Background

The book of Acts, also known as “The Acts of the Apostles,” is essentially volume 2 of a two-volume set with the Gospel of Luke.  This can be seen immediately in both books as both are addressed to a man named Theophilus and the latter book (Acts) mentions that there is a “former book” (Acts 1:1), which can only point to the book known as Luke.  Both books together thus give the account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (Luke) and the events that surrounded the spread of gospel message as it was carried by the apostles, both Jesus’ disciples and the apostle Paul (Acts).

Authorship

All of the evidence found outside of the Bible unanimously attributes the writing of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts to Luke, the traveling companion of the apostle Paul.  Early church fathers such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen all credit Luke with authorship.

There is also a good amount of internal evidence that points to Luke as the author. There is a sudden change to the use of “we” in the narrative while Paul was in Troas on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-10; see also Acts 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16), suggesting that the author joined him on the rest of his journeys beginning there.  Luke was known as a traveling companion of Paul (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11).  Within the Gospel there are also a number of Greek words and phrases that seem to be included as if by a person with a keen mind for medicine (for example, Lk 4:38; 8:43-44; 13:11-13; Acts 28:8-9),1See also William Kirk Hobart’s The Medical Language of St. Luke, which can be read online here. and Luke was called a “physician” by Paul (Colossians 4:14).  There also seem to be a few places that suggest the writer of the Gospel had received the oral instruction from Paul (compare Luke 22:17–20 with 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; Luke 24:34 with 1 Corinthians 15:5).2 Schaller, John, Loren A. Schaller, and Gary P. Baumler. The Book of Books: A Brief Introduction to the Bible. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1990. 217.

With all of this evidence, we have no reason to question the unanimous consensus of the early church that the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were written by the physician Luke.

Purpose and Content

From a title such as “The Acts of the Apostles” one might expect to read an accounting of all of the missionary activities of the all of the apostles.  However, Luke’s purpose is not to give a comprehensive history of the early church.  Once again, Luke himself gives the overall purposes for this second volume with Jesus’ words in chapter 1: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Ac 1:8).  What is seen in the rest of the book of Acts is the fulfillment of those words of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit is indeed poured out on the apostles on the day of Pentecost as promised (Ac 2) and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the gospel message to the ends of the earth is on full display from that point on throughout the rest of the book.  Fittingly, the book ends with the apostle Paul reaching and sharing the gospel in Rome, the chief city in the entire world at that time.

Other purposes and themes can be seen throughout the book, such as the apostles’ testimony of the resurrection of Christ (for example, Ac 3:15; 5:29-32; 10:39-43; 13:30-40; 23:6), preaching the gospel despite persecution (for example, Ac 5:17-42; 6:8-7:60; 12:1-19; 14:5-7; 16:16-40; 21:27-36), and the inclusion of the Gentiles (non-Jews) in God’s church (for example, Ac 8:4-40; 9:15; 10:1-11:18; 15:1-35).

Place and Date of Writing

Since the book of Acts ends with Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome (Ac 28:11-31), it appears that the book of Acts was written during that imprisonment, which has been dated to between 61 and 63 AD.

See also the Chronology of New Testament Books.

Notable Passages

  • Acts 1:1-11
  • Acts 2:1-47
  • Acts 7:1-8:3
  • Acts 8:26-40
  • Acts 9:1-31
  • Acts 10:1-48
  • Acts 11:25-26
  • Acts 13:26-39
  • Acts 15:1-11
  • Acts 16:29-34
  • Acts 17:10-12
  • Acts 17:16-34
  • Acts 20:28,32
  • Acts 22:3-21
  • Acts 26:12-23
  • Acts 28:30-31

Outline

  1. Historical introduction (Acts 1)
  2. Founding and building up of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 2-12)
  3. Spread of the kingdom of Christ among the Gentiles (Acts 13-28)3Schaller, John, Loren A. Schaller, and Gary P. Baumler. The Book of Books: A Brief Introduction to the Bible. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1990. 227

References   [ + ]

1. See also William Kirk Hobart’s The Medical Language of St. Luke, which can be read online here.
2. Schaller, John, Loren A. Schaller, and Gary P. Baumler. The Book of Books: A Brief Introduction to the Bible. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1990. 217.
3. Schaller, John, Loren A. Schaller, and Gary P. Baumler. The Book of Books: A Brief Introduction to the Bible. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1990. 227