Luke writes a carefully researched history of the first church to Theophilus, a high Roman official, convincing him that the gospel of Jesus Christ saves both Jews and Gentiles and is spreading in the entire world.
Luke, one of Paul’s Gentile converts, a doctor (Col 4:14) writes this carefully researched and ordered gospel, having done extensive study of the current documents and having taken interviews of many eye witnesses (Luk 1:1-4). The gospel of Luke is the first of two volumes he writes, the second one being Acts. The two books are clearly linked, not least by their common addressee (Luk 1:1-4, Acts 1:1). In the gospel of Luke focuses on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In Acts Luke focuses on how the salvation movement started by Jesus spreads in the known world. Luke probably did his research and writing when Paul was imprisoned for 2 years in Ceasarea (57-59 AD) and then in Rome (60-62 AD).
Luke writes to ‘most excellent Theophilus’, a title otherwise used on Roman proconsuls (Acts 23:26, 24:3, 26:25), which suggests that Theophilus was a high Roman official himself, possibly a Roman judge or lawyer involved with Paul’s court case in Rome (Acts 22-28). The Romans considered the Jews religious fanatics who were a major cause for continued unrest in the Roman Empire, threatening the beloved ‘Pax Romana’ (‘Roman peace’).
In order to convince a Roman of the truth of what he is writing, or even to get a hearing for what he has to say, Luke has to overcome strong Roman prejudice, pride and hatred of the Jews. Luke has to convince Theophilus that Jesus is not just a Jewish local figure, rather he is the Savior of the world. Luke has to convince Theophilus that Jesus is not ‘one more Jewish fanatic’ or military messiah. Jesus rather reached out to outsiders. He challenged pride and superiority and showed that the problem is not Roman occupation but the sinful human heart.
Luke has to show Theophilus, that the first church, the new followers of Jesus are exactly like Jesus and led by his Spirit: they are non-political and non-violent and get persecuted by exactly the same fanatical Jews that Jesus got attacked by. They preach the gospel, serve people and address the hearers’ hearts, resulting in salvation and a profound change in their behavior. Many of the first converts once were what the Romans dislike: proud, racially superior Jews that hope for an overthrow of Rome. But once Jesus gets a hold of their heart, they are dramatically changed: they start loving and serving not only fellow-Jews but Gentiles.
Luke shows the character and behavior of the first leaders of the church: Peter, John, Stephen, Philip, Barnabas and James. He shows that they are transformed from Roman-despising fearful Jews to courageous and selfless leaders. Luke then focuses especially on one new leader of the gospel movement, Paul, a fanatic and violent Pharisee that upon meeting Jesus is converted and radically transformed. He becomes a fearless apostle, a man willing to give his life for Christ and his church, a champion of the Gentiles he once disdained. Paul is the ultimate example of what happens when Jesus gets a hold of a man’s heart: he is transformed into a powerful, Jesus-like person, a selfless leader and a defender of the freeing truth of the gospel.
Luke spends more than half of his history book on the church describing Paul’s life and ministry. The reason for this focus on Paul may be that Luke traveled with Paul for years, and – of course – Paul is a central figure of the early church. But since Luke spends about 8 chapters on describing Paul’s court case, it is not unthinkable that the Roman official Theophilus, whom he is addressing is involved in Paul’s court case in Rome. Theophilus might be the lawyer or judge that will hear Paul’s case. If so Acts is also Luke’s ‘background paper’ and ‘defense’ of Paul: Luke shows that Paul is a changed man, he is non-violent though trouble dodges him where ever he goes. Luke shows that Paul is innocent, and throughout Acts numerous Roman government officials declare Paul to be innocent, recognize the fanatics’ agenda against him and refuse to judge him.
Luke shows that the Holy Spirit started such a movement in this world, that though the church is heavily persecuted, it only grows and thrives. The word of God conquers the world, the gospel of Christ is unstoppable and its waves have even reached Theophilus in Rome. How will you respond?
A CAREFULLY RESEARCHED GOSPEL AND HISTORY OF THE FIRST CHURCH
Luke, one of Paul’s Gentile converts, a Greek doctor (Col 4:14) writes this carefully researched and well ordered gospel (Gospel of Luke), as well as the following history of the first church (Acts). Luke makes it clear that he is not himself an eye witness to Jesus’ ministry, rather a later convert (and in that sense in the same situation as his reader), but he has done an extensive study of the documents already written about Jesus (Luk 1:1) and he has taken interviews of many eye witnesses (Luk 1:1-4), among them Mary, the mother of Jesus (Lu 1:29, 2:19,51). But Luke has met many of the early church leaders and has been the travel companion and long-term coworker of Paul and is a close eye-witness of the gospel movement that results in a strongly spreading church (Lu 16:10ff).
The gospel of Luke is the first of two volumes Luke writes, the second one being Acts. The two books are clearly linked:
the same addressee: Theophilus (Lu 1:1-4, Ac 1:1)
Acts refers back to Luke: ‘In the first book… I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught’ (Acts 1:1)
Luke ends with the command to wait for the promised Holy Spirit (Luk 28:49). Acts starts with the same command (Acts 1:2).
Luke and Acts share a common geographical structure, linking the two books like mirror pictures:
Lu 1:1 Galilee Ac 13:1 the ends of the earth
Lu 9:51 the way to Jerusalem Ac 8:1 Judea, Samaria
Lu 19:28 Jerusalem Ac 1:1 Jerusalem
Luke probably did his research and writing when Paul was imprisoned for 2 years in Caesarea (Acts 24:27, 57-59 AD) and then another 2 years in Rome (Acts 28:30-31, 60-62 AD).
THE AUTHOR OF LUKE AND ACTS
Luke doesn’t state his name in the text, so how do we know he is the author of these two books? There is internal evidence (meaning: from the Bible itself) and external evidence (meaning: from writings of early church fathers and church historians).
The author of Acts, when telling the story of Paul, switches between talking in ‘they’-form (the author not being part of the team at the time) and in ‘we’-form (the author being part of the team at the time). This gives clues as to who the author can be:
These so-called ‘we‘ passages in Acts indicate that the author of Acts was with Paul at that time
Ac 16:10 2nd Missionary journey, the writer joins in Troas, left behind in Philippi
Ac 20:5-15 3rd Missionary journey, the writer rejoins Paul at Philippi, together travel to Miletus
Ac 21:1-18 3rd Missionary journey, the writer is with Paul returning to Jerusalem
Ac 24:23 Paul is allowed visitors while in prison in Caesarea
Ac 24:27 Paul in prison for 2 years in Caesarea. What did Luke do during this time?
Ac 27:1-28:16 With Paul on journey to Rome (author, Paul & Aristarchus), so author was in Rome with Paul
People mentioned in Paul’s prison letters from Rome:
Co 4:10,11 Jews: Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus Justus. Gentiles: Epaphras, Luke, Demas
Phm 23,24 Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus (Macedonian from Thessalonica), Demas, Luke
2 Ti 4:11 Luke alone with Paul. Mark is somewhere else. Demas fell away.
The possible candidates are:
Aristarchus No. He is traveling with the author (Acts 27:2)
Mark No. He was not with Paul on 2nd journey when the author joined Paul in Troas.
Mark is off with Barnabas. He is the author of another gospel, unlikely to write 2
Epaphras He came from Asia, but Paul did not go there until his third Missionary Journey. Col 1:7 indicates that he came to Rome after Paul got there.
Demas He fell away, unlikely that he would write it.
Jesus-Justus not mentioned anywhere else.
Luke The most likely candidate.
More support of Luke, the doctor, being the author is that fact that there are over 400 medical terms in Luke and Acts, often more accurate terms as in the other gospels. Examples: Luke mentions ‘high fever‘ (Lu 4:38) and a man ‘full of leprosy‘ (Lu 5:12), indicating an advanced stage of leprosy.
External Evidence from the writings of the church fathers
Justin 160 AD calls Luke the ‘memoirs of Jesus‘, says he was Paul’s companion
Muratorian Canon 170-180 AD attributes the Gospel of Luke to Luke, a doctor, who is Paul’s
Irenaeus 175-195 AD attributes the Gospel of Luke to Luke, follower of Paul, saying that
the “we sections” in Acts suggest so.
Tertullian early 3rd cent calls the Gospel of Luke a digest of Paul’s gospel
Eusebius early 4th cent Luke, companion of Paul, was from Antioch, author of Luke & Acts
Origen 184-254 AD has a reference
Clement of Alexandria 150-215 AD has a reference
We can conclude with reasonable certainty that the Greek doctor Luke, Paul’s long-term fellow missionary, is the author of both Luke and Acts.
Luke writes to ‘most excellent Theophilus’, a title otherwise used of high Roman officials (Ac 23:26, 24:3, 26:25), like Festus and Felix, both Proconsuls of Judea (as Pilate was earlier). This strongly suggests that Theophilus was a high Roman official himself.
The name Theophilus means ‘lover of God’, from which some people conclude that Theophilus is not a real person but a code word for the church in general, and that Luke therefor wrote Luke and Acts for the church. We can definitely say that Luke would have kept a copy of his extensive study and made it available to the church, but this does not necessarily mean that Theophilus wasn’t a real person. The research nature of the writing, the evangelistic and apologetic thrust of Luke seems to indicate something else.
The Romans considered the Jews religious fanatics who were a major cause for continued unrest in the Roman Empire, threatening the beloved ‘Pax Romana’ (‘Roman peace’). The Romans also generally considered themselves more developed, more civilized, more just and also otherwise superior to the people they conquered. The Romans understood the extension of their empire as ‘making people developed’, as ‘bringing them Roman justice’ and ‘Roman peace’ and as ‘letting them have part of civilization and tolerance’.
They had a disdain for all who did not want to be part of this superior Roman empire, those creating unrest, unpeace, continual revolutions, fanatical, purist and intolerant people. Of course the Jews were very much part of this hated group. Their continual Messiah rebel movements angered the Romans. At one time in history half of the soldiers of the vast Roman empire were stationed in and around Judea. The Romans considered Judea and Syria as the ‘festering boil’ in an otherwise peaceful Roman world.
All of these prejudices would have strongly worked against Theophilus being able to even hear the gospel of Jesus the Jew, far less believe it and respond to its claims. It is against all these prejudices that Luke writes his careful account. Luke has to convince Theophilus:
that Jesus is not just a Jewish local figure, he is the Savior of the world and has come even for the Romans
that Jesus is not ‘one more Jewish fanatic’, that he in fact was opposed and killed by precisely those Jewish fanatics.
that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, but he was no rebel rouser or military leader; he never resorted to violence and he never thought the Roman presence the real problem. He stayed submitted to the government even when unjustly executed.
that Jesus has no Jewish pride or superiority, but rather he reaches out to non-Jews, as a matter of fact he reaches out to everyone: foreigners, outcasts, sinners, poor, sick, women and children. Jesus instead challenges Jewish pride and superiority. He challenges their ideas of rebellion against Rome being the solution to their problems but rather shows that it is the sinful human heart that needs to be dealt with.
that Jesus is in no way blind to his own culture’s faults and weaknesses, he is in no way intolerant, fanatical, exclusive or morally superior.
So Luke writes a detailed, carefully investigated, orderly written gospel and account of the history of the first church that appeals to reason. Luke wants to prove that the events he describes are real, historical events, verifiable and true. Many of the Roman leaders who at one time or other dealt with Jesus (like Pontius Pilate) and even more so many who dealt with the apostle Paul (like Proconsuls Sergius Paulus, Gallio, Felix, Festus) are still around and can be asked.
There is one more option that needs to be at least considered: it could be that Theophilus was the Roman judge or lawyer involved with Paul’s court case in Rome (Acts 22-28). There are several reasons why this is not unlikely:
Theophilus, though definitely not a believer and not part of any church, has already ‘been instructed about these things’ (Luk 1:4), possibly a reference to him seeing evidence concerning Paul’s case. Luke wants to convince him of the ‘truth’ concerning these things.
