Acts of the Apostles

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This article is about the book in the Christian New Testament. For the literature genre, see Acts of the Apostles (genre). For the acronym, see ACTS (disambiguation).
"Acts" redirects here. For uses of Act, see Act.

The Acts of the Apostles (Ancient Greek: Πράξεις τῶν Ἀποστόλων, Práxeis tôn Apostólōn; Latin: Āctūs Apostolōrum), often referred to simply as Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; Acts outlines the history of the Apostolic Age.

Acts tells the story of the Early Christian church, with particular emphasis on the ministry of the apostles Simon Peter and Paul of Tarsus, who are the central figures of the middle and later chapters of the book. The early chapters, set in Jerusalem, discuss Jesus' Resurrection, his Ascension, the Day of Pentecost, and the start of the apostles' ministry. The later chapters discuss Paul's conversion, his ministry, and finally his arrest, imprisonment, and trip to Rome. A major theme of the book is the expansion of the Holy Spirit's work from the Jews, centering in Jerusalem, to the Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire.

It is almost universally agreed that the author of Acts also wrote the Gospel of Luke. The author is traditionally identified as Luke the Evangelist; see Authorship of Luke–Acts for details.


Ministry of the Apostles: Russian icon by Fyodor Zubov, 1660

While the precise identity of the author is debated, the consensus is that this work was composed by a (Koine) Greek-speaking Gentile writing for an audience of Gentile Christians. The Early Church Fathers wrote that Luke was a physician in Antioch and an adherent of the Apostle Paul. It is said to be that the author of the Gospel of Luke is the same as the author of the Acts of the Apostles.[1] Tradition holds that the text was written by Luke the companion of Paul (named in Colossians 4:14) and this traditional view of Lukan authorship is “widely held as the view which most satisfactorily explains all the data.”[2] The list of scholars maintaining authorship by Luke the physician is lengthy, and represents scholars from a wide range of theological opinion.[3] However, there is no consensus with the current opinion concerning Lukan authorship is about evenly divided.[4]


The title "Acts of the Apostles" (Greek Πράξεις ἀποστόλων Praxeis Apostolon) was not part of the original text. It was first used by Irenaeus late in the 2nd century. Some have suggested that the title "Acts" be interpreted as "The Acts of the Holy Spirit" or even "The Acts of Jesus," since 1:1 gives the impression that these acts were set forth as an account of what Jesus continued to do and teach, Jesus himself being the principal actor.[5]


Main article: Genre criticism

"Acts" is a recognized genre in the ancient world, "characterizing books that described great deeds of people or of cities."[5] There are several such books in the New Testament apocrypha, including the Acts of Thomas, the Acts of Andrew, and the Acts of John. The question regarding the genre of Acts is complicated by the fact that it was written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke[why?]. As such, its literary type is influenced by the relationship to that book as well.

Modern scholars assign a wide range of genres to the Acts of the Apostles, including biography, novel and history. Most, however, interpret the genre as epic stories of early Christian miracles and conversions.[6]


Main article: Source criticism
Acts 15:22–24 from the 7th-century Codex Laudianus in the Bodleian Library, written in parallel columns of Latin and Greek.

The author of the Acts probably relied upon oral tradition, as well as other sources, in constructing his account of the early church and Paul's ministry.[citation needed] Evidence for this is found in the prologue to the Gospel of Luke, wherein the author alludes to his sources by writing, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word." Some scholars[who?] theorize that the "we" passages in Acts are just such "handed down" quotations from some earlier source who accompanied Paul on his travels.

Historians believe that the author of Acts did not have access to a collection of Paul's letters. One piece of evidence suggesting this is that, although half of Acts centers on Paul, Acts never directly quotes from the Pauline epistles nor does it even mention Paul writing letters. Discrepancies between the Pauline epistles and Acts further support the conclusion that the author of Acts did not have access to those epistles when composing Acts.[7][8]

Other theories about Acts' sources are less accepted. Some historians believe that Acts borrows phraseology and plot elements from Euripides' play The Bacchae,[9] and from Virgil's Aeneid.[10] Some feel that the text of Acts shows evidence of having used the Jewish historian Josephus as a source (in which case it would have to have been written sometime after 94 AD).[11] For example, R. I. Pervo dates Acts to the first quarter of the 2nd century.[12]


The purpose of Acts has been the subject of much scholarly research and debate. Assuming that Luke-Acts was originally a single work, the purpose of Acts is normally examined in conjunction with the Book of Luke. In Luke 1:3–4, the author states that he decided to “write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” Theophilus is Greek for lover of God and it is suggested that he may either be an individual who recently converted to the faith or a Roman official from whom the church is seeking acceptance.[13] “Acts, then, is a continuation of the Lucan Gospel, not in the sense that it relates what Jesus continued to do, but how his followers carried out his commission under the guidance of his Spirit.”[14] Thus, part of the answer to the purpose of Acts is that Luke is writing to Theophilus, who is also mentioned in Luke 1:3, in order to explain to him the occurrences that take place in the church that fulfill Jesus’ promise to his disciples that “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). Fitzmyer states that by looking at the prefaces of Luke and Acts together it can be seen “that Luke-Acts purports to be basically ‘a work of edification’.”[14]

