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book of acts Summary and Overview

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book of acts in Easton's Bible Dictionary

The Acts of the Apostles is the title given to the fifth and last of the historical books of the New Testament. The author styles it a "treatise" (1:1). It was early called "The Acts," "The Gospel of the Holy Ghost," and "The Gospel of the Resurrection." It contains properly no account of any of the apostles except Peter and Paul. John is noticed only three times; and all that is recorded of James, the son of Zebedee, is his execution by Herod. It is properly therefore not the history of the "Acts of the Apostles," a title which was given to the book at a later date, but of "Acts of Apostles," or more correctly, of "Some Acts of Certain Apostles." As regards its authorship, it was certainly the work of Luke, the "beloved physician" (compare Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1). This is the uniform tradition of antiquity, although the writer nowhere makes mention of himself by name. The style and idiom of the Gospel of Luke and of the Acts, and the usage of words and phrases common to both, strengthen this opinion. The writer first appears in the narrative in 16:11, and then disappears till Paul's return to Philippi two years afterwards, when he and Paul left that place together (20:6), and the two seem henceforth to have been constant companions to the end. He was certainly with Paul at Rome (28; Col. 4:14). Thus he wrote a great portion of that history from personal observation. For what lay beyond his own experience he had the instruction of Paul. If, as is very probable, 2 Tim. was written during Paul's second imprisonment at Rome, Luke was with him then as his faithful companion to the last (2 Tim. 4:11). Of his subsequent history we have no certain information. The design of Luke's Gospel was to give an exhibition of the character and work of Christ as seen in his history till he was taken up from his disciples into heaven; and of the Acts, as its sequel, to give an illustration of the power and working of the gospel when preached among all nations, "beginning at Jerusalem." The opening sentences of the Acts are just an expansion and an explanation of the closing words of the Gospel. In this book we have just a continuation of the history of the church after Christ's ascension. Luke here carries on the history in the same spirit in which he had commenced it. It is only a book of beginnings, a history of the founding of churches, the initial steps in the formation of the Christian society in the different places visited by the apostles. It records a cycle of "representative events." All through the narrative we see the ever-present, all-controlling power of the ever-living Saviour. He worketh all and in all in spreading abroad his truth among men by his Spirit and through the instrumentality of his apostles. The time of the writing of this history may be gathered from the fact that the narrative extends down to the close of the second year of Paul's first imprisonment at Rome. It could not therefore have been written earlier than A.D. 61 or 62, nor later than about the end of A.D. 63. Paul was probably put to death during his second imprisonment, about A.D. 64, or, as some think, 66. The place where the book was written was probably Rome, to which Luke accompanied Paul. The key to the contents of the book is in 1:8, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." After referring to what had been recorded in a "former treatise" of the sayings and doings of Jesus Christ before his ascension, the author proceeds to give an account of the circumstances connected with that event, and then records the leading facts with reference to the spread and triumphs of Christianity over the world during a period of about thirty years. The record begins with Pentecost (A.D. 33) and ends with Paul's first imprisonment (A.D. 63 or 64). The whole contents of the book may be divided into these three parts: (1.) Chaps. 1-12, describing the first twelve years of the Christian church. This section has been entitled "From Jerusalem to Antioch." It contains the history of the planting and extension of the church among the Jews by the ministry of Peter. (2.) Chaps. 13-21, Paul's missionary journeys, giving the history of the extension and planting of the church among the Gentiles. (3.) Chaps. 21-28, Paul at Rome, and the events which led to this. Chaps. 13-28 have been entitled "From Antioch to Rome." In this book it is worthy of note that no mention is made of the writing by Paul of any of his epistles. This may be accounted for by the fact that the writer confined himself to a history of the planting of the church, and not to that of its training or edification. The relation, however, between this history and the epistles of Paul is of such a kind, i.e., brings to light so many undesigned coincidences, as to prove the genuineness and authenticity of both, as is so ably shown by Paley in his "Horae Paulinae". "No ancient work affords so many tests of veracity; for no other has such numerous points of contact in all directions with contemporary history, politics, and topography, whether Jewish, or Greek, or Roman." Lightfoot. (See PAUL T0002871.)