More than half of the book of Acts focuses on Paul, which could be explained by Luke, being Paul’s traveling companion, knowing more about him than the other apostles. We know from church history that the other 12 apostles were very active and spread the gospel far and wide, yet Luke doesn’t mention them at all after chapter 12 of Acts. Why this deliverate focus on Paul? > if Luke writes to submit evidence for Paul’s case this makes sense: to show the roots of the movement and then focus on the main figure.
Paul’s arrest and court case, as it happened so far in Jerusalem and Judea gets a very large focus in Acts: chapter 21 to 28 are entirely devoted to this. They read like a transcript of ‘the case so far’. This would be surprising, given that Luke otherwise summarizes Paul’s work in very few words. For example in Acts 19:8-10, Paul summarizes almost 3 years of ministry of Paul in two sentences. But if Luke writes to submit evidence for Paul’s case, this makes perfect sense.
There is a strong focus on Jesus and later Paul meeting Roman officials, Roman military leaders and Roman proconsuls, more than in any other gospel. In the case of Jesus everybody who handles his case is convinced of his innocence. In the case of Paul everybody who handles his case is convinced that he has done nothing against the law. Luke shows judge Theophilus that nobody so far has been willing to condemn Paul, and to condemn him would mean to advance the agenda of violent, fanantic Jews.
In the gospel of Luke there is a huge emphasis on the Pharisees, their attitudes, their words, their actions; all in all a very negative picture. These are exactly the type of people the Romans disdain and hate: fanatical, racially superior, intolerant, prone to violence. Why this big emphasis?
For two reasons: To show the Roman Theophilus that Jesus has conflicts with precisely these Pharisees, it is them who oppose and shamefully kill him.
The second reason: Paul is one of them. Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees. But then Jesus took a hold of him. Luke powerfully shows what happens when Jesus gets a hold of a fanatical, racially superior, intolerant, violent Pharisee – he becomes an apostle, one to endure great suffering and deprivation and laying down his life to bring the gospel not just to Jews, but to the Gentiles. The Pharisee has become the champion for the Gentiles – this is Jesus’ work. And this is the very man that now stands before Theophilus to be judged.
CONTINUATION FROM LUKE
Understanding all this, it is not surprising to see what Luke focuses on in his Gospel of Luke:
People stating Jesus’ innocence (Lu 23:4, 23:14-15, 23:22, 23:41, 23:47, 23:51)
Jesus bringing salvation to all, Jews and non-Jews, men, women, children, sick, disabled, unclean, outsiders, sinners etc.
Jesus is rejected, especially by the Pharisees
Jesus’ teaching addresses the heart
Jesus kingdom has come, but is of a different nature
The Holy Spirit works in this world to accomplish the will of God
Incorporation of eye-witness accounts
accurate historical references (Lu 2:1-2, Lu 3:1-2)
Most of these themes are continued in Acts, the history of the movement Jesus launches.
ACCURATE HISTORICAL FACTS AND REFERENCES
As in his gospel, also in Acts Luke gives very accurate, historical information. He mentions many Roman government of military officials with name. Most of these Theophilus would have heard about or know. Many of them were likely still alive and Theophilus could have quite easily check the accuracy of Luke’s account with them. Some of these we can still verify or link many centuries later:
Luke mentions that in Damascus, there was a Jewish plot to kill Paul from which he escapes by by being let down in a basket through a window in the city wall (Acts 9:25). In 2 Co 11:32 it mentions that Paul flees from the governor of King Aretas.
Historical information (other sources): King Aretas IV Philopatris (9 BC – AD 40), was King of Nabatea, while it was subject to Rome. It later became a Roman province. His daughter married Herod Antipas, who divorced her to marry his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. John the Baptist objected to this, was imprisoned and executed (Mk. 6:17). Aretas declared war on Antipas for this insult in AD 36.
Damascus was originally the capital city of Syria, and was governed as a colony of Nabatea, by an ethnarch or governor representing Aretas. Damascus was probably given to Aretas by the emperor Caligula Gaius (AD 37-41). The plot of Jews and the Nabatean governor to seize Paul was probably in response to his preaching the gospel. Nabatea is the same area as Arabia, where Paul went after his conversion (Ga 1:17), where he must have preached, drawing a hostile response.
The Famine of Jerusalem
Luke mentions in Acts 11:28 that this famine was predicted by Agabus and took place in the days of Claudius (AD 41-54). Barnabas and Saul visited Jerusalem with relief.
Historical information (Josephus Flavius): He writes that Helena, the Jewish queen mother of Adiabene, east of the Tigris brought corn from Egypt and figs from Cyprus and distributed them in Jerusalem. The famine is dated by Josephus during the days of the procurators Crispus Fadus (44-46 AD) and Tiberius Julius Alexander (46-48 AD), which would place the famine in AD 46.
The Death of Herod Agrippa I
Luke mentions Herod Agrippa I’s death due to pride and being judged by God (Acts 12:20-23).
Historical Information (Josephus Flavius): Josephus also describes this event: While Agrippa I was putting on a show in Caesarea in honor of the emperor. Agrippa had shows in honor of Caesar, a festival for the emperor’s welfare. He invited provincial officials and other distinguished people. On the 2nd day he put on a robe of silver, and entered the room at daybreak. The sun shone on the silver, causing fear and trembling in the audience. His flatterers called out using language which was no good for him, addressing him as a god. “Be gracious to us, until now we reverenced you as a man, but now we see you be more than of mortal character”. He did not rebuke them for their impious flattery, looking up he saw an owl above him. …Agrippa was struck down with severe pains in his abdomen, dying 5 days later. Medically, it sounds like a burst appendix.
Expulsion of the Jews from Rome
Luke mentions Aquila and Priscilla having recently been expelled from Rome.
Historical Information (Suetonius); Suetonius, in his work “Life of Claudius” wrote: “As the Jews were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus, he banished them from Rome.” This indicates Jewish disorder, probably in reaction to Christ being preached in the Roman synagogues. This edict was reversed by Nero in AD 54, when most Jews returned.
Proconsul Gallio of Achaia Acts 18:12
Luke mentions that in Corinth Proconsul Galllio refuses to judge Paaul.
Historical information: He was the son of the older Seneca (50 BC – AD 40), and brother of the younger Seneca, the philosopher and adviser to Nero (3 BC – AD 65). Gallio was appointed proconsul of Achaia in July AD 51. He left because of a fever and went on a cruise in AD 52. Picture: Corinthian inscription mentioning Gallio.
Felix and Festus Acts 25:1
Luke mentions both proconsuls and their role in Paul’s court case in Acts 24:27.
Historical Information (other sources): There had been an outbreak of Jewish-Gentile hostility and fighting in Caesarea. Felix intervened causing much bloodshed among the Jewish leadership and was recalled to Rome. Felix was replaced by Festus as proconsul of Judea in AD 59.
ROMANS WHO REFUSED TO CONDEMN PAUL AND THE GOSPEL MOVEMENT
There is an impressive list of Romans who refused to condemn Paul and the gospel movement in Acts:
Acts 13:7-12 Proconsul Sergius Paulus Cyprus
Acts 18:12-17 Jews > Proconsul Gallio Corinth refuses to judge Paul
Acts 19:21-41 local silversmiths > Town clark Ephesus
Acts 21:27-36 Jews grab Paul Jerusalem Roman tribune saves him
Acts 22:22-29 Tribune Claudias Lysias flogs Jerusalem Paul challenges him
Acts 23:12-15 Jewish conspiracty to kill Paul > Caesarea Roman military protects Paul
Acts 23:26-30 Tribune Claudias Lysias’ letter Jerusalem
Acts 24:22-26 Proconsul Felix doesn’t judge Caesarea
Acts 25:1-12 Proconsul Festus Caesarea
Acts 25:32 Herod Agrippa II, Festus Caesarea this man could have been freed
Acts 27:1 Centurion Julius of Augustan Cohort Trip to Rome
Acts 27:43 Centurion Julius saves Paul Trip to Rome
Paul brings home to Theophilus that no Roman official so far has been willing to judge Paul, and none thought him guilty of any crime. To judge Paul means to bow down to the agenda of violent, fanatical Jews, the very ones Romans don’t like. As is his gospel for Jesus, he now in Acts proves for Paul that he is innocent, a person dodged with conflict, but in no way law-breaking or violent himself.
THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, for 40 days Jesus shows himself various times to the bigger group of disciples and teaches them (Acts 1:3, 1 Cor 15:5-9). On the 40th day he is taken up in to heaven, instructing the disciples to stay together and wait for the Holy Spirit to come (Acts 1:7) . Exactly 10 days later, 50 days from Jesus’ resurrection, on the Jewish festival harvest festival called ‘Pentecost’, when Jerusalem is again full of Jews from all places, the Holy Spirit comes on the disciples (Acts 2:1-4). This event is of immense significance: it is the empowerment of the disciples, who turn from fearful, doubting and hesitant followers of Christ into fearless apostles, filled with authority and unrelenting in their commitment to proclaim Jesus as the risen Lord. This thorough change, evidenced throughout the remainder of the book of Acts and in the explosive growth of the church, cannot be explained by anything other than that Jesus really did resurrect and that the Holy Spirit really did come.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is described as ‘violent wind’ and ‘flames of fire’. Both appearances are significant: in the OT the presence of strong wind (Ez 1:4) and fire (Ex 13:22, 40:38, Le 10:2, Nu 16:35, etc) is associated with God’s presence, holy and powerful. God indicates that his presence is no longer ‘in the temple’ but with his new church, who thus become the new ‘temple of God’.
The coming of the Holy Spirit with the disciple speaking in many languages brings about a reversal of the tower of Babel (Ge 11:9) and an immediate spread of the gospel: Jews from various corners of the Roman empire hear God’s greatness proclaimed in their languages. From the first day this is a missionary movement.
The coming of the Holy Spirit also abolishes barriers existing up to now, as Peter recognizes by quoting Joel 2:28-32: now old and young, slaves and free, men and women prophesy and minister in God’s power. The witness combined with the preaching jump starts the Christian church: 3000 people are saved.
THE FIRST CHURCH’S WITNESS
Immediately following the coming of the Holy Spirit the apostles and other disciples become what Jesus told him they would be: witnesses. They start preaching Jesus as God’s Messiah and Lord and also start performing miraculous signs in his name. This brings the Jewish leaders into opposition: they thought they had finally stamped out this new movement by killing its leader Jesus, but now it springs up again, more powerful than before. They resort to arrest, interrogation, threatening and flogging, but all to no avail. The disciples are willing to give their lives and will not be silenced. From this moment on and all throughout Acts there will be the parallel and ongoing double event of the Word of God spreading on the one hand (Acts 6:7, 9:31, 19:20, etc), and the church being persecuted on the other hand (Acts 5:17-18, 7:58, 8:2, 12:1-2, etc). Persecution can’t stop the Word of God, sometimes even becomes the catalyst fo the Word of God spreading (Acts 8:1). When persecuted the church experiences both the miraculous saving power of God (Acts 5:19, 12:6-11, 16:26, etc) but also the first martyr deaths (Acts 7:58, 12:1). There is no explanation offered as to why the one and not the other. These are both the reality the church experiences, even till today.
The first church is a strongly growing community, one heart and one soul and sacrificially sharing possessions with each other (Acts 4:32). They devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, praise God and have the goodwill of all the people (Acts 2:47). They pray for boldness when threatened (Acts 4:29) and keep reaching out to those around them. They address their internal problems (Acts 6:1-6). They make decisions in unity by involving as many people as possible (Acts 6:2, 15:4, 15:6).