Though the preface initially states Luke’s intentions for writing, by closely examining the contents of the work as a whole, scholars have surmised that Luke’s purpose is much more complex. In fact, Fitzmyer believes that the preface of Luke should only be “the starting point in the discussion of the aim of Luke-Acts.”[14] Because the author’s intended purpose for the Book of Acts is not that straightforward, scholars have put forth four main claims to address this.[15] It has been argued that Luke may be writing: a letter of apology (traditionally a defense for one’s beliefs), a letter of legitimation for Christian beliefs, a letter to equip the church to function amidst the Roman Empire, or a letter that is apolitical. Of course, some scholars believe Luke’s work may be fulfilling more than one purpose and thus may side with more than one of the claims that are presented here.

Apology: An apology is a defense or justification for a belief that aims to convince or persuade an audience of a particular point of view. Some believe that Luke’s gospel can be seen to mirror the Jewish apologetic literature of the time which served to “defend Jews against misunderstanding and persecution.”[16] Acts is said to be a:

Political apology on behalf of the church addressed to Rome: This is one of the oldest claims to the author’s purpose (Walton) and it states that Luke is writing to Rome in order to demonstrate that Christianity is not a political threat to Roman authority. Supporters of this view believe that “to a hypothetical outside reader, [Luke] presents Christianity as enlightened, harmless, even beneficent.”[16] Some believe that through this work, Luke intended to show the Roman Empire that the root of Christianity is within Judaism so that the Christians “may receive the same freedom to practice their faith that the Roman Empire afforded the Jews.”[15] Those who support the view of Luke’s work as political apology generally draw evidence from the facts that Christians are found innocent of committing any political crime[15] (Acts 25:25; 19:37; 19:40) and that Roman officials’ views towards Christians are generally positive. Also, Luke mentions a few Roman officials that believe in Jesus Christ (Acts 10:1–11:18; 13:12). The magistrates even apologize to Paul and Silas for wrongfully putting them in prison (Acts 16:38–39). By painting the Roman-Christian relations in this light, Luke hopes to persuade Rome that Christians are not enemies of the government and should not be looked upon with suspicion or even fear.

Apology on behalf of Rome addressed to the church: Whereas the claim above suggested that Luke was writing to Rome, this view proposes that Luke may be writing to the church in order to convince the saints of his own view that Rome is not a threat to the church.[15] This claim presupposes that early Christians were suspicious of Rome or feared Roman authority as a threat to their faith. Also, supporters of this view would characterize Luke’s portrayal of the Roman Empire as positive because they believe Luke “glosses over negative aspects of the empire and presents imperial power positively.”[15] For example, when Paul is before the council defending himself, Paul says that he is “on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). Some believe that this appeal “thereby shows Christian’s of Luke’s day both that their predecessors were innocent before the state and that Paul had no political quarrel with Rome”[15] but rather with the Jews who were accusing him. Other scholars have even said that Luke wrote this apology in order to support Christians who were becoming allies with local Roman officials.[15]

Some scholars believe that the apologetic view of Luke’s work is overemphasized and that it should not be regarded as a “major aim of the Lucan writings.”[14] While Munck believes that purpose of Luke’s work is not that clear-cut and sympathizes with other claims, he believes that Luke’s work can function as an apology only in the sense that it “presents a defense of Christianity and Paul”[17] and may serve to “clarify the position of Christianity within Jewry and within the Roman Empire.”[17] Pervo disagrees that Luke’s work is an apology and even that it could possibly be addressed to Rome because he believes that “Luke and Acts speak to insiders, believers in Jesus.”[18] Freedman believes that Luke is writing an apology but that his goal is “not to defend the Christian movement as such but to defend God’s ways in history.”[16]

Legitimation: This view mainly says that Luke is writing to the church in order to legitimate their Christian beliefs and to show that faith in Christ is compatible with allegiance to the Roman Empire. Scholars think that Luke attempts to legitimate Christianity by rooting it in Israelite tradition as evidenced by Luke constantly relating Christianity to Jewish religion.[15] (Acts 3:13; 5:30; 15:10; 22:14; 26:6; 28:5) Those who agree with this claim often reject that Luke is writing an apology.[15] Esler, who advanced this legitimation view, has suggested that in Luke’s community there were Roman officials who were recent converts and they wanted to make sure that their newfound faith could successfully coexist with their allegiance to the empire.[15] Esler believes that this specific point is supported through Luke’s emphasis on citing examples of Romans who come to believe in Christ (Acts 10:1–11:18; 13:12; 18:7). Also, Paul is even proclaims that he is a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37–40; 22:25–9). While his views on legitimation are different from Esler, Pervo agrees that Luke’s work can be seen as one of legitimation.[18] Pervo sees Luke’s work as a “legitimizing narrative” because it makes “a case by telling a story (or stories)” and serves to legitimate either “Pauline Christianity (possibly in rivalry to other interpretations) or generally as the claim of the Jesus-movement to possess the Israelite heritage.”[18] On the other hand, some scholars greatly disagree with the view of legitimation because they believe that it “mirror-reads” Luke’s work attempting to uncover the circumstances surrounding Luke’s work by over-arguing something that may not be that valid.[15]