book of acts in Smith's Bible Dictionary

The Acts of the Apostles is the fifth book in the New testament and the second treatise by the author of the third Gospel, traditionally known as Luke. The book commences with an inscription to one Theophilus, who was probably a man of birth and station. The readers were evidently intended to be the members of the Christian Church, whether Jews or Gentiles; for its contents are such as are of the utmost consequence to the whole Church. They are the fulfillment of the promise of the Father by the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the results of that outpouring by the dispersion of the gospel among the Jews and Gentiles. Under these leading heads all the personal and subordinate details may be arranged. First St. Peter becomes the prime actor under God int he founding of the Church. He is the centre of the first group of sayings and doings. The opening of the door to Jews, ch. 2, and Gentiles, ch. 10, is his office, and by him, in good time, is accomplished. Then the preparation of Saul of Tarsus for the work to be done, the progress, in his hand, of that work, his journeyings, preachings and perils, his stripes and imprisonments, his testifying in Jerusalem and being brought to testify in Rome, --these are the subjects of the latter half of the book, of which the great central figure is the apostle Paul. The history given in the Acts occupies about 33 years, and the reigns of the Roman emperors Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. It seems most probable that the place of writing was Roma, and the time about two years from the date of St. Paul's arrival there, as related in #Ac 28:30| This would give us fro the publication about 63 A.D.

book of acts in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Acts of the Apostles. The second treatise, in continuation of the Gospel as recorded by Luke. The style confirms the identity of authorship; also the address to the same person, Theophilus, probably a man of rank, judging from the title "most excellent." The Gospel was the life of Jesus in the flesh, the Acts record His life in the Spirit; Chrysostom calls it "The Gospel of the Holy Spirit." Hence Luke says: "The former treatise I made of all that Jesus began to do and teach;" therefore the Acts give a summary of what Jesus continued to do and teach by His Spirit in His disciples after He was taken up. The book breaks off at the close of Paul's imprisonment, A.D. 63, without recording his release; hence it is likely Luke completed it at this date, just before tidings of the apostle's release reached him. There is a progressive development and unity of plan throughout. The key is Acts 1:8; "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me in (1) Jerusalem, and (2) in all Judaea, and (3) in Samaria, and (4) unto the uttermost part of the earth." It begins with Jerusalem, the metropolis of the Jewish dispensation, and ends with Rome, the metropolis of the whole Gentile world. It is divisible into three portions: I. From the ascension to the close of Acts 11, which describes the rise of the first purely Gentile church, at Antioch, where the disciples consequently were first called See CHRISTIAN (see); II. Thence down to the special vision at Troas (Acts 16), which carried the gospel, through Paul, to Europe; III. Thence onward, until it reached Rome. In each of the three periods the church has a distinct aspect: in the first, Jewish; in the second, Gentile with a strong Jewish admixture; in the third, after the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15), Gentile in a preponderating degree. At first the gospel was preached to the Jews only; then to the Samaritans (Acts 8:1-5); then to the Ethiopian eunuch, a proselyte of righteousness (Acts 8:27); then, after a special revelation as Peter's warrant, to Cornelius, a proselyte of the gate; then to Gentile Greeks (not Grecians, i.e. Greek speaking Jews, but pagan Greeks, on the whole the best supported reading, Acts 11:20); then Peter, who, as "the apostle of the circumcision," had been in the first period the foremost preacher, gives place from Acts 13 to Paul, "the apostle of the uncircumcision," who successively proclaimed the word in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, and Rome. Luke joined Paul at Troas (about A.D. 53), as appears from the "we" taking the place of "they" at that point in his history (Acts 16:8-10). The repetition of the account of the ascension in Acts 1 shows that an interval of some time had elapsed since writing the more summary account of it at the end of Luke 24; for repetition would have been superfluous unless some time had intervened. Matthew's Gospel, as adapted to Jewish readers, answers to the first period ending about A.D. 40, and was written probably in and for Jerusalem and Judaea; Mark answers to the second or Judaeo-Gentile period, A.D. 40-50, as his Gospel abounds in Latinisms, and is suited to Gentile converts, such as were the Roman soldiers concentrated at Caesarea, their head quarters in Israel, the second great center of gospel preaching, the scene of Cornelius' conversion by Mark's father in the faith, Peter. Luke's Gospel has a Greek tinge, and answers to the third period, A.D. 50-63, being suited to Greeks unfamiliar with Palestinian geography; written perhaps at Antioch, the third great center of gospel diffusion. Antioch is assigned by tradition as his residence (A.D. 52) before joining