THE FIRST GENTILE CONVERTS
First the disciples preached the message of salvation only in Jerusalem, but later also in Judea, Samaria and further afield. But still the preaching was only to Jews, wherever they were found.
It takes Peter having a powerful vision from God and a very special encounter for him to understand that salvation through Jesus is not only for Jews but also for people of completely non-Jewish background. The church starts reaching out to Gentiles in the area and many turn to Christ. Then the Holy Spirit commissions Barnabas and Paul to take the gospel even far further afield (Acts 13:1-3). Paul’s missionary journeys – and eventually the other apostles’ journeys – result in Churches being planted in more and more areas of the Roman empire (Acts 13-21).
This movement creates the first Jewish-Gentile mixed churches, in which an important question comes up quickly: Do the Gentile converts to Christ have to obey the Jewish Old Testament Law (like circumcision, food laws etc.). The believers are divided: some think ‘yes’, some think ‘no’. To answer this important question and to prevent division in the church the apostles and elders hold a council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) and debate the question, looking at experimental evidence (Gentiles being filled with the Spirit before obeying any Law) and Scripture. They decide unanimously that the Gentiles do not have to fulfill the Jewish law, but they are requested to consider their Jewish fellow-believers in a few matters which – if discarded – would be hard on those coming from Jewish culture (Acts 15:20-21). The decision is put in writing and announced to churches far and wide, bringing joy and unity. This is how the originally Jewish Jesus community within a few years turns into a multi-ethnic inclusive movement. This is an amazing historic fact that is very hard to explain unless resurrection and Pentecost are real. Theophilus then and us today would be hard pressed to come up with a credible alternative explanation.
Luke in his history of the Jesus movement gives stories of the original 12 apostles, like Peter, John and James, but very quickly includes others, like Stephen and Barnabas. Though there is great importance put on the original eye witnesses, very quickly the Spirit of God calls, changes and enables many more people, showing that the Jesus movement is decentralized and has only shallow leadership structures. Luke then turns his attention to Paul, a late convert to Christ.
Luke describes Paul’s three missionary journeys, to Cyprus, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaiah and Asia, where within 10 years Christianity explodes unto the Roman map. Paul then suffers a series of longer imprisonments, which nail him to one place, but which he, undeterredly, uses to preach, teach, disciple, build workers and write letters.
Luke shows Government official Theophilus how ‘Roman justice’ looks on the ground, painting a realistic picture of both the good and the not so good. An a positive note it is Roman military and Roman justice which rescues Paul several times, which refuses to judge him and which declares his innocence as it already did for Jesus before. On a negative note is shows some of the corrupt local leadership Rome has chosen to endorse (the Herods), some weak and corrupt Roman leadership (Pontius Pilate, Festus). All this would prick Theophilus, a likely representative of Roman justice and one whose pride in Roman justice is challenged: What will you do to this Paul standing before you?
THE WORD IN UNSTOPPABLE
Luke also shows Theophilus that the gospel is unstoppable. There are continued attempts to silence the witnesses and to stop the spread of the word by persecution, but none of them work, and many of them backfire … and however much they are persecuted, the Jesus community is committed to peaceful behavior. The wave has gone out and reached even Rome, even Theophilus. How will he respond?
Acts leaves us with a powerful testimony to the power of God and his commitment to save, redeem and change people. God has built his church, he will build his church, though persecution may strike and the world map may change. The Word of God will prevail, and we do not need to fear for that. But we need to respond, bu putting our faith in Christ, by being transformed from inside out, by becoming examples and witnesses to God’s freeing truth. We need to be committed to evangelism, teaching of believers and building of communities that serve others. We need to know and live the word, and trust in God’s Spirit for power, guidance and ability to endure.
Who wrote Acts?
- Clearly there is the same author for Luke (1:1-4) and Acts (1:1) … Acts 1:1 refers to Luke as “the first book”.
- It is also written to the same reader, one Theophilus.
- Luke and Acts are connected and overlapping: End of suspense in Luke … “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you, but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lu 28:49) … and Acts begins with a reference to this command to wait in Jerusalem, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit (Ac 1:2) > Overlap and connection
Internal evidence for the Gospel and Acts’ authorship
There are some passages in Acts, where the author after writing the story using “they” and “them” suddenly writes “we”. These so-called “we” passages in Acts, indicate that the author was part of Paul’s team, therefore with Paul at those times. Here is a complete listing of the “we passages”:
- Acts 16:10 2nd Missionary journey, the author joins Paul’s team in Troas, is left behind again in Philippi
- Acts 20:5-15 3rd Missionary journey, the author rejoins Paul at Philippi, they travel together Miletus
- Acts 21:1-18 3rd Missionary journey, the author is part of the team when Paul is returning to Jerusalem
- Acts 24:23 Paul is allowed visitors while in prison in Caesarea
- Acts 24:27 Paul in prison for 2 years in Caesarea. What did the author do during this time?
- Acts 27:1-28:16 The author is again with Paul on his journey to Rome (author, Paul and Aristarchus), so the author was in Rome with Paul
So who was with Paul in Rome? When Paul writes the four prison letters from Rome, he sends greetings from people who are with him. Here is a listing:
- Co 4:10,11 Jews: Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus Justus. Gentiles: Epaphras, Luke, Demas. (Luke was a Greek).
- Phm 23,24 Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus (Macedonian from Thessalonica), Demas, Luke.
- 2 Ti 4:11 Luke alone with me. Mark is somewhere else.
By principle of deletion it can be deduced who is a likely author for the Gospel and Acts:
- Aristarchus can’t be the author since he is mentioned to be traveling with the author (Acts 27:2)
- Mark isn’t the author because he was not with Paul on 2nd missionary journey when the author joined Paul in Troas.
Mark is off with Barnabas (Acts 15:36-39). He is the author of another Gospel – not likely he would write two gospels.
- Epaphras is an option but he is from the Province Asia, where Paul did not go there until his third Missionary Journey. Col 1:7 indicates that he came to Rome after Paul got there.
- Demas He fell away, unlikely that he would write the Gospel.
- Jesus-Justus is an option but he is not mentioned anywhere else.
- Luke is the most likely candidate. In support of this: There are over 400 medical terms in Luke and Acts. Examples: high fever (Lu 4:38), full of leprosy (Lu 5:12)
External Evidence for the Gospel and Acts’ authorship
- Church father Justin 160 AD calls it the “memoirs of Jesus” and says he was a companion of Paul
- Muratorian Canon 170-180 AD attributes it to Luke, a doctor, who is Paul’s companion
- Church father Irenaeus 175-195 AD says it’s Luke, follower of Paul. States that the “we sections” suggest the link
- Church father Tertullian early 3rd century calls the Gospel a digest of Paul’s gospel
- Church historian Eusebius early 4th century Luke was from Antioch, a companion of Paul and the author of Luke and Acts
- Church father Origen 184-254 AD mentions Luke as author.
- Church father Clement of Alexandria 150-215 AD mentions Luke as author.
- Phm 24 Paul’s fellow worker
- Col 4:14 the beloved physician and Gentile
- Ac 16:10 2nd Missionary journey, joins in Troas, left behind in Philippi
- Ac 20:5-15 3rd Missionary journey, rejoins Paul at Philippi, together travel to Miletus
- Ac 21:1-18 3rd Missionary journey, returning to Jerusalem
- Ac 24:23 Paul is allowed visitors while in prison in Caesarea
- Ac 24:27 Paul in prison for 2 years in Caesarea. What did Luke do during this time?
- Ac 27:1-28:16 With Paul on journey to Rome (author, Paul and Aristarchus), so author was in Rome with Paul
- 2 Ti 4:11 Paul’s only companion during his last imprisonment
His birthplace is not known. One manuscript of Acts 11:27-28 reads, “When we were gathered together, one of them stood up and said …”. This would indicate that Luke was at Antioch during the stay of Saul and Barnabas before the first missionary journey. Eusebius said that Luke was by birth of those from Antioch and Jerome called him the physician of Antioch.
The only “deacon” in Acts 6:5 who has a home town mentioned is Nicolaus of Antioch – perhaps Luke knew him. It appears that Luke was familiar with Antioch, as it is mentioned several times in the book.
In Acts 16:12 Luke calls Philippi the leading city of the district of Macedonia, a title which both Philippi and Thessalonica competed over. Luke’s bias maybe because it is his birthplace, or because he studied there, or because he spent a long time with that church.
Luke could also well be the ‘yoke-fellow’ mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3.
Who is the Gospel and Acts written to?
- It is witten to “most excellent Theophilus”. “most excellent” a term of honor the author also uses on Roman Governors Felix (Ac 23:26, 24:3) and Festus (Ac 26:25)
- Possibly Theophilus held some high official position in government, which then would probably mean he is quite surely a Roman.
- The name “Theophilus” means ‘friend of God’, ‘lover of God’ and can be understood as a cryptic reference to the church in general. So some conclude the gospel was written to the church in general.
- Luke surely kept a copy of his labor-intensive research, which came into the hands of the church, but there are reasons to think Theophilus is an actual person, for there are very specific emphases in the book and why is it so evangelistic if everyone is already a believer? And it is also striking just how much space is given to Paul and on his court case.
- But who is Theophilus? Some points can be gathered:
- Theophilus is not a Jew … Lu 2:23, 5:14, 22:1 are explanations to a Gentile, huge anti-Jewish and pro-Gentile theme
- Theophilus is not of the area … Lu 1:26, 8:26 are explanation of geography unnecessary for anyone of the area
- Theophilus is a political officer … ‘most excellent’ and a huge Roman-Gov-Officials theme in Luke and Acts
- Theophilus is not a believer… Lu 1:4 and overall evangelistic and apologetic message
- Theophilus may be Syrian … no other obvious reason why Quirinius of Syria is mentioned in Lu 2:3, maybe acquainted?
- Theophilus may be Greek … Name is Greek, but also common. And Greek names are common among many groups
- Theophilus may be Romans … huge theme of Romans in Luke and Acts
The prologue of the gospel (Lu 1:1-4), follows the style of introduction used by Greek writers of that time. For example,
Jewish historian Josephus Flavius’ introduction:
“In my history … most excellent Epaphroditus, I have made sufficiently clear … the antiquity of our Jewish race. Since, however, I observe that a considerable number of persons … discredit the statement …, I consider it my duty to devote a brief treatise to all these points.” (C. Apion – vol 1)
“In the first volume of this work, my most esteemed Epaphroditus, I demonstrated the antiquity of our race” (C. Apion vol 2)
In Luke 1:1-4 the author introduces his gospel like a master’s thesis: present all material up to now, quote your sources, present your findings:
- “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative”. There were many narratives of the life of Christ in circulation at the time of writing of this gospel.
- “of the things which have been accomplished among us”
Perhaps the author and Theophilus were eyewitnesses to some of the events of Luke and Acts.
- “just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”.
The author got his information from those who were there at the beginning and who were eyewitnesses (the 12 apostles, Mary, Jesus’ family, other disciples) or preachers, teachers or ministers of the word (like Paul, Barnabas, …).
- Luke carefully investigated > he uses the records of eyewitnesses show that the Christian faith is rooted in historical reality. He uses original material, both oral and written. When did he do his research? probably during the two years Paul is stuck in jail in Caesarea
- “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you”. The author had done a careful, precise, accurate study, over a period of time, not something done quickly. He has written an orderly, systematic account, not necessarily chronological.
- “For you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed”. Theophilus has already been told the Gospel but the author is writing it down so that he can examine it for himself in detail. Perhaps the author has been the one to tell Theophilus the gospel story and now he is taking the time to write this all out for this special individual. Or Theophilus had heard some heretical teaching, with Luke writing to correct his understanding.
When was the Gospel and Acts written? From where was it written?
- Acts ends hanging without a court decision on Paul (Acts 28:30-31). Since the gospel ends this way it was probably written before 62 AD.