Equipping: This claim to purpose states that the author was writing to equip the saints to handle trials that they may face and to encourage them to emulate Jesus and his disciples when faced with similar situations.[15] Many who side with this view disagree that Luke portrays Christianity or the Roman Empire as harmless and thus reject the apologetic view because “Acts does not present Christians as politically harmless or law abiding for there are a large number of public controversies concerning Christianity, particularly featuring Paul.”[15] For example, to support this view Cassidy references how Paul is accused of going against the Emperor because he is “saying that there is another king named Jesus.”[15] (Acts 17:7) Furthermore, there are multiple examples of Paul’s preaching causing uprisings in various cities (Acts 14:2; 14:19; 16:19–23; 17:5; 17:13–14; 19:28–40; 21:27). By picturing Roman authority negatively proponents of this view believe that it is emphasizing the fact that Christian’s should obey and submit to Christ’s authority (Acts 4:19–20; 5:29). Cassidy proposed an ‘allegiance-conduct-witness’ theory to explain how Luke’s purpose lines up with the equipping claim. He believes that Luke’s purpose was to share his faith in Jesus, to provide guidance for living under Roman rule and to inform believers of how to act if put on trial.[15] Furthermore, Cassidy believes that Luke’s work serves to “equip his readers to handle such trials” by providing examples of the disciples’ suffering and to encourage them to “show the same faithfulness of testimony when under trial as Jesus and the leading disciples.”[15]

Apolitical: This view claims that Luke was uninterested in the politics of the Roman Empire but rather his main focus is on the power of God and building up the Kingdom of God. Supporters of this view believe that the Roman Empire does not threaten the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ because Luke “simply recognizes its existence as a political reality, but he is clear that God is greater.”[15] Throughout Acts, believers like Paul are being charged with spiritual crimes concerning “teaching against Israel, the law, and the temple”[15] (Acts 21:21, 28; 23:29; 24:5; 25:8, 19; 28:17) or being a civil disturbance (Acts 16:20, 21:38, 25:8) rather than political charges. “Charges of sedition come from the Jews”[15] (Acts 17:6–7; 24:5) which shows that Luke’s emphasis was not on the politics of the Empire but rather on the spiritual matters of believers. Furthermore, when on trial, the church responds to the authorities by professing the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:20, 28–29; 5:29–32). Franklin agrees that Luke’s work is apolitical and believes that Luke’s main concern was the “triumph of God in Paul’s arrival in Rome."[15] (Acts 28:14–15) While Walton agrees that Luke’s main concern is apolitical, he believes that “there is too much politically sensitive material for this view to be tenable when Luke-Acts is read in its first-century settings, both Jewish and Greco-Roman.”[15]

Historical accuracy[edit]

The question of authorship is largely bound up with the one of the historical value of the contents. A key contested issue is the historicity of Luke's depiction of Paul. According to the majority viewpoint, Acts describes Paul differently from how he describes himself, both factually and theologically.[19] Acts seems to differ with Paul's letters on important issues, such as the Law, Paul's own apostleship, and his relation to the Jerusalem church.[20] Scholars generally prefer Paul's account over that in Acts.[21] Representing a traditional view, however, some scholars and historians view the book of Acts as being quite accurate and corroborated by archaeology, while agreeing with the Pauline epistles.[22][23]


Main article: Dating the Bible

The book of Acts has been most commonly dated to the second half of the 1st century. Norman Geisler dates it as early as between 60–62.[24] Donald Guthrie, who dates the book between 62–64,[25] notes that the absence of any mention of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 would be unlikely if the book were written later. He also suggested that since the book does not mention the death of Paul, a central character in the final chapters, it was probably penned before his death.[26] Guthrie also saw traces of Acts in Polycarp's letter to the Philippians (written between 110–140) and one letter by Ignatius († about 117)[27] and thought that Acts probably was current in Antioch and Smyrna not later than c. 115, and perhaps in Rome as early as c. 96.[28]

A small indicator about the earliest possible date may be in Acts 6:9 which mentions the Province of Cilicia. The Roman province by that name had been on hiatus from 27 BC and re-established by Emperor Vespasian only in 72 AD.[29] However, since Paul was from Cilicia and refers to himself using this name (see Acts 21:39, 22:3), it seems very natural that the name Cilicia would have continued to be in colloquial use among its residents despite its hiatus in official Roman nomenclature.

