consensus, but they have been proved wrong. In fact no real evidence has been produced showing them to be other than what they claim to be. They have never been ‘disproved’. Each simply has an opinion which disagrees with someone else’s opinion (confirming that neither can be demonstrated to be true).

Applying this to Acts we can safely say that all attempts to discredit it have failed. No critical position has been demonstrated to be certainly true, and for every scholar who holds one view, there are others who hold the opposite. There is some little agreement. All would agree that its first half is in some way affected by Aramaic Greek, and that its second half is of ‘purer’, Greek, but views about why and how much this is so still vary considerably and contradict each other. There is no consensus on why this is. All we can probably safely say is that it is not a virginal piece of literature but did have some sources, including Aramaic sources, which is both what we would have expected and what Luke stated from the very beginning to be so.

The one who is looking for contradictions and does not look below the surface will, of course, find them to his own satisfaction. That is inevitable with any piece of literature. But then he will find that other scholars of equal calibre do not consider that they are contradictions. To some extent each finds what he is looking for, which suggests that the book itself is not so amenable to our theories as we would like. And thus our best way of deciding the issue for ourselves is by taking into account the best of what has been said, and then looking at the book itself and coming to our own conclusion with regard to it, having especially a regard, on careful study, to its quality, and its moral and spiritual impact, and giving recognition to the fact that there are able scholars today who still do accept it as a true record of what did happen. There has not been sufficient evidence to convince them otherwise.

One thing certainly stands out, and that is that after over two centuries and more of detailed study by scholars of all backgrounds, no certain grounds have been discovered for rejecting its historical truth. Indeed the opposite is the case. The gradual accretion of knowledge has served more to demonstrate its overall accuracy than otherwise, and to give us confidence in the fact that it can be relied on. No one has been able to clearly demonstrate that for all practical purposes it is mainly fictitious or pure invention. The opposite is in fact the case. All such suggestions have arisen from the unwillingness to believe that God was really at work. In fact as far as it can be tested the opposite has been demonstrated to be the case. It has been shown to stand securely against the background of its day.

We must accept, of course, that its truth is declared from a Christian viewpoint. No one would doubt that this is the case. Nor as Christians would we want it any other way. We do not want just a potted history. We want to know positively from the inspired writer what the facts reveal about Jesus Christ and about the Christian message. And that was after all why Luke was writing a history. He was presenting a case and seeking to get over more than just facts. He was, under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit of Whom he writes, selecting and interpreting those facts. The interpreting of facts is something all historians do. And Luke was both a historian and a theologian, which was a necessity for the kind of books he wrote. But that is a very different thing from saying that he invented the facts, which the evidence suggests that he did not do.

Each person necessarily approaches facts from the point of view of his own prejudices. The one who believes that miracles cannot happen will interpret accordingly, whatever the facts are. To such people, whatever the evidence may be, the assumption will always be that the miracle cannot have happened and that an alternative explanation must therefore be found. The one who does not believe in a God Who acts, will interpret accordingly. From their viewpoint nothing can be an act of God. No sceptic, even having been given all the facts, could possibly have written the book of Acts, or could even have appreciated the issues involved. But that does not mean that Luke was historically inaccurate, only that he presented the facts from the point of view of one who did believe in miracles because he had seen them happen, and did believe in a God Who acts. That does not mean that he distorted the facts, or simply accepted things through prejudice. What it did do was determine how he interpreted the facts that he discovered.

For Luke’s aim was to get over Who Jesus is and what He had come to do, and how the message about him was spread abroad from Jerusalem to Rome. He makes no secret of it. He makes it absolutely clear from the beginning (1.8). But if we wish to treat him fairly we must also recognise that he actually claims that he does so after a careful researching of the facts. He claims quite strongly that for this reason he did research the facts carefully (see Luke 1.1-4). Unless we are going to say that he was just being dishonest, we must necessarily take this into account in studying the book. We may disagree with his interpretation, but in view of his general proven historical accuracy, we must be careful before we dismiss the facts that he states.

Of course he was influenced by the fact that he believed in a God Who acts, and believed in miracles. No one would deny that. But nor can we doubt that he also genuinely wanted to ensure that he only spoke what he knew to be the truth, and basically claimed, with regard to that, that he did not just invent things in order to get over his message. We may accept that his facts were right, or we may claim that they were wrong, but we have no genuine reason for doubting that he had looked into them very carefully and had concluded that they really were facts. Certainly his interpretation of them was Christian. And equally certainly a non-Christian Pharisee or Sadducee would each have interpreted the facts very differently, both from Luke and from each other. But the underlying facts stand firm. All, for example, saw the miracles, (apparently no one claimed that they did not happen) but each interpreted them from his own viewpoint. Indeed in chapters 3 & 4 we have a clear example of how different people knew the facts and interpreted them in different ways. In those chapters all admitted the facts, but each interpreted them according to their own background beliefs. And Paul certainly interpreted the facts very differently after he had been converted from how he did prior to being converted.

Thus all we can ask of Luke is that he was careful about the facts, genuinely sought to obtain his information from eyewitnesses, and did not try to make everything fit in with his own presuppositions. And it is our view that he has demonstrated that he did accomplish all three of these aims.

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