- The author probably compiled and wrote the Gospel of Luke and and Acts during the 2 years imprisonment of Paul in Caesarea 57-59 AD or possibly still during the 2 years imprisonment of Paul in Rome 60-62 AD.
- It could well be that Theophilus has a role in Paul’s court case, as an attorney, lawyer or judge: Luke provides a write up of “the case so far”, giving excellent evidence in favor of the accused
- Highly tense Roman-Jewish relationship, written maybe as shortly as 4 years before the start of the Jewish-Roman war (66-70 AD).
- Romans hated Jews for non-integration, non-tolerance of pantheism, continual riots & uprisings, keeping half of the Roman soldiers tied to Judea / Syria, for stubborn Messiah-deliverance hopes, for spiritual contempt, for ruining the Pax Romana … > Judea, the abscess of the empire
- The Jews hated the Romans for conquering and occupying them, for continual use of violence, for humbling their pride, for corruption of Jews (Sadducees, Herodians, tax-collectors), for imposed taxes
- The Roman empire is suffering under the ‘worst Emperor yet’ Nero … > instability, unpredictable changes, arbitrariness, unhappy military, most likely higher taxes, worse administration, neglect of matters of state, most likely great nepotism, sycophants and therefore corruption
- Bad reputation of the Jews rested on the Christians as ‘Jewish sect’ as well
Church founding? Church strengths? Church Weakness?
- Since Theophilus is likely a person, this is not applicable. Luke’s concern for one individual, Theophilus, left us with the biggest chunk of New Testament by any one author.
- mostly prose > literal interpretation, little OT quotes in poetry > figurative interpretation. Of the best Greek in the NT (only eclipsed by Hebrews).
- historical narrative, arranged geographically
- interchange (Gospel spreading <=> persecution)
- continuity (Paul’s similar approach to ministry in every city)
- principality (great focus on Paul)
Main Ideas or Topics
- Jesus the Jew is truly the Savior of all men and all nations and his gospel is spreading in the entire world > believe in him! (evangelistic).
- Christianity is universal, true, peaceful, transforming and beneficial for all. Though is started from the Jews, is has no Jewish self-righteousness, racial pride and separateness, rather it reaches out to all (apologetic).
- Paul is the ultimate example of what happens when Jesus gets a hold of a person: a fanatic and violent Pharisee tuns into a champion for the Gentiles, self-less, law-abiding, peaceful, accused but innocent.
Main Reasons or Goals
- evangelistic: to win Theophilus for Christ by giving him the amazing history of Jesus and his gospel spreading to all the world
- apologetic: written to answer Theophilus prejudice, misgivings or questions about Jesus, his gospel, his church and Paul
- apologetic: written to give the history of the movement created by Jesus and its’ exponent Paul, who is completely changed. It also gives Paul’s court case and shows that he is not a Jewish rebel, but innocent.
Thoughts about Theophilus
- Theophilus is most likely a high Roman government official.
- Luke is clearly trying to win him to the Christian faith. What obstacles would there be in his mind?
- Illustration: If someone said “The Savior of the world is born among the local migrant group!” Nobody will believe that person, since they view the migrants as low class, undeveloped, petty criminals, illegal, trouble.
- Theophilus might well be Paul’s judge and Luke by this ‘background paper’ is trying to ensure that Paul is not lumped with the average Jewish bigot-revolutionary.
What obstacles in a Roman’s mind is Luke trying to overcome?
- disdain for less developed, barbaric peoples (Jews in general)
- disdain for those causing un-peace, continual revolutions (Zealots, Messiah movements …)
- disdain for all things exclusive, intolerant, fanatical, purist (Pharisees)
- superiority politically, pride in Roman justice & peace
- superiority morally, giving the world civilization, tolerance
To counter this Luke is writing a carefully investigated, orderly written, appealing to reason account to prove that the events are real, historical events, verifiable, true.
Luke is trying to prove that Jesus, though a Jew is not at all like the Jews that the Romans so disdained:
- Jesus is in no way racially prejudiced or displaying racial superiority
- Jesus is in no way blind to his own culture’s faults and weaknesses
- Jesus is in no way intolerant, fanatical, exclusive or morally superior
- Jesus is in no way a revolutionary, anti-Roman, stirring up un-peace, deliverer-Messiah
- Jesus loves and cares not only for Jews but for all peoples equally, including Romans.
- Jesus is the true fulfillment of the Jewish religion, that has always had a view of blessing and including all peoples.
Luke is also trying to show what the church, the movement Jesus launched is like:
- It is a life-transforming but non-political, peaceful, not in conflict with the la and not revolutionary.
- The only times there has been conflict, it has been because of inappropriate interference of mostly Jews
- Luke is trying to prove that Paul, though he was a proud Jewish zealot (the ones the Romans hate most), he is so no longer: Paul, when he meets Christ, is totally transformed. He turns from proud Jewish bigot and zealot into the self-sacrificing champion of the Gentiles.
- Luke shows that Paul’s conflict with law and government is due to Jewish zealots opposed to the trans-formative gospel
- Luke proves Paul’s innocence, the reasons for his arrest, the way the case advanced so far > he provides evidence
- Luke proves the universality of the Christian faith, its transforming power, it’s healthy influence. God himself is at work, a greater perspective is visible.
- Luke shows that what Rome needs is this kind of influence, this kind of leadership. Contrast Paul <=> Nero
Invitations to check out the evidence: Historical references of events mentioned
The gospel of Luke already had time elements that cry out for verification. Luke puts himself into the tradition of historical writers and lays down solid evidence, calling for it to be checked out and verified. Luke can be compared to Josephus Flavius, another history writer writing at that time, writing roughly 10 years after Luke, who, though a zealot Jew, later joined the Roman side and declared General-Emperor Vespasian to be the Messiah.
Besides this there are several events mentioned in Acts that are attested outside the Bible also:
King Aretas Acts 9:25, 2 Co 11:32
Bible: In Damascus, there was a Jewish plot to kill Paul. The governor of King Aretas has the city gates guarded in order to seize Paul, but he escaped by being let down in a basket through a window in the city wall.
King Aretas IV Philopatris (9 BC – AD 40), was King of Nabatea, while it was subject to Rome. It later became a Roman province. His daughter married Herod Antipas, who divorced her to marry his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. John the Baptist objected to this, was imprisoned and executed (Mk. 6:17). Aretas declared war on Antipas for this insult in AD 36.
Damascus was originally the capital city of Syria, and was governed as a colony of Nabatea, by an ethnarch or governor representing Aretas. Damascus was probably given to Aretas by the emperor Caligula Gaius (AD 37-41). The plot of Jews and the Nabatean governor to seize Paul was probably in response to his preaching the gospel. Nabatea is the same area as Arabia, where Paul went after his conversion (Gal 1:17), where he must have preached, drawing a hostile response.
The Famine of Jerusalem Acts 11:28 46 AD
This was predicted by Agabus and took place in the days of Claudius (AD 41-54). Barnabas and Saul visited Jerusalem with relief.
Josephus writes that Helena, the Jewish queen mother of Adiabene, east of the Tigris brought corn from Egypt and figs from Cyprus and distributed them in Jerusalem. The famine is dated by Josephus during the days of the procurators Crispus Fadus (44-46 AD) and Tiberius Julius Alexander (46-48 AD), which would place the famine in AD 46.
The Death of Herod Agrippa I Acts 12:23 AD 44
Josephus also describes this event: While Agrippa I was putting on a show in Caesarea in honor of the emperor. Agrippa had shows in honor of Caesar, a festival for the emperor’s welfare. He invited provincial officials and other distinguished people. On the 2nd day he put on a robe of silver, and entered the room at daybreak. The sun shone on the silver, causing fear and trembling in the audience. His flatterers called out using language which was no good for him, addressing him as a god. “Be gracious to us, until now we reverenced you as a man, but now we see you be more than of mortal character”. He did not rebuke them for their impious flattery, looking up he saw an owl above him. Earlier, Agrippa had been imprisoned by emperor Tiberius, and leaned against a tree where an owl sat. A German fellow-prisoner said that the owl was a sign of an early release, but if he saw it again, it would be a sign that he had only 5 days to live.
Agrippa was struck down with severe pains in his abdomen, dying 5 days later. Medically, it sounds like a burst appendix.
Expulsion of the Jews from Rome Acts 18:2 AD 49
The emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome (excluding Jewish Roman citizens). Suetonius, in his work “Life of Claudius” wrote: “As the Jews were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus, he banished them from Rome.” This indicates Jewish disorder, probably in reaction to Christ being preached in the Roman synagogues. This edict was reversed by Nero in AD 54, when most Jews returned.
Proconsul Gallio of Achaia Acts 18:12
He was the son of the older Seneca (50 BC – AD 40), and brother of the younger Seneca, the philosopher and adviser to Nero (3 BC – AD 65). Gallio was appointed proconsul of Achaia in July AD 51. He left because of a fever and went on a cruise in AD 52.
Felix and Festus Acts 25:1
There had been an outbreak of Jewish-Gentile hostility and fighting in Caesarea. Felix intervened causing much bloodshed among the Jewish leadership and was recalled to Rome. Felix was replaced by Festus as proconsul of Judea in AD 59.
Jesus stated to be ‘not guilty’ – Apologetic to Theophilus
- Lu 23:4 Pilate
- Lu 23:14-15 Pilate and Herod
- Lu 23:22 Pilate
- Lu 23:41 one crucified with Jesus
- Lu 23:47 Roman centurion at crucifixion
- Lu 23:51 Joseph of Arimathea not agreeing to Jesus’ verdict
Full 7 times (!) Luke records somebody stating Jesus’ innocence, 4 of these are not only Romans, but Roman government officials (1x centurion and 3x Pilate).
This is a strong message to Theophilus: judicially Jesus is clearly a victim of different pressure groups, whom he refused to please. He refused to be an acceptable religious Pharisee. He refused to become the Messiah-insurgency leader.
Theophilus would most definitely know about Pontius Pilate, possibly even know him personally (If Pilate’s age was 45 at the death of Jesus would now be around 75 years old, so still likely to be around).
Romans who refused to condemn Paul and the Gospel Movement
- Acts 8:1 Jews persecuting, not Gov Jerusalem
- Acts 12:1-2 Herod Agrippa I persecuting Jerusalem indirectly linked to his death Acts 12:20-23
- Acts 13:7-12 Proconsul Sergius Paulus Cyprus
- Acts 13:50 Jews stirring up conflict Antioch of Pisidia
- Acts 14:5 Jews stirring up conflict Iconium
- Acts 14:19 Jews stirring up conflict Lystra
- Acts 16:19-24 disgruntled locals stirring up Philippi local magistrates beat citizen, Paul doesn’t flee
- Acts 17:5-9 Jews stirring up conflict Thessalonica
- Acts 18:12-17 Jews > Proconsul Gallio Corinth refuses to judge Paul
- Acts 19:21-41 local silversmiths > Town clark Ephesus
- Acts 21:27-36 Jews grab Paul Jerusalem Roman tribune saves him
- Acts 22:22-29 Tribune Claudias Lysias flogs Jerusalem Paul challenges him
- Acts 23:12-15 Jewish conspiracty to kill Paul Jerusalm > Caesarea Roman military protects Paul
- Acts 23:26-30 Tribune Claudias Lysias’ letter Jerusalem
- Acts 24:22-26 Proconsul Felix doesn’t judge Caesarea
- Acts 25:1-12 Proconsul Festus Caesarea
- Acts 25:32 Herod Agrippa II, Festus Caesarea what to write? this man could have been freed
- Acts 27:1 Centurion Julius of Augustan Cohort > Trip to Rome
- Acts 27:43 Centurion Julius saves Paul Trip to Rome
- Acts 28:16 Paul allowed to live in flat Rome
- Acts 28:30-31 Paul effective even in jail Rome hanging case
What can we learn from this?