Parallels between Acts and Josephus' The Wars of the Jews (written in 75–80) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94) have long been argued.[30] Several scholars have argued that Acts used material from both of Josephus' works, rather than the other way around, which would indicate that Acts was written around the year 100 or later.[31][32] Three points of contact with Josephus in particular are cited: (1) The circumstances attending the death of Agrippa I in 44. Here Acts 12:21–23 is largely parallel to Antiquities 19.8.2; (2) the cause of the Egyptian pseudo-prophet in Acts 21:37f and in Josephus (War 2.13.5; Antiquities 20.8.6); (3) the curious resemblance as to the order in which Theudas and Judas of Galilee are referred to in both (Acts 5:36f; Antiquities 20.5.1).[citation needed]

According to John T. Townsend, "it is not before the last decades of the second century that one finds undisputed traces of the work."[33] Townsend, turning to the sources behind the pseudo-Clementine writings, argues that the middle of the 2nd century is the terminus ad quem for the final composition. According to Richard I. Pervo, "Townsend's methodologically adventurous but ultimately cautious essay is another valuable lesson in the danger of establishing the date of Acts–or any work–by arguing for the earliest possible time of origin."[34]


The place of composition is still an open question. For some time Rome and Antioch have been in favor, and Blass combined both views in his theory of two editions. But internal evidence points strongly to the Roman province of Asia, particularly the neighborhood of Ephesus. Note the confident local allusion in 19:9 to "the school of Tyrannus" and in 19:33 to "Alexander"; also the very minute topography in 20:13–15. At any rate affairs in that region, including the future of the church of Ephesus (20:28–30), are treated as though they would specially interest "Theophilus" and his circle; also an early tradition has Luke die in the adjacent Bithynia. Finally it was in this region that there arose certain early glosses (e.g., 19:9; 20:15), probably the earliest of those referred to below. How fully in correspondence with such an environment the work would be, as apologia for the Church against the Synagogue's attempts to influence Roman policy to its harm, must be clear to all familiar with the strength of Judaism in Asia (cf. Rev 2:9, 3:9; and see Sir W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches, ch. xii.).


Main article: Biblical manuscript
Acts 1:1-2a from the 14th century Minuscule 223

Like most biblical books, there are differences between the earliest surviving manuscripts of Acts. This is because there are three different families of Biblical texts, Byzantine, Western, and Alexandrian. The manuscripts from the Western text-type (as represented by the Codex Bezae) and the Alexandrian text-type (as represented by the Codex Sinaiticus) are the earliest survivors. The version of Acts preserved in the Western manuscripts contains about 10% more content than the Alexandrian version of Acts. Some scholars have struggled to determine if either of these two versions is closer to the original text composed by the original author. Within the Byzantine text family, a clear genuine reading emerges throughout the New Testament by comparing different manuscripts.

An early theory, suggested by Swiss theologian Jean LeClerc in the 17th century, posits that the longer Western version was a first draft, while the Alexandrian version represents a more polished revision by the same author. Adherents of this theory argue that even when the two versions diverge, they both have similarities in vocabulary and writing style—suggesting that the two shared a common author. However, it has been argued that if both texts were written by the same individual, they should have exactly identical theologies and they should agree on historical questions. Since some modern scholars do detect subtle theological and historical differences between the texts, such scholars do not subscribe to the rough-draft/polished-draft theory.

A second theory deals with the Byzantine text-type. This family includes extant manuscripts dating from the 5th century or later; however, papyrus fragments may be used to show that this text-type dates as early as the Alexandrian or Western text-types.[35] Many believe this group of texts comes from the original Book of Acts by looking at the Byzantine text for the whole of the New Testament. They argue that the oldest copies of this text family are likely to have been lost or destroyed over time with use, and therefore extant manuscripts cannot accurately date a text family. The great majority of Biblical manuscripts support the Byzantine family, from which a single reading for the New Testament is established. The Byzantine text-type was used for the 16th century Textus Receptus, the first Greek-language version of the New Testament to be printed by the printing press. The Textus Receptus, in turn, was used for the New Testament found in the English-language King James Bible. Today, the Byzantine text-type is the subject of renewed interest as the original form of the text from which the Western and Alexandrian text-types were derived.[36]

A third theory assumes common authorship of the Western and Alexandrian texts, but claims the Alexandrian text is the short first draft, and the Western text is a longer polished draft.

A fourth theory is that the longer Western text came first, but that later, some other redact or abbreviated some of the material, resulting in the shorter Alexandrian text.

In modern times, there is another theory that some have come to endorse. According to this new theory, the shorter Alexandrian text is closer to the original, and the longer Western text is the result of later insertion of additional material into the text.[37] In 1893, Sir W. M. Ramsay in The Church in the Roman Empire held that the Codex Bezae (the Western text) rested on a recension made in Asia Minor (somewhere between Ephesus and southern Galatia), not later than about the middle of the 2nd century. Some believe the revision in question was the work of a single reviser, who in his changes and additions expressed the local interpretation put upon Acts in his own time. His aim, in suiting the text to the views of his day, was partly to make it more intelligible to the public, and partly to make it more complete. To this end he "added some touches where surviving tradition seemed to contain trustworthy additional particulars," such as the statement that Paul taught in the lecture-room of Tyrannus "from the fifth to the tenth hour" (added to Acts 19:9). In his later work, St Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (1895), Ramsay's views gain both in precision and in breadth. The gain lies chiefly in seeing beyond the Bezan text to the "Western" text as a whole.