Paul when entering Europe. Beginning it there, he probably completed it under Paul's guidance, and circulated it from Philippi, where he was left behind, among the Greek churches. Probably Paul (A.D. 57) alludes to his Gospel in 2 Corinthians 8:18; "the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches." Certainly he quotes his Gospel as Scripture, and by inspiration stamps it as such in 1 Timothy 5:18. His having been chosen by the Macedonian churches joint trustee with Paul of their contributions to Jerusalem implies a long residence, during which he completed and circulated his work. As Acts was the fruit of his second connection with Paul, whose labors down to his imprisonment in Rome form the chief part of the book, so he wrote the Gospel through the help he got in his first connection with him, from Troas down to Philippi. (See Birks' Horse Evarig., 192, etc., for the probability that Theophilus lived at Antioch.) Jerome says Luke published his Gospel "in the parts of Achaia and Baeotia." The Book of Acts links itself with the Gospels, by describing the foundation and extension of the church, which Christ in the Gospels promised; and with the Pauline epistles by undesigned, because not obvious, coincidences. It forms with the Gospels a historical Pentateuch, on which the Epistles are the inspired commentary, as the Psalms and Prophets are on the Old Testament historical books. Tertullian De Bapt., 17, and Jerome, Vir. Illustr., Luc., 7, mention that John pronounced spurious the Acts of Paul and Thecla, published at Ephesus. As Luke's Acts of the Apostles was then current, John's condemnation of the spurious Acts is a virtual sanction of ours as genuine; especially as Revelation 3:2 assigns this office of testing the true and the false to John's own church' of Ephesus. The epistle of the churches of Lyons and Vienna to those of Asia and Phrygia (A.D. 177) quotes it. Irenseus, Adv. Hser., 1:31, Clemens Alexandrinus, Strom., 5, and Origen, in Euseb. H. E., 6:23, attest the book. Eusebius, H.E., 3:25, ranks it among "the universally recognized Scriptures." Its rejection by the Manicheans on purely doctrinal grounds implies its acceptance by the early church catholic. Luke never names himself. But the identity of the writer with the writer of the Gospel (Luke 1:3) is plain, and that the first person plural (Acts 16:10; Acts 16:17; Acts 21:1; Acts 21:18; Acts 27:1; Acts 28:16) includes the writer in the first person singular (Acts 1:1). Paul's other companions are distinguished from the writer (Acts 20:4-5-6; Acts 20:15). The sacred writers keep themselves in the background, so as to put forward their grand subject. The first person gives place to the third at Acts 17:1, as Paul and Silas left Luke behind at Philippi. The nonmention of Luke in Paul's epistles is due to his not having been with him at Corinth (Acts 18), whence the two epistles to the Thessalonians were written; nor at Ephesus (Acts 19), whence he wrote to the Romans; nor at Corinth again, whence he wrote to the Galatians. The first person is not resumed until Acts 20:5-6, at Philippi, the very place where the first person implies he was with Paul two years before (Acts 16); in this interval Luke probably made Philippi his head quarters. Thenceforward to the close, which leaves Paul at Rome, the first person shows Luke was his companion. Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24, written there and then, declare his presence with Paul in Rome. The undesigned coincidence remarkably confirms the truth of his authorship and of the history. Just in those epistles written from places where in Acts the first person is dropped, Luke is not mentioned, but Silas and Timothy are; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:19 compared with Acts 18:5. But in the epistles written where we know, from Acts 28, the writer was with Paul we find Luke mentioned. Alford conjectures that as, just before Luke's joining Paul at Troas (Acts 16:10), Paul had passed through Galatia, where he was detained by sickness (Galatians 4:13, Greek "Ye know that because of an infirmity of my flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first"), and Phrygia, and as the epistle to Colossae in Phrygia terms Luke "the beloved physician," Luke became Paul's companion owing to the weak state of the apostle's health, and left him at Philippi when he was recovered, which would account for the warm epithet "beloved." In Acts 21:10 Agabus is introduced as if he had never been mentioned before, which he was in Acts 11:28. Probably Luke used different written sources of information, guided in the selection by the Holy spirit. This view accounts for the Hebraistic style of the earlier parts (drawn from Hebrew sources), and the Grecian style of the latter (from Luke himself). The speeches remarkably and undesignedly accord with all that is known of the speakers from other sources. Compare Peter's speeches, Acts 2:23; Acts 4:11; Acts 10:34, with 1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 Peter 2:7; Paul's, Acts 14:15-17; Acts 17:24-31, with Romans 1:19-25; Romans 2:5; Romans 3:25 (Greek "the pretermission," or passing over of sins, "winking" at them), Colossians 1:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:4 (margin of Acts 17:23 "gods worshipped," the same Greek); Acts 20:19; Acts 20:31 with Philemon 3:18; Acts 20:32 with Ephesians 2:20; Acts 20:24 with 2 Timothy 4:7; "seed according to the promise," Acts 13:23, with