- The great need for apologetics, for presenting material in such a way that a person can understand it.
- need to understand and do active work on overcoming prejudice is needed
- the importance and value of the individual, individualized sharing of the gospel
- need for science, historical records, quality research, quality presentation
- need for evidence & careful investigation for judicial cases, system of appeal
This was probably what drew the Gentile scientist Luke to the Christian faith … and he is well positioned to write this.
One reason we must work so hard on our blind spots, petty offenses and cultural prides is because it dishonors God and takes away attractiveness of the gospel.
Fairness, good judgment, overcoming of own blind spots are a powerful witness to other people.
Main themes from Luke continued in Acts
- Gospel for all strongly continued in Acts: the gospel leaves its Jewish setting
- Focus on Gentiles, especially Romans strongly continued in Acts: gospel to the Gentiles, also Romans
- Focus on Individuals, on women, outcasts, poor
- Focus on the Holy Spirit strongly continued in Acts, the ‘Acts of the Holy Spirit’
- Focus on prayer, praise
- Focus on Jerusalem
- Focus on the Kingdom has come or is coming strongly continued in Acts, this is how the kingdom looks:
Not rebellion but full allegiance to a different king, yet lawful
- Focus on Jews rejecting Jesus (Pharisee theme) strongly continued in Acts
- Luke: the zealous Pharisees that Rome hates, also hated Jesus
- Acts: Paul is the ultimate transformed Pharisee
Acts Chapter by Chaper
Chapter 1 Waiting for the Holy Spirit
- Acts 1:1-2 addressee Theophilus, clean link to the end of Luke. ‘In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach’ … implying that in Acts he continues to do and teach, through the Spirit, through the church
- Acts 1:3-5 Jesus showing himself alive by many convincing proofs. Teaching about the kingdom for 40 days. The disciples must have gone from devastation (cross), to despondency (after), to incredulous joy (resurrection), to happy acceptance (40 days).
Instruction: do not leave Jerusalem (Passover till Pentecost festival), wait for the baptism in the Holy Spirit
- Acts 1:6 Question whether now kingdom? Jesus doesn’t answer … the answer is (likely) ‘not like you think but yes’.
- Acts 1:7-8 Promise of strength by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, ends of the earth.
- Acts 1:9-10 Ascension (parallel Lu 24:50-51)
- Acts 1:11 Two men: Prediction that Jesus will come back in the same way. And in the meantime: wait for the Spirit.
- Luke 24:52 great joy, continually in temple blessing God.
- Acts 1:12-14 List of the eleven disciples, devoting themselves to prayer.
- Acts 1:15-26 one hundred twenty disciples present: choice of replacement for Judas Iscariot: Matthias is chosen by lot over Joseph. Last time by throwing lots mentioned. After that replaced by the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The function is: ‘witness of the resurrection’.
Chapter 2 Pentecost and First Church
- Acts 2:1-4 On Pentecost day (50th from Passover, 10th from Ascension), all gathered, Holy Spirit comes on all of them. It is interesting that the crucifixion was on Passover (lamb slaughtered, blood preventing death), and the
Holy Spirit comes on Pentecost, a festival of harvest (Ex 23:16, De 16:10). The symbolic message of both these festivals is powerful and intentional towards Jesus.
Sound like wind filling the house, tongues like fire resting on each, filled with the Spirit, speaking in many
languages. Stress on ‘all’ and ‘each’, not an exclusive but inclusive event, like in Joel 2:28-29. It’s a unprecedented event, yet also a fulfillment of old prophecies.
- Acts 2:5-13 Sound (wind? Speaking out?) attracts many (Jews from all over the known world, in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost) > bewildered, amazed, astonished, perplexed hearing their own languages spoken. The gospel right from the start goes out to the seeking, to not-yet believers.
- Overarching point: as in the Old Testament God visibly filled the temple (cloud, fire) he now fills his people. The church of God is the new temple! This has vast implications: Jesus is the fulfillment of the temple picture, he is the one and only sacrifice, and the High priest who offers it. He lives now in the hearts of his believers, whose body (individually) and whose community (corporately) become the new temple. The old can go, the new reality is here, and is confirmed by a filling of the Spirit with power and fire.
- Acts 2:8-11 List of languages: Pathians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya belonging to Cyrene, Arabs. The gospel by its very nature is meant for all nations, though right now it’s still Jews from these nations. From day one: focus on spreading to ‘all’.
- Acts 2:11 Content of what they hear: God’s deeds of power. Not fear but occasion for joy.
- Acts 2:13 Some sneer calling them drunk. Humans are sovereign and can accept or reject any evidence presented to them. It was the same with Jesus’ miracles. Miracles do not make faith.
- Acts 2:14 Peter, standing with the eleven. unity, spontaneous function, first preaching … leadership but not structure. Disciple’s immediate courage, focus, leading, power through the Spirit. Going from hiding to:
- Acts 2:15-21 Peter preaches, explaining the event as fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29-32a: Spirit coming on all, all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Link to all that has gone before, though totally new.
- Acts 2:22-36 Jesus, attested by God with deeds of power, with foreknowledge of God killed by the Romans has resurrected. Quotes from several Old Testament passages.
- Summary: Know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.
- Now Peter expresses further understanding about just who Jesus was. Also note: he doesn’t preach: God will forgive you and you will go to heaven. He preaches that this Jesus is Lord and Messiah, accepting us but with a claim on our lives.
- Acts 2:37-42 Hearers cut to the heart. What should we do? Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus > forgiveness
and Holy Spirit. Promise is for all who call on him > 3000 new believers, devoting themselves to apostles teaching, fellowship, Lord’s supper, prayer. Immediate and massive fruitfulness.
- Who is converting here? Maybe ones who have been listening to Jesus for a while, from Jerusalem,
surrounding areas, but also out of country Jews, now staying back unplannedly in Jerusalem after the
pilgrimage, eager to learn more and remain in fellowship.
Chapter 3-4 Healing and Interrogation
- Acts 3:1-10 Healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate by Peter and John. Boldness, kindness, unity. A side note: Jesus must have walked past him many many times
- Acts 3:11-26 Peter’s preaching, again giving honor to Jesus alone, quoting OT, calling for repentance
- Acts 4:1-4 Peter and John are arrested by the much annoyed priests, temple police and Sadducees. One can sympathize with them, now they thought they quelled it, got it under control, feel pricked that they had to so act against conscience, they justify the means by the end. And then the cancer erupts again, worse than before. 5000 believers. Growth is happening rapidly, Jesus laid the foundation, now it’s exploding.
- Acts 4:5-12 Peter testifies to them that the miracle happened by the crucified and resurrected Christ. He doesn’t mince words ‘whom you crucified’. And brings another new insight, putting two and two together: ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’
- Acts 4:13-22 ‘Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary man, they were amazed and recognized that hey had been with Jesus.’ The rulers, elders, scribes are dismayed and impressed. As the miracle can’t be denied, they resort to intimidation & threats. Otherwise they would have lied.
- Acts 4:10 ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ An act of civil disobedience, while still submissive to government: whatever punishment they will inflict, the apostles will bear.
- Acts 4:23-31 The church prays for courage to preach and confirming miracles. An earthquake and anew filling with the Holy Spirit happens, leading to them speaking the word with boldness. Continual looking to God.
- Acts 4:32-37 One heart and one soul, ownership held in common, preaching with power, great grace, taking care of the needy, selling possessions.
- The economic aspects are powerful. Proverb: ‘if the wallet is also converted, the person is converted indeed’. We need to be faithful and cheerful givers. Do give. Make sure you give away money. Do not play around with tithe.
- But also: it was a special situation: lots of people who had planned to come for one or two feasts, basically on pilgrimage, now staying far longer than they originally thought in order to hear the apostles’ teaching and remain in fellowship. But the relinquishing of all ownership is not taught in the OT nor generally seen taught or practiced in the average church later.
- An overarching point: God’s healing presence, worship and generosity are all pictures of what the temple in the OT was meant to be the place of. Now it’s the church, the new temple.
- Acts 4:36-37 Joseph Barnabasis inroduced, a Levite, native of Cyprus, the ‘son of encouragement’, generously giving
Chapter 5 Ananias, Sapphira, Gamaliel
- Acts 5:1-11 Ananias and Sapphira sell a piece of land and donate the majority of the money. But they lie that they gave all of the proceeds. Peter convicts them: ‘Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?’ He explains that to not give or to give in part is not the problem, but their lying is.
- Some people say they have become demon-possessed. Other say, they never have been real believers. Actually the word ‘Satan filled your heart’ is ‘Satan influenced your heart’ and is also found in Jesus rebuking Peter in Mk 8:33, where it neither means demon-possession nor ‘no salvation’.
- An immediate death sentence implemented by the Holy Spirit ensues on both separately. This is possibly the most shocking story in the entire NT.
- How to understand this? To the degree the Spirit is present and powerful, to that degree sin cannot be tolerated. Deception and lying is not a minor sin in God’s eyes, though in ours. They are witnesses by their word, they can’t also lie by the same words. Comparison to Joshua 9, Judges 11. It is a testimony to the holiness of God among them. The immediateness of this happening also reminds of scenes in Ex 10 and Nu 13-14: God is visibly present and offended! It’s a revelation of the holiness of God among them, both scary but also an unspeakable privilege: God acting directly as he has not done since centuries. They would have brought corruption. I do not think that necessarily means they are in hell.
- Acts 5:11 So – of course – the result is: ‘And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.’ It is a powerful conviction to the church and a testimony of God’s holiness to those around. What about Theophilus? This would get him, too. The Romans were superstitious and impressed with spiritual things. This would put the fear on him when Paul is before him.
- Acts 5:21-16 Apostles are doing many miracles, meat in the temple court regularly, and are held in high esteem, though many fear to join them. Now people come to Peter and the apostles as before to Jesus. You cannot stop the gospel. Theophilus, you cannot stop the gospel!
- Acts 5:17-26 For the spiritual leaders this is too much, this is worse then when Jesus was still alive! They take action and imprison some apostles. God grants a miraculous escape during the night. Early morning they preach again in the temple to the dismay of the council that has gathered to deal with them. They re-arrest them but without violence for fear of the people. There is definitely humor in this story!
- Acts 5:27-42 They threaten the apostles who refuse to budge. The leaders want to kill them but due to Gamaliel’s advice, they desist.
- Acts 5:38-39 Gamaliel’s advice: ‘Keep away from these men, and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’
- This is not only cool headed, wise, but it is another stern warning to those who think they can stop the gospel. The God you will oppose is the very one that killed Ananias and Sapphira. Theophilus, think twice before you interfere with this God and his movement!
Chapter 6 Deacons and Stephen
- Acts 6:1 Complaints about the Hellenist widows being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The church has already developed social programs, maybe partially due to people overstaying.
- Acts 6:2-6 Apostles in consultation with whole church appoint 7 men to assist with this. Do not interpret this as a division between sacred and secular ‘apostles don’t want to wait on tables’, meaning doing ‘less important’ or ‘less spiritual’ work. The care with which they address the issue and the quality of persons they choose for the task (‘full of faith and the Holy Spirit’) shows otherwise. These are not weak persons, who can’t do anything else: two of them (Stephen and Philip) are described as being powerful preachers.
- The importance of dealing quickly and attentively with internal problems, a sense of neglect or injustice and administrative weaknesses. Social concerns are also important and are not seen as less important than preaching.
- Acts 6:7 Summary statement: ‘the word spread, the disciples increased in number, a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith‘. This is encouraging, that the gospel has been reaching into the groups that were first more resistant. Or: that though the leading priests are antagonistic, not all priests were.