General presentation[edit]

Acts tells the story of the Apostolic Age of the Early Christian church, with particular emphasis on the ministry of the Twelve Apostles and of Paul of Tarsus. The early chapters, set in Jerusalem, discuss Jesus' Resurrection and Great Commission, his Ascension with a prophecy to return, the start of the Twelve Apostles' ministry, and the Day of Pentecost. The later chapters discuss Paul's conversion, his ministry, and finally his arrest and imprisonment and trip to Rome.


Map of first century Palestine.

The structure of the book of Luke[38] is closely tied with the structure of Acts.[39] Both books are most easily tied to the geography of the book. Luke begins with a global perspective, dating the birth of Jesus to the reign of the Roman emperors in Luke 2:1 and 3:1. From there we see Jesus' ministry move from Galilee (chapters 4–9), through Samaria and Judea (chs. 10–19), to Jerusalem where he is crucified, raised and ascended into heaven (chs. 19–24). The book of Acts follows just the opposite motion, taking the scene from Jerusalem (chs. 1–5), to Judea and Samaria (chs. 6–9), then traveling through Syria, Asia Minor, and Europe towards Rome (chs. 9–28). This chiastic structure emphasizes the centrality of the resurrection and ascension to Luke's message, while emphasizing the universal nature of the gospel.

This geographic structure is foreshadowed in Acts 1:8, where Jesus says "You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem (chs. 1–5), and in all Judea and Samaria (chs. 6–9), and even to the remotest part of the earth (chs. 10–28)." The first two sections (chs. 1–9) represent the witness of the apostles to the Jews, while the last section (chs. 10–28) represent the witness of the apostles to the Gentiles.

The book of Acts can also be broken down by the major characters of the book. While the complete title of the book is the Acts of the Apostles, really the book focuses on only two men: The Apostle Peter (chs. 1–12) and St. Paul (chs. 13–28).

Within this structure, the sub-points of the book are marked by a series of summary statements, or what one commentary calls a "progress report". Just before the geography of the scene shifts to a new location, Luke summarizes how the gospel has impacted that location. The standard for these progress reports is in 2:46–47, where Luke describes the impact of the gospel on the new church in Jerusalem. The remaining progress reports are located:

  • Acts 6:7 Impact of the gospel in Jerusalem.
  • 9:31 Impact of the gospel in Judea and Samaria.
  • 12:24 Impact of the gospel in Syria.
  • 16:5 Impact of the gospel in Asia Minor.
  • 19:20 Impact of the gospel in Europe.
  • 28:31 Impact of the gospel on Rome.

This structure can be also seen as a series of concentric circles, where the gospel begins in the center, Jerusalem, and is expanding ever outward to Judea & Samaria, Syria, Asia Minor, Europe, and eventually to Rome.[citation needed]



Six apostles, from the Jelling church, Denmark.
The Cenacle on Mount Zion, claimed to be the location of the Last Supper and Pentecost. Bargil Pixner[40] claims the original Church of the Apostles is located under the current structure.

The author opens with a prologue, usually taken to be addressed to an individual by the name of Theophilus (though this name, which translates literally as "God-lover", may be a nickname rather than a personal appellation) and references "my earlier book"—almost certainly the Gospel of Luke. This is immediately followed by a historical narrative which is set in Jerusalem.

Peter and the apostles[edit]

Main article: Jewish Christians

The apostles, along with other followers of Jesus, meet and elect Matthias to replace Judas as a member of The Twelve. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on them. The apostles hear the sound of a great wind and witness "tongues of flames" descending on them, paralleling Luke 3:16–17. Thereafter, the apostles have the miraculous power to "speak in tongues" and when they address a crowd, each member of the crowd hears their speech in his own native language.

Peter, along with John, preaches to many in Jerusalem, and performs many miracles such as healings, the casting out of evil spirits, and the raising of the dead. As a result, thousands convert to Christianity and are baptized.

As their numbers increase, the Christians begin to be increasingly persecuted. Some of the apostles are arrested and flogged, but ultimately freed. Stephen, one of the first deacons, is arrested for blasphemy, and after a trial, is found guilty and executed by stoning by the Jews, thereby becoming the first known Christian martyr.

Peter and the apostles continue to preach, and Christianity continues to grow, and begins to spread to Gentiles. Peter has a vision in which a voice commands him to eat a variety of impure animals. When Peter objects, the voice replies, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." When Peter awakes from his vision, he meets with Cornelius the Centurion, who converts. Peter baptizes the centurion, and later has to justify this decision to the other Christians.