Romans 4:13; Galatians 3:16. The Hebraisms mostly found in the speeches, and not in the narrative, prove that the speakers' very words are essentially though summarily given. Providence so ordered it that during Paul's two years' imprisonment in Jerusalem and Caesarea, Luke his companion had the best opportunities for ascertaining the facts of the early part of his work from the brethren on the spot. At Caesarea dwelt Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven (Acts 21:8), the best authority for Acts 6; 7; 8; also Cornelius the centurion, or at least some witnesses of the events (Acts 10) which initiated the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. Probably the portion Acts 17:15-18;Acts 17:5 was inserted by Paul himself, for he was then alone, and none but he could have supplied the facts. Moreover, in Acts 17:16-21 eleven expressions foreign to Luke's style occur, and in the speech 20 besides, some of which are found nowhere else but in Paul's epistles. Peter, to whom the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given (Matthew 16:19), opens it as the central figure of the first part, both to the Jews (Acts 3) and to the Gentiles (Acts 10). Another instrument was needed for evangelizing the world, combining the learning of both Hebrew and Greek, which the twelve had not, with the citizenship of Rome, the political mistress of the Gentile world; Paul possessed all these qualifications. A Jew by birth; educated in Hebrew divine truth at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem; in Greek literature at Tarsus, one of its most eminent schools (whence he derived his acquaintance with the writings of Aratus, a Cilician poet, his own countryman, Acts 17:28, and Epimenides, Titus 1:12, and Menander, 1 Corinthians 15:33); and a Roman citizen, a privilege which would gain him influence and protect him from lawless and fanatical violence everywhere. Hence Paul by his catholicity of qualifications and spirit (when his old pharisaism was completely eradicated by the revulsion of feeling attendant on his miraculous conversion) occupies the central place in which records the extension of the gospel to the metropolis of the world. Baumgarten remarks: "the twelve did not enter so fully into the catholic spirit of the new dispensation; a new intervention of the Lord was needed to create a new apostolate, not resting on the Israelite organization." Three civilizations meet in the introduction of the gospel to the world: the polity of Rome, binding all nations together, securing peace, and facilitating the circulation of the gospel of peace; the intellectual and aesthetic culture of Greece, revealing man's impotence by his own reasoning to find out God's law, and yet preparing him for it when divinely revealed in the gospel; and the Judaic law, divinely perfect, but impotent to justify through man's inability to keep it. Alford rightly reasons that the date of composition must have been before the fulfillment of the prophecy, Acts 27:24, "thou must be brought before Ceasar"; else Luke would have recorded it, as he does Paul's trials before Felix and Festus. The most certain date from the New Testament, Josephus, and Tacitus, is that of Porcius Festus arriving in Israel in Felix' room, A.D. 60. Paul therefore went to Rome A.D. 61, when Burrbus, a humane man, was captain of the guard. His successor, the cruel Tigellinus, would not have been likely to have left him "in free custody." Herod Agrippa's death was A.D. 44. Therefore Paul's second visit to Jerusalem with the contributions was about A.D. 42 (Acts 11:30). 2 Corinthians 12:2 (written about A.D. 55-57) refers to this visit. "Fourteen years before" will bring us to about A.D. 41-42. The visit to Antioch, and Agabus' prophecy fulfilled in Claudius' reign (A.D. 41) preceded Acts 11:28, namely, A.D. 40. The silence as to Paul, Acts 12:1-19, shows he was not at Jerusalem then, A.D. 43-44, but just before it, A.D. 41-42. The stoning of Stephen was probably A.D. 33, Saul's conversion A.D. 37, his first visit to Jerusalem A.D. 40, his third visit (Acts 15) fourteen years subsequently to his conversion, A.D. 51 (Galatians 2:1). After his conversion he went to Arabia, then back to Damascus, whence he escaped under Aretas (2 Corinthians 11:32); then to Jerusalem, after three years. His first visit was then A.D. 40 or 41, being succeeded by a cessation of persecution, owing to Caligula's attempt to set up his statue in the temple. Next he was brought to Tarsus, to escape from Grecian conspirators in Jerusalem (Acts 9:30; Galatians 1:21). Thus only the period from A.D. 30 to A.D. 32-33 elapses between Christ's ascension and the stoning of Stephen. All the hints in the first six chapters imply a miraculously rapid growth of Christianity, and an immediate antagonism on the part of the Jews. The only other cardinal point of time specified is in Acts 18:2, the expulsion of the Jews from Rome under Claudius Ceasar, A.D. 52. No book of the New Testament has suffered more from variations of text. Probably these are due to attempts at clearing supposed difficulties, harmonizing Paul's different accounts of his conversion, and bringing the text into exact likeness to the Gospels and Epistles. The book of Acts was so little read in the churches publicly that there was less opportunity to expunge interpolations by comparing different copies. The principal interpolations alleged are Acts 8:37; Acts 9:5-6; Acts 24:6-8; Acts 28:29.