- Acts 6:8-15 Stephen, one of the chosen 7, does many miracles, preaches with a wisdom of the Spirit they cannot withstand and is targeted by the synagogue of the freedmen, people from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. Sometimes the outside Jews or convert Jews are the most serious (like people turning more muslim in Europe).
- They arrest him by stirring up elders, scribes and bringing in false witnesses. The accusation is: he said that Jesus will destroy this place and will change the customs of Moses.
Chapter 7 Stephen’s speech and death
- Act 7:1-50 Stephen’s speech before the Council: a eloquent retelling of Genesis and Exodus. Then he mentions Solomon as builder of the temple. Then he quotes Is 66:1-2 and instead of finishing verse 2 (which they all knew by heart) ‘But this is he one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word’. Rather he attacks them straight: ‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit’ … This is collision course.
- Why is he so straight forward? Is this God’s last warning and wake-up call to a very hardened council? They become enraged and execute him by stoning. Did some of his words, together with the ‘face like an angel’ (Acts 6:15) later resonate? Where do we know this things from? Were other believers with Stephen? Or did his utter courage cause some of them to later repent?
- Acts 7:54-60 The famous passage of his killing, the first martyr’s death of the church, his vision of Jesus standing beside the Father, ready to receive him it seems, and his last word extending forgiveness to his killers like Jesus.
Chapter 8 Philip
- Acts 8:1 We are introduced to a hothead member of the council: ‘And Saul approved of their killing him.’ This also speaks that not all were agreeing. But Saul was. And he decides that things need to be dealt with more aggressively:
- Acts 8:2-3 Severe persecution > all but the apostles were scattered. Saul goes house to house, imprisoning believers. The total effect of which is a geographical spread of the gospel into Judea and Samaria. One could almost feel sorry for the council. Gamaliel’s advice comes to mind.
- Acts 8:4-8 Philip, another of the 7, preaches in Samaria, does many miracles of healing and deliverance ‘so there was great joy in that city.’ It is interesting that – like Jesus – Philip drops the anti-Samaritan sentiments and reaches out to them. And like Jesus in Sychar of Samaria (Jn 4) the Samaritans respond strongly.
- Acts 8:9-13 Simon the Magician, previously the oracle in Samaria. Now people turn to Philip, and even Simon believes.
- Acts 8:14-17 When the apostles hear that ‘Samaria had accepted the word of God’, they send Peter and John. They pray for the believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit ‘for as yet the Spirit had not yet come upon any of them’.
- Baptism of the Holy Spirit? This is one of the clearest passages for it. They were saved, then baptized, not the Spirit comes upon them. New Testament: every believer has the Holy Spirit, for it says that only by the Spirit we can say ‘Abba Father’. So is there a separate event of the Spirit coming ‘upon’ a person, a baptism in the Spirit? Here is seems yes. There are no ‘minimal outcomes’ given, like speaking in tongues. This has become a big battle field between charismatic and non-charismatic.
- My opinion? I have seen so much fake, so much pressure, so much unspiritual behavior by the most ‘spirit-filled’ people precisely in this area that I am tempted to ‘throw it all out’. I have seen gifts of the Spirit that were devoid of fruit of the Spirit, and I did not like it. Yet I think there is such a thing as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, of which tongues may or may not be a part and I think it is described in Scriptures like this one. But I also see that there is no systematic teaching on it in any of the letters. One thing is clear: never pressure people, create insecurity or doubt people’s salvation on the basis of this.
- Acts 8:18-25 Simon, trying to buy the ability to impart the Spirit by the laying on of hands. Peter rebukes him sharply, discerns this as being liked with ‘gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness’. Bitterness, control and magic are probably not that far apart. This magician Simon also appears in Roman literature with much influence and power even in Rome. Not sure whether this is before or after this, whether he truly repented. Maybe Theophilus is aware of this Simon? Maybe many Romans were afraid of him?
- Acts 8:26-39 Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, court official of Candace, queen of Ethiopia. Was he a Jew in Ethiopia who had risen to this position? Maybe. Or was he a person who had come in contact with Jews and decided to go to Jerusalem? He has bought Jewish Scripture (Isaiah 53:7-8) and reads it. He struggles to understand who this text refers to, and really, if you read Isaiah, you will understand why he doesn’t think it clear, but it happens to be one of the most amazing predictions of Jesus in the OT. Divine appointment!
- What a wonderful story of a seeker, being enlightened by God through an obedient believer! The Ethiopian Coptic church links their existence and leadership all the way back to this eunuch. This is a person like Theophilus, one who afar who has somehow come in touch with this thing, and is responding. I think it is no accident that Luke includes this story.
- Acts 8:40 Philip is supernaturally moved to Azotus > preaches his way to Caesarea. These are further and further away areas, still with quite a few Jews, but also many others.
Chapter 9 Paul’s Conversion
- Acts 9:1-9-31 Paul’s conversion and initial preaching and flight.
- Acts 9:32-42 Peter’s ministry in Lydda and Sharon, healing of Aeneas, raising of Tabitha.
- Acts 9:43 Peter some time stays with a ‘Simon the tanner’ in Joppa. This is significant, for tanning involves handling skins of dead animals. Simon therefore would be almost constantly unclean. For Peter to stay with him already shows an openness. And it is precisely then, when God drops another great revelation on him.
Chapter 10 Peter’s Vision
- Acts 10:1-8 Cornelius is introduced: A Roman, centurion of the Italian Cohort, living in Caesarea, a devout, respectful, prayerful man, fearing God. He gives alms to the people. Theophilus here for once is given to see the good end of Roman Government Officials abroad. Again this is a man closer in kind to Theophilus, one he can identify with. It is also a person Theophilus could probably track down. God gives him a vision of an angel, instructing him to send for one Simon called Peter, staying with Simon the tanner, by the sea side.
- Acts 10:9-23 Peter has a triple vision of being commanded to eat unclean things. He is puzzled thinking about it when Cornelius’ men arrive.
- Acts 10:24 Peter recognizes the hand of God and goes with them to Caesarea.
- Acts 10:25-34 Cornelius falls down before to worship Peter, who stops him saying he is a simple mortal. It is almost funny how the two meet in such a supernatural set up, but none first know what to say. But then Peter understands the message ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him’ … and he starts to preach the gospel to these Gentiels.
- Acts 10:44-48 Before Peter can finish preaching or the listeners have time to properly respond God pours his Spirit on these Gentiles. God has given Peter ‘faits accompli’ and Peter cooperates and orders them to be baptized. Here we have the first unqualified salvation of Gentiles, complete with the outpouring of the Spirit and baptism. No time to circumcise them. God was faster.
Chapter 11 The Gospel crosses boundaries
- Acts 11:1-18 This story will cause waves. And it is incredibly important, so Luke repeats it one more time: Peter’s report back in Jerusalem. This will convince Theophilus of the universality of this Christian faith: though born into the Jewish religion, it is not a tribal religion, it is a religion beyond barriers, universal. It is a allegiance to the Creator of the universe.
- This is why Christianity has left not been an exporting of Jewish culture as Islam has been an exporting of 7th century Arabian culture. This is why Christianity allows diversity: there no one holy language, no one right way to do everything in Christianity. God deliberately kicked the Christian faith our of the Jewish culture, something never happened to Islam.
- Acts 11:19-21 The gospel spreads further afield: Phoenicia, Cyprus, Antioch of Syria, primarily still among Jews. In Antioch some men of Cyprus and Cyrene start preaching to the Gentiles (Hellenists, here clearly not Hellenistic Jews but true Greeks) > many Gentiles convert. Jerusalem sends Barnabas.
- Acts 11:22-26 Barnabas goes. He is a great choice, a choice of wisdom, peace and fairness, because he is a Hellenist Jew (having grown up in Cyprus) and therefore more acceptable those who are acting in Antioch than one of the twelve would be. Barnabas is true to his given name ‘Son of encouragement’. He sees, discerns, rejoices, encourages and supports. He can see the good in a ministry not his own and finds way to support and strengthen it.
Chapter 12 Persecution
- Acts 12:1-5 James is killed, as the first of the twelve to die a martyr’s death. Peter is arrested. Luke gives Theophilus the downside of Roman approved local leadership (Herod Agrippa I): this is not judicial act that Rome could be proud of but that is done in its name.
- Acts 12:6-19 Peter is miraculously delivered. Always the two: the Word spreads and there is persecution. Always the two: Some are miraculously saved, some die a martyr’s death. Why James? Why not Peter? We cannot answer. Peter at a late date will also die a martyr’s death. We have to commit this to God.
- Upon hearing Peter is at the gate: ‘They said: it is his angel.’ Clearly the church think he has already been executed and this is his ghost visiting. So much for praying with faith 🙂
- Acts 12:20-25 More downside of Roman approved local leadership: Herod Agrippa I and his self-exalting, willful reign, spawning a crowd of flatterers and corruption in general. God wipes him out for his pride. Theophilus might have heard of this case. If he is any old Roman upper class, this would be humbling his Roman pride. If he is Paul’s judge, this would bring the fear of God on him: here is a corrupt ruler, deciding to arbitrarily go against this movement, and he is struck down by God.
Chapter 13 First Missionary Journey
- Acts 13:1-3 Antioch: a well-taught, well-discipled church (by Barnabas, Paul and probably others). New, able leadership has been brought up. The church is worshiping, fasting, seeking God. Then God speaks, and starts a totally new chapter, not really envisioned by anyone: A systematic outreach to the Gentile world.
- Acts 13:4-12 Cyprus, where Barnabas grew up. Proconsul Sergio Paulus in Paphos is probably a peer to Theophilus. He would surely have heard his name, possibly knows him in one degree or other. This is a person likely contactable. Hear Luke’s description: intelligent, summons Barnabas and Paul to hear the Word of God, believes and is astonished. Here is a Roman official responding positively to Paul. Will Theophilus be like him? It is funny that Paul’s first recorded miracle is to make someone blind! In one sense, though, this is just a reflection of spiritual reality.
- Acts 13:13-15 Barnabas seems to have handed over leadership to Paul. John Mark leaves, maybe upset at the leadership change. They reach Galatia, the city of Antioch in Pisidia.
- Acts 13:16-41 Paul’s preaching in the synagogue of Antioch. First recounting history, David, descendant Jesus as Savior, announced by John, Jerusalem (not understanding) killed him through Pilate, but he resurrected and is attested by the disciples. Quoting Psalms, showing that the promise of ‘not see decay’ cannot refer to David, but refers to Jesus. Warning to not scoff.
- Acts 13:42-51 Response: interest, some believe, some don’t and get jealous > stir up strife. Word spreads to region.
Chapter 14 First Missionary Journey – Second Part
- Acts 14:1-7 Paul and Barnabas in Iconium: preaching, miracles, strife stirred up.
- Acts 14:8-20 Paul and Barnabas in Lystra: preaching, miracle (lame man), almost deification, Jews of Antioch stirring up strife.
- Acts 14:15-18 When among Gentiles, Paul doesn’t preach Jesus fulfilling OT prophecy, but he preaches Genesis: One Creator God, he is good, he doesn’t approve of evil but he is gracious, he has revealed himself in nature (probably: but now through his Son), he wants you to turn from idolatry to him.
- Preaching with the audience’s background in mind, starting with what they can relate to, building on what they understand, leading them on. We need to learn this anew and more (as taught in SOFM): know your audience, be a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks, adjust on non-essential issues. Build on the truth that is there, lead on and introduce new thinking.
- Acts 14:21-28 Same in Derbe, return to newly planted churches, appointing leadership. Back to Antioch, reporting of the Gentiles accepting God’s word.
Theophilus is here first give a pattern (Continuity): How Paul works, how and why strife is stirred up, who his opponents are, and how they dodge him. This will explain to Theophilus just why he was accused in Jerusalem, by whom and why. This shows that Paul is not violent, or law-breaking, or in any form rebellious or criminal.