Paul's ministry[edit]

Paul of Tarsus, also known as Saul, is the main character of the second half of Acts. He is introduced as a persecutor of the Christian church (8:1:3), until his conversion to Christianity later in the chapter when he encounters the resurrected Christ. His own account of his conversion, Gal 1:11–24, is not detailed. The conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus is told three times. While Paul was on the road to Damascus, near Damascus, "suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground" (9:3–4), the light was "brighter than the sun" (26:13) and he was subsequently blinded for three days (9:9). He heard a voice in the Hebrew language (probably Aramaic): "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? ... I am Jesus" (26:14–15). In Damascus, St. Ananias cured his blindness, "something like scales" fell from his eyes, and baptized him (9:17–19). It is commonly believed that Saul changes his name to Paul at this time, but the source of this claim is unknown, the first mention of another name is later (13:9), during his first missionary journey.

Several years later, Barnabas and Paul set out on a mission (13–14) to further spread Christianity, particularly among the Gentiles. Paul travels through Asia Minor, preaching and visiting churches throughout the region.

Council of Jerusalem[edit]

Main article: Council of Jerusalem

Paul travels to Jerusalem where he meets with the apostles — a meeting known as the Council of Jerusalem (15). Paul's own record of the meeting appears to be Galatians 2, however, due to the differences, some argue Gal 2 is a different meeting. Members of the Jerusalem church have been preaching that circumcision is required for salvation. Paul and his associates strongly disagree. After much discussion, James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church, decrees that Gentile Christian converts need not follow all of the Mosaic Law, and in particular, they do not need to be circumcised.

The decision of the Council came to be called the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:19–21) and was that most Mosaic law,[41] including the requirement for circumcision of males, was not obligatory for Gentile converts, possibly in order to make it easier for them to join the movement.[42] However, the Council did retain the prohibitions against eating meat containing blood, or meat of animals not properly slain, and against "fornication" and idol worship.[43] Beginning with Augustine of Hippo,[44] many have seen a connection to Noahide Law, while some modern scholars[45] reject the connection to Noahide Law (Genesis 9) and instead see Lev 17–18 as the basis. See also Old Testament Law directed at non-Jews and Leviticus 18. In effect, however, the Jerusalem Church created a double standard: one for Jewish Christians and one for Gentile converts. See Dual-covenant theology for the modern debate.

Paul spends the next few years traveling through western Asia Minor and (some believe) founds his first Christian church in Philippi. Paul then travels to Thessalonica, where he stays for some time before departing for southern Greece. In Athens, Paul visits an altar with an inscription dedicated to an unknown god,[46] so when he gives his speech on the Areopagos, he proclaims to worship that same unknown god whom he identifies as the Christian God.

Upon Paul's arrival in Jerusalem, he was confronted with the rumor of teaching against the Law of Moses (21:21). Perhaps to show that he was "living in obedience to the law", Paul took a biblical vow along with some others (21:26). Near the end of the days of the vow, Paul was recognized outside Herod's Temple and was nearly beaten to death by a mob, "shouting, 'Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place'" (21:28). Paul is rescued from the mob by a Roman commander (21:31–40) and accused of being a revolutionary, "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes", teaching resurrection of the dead, and thus imprisoned in Caesarea (23–26). Paul asserts his right, as a Roman citizen, to be tried in Rome. Paul is sent by sea to Rome, where he spends another two years under house arrest, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching the "Lord Jesus Christ" (28:30–31). Surprisingly, Acts does not record the outcome of Paul's legal troubles — some traditions hold that Paul was ultimately executed in Rome, while other traditions have him surviving the encounter and later traveling to Spain — see Paul – Imprisonment & Death.

Attention to the oppressed and persecuted[edit]

The Gospel of Luke and Acts both devote a great deal of attention to the oppressed and downtrodden. The impoverished are generally honored. A great deal of attention is devoted to women in general,[47] and to widows in particular.[48] The Samaritans of Samaria had their temple on Mount Gerizim, placing them at odds with Jews of Judea, Galilee and other regions who had their Temple in Jerusalem and practised Judaism. Unexpectedly, since Jesus was a Jewish Galilean, the Samaritans are shown favorably in Luke-Acts.[49] In Acts, attention is given to the religious persecution of the early Christians, as in the case of Stephen's martyrdom and the numerous examples are Paul's persecution for his preaching of Christianity.


Prayer is a major motif in both the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Both books have a more prominent attention to prayer than is found in the other gospels.[50] The Gospel of Luke depicts prayer as a certain feature in Jesus's life. Examples of prayer which are unique to Luke include Jesus's prayers at the time of his baptism (Luke 3:21), his praying all night before choosing the twelve (Luke 6:12), and praying for the transfiguration (Luke 9:28). Acts also features an emphasis on prayer and includes a number of notable prayers such as the Believers' Prayer (4:23–31), Stephen's death prayer (7:59–60), and Simon Magus' prayer request (8:24). See also Prayer in the New Testament.