Chapter 15 Jerusalem Council
- Acts 15:1-2 Certain Jerusalem Jewish believers come to Antioch and teach that circumcision is mandatory to obtain salvation. Most probably this is the parallel description to Gal 2:12 ‘certain people came from James’. They were Pharisee converts to Christ (Ac 15:5) or generally religious Jewish believers (like Jesus’ half-brother James).
James is the half-brother of Jesus (Mt 13:55, Mk 6:3, the oldest brother after Jesus), by that time the leader of the Jerusalem church, highly pious and prayerful (camel’s knees), respected even by the Jew-Jews in Jerusalem.
- Earlier (Jn 7:1-5) we see him – after initial doubts – trying to support Jesus and further his career, though in a human way. By now he has become an ardent, respected and humble servant of Jesus (James 1:1).
- He is a chief exponent of an understanding that probably most Jewish Christians (and definitely Pharisee converts) of that time had: The new Gentile converts are welcome, but they have to obey the law of Moses, since that was given by God himself, focusing on circumcision. When a Gentile wanted to turn to the Jewish faith, circumcision and baptism was required.
- Acts 15:3-5 This is very important and Paul and Barnabas, as the chief supporters of another view, go to Jerusalem.
- Acts 15:6 Apostles and elders sit together to consider this matter, much debate. There is a wider inclusion of leaders here, Paul and many others, it’s a grassroots consultation, seriously looking at this matter. It’s a true debate, not hardened fronts, but also not lobbying behind the doors, it’s out there. This sort of open discussion demands a foundation of acceptance of teach other and respect, allowing for guards to be low, for freedom to truly consider an other’s standpoint.
- Acts 15:7-11 Peter speaks up, asserts his authority, remembers that God has given the Holy Spirit to uncircumcised Gentile believers just as he has to Jewish believers, making no distinction. Why put a yoke on them that we / ancestors were not able to bear (this is somewhat parallel to Paul’s rebuke in Gal 2:14). We are both saved by grace. Peter argues from his authority, but uses it in a non-divisive way. It’s an Argument from experience, observing what God has done, and concluding from there.
- Acts 15:12 Barnabas and Paul tell assembly about 1st missionary journey (most likely), about the signs and wonders God did (miracles, but even more so that many have turned to Christ). Argument from experience: They pull in practical evidence, how has God responded to this new thing? Has it been blessed? Authorized by him? What results has it head?
- Acts 15:13 James starts speaking: Peter’s report (Acts 10-11) of God accepting the Gentiles. This agrees with the Old Testament prophecies: Acts 15:16-18 quotes Amos 9:11-12. Argument from Scripture.
This is very interesting quote, because in Amos the words have in modern readers’ ears a Jewish nationalistic tone: ‘raise up booth of David … in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name’, but here these words are understood by the apostles to to mean ‘I will rebuild he dwelling of David… so that all other peoples may seek the Lord – even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.’
To us these sound different, but remember: the New Testament interprets the Old Testamen, we do not understand Scripture better than them. Rather: to possess the nations therefore means to induce them to seek the Lord. That throws a very strong light on OT prophecy!
- Acts 15:19 James: ‘Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God …’. He speaks in “I” form here, probably because he is the true bastion of that line of thinking and the last to agree. Argument from unity. This whole process will be summarized with the words (Acts 15:28): ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …’ what an interesting sentence!!
- Acts 15:19-21 A consideration of the Gentiles for Jewish sensitivities is suggested: Abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from strangled and from blood. But there are not principle points, rather concessions from respectful kindness and to cause not more offense than needed. Circumcision (the original point of conflict) is most definitely not on the list.
- Acts 15:22-32 A letter (including an apology and explanation) and good people are sent to the churches to convey the council’s decision. It causes joy and encouragement. Joy (not glee) is a good earmark of things God does.
- Acts 15:36-40 Paul suggests to revisit the churches, probably Galatia is foremost on his mind. Paul and Barnabas get into conflict and split over taking John Mark again on a mission trip. Paul and Silas head to Cilicia and Galatia, Barnabas and John Mark to Cyprus.
- How would this look to Theophilus? It would stand in stark contrast to what Roman government now has become, maybe it would have resonance in Theophilus of what the Roman Senate once was or always was meant to be.
- Nero and the current mess in the government and society would stand in stark contrast to this reasonable meeting.
- Again this would show to Theophilus that this is not a zealot’s counsel, it is not a blind nationalistic pride, it is not a tribal religion. God has done the impossible: he has taken a distinct Jewish heritage and transformed it into a peaceful, reasonable, inclusive, multi-ethnical movement.
Chapter 16 2nd Missionary Journey to Galatia, Philippi
- Acts 16:1-3 Paul revisits Galatia, probably following up on his letter and also conveying the council’s letter. He recruits Timothy in Lystra, son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father and circumcises him – for ministry purposes, which is totally fine. Remember Galatians: if you do not put faith in circumcision making you more acceptable, you may as well circumcise (for medical or ministry reasons), – or not (Gal 5:6, 6:15). Timothy is very young, shy, but promising.
- Acts 16:4-5 Paul going to Phrygia, not allowed to go to Asia, not to Bithynia, ending up in Troas (Area of Mysia). The Holy Spirit ‘forbidding them’, how would this have looked? The Holy Spirit leads in many different ways. Here is one of them: be faithful, work as God has commanded and has called you, and God will intervene when he wants a change of direction.
- Acts 16:6-10 Night vision of a Macedonian man calling them ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’. Paul sees the vision, but they all immediately respond. The team now is: Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke since the “we” passages have started.
- Acts 16:11-40 Troas > Samothrace > Neapolis > Philippi. Story of the Philippian church being planted.
Chapter 17 2nd Missionary Journey to Thessalonica, Berea, Athens
- Acts 17:1-9 Story of the Thessalonian church being planted. Opposition form Jews: remember it’s 50 AD, these cities are loaded with disgruntled Jews who just lost their possessions because of Claudius’ edict.
- Acts 17:10-15 Story of the Beroean church being planted.
- Acts 17:16-34 Story of the Athenian church being planted. Paul looks around the city, finds the altar to the unknown God. Paul preaches in the synagogue, the market place, the Aeropag. He meets Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.
- Acts 17:22-31 Preaching: open and respectful start (‘you are extremely religious in every way’), using their beliefs as a bridge (‘altar to the unknown god’), starts again with Creator God beyond any idols or shrines, giving humans life, creating the nations, guiding their affairs, hoping for them to seek him, quoting their poets (Acts 17:28), God has now spoken, calling you, bringing Jesus, confirming him by resurrection.
Chapter 18 2nd Missionary Journey to Corinth
- Acts 18:1-3 Paul meets Aquila (Jew from Pontus) and wife Priscilla (Italian name), just come from Italy due to Claudius’ edict 49 AD. Paul lives and works with them (Aquila is also a tent maker).
- Acts 18:4-11 Paul is given a promise of fruitfulness and special protection, which also implies opposition. Paul spends 1 ½ years in Corinth, the longest stretch so far. Ongoing discipleship and teaching really seems to be a need, for even with all this investment, the church runs into serious trouble within the next 2-3 years (see 1 & 2 Cor). Guidance by the Holy Spirit, different work methods (tent making, length of stay), do not assume from one time to the next.
- Acts 18:12-17 Story of the Corinthian church being planted. Jews attempt to have Paul judged by Roman Proconsul Gallio (Seneca’s half brother), living in Corinth from May 51 AD to summer 52 AD. He is also mentioned in a Corinthian inscription. This is a man Theophilus definitely knows about, and maybe knows personally in one degree or other. He would also likely be still around, and could be asked about this. But even without that: Luke is showing Theophilus that high Roman government officials (people like him) do not see any reason to condemn Paul, but rather see through this as a scheme of jealous Jews..
- Acts 18:18-23 Paul returns to Jerusalem via Ephesus (where he leaves behind Priscilla & Aquila), Caesarea, Jerusalem to Antioch, where he spends some time.
- Acts 18:24-28 3rd missionary journey started, again going via Galatia and Phrygia to Ephesus. Paul meets disciples of Apollos.
- Apollos, Jew of Alexandria, heard & believed John the Baptist, eloquent, well-versed in the Old Testament, teaches boldly and enthousiasticly in (presumably) synagogues, also in Ephesus. Upon hearing him, Priscilla and Aquila take him aside and explain ‘the Way of God’ more accurately to him. When he wants to go to Achaia, the believers encourage him. In Achaia he powerfully refutes the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.
- This is a fascinating short insight into a fascinating man. He is (in a sense) a self-starting, self-appointed John preacher, highly educated in the Old Testament, smart, eloquent, passionate. He goes on to become a powerful Jewish apologist. But he really must have had his heart open, for later he has no problem refuting Jews in public, but when Priscilla (her name is mentioned first) takes him on and corrects him, or leads him on, he really accepts that. He is a smart apologist with a true heart. The smart giftings can be a temptation to escape, to avoid correction and therefore forestall growth (always being able to talk one’s way out of things). But here is an example of somebody with these giftings and an open heart. All giftings are good, and all are temptation, learn to handle your gift in a godly way!
- Also we have here a powerful and influential woman teacher and discipler, who ends up raising up one of the most gifted teachers and apologists of the early church. Also her husband Aquila let her do this, investing time and care in interaction with a charismatic figure like Apollos. Self-control leads to freedom. But also see the humility at work on all sides in this story: Priscilla does not declare Apollos ‘heretic’ but can see the good in it, can address him in such a way that he realizes she understands more, and can lead him on.
Chapter 19 3rd Missionary Journey to Ephesus
- Acts 19:1-7 Paul meets some disciples of Apollos, and exhibits the exact same attitude: humility, relating, accepting, leading on. Theophilus would see in Priscilla and Paul a non-divisive, welcoming, appreciating attitude, yet committed to the one truth.
- Here the concrete issue is the receiving of the Holy Spirit upon becoming believers. Paul doesn’t separate the two events principally (expecting this to occur together), but here seems to find people with one but not the other. Upon Paul praying, they speak in tongues and prophesy. This, besides Acts 8:16 are the strongest texts in favor of a baptism with the Holy Spirit. We can seek this, pray for it, if any one wishes. I have no experience to pray for people for this, but it is good and biblical. In the charismatic world: much pressure and many fake things, but just because there is fake things doesn’t mean there isn’t a real thing. Actually the opposite: fakes are made of things that are really real.
- Acts 19:8-10 Luke’s summary statement of Paul’s 2 ¼ years (in Acts 20:31 Paul refers to this as 3 years) in Ephesus. Paul makes Ephesus his preaching, teaching, discipleship and sending missionary base. All Asia (the jela) hears the word. Colossae, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Thyatira, Philadelphia etc. are planted by either Paul of people he is discipling like Epaphras, Philemon etc.
- Acts 19:11-20 Sons of Sceva. The story is not only funny, it has a powerful message: the power of Jesus’ name, and also the need for personal relationship with him (mantras won’t do). Theophilus as a Roman of idolatrous background would be impressed with this story. And also challenged.
The impact of the gospel on Ephesus, a major center in the Roman world, would impress him also. People burning valuable books also strikes a cord … no selling, right?
- Acts 19:21-41 Riot in Ephesus. The impact of the gospel is such that it starts threatening the economy: Ephesus was a widely known shrine with numerous pilgrims having the largest temple known then (Artemis temple, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, the size of an Olympic football field).
- Originally a silversmith named Demetrius stirs it up for economic reasons, grabbing Macedonian co-workers of Paul: Gaius and Aristarchus. But then the Jews have a hand in ‘pushing forward’ a Jew named Alexander (possibly the one ‘Alexander the copper smith’ 2 Ti 4:14).
- The riotous crowd is meeting in the theater of Ephesus, which could hold up to 25’000 people, where there is confusion and Alexander when understood to be a Jew is shouted down. Paul is prevented by friends from entering the theater. The scream for two hours ‘great is Artemis of the Ephesians’. It takes the town clerk to calm them down after that. He acknowledges Artemis’ greatness, and Ephesus as its shrine keeper, but also that there is no reason for the commotion. He fears being charged with rioting (which Rome did not like, and which could lead to suspend the city’s and the city government’s favored status.
He refers them to the courts, a good proper Roman thing to do. He mentions ‘there are proconsuls’, an uncommon plural (there is only one proconsul), which helps date the incident: 54 AD, when two persons assassinate the former proconsul and hold the power between them for a short time, when Rome re-establishes another proconsul of theirs.
- Luke, I think with a smile, shows Theophilus how Roman government looks on the ground, doing well overall but with embarrassing stories like this one. Again the Roman city government doesn’t find cause to go against Paul, though riots follow him wherever he goes.
Chapter 20 3rd Missionary Journey to Greece, Troas, Miletus
- Acts 20:1-6 Paul goes to Macedonia and Greece for ‘three months’. This is the time of the Corinthian conflict, a trying time for Paul.
- Acts 20:7-12 Jewish conspiracy (they have been hounding him!) alters travel plans. Paul goes to Troas, where he preaches so long a guy falls asleep and out of the window and three floors down. He is picked up dead but Paul bent over him, took him in his arms and he revived.
- Acts 20:17-38 Calling the Ephesus church elders to Miletus. Declares he has given them God’s full counsel and hands over responsibility to prevent false teaching, which he predicts. He also predicts never seeing them again.
Chapter 21 Trip to Jerusalem, Predictions and Arrest
- Acts 21:1-16 Trip to Jerusalem via Cos, Rhodes, Patara, Syria, Tyre. Paul gets repeated warnings of what is coming in Jerusalem (believers in Tyre and prophet Agabus at the house of Philip the evangelist with his 4 prophet daughters in Caesarea): imprisonment by the Jews and being handed over to Gentiles.
- This would show Theophilus that Paul is well award of his danger, but for the sake of the cause he will not defer his plans.
- Acts 21:17-26 Paul visits James and elders. Paul reports on journeys. James suggests he pays for the purification rites of four men to signal adherence to the law to the Jews. This is likely Nazarite vows (shaving of heads is mentioned), a freewill vow of devotion to God which Paul also seems to be on earlier during the 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18:18).
- Acts 21:27-36 Paul does accordingly, but is arrested in the temple when Jews from Asia stirred up a crowd saying that Paul is teaching everywhere against the law and has brought an uncircumcised Trophimus into the temple. It turns into a riot and the Jews drag Trophimus and Paul out to the temple, where the Roman tribune Claudius Lysias has to rescue Paul. Theophilus would have heard plenty of the restive Judeah, here is an insider’s view of the challenges of the Roman government, and that they do fulfill their role. It also shows Theophilus the mindset of the people that are after Paul, the very Jews the Romans hate.
- Acts 21:37-40 Paul addresses the tribune in Greek, asking him for the opportunity to speak to the Jews. The tribune thought him an Egyptian rebel who lead 4000 assassins into the wilderness.
Chapter 22-23 Paul’s Case in Jerusalem
- Acts 22:1-21 Paul addresses the crowd in Hebrew (Aramaic) and tells them of how he persecuted the church, then converted, then was called to go to the Gentiles.
- Acts 22:22 Upon hearing that they are enraged. It is interesting that they listen to Jesus appearing to Paul, but hearing about him being sent to the Gentiles, they erupt in anger, not before. This shows above all the Jewish pride and exclusiveness, but also their total rejection of the calling to be a blessing and mediator to the Gentiles (Ge 12:1-3, Ex 19:4-6).
- Acts 22:23-29 From now on the account becomes a detailed description of Paul’s case so far. Luke informs a (maybe) Judge Theophilus of exactly why and how things happened, and what the legal process so far has been. Luke is very detailed (often word to word court transcripts) and spends full 8 chapters on this description (which is near 30% of the entire book!). The great detail spent on these proceedings over against doing 1 ½ years Corinth and 2 ½ years Ephesus in a few sentences supports the view that indeed Paul’s case is a major focus of Acts and prime reason Luke writes.
- The tribune orders Paul to be examined by flogging. Paul is tied up and then challenges the centurion implementing this about the legality of flogging a Roman citizen. They stop and the tribune is afraid for having bound a Roman citizen. Paul is playing smart here :-). Luke is showing Theophilus Roman justice on the ground. Overall Rome is doing very well in maintaining justice for Paul. Theophilus would also be able to check up on this. The name of the tribune is given, he is likely back in Rome or could be inquired of.
- Acts 22:30 The Tribune wants to find out what Paul is accused of and calls the Jewish council to meet.
- Acts 23:1-5 Paul stands before the council he once was a member of, as Jesus, Peter and John before him. The High priest orders him to be struck on the mouth. Paul challenges him on the legality of that ‘Are you sitting here to judge me by the law and in violation of the law you order me to be struck?’. The council then challenge him about abusing the high priest. Paul apologizes. This would show Theophilus the mindset of those accusing Paul.
- Acts 23:6-10 Paul sees that the council is half Pharisee and half Sadducees, he cries out: ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.’ With this smart move he divides the council and brings the Pharisee half over to his side.
- Acts 23:11 At nigh Jesus ‘stands near Paul’ and says: ‘Keep up your courage! (He has shown courage!) For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’ This is a prediction that will turn out to be accurate, it would also impress Theophilus as the one to whom this case now has come. God himself is looking after this Paul. He is no victim, even as accused he is a witness and ambassador. Even to you.
- Acts 23:12-22 Fourty Jews bind themselves by oath to neither eat nor drink until they have assassinated Paul. They inform the council and tell them to ask for another hearing, on the way to which they will kill Paul.
Paul’s sister’s son hears about the ambush, informs Paul, who sends him to the tribune.
- Acts 23:23-35 The tribune then has Paul moved stealthily that same night to Ceasarea, with an escort of 200 soldiers, 200 spear men and 70 horsemen. Here Luke uses ‘humor by omission’, he never tells us what happened to those 40 poor, starving Jews. This is humor by understatement.
- This is a smart move by the Tribune, for it will be far harder for the Jews to keep up the ‘rioting pressure’ in Ceasarea, that has many Gentiles and more government. It would show Theophilus just how hot Paul’s case has been in Jerusalem (and how carefully Rome has handled it), just how willing the Jews are to bend every rule to kill him (as before with Jesus). This would appeal to the Roman pride in their superior justice: Theophilus, do you really want to side with these violent Jews and do their bidding in judging Paul?
Chapter 24-26 Paul’s Case in Caesarea
- Acts 24:1-9 The high priest Ananias, some elders and attorney Tertullus come down to Ceasarea to accuse Paul before Proconsul Felix, using quite a bit of flattery that Luke reports.
- Acts 24:10-27 Paul defends himself before Felix, speaking frankly of his conversion. He asserts that in being a Christian he is ‘worshiping the God of my ancestors’. He says that none of the temple desecration accusations are true, but that indeed he is following Christ. Fearless witness, speaking the truth frankly.
- Acts 24:22-27 Felix, whose wife Drusilla is Jewish, is ‘rather well informed about the Way’, repeatedly has Paul sent for to speak about the faith in Christ, but he puts the case on the ‘long bench’, hoping Paul would pay bribes. After two years he is replaced by Proconsul Porcius Festus, with Paul’s case still undecided.
Is this a person playing with conscience? Thinking he is playing with Paul? Here Luke shares the weakness of the Roman justice with Theophilus.
- Acts 25:1-12 The chief priests try to press the case again when the newly arrived Festus is in Jerusalem. Maybe he thinks this is a good moment to make himself popular with the Jews? Paul asserts his innocence and appeals to Ceasar. Why now? Does he feel threatened? Does he fear the transfer to Jerusalem (Acts 25:20)? Does he feel Festus will make him a pawn in pleasing the Jews? Luke informs Theophilus how the appeal and transfer came about.
- Acts 25:13-26 When King Agrippa II with wife Berenice come to Caesarea to welcome Festus, Paul’s case is laid before them, mostly to find some charge they can mention for the appeal (Acts 25:26).
- Acts 26:1-29 Paul tells of his conversion, calling and appeals for Agrippa II to believe in Christ in a very frank manner. They are convinced of his innocence, but due to the appeal they send him to the emperor. Again nobody in government thinks Paul guilty of any offense worth a penalty. Nobody is willing to judge him. Nobody can quite escape him either.
Chapter 27-28 Trip to Rome and light inprisonment in Rome
- Acts 27:1-44 Trip to Rome with the disastrous storm, landing them on Malta. Paul proves prophetic gifting, wisdom and a constructive attitude. The centurion (one more Roman!) makes sure Paul is not killed as a common prisoner. None of the Romans coming into real contact with Paul want him dead, Theophilus!
- Acts 28:1-10 Wood gathering and snakebite in Malta. One of my favorite Scriptures in the New Testament: Paul is constructive, practical, hands-on, not resentful, seeking the welfare of all. A kind local (probably) Roman named Publius entertains the shipwrecked people. Paul heals his father of fever and dysentry, and following many more. They are honored and provided for. Paul’s prisoner journey turns into a honorable voyage with favor from many good people.
- Acts 28:11-16 Malta, Syracuse, Rhegium, Puteoli, Forum of Appius, Three Taverns and finally Rome, where Paul wanted to come as early as the Ephesus days, so some 8 years ago. He is received by the local believers (who know him from Romans) and given light house arrest.
- Acts 28:17-29 Preaching to the Jews in Rome, who have not yet been incited against Paul. As always some believe, and some don’t (Acts 28:24).
- Acts 28:30-31 The summery statement of Paul’s two years in Rome: ‘proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.’ A very triumphant ending for a dragging 4 ½ year delayed prisoner’s case. But it is true: Paul is not truly fettered, and nobody can stop the Word of God. What situation are you blaming? What are you using as an excuse? What are you waiting for? Paul is effective in prison and out. He is faithful to calling wherever he finds himself. He is not blaming God, he is not pouting, he is not offended for God snubbing him in spite of his great usefulness.
- This hanging end of Acts really is surprising. Why does Luke not end on the high note of Paul’s release? Or positive verdict? … only one answer really works: because it hasn’t happened yet.
- So here we are, Theophilus. Here this wave has reached even Rome, it has come to your very door step. Nobody can stop the work of God, also not you, Theophilus. You can incarcerate Paul, but you can’t stop him. And even less can you stop the Word of God. This is a movement started in the backyard of the Roman empire, but it has universal claims. One of it’s foremost exponents will stand before you. Will you do what no Roman before you has done and decide against him? Will you be the pawn in the hands of the scheming Jews? Will you – alone of all government officials involved in this case – consider him guilty? He has come so far, what is your decision?
- And also: what are you going to do with this Jesus, he is knocking even on your door. Will you listen to this voice, though it comes from the hated Jewish corner? Will you not see what Jesus has accomplished? He has done what all the Roman armies and government presence has not been able to do: transform the Jews into people seeking peace and the welfare of the Gentiles. Here is Paul. The ultimate Pharisee. The ultimate violent Jewish bigot, transformed into a person that lays down his life for the Gentiles, for the truth he has come to know, for this Jesus. He is controversial, and creates a stir, and violent people dodge him. But he is actually self-less, committed, peace-loving, constructive and respectful of government. He is the ultimate transformed Jew. This is what happens, when Jesus gets a hold of a person!
- And – oh how different his kind of leadership is! This is what we would need, even in the Roman government. People of integrity, lawfulness, inwardly motivated, selfless, committed to truth. How stark a contrast to Nero. Why is it that this Jesus can produce what Rome so desperately needs? Are you going to bow to this superior thing you have met, this Jesus that has washed up on your doorstep?