Acts features twenty-four extended speeches or sermons from Peter, Paul, and others. The speeches comprise about 30% of the total verses.[51] These speeches, which are given in full, have been the source of debates over the historical accuracy of Acts. Some scholars have objected to the language of the speeches as too Lukan in style to reflect anyone else's words. George Shillington writes that the author of Acts most likely created the speeches and accordingly they bear his literary and theological marks.[52] Conversely, Howard Marshall writes that the speeches were not entirely the inventions of the author and, while they may not be verbatim, nevertheless they record the general idea. He compares this to the work of the historian Thucydides, who found it difficult recording speeches verbatim but instead had the speakers say what he felt was appropriate for them to say on the occasion while adhering as much as possible to the general sense.[53]

See also[edit]

Acts of the Apostles (genre)


  1. ^ Thomas Patrick Halton, On Illustrious Men, v. 100, CUA Press, 1999, pp. 15 – 16, ISBN 0-8132-0100-4. – See also the Early Church Fathers, Chapter 7
  2. ^ Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Leicester, England: Apollos, 1990), says the traditional view is “widely held as the view which most satisfactorily explains all the data.” p. 119, whereas R. E. Brown says opinion on the issue is "evenly divided" Brown, Raymond E. (1997). Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Anchor Bible. pp. 267–8. ISBN 0-385-24767-2. 
  3. ^ To list just some: I. H. Marshall, Acts (1980), pp. 44–45; F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles (1952), pp. 1–6; C. S. C. Williams, The Acts of the Apostles, in Black’s New Testament Commentary (1957); W. Michaelis, Einleitung, pp. 61–64; Bo Reicke, Glaube und Leben Der Urgenmeinde (1957), pp. 6–7; F. V. Fitson, Three Crucial Decades (1963), p. 10; M. Dibelius, Studies in the Acts of the Apostles (1956); R. M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (1963), pp. 134–135; B. Gärtner, The Aeropagus Speech and Natural Revelation (1955), W. L. Knox, Sources of the Synoptic Gospels; R. R. Williams, The Acts of the Apostles; E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles, in Tyndale New Testament Commentary (1959), W. Grundmann, Das Evangelium nach Lukas, p. 39.
  4. ^ Brown, Raymond E. (1997). Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Anchor Bible. pp. 267–8. ISBN 0-385-24767-2. 
  5. ^ a b Carson, D. A., Moo, Douglas J. and Morris, Leon An Introduction to the New Testament (Leicester: Apollos, 1999), pp. 181
  6. ^ Phillips, Thomas E. "The Genre of Acts: Moving Toward a Consensus?" Currents in Biblical Research 4 [2006] 365 – 396.
  7. ^ Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdelene: the followers of Jesus in history and legend By Bart Ehrman, p.98-100
  8. ^ A commentary on the Acts of the Apostles by Charles Stephan Conway Williams, pp. 22, 240
  9. ^ Randel McCram Helms (1997) Who Wrote The Gospels
  10. ^ Marianne Palmer Bonz, The Past as Legacy. Luke-Acts and Ancient Epic (2000).
  11. ^ Mason, Steve (2003). Josephus and the New Testament (2nd ed.). Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson. pp. 185–229. ISBN 1-56563-795-X.  Luke and Josephus
  12. ^ "Acts was written c. 115 by an anonymous author whose perspective was that of Ephesus or its general environs", Acts: a commentary, R. I. Pervo, 2009, edited by Harold W. Attridge, Hermeneia-A critical and Historical on the Bible, Fortress press, Minneapolis
  13. ^ "The Acts of the Apostles." The Harper Collins Study Bible, Revised Edition (2006)
  14. ^ a b c d Fitzmyer, Joseph A. "Purpose." The Anchor Bible: The Acts of the Apostles-A new Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Doubleday, New York (1998): pg. 55–65.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Walton, Steve. "The State they were in: Luke's view of the Roman Empire." Rome in the Bible and the Early Church, Peter Oakes ed. (2002): pg.1–41.
  16. ^ a b c Freedman, David Noel. "Book of Luke-Acts: Genre and Purpose." The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Volume 4, (1992)
  17. ^ a b Munck, Johannes. "Introduction: The Purpose of Luke’s Work." The Anchor Bible: The Acts of the Apostles . Doubleday, New York (1967)
  18. ^ a b c Pervo, Richard. "General Purpose." Hermeneia-A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible: Acts-A Commentary, (2009): pg. 21–22.
  19. ^ "Acts presents a picture of Paul that differs from his own description of himself in many of his letters, both factually and theologically." biblical literature (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved November 25, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  20. ^ "That an actual companion of Paul writing about his mission journeys could be in so much disagreement with Paul (whose theology is evidenced in his letters) about fundamental issues such as the Law, his apostleship, and his relationship to the Jerusalem church is hardly conceivable." biblical literature (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved November 25, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  21. ^ "Paul's own account is generally regarded as the more reliable." Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. p. 316.
  22. ^ Strobel, Lee. ”The Case for Christ”. 1998, Ch five when quoting John McRay
  23. ^ Bruce, F.F. (1981). "The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?" Ch. 7–8. InterVarsity.
  24. ^ "The Dating of the New Testament". Retrieved 2007-07-05. 
  25. ^ "Dating the New Testament", (accessed April 26, 2010).
  26. ^ Guthrie, Donald (December 1970). "Nine". New Testament Introduction (third ed.). Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. pp. 340–345. ISBN 0-87784-953-6. 
  27. ^ The suggested traces can be found at Ignatius and Polycarp. The resemblance of Acts 13:22 and First Clement 18:1, in features not found in Psalms 89:20 quoted by each, can hardly be accidental; the date of Ignatius depends on later synchronisms with Trajan, which are disputable.
  28. ^ Guthrie, Donald (December 1970). "Nine". New Testament Introduction (third ed.). Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. pp. 347–348. ISBN 0-87784-953-6. 
  29. ^ A dictionary of the Roman Empire. By Matthew Bunson. ISBN 0-19-510233-9. See page 90.
  30. ^ Richard Carrier, Luke and Josephus (2000)
  31. ^ Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, Massachusetts, 1992, pp. 185–229
  32. ^ Robert Eisenman argues for the hypothesis that Acts used material from Josephus in his Cal State lecture series on the historical Jesus, cf. Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus.
  33. ^ John T. Townsend, "The Date of Luke-Acts," in; Charles H. Talbert, Luke-Acts: New Perspectives from the Society of Biblical Literature Seminar (New York: Crossroad, 1984), pp. 47–62; here p. 47.
  34. ^ Richard I. Pervo, Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists (Santa Rosa, California: Polebridge Press, 2006), p. 330.
  35. ^ Such as P66 and P75. See: E. C. Colwell, Hort Redivisus: A Plea and a Program, Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969, p. 45-48.
  36. ^ See: Robinson, Maurice A. and Pierpont, William G., The New Testament in the Original Greek, (2005) ISBN 0-7598-0077-4
  37. ^ The Text of Acts
  38. ^ See, for example, Gooding, David W., According to Luke, (1987) ISBN 0-85110-756-7
  39. ^ See, for example, Gooding, David W., True to the Faith, (1990) ISBN 0-340-52563-0
  40. ^ Bargil Pixner, The Church of the Apostles found on Mount Zion, Biblical Archaeology Review 16.3 May/June 1990
  41. ^ Jewish law or Halakha was formalized later, see Jewish Encyclopedia: Jesus of Nazareth: Attitude Toward the Law: "Jesus, however, does not appear to have taken into account the fact that the Halakah was at this period just becoming crystallized, and that much variation existed as to its definite form; the disputes of the Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai were occurring about the time of his maturity."
  42. ^ Acts 15:19
  43. ^ Karl Josef von Hefele's Commentary on canon II of Gangra notes: "We further see that, at the time of the Synod of Gangra, the rule of the Apostolic Synod with regard to blood and things strangled was still in force. With the Greeks, indeed, it continued always in force as their Euchologies still show. Balsamon also, the well-known commentator on the canons of the Middle Ages, in his commentary on the sixty-third Apostolic Canon, expressly blames the Latins because they had ceased to observe this command. What the Latin Church, however, thought on this subject about the year 400, is shown by St. Augustine in his work Contra Faustum, where he states that the Apostles had given this command in order to unite the heathens and Jews in the one ark of Noah; but that then, when the barrier between Jewish and heathen converts had fallen, this command concerning things strangled and blood had lost its meaning, and was only observed by few. But still, as late as the 8th century, Pope Gregory the Third 731 forbade the eating of blood or things strangled under threat of a penance of forty days. No one will pretend that the disciplinary enactments of any council, even though it be one of the undisputed Ecumenical Synods, can be of greater and more unchanging force than the decree of that first council, held by the Holy Apostles at Jerusalem, and the fact that its decree has been obsolete for centuries in the West is proof that even Ecumenical canons may be of only temporary utility and may be repealed by disuser, like other laws."
  44. ^ Contra Faust, 32.13
  45. ^ For example: Joseph Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), Yale University Press (December 2, 1998), ISBN 0-300-13982-9, chapter V
  46. ^ Acts 17:23
  47. ^ Luke 1, Luke 2
  48. ^ Luke 2:37; 4:25–26; 7:12; 18:3, 5; 20:47; 21:2–3)
  49. ^ e.g. the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37), the story of the Samaritan who expressed gratitude to Jesus for being healed (Luke 17:11–19), and the entrance of the Samaritans into the church of God (Acts 8:4–25).
  50. ^ Theology of prayer in the gospel of Luke
  51. ^ [1][dead link] Archived 2009-10-24.
  52. ^ V. George Shillington, An introduction to the study of Luke-Acts, Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 18. 2007 ISBN 0-567-03053-9
  53. ^ Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles: an introduction and commentary, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980, pg. 42. ISBN 0-8028-1423-9

External links[edit]

Acts of the Apostles
Preceded by
Gospel of
New Testament
Books of the Bible
Succeeded by
Paul's Epistle
to the