About the Book of Acts
Reading almost like a novel, this chronicle of the Early Church was written by Luke, who turns out to be an intrepid reporter. It’s packed with page after page of riveting adventures—all accomplished by the Holy Spirit working through everyday folks.
This remarkable, often moving tale shows us how a small group of once-timid believers are transformed into empowered messengers who spread the story of Jesus throughout their world. There are tales of angel-assisted prison breaks, sorcerers, miraculous healings, a shipwreck,
people dropping dead for lying and even a woman rising from the dead.
While God the Father is the focus of the Old Testament and Jesus is the focus in most of the New Testament, Acts highlights the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
In Acts, you’ll also discover the context for many of the New Testament epistles—the letters and writings of Paul, Peter, John and others. Acts occurs around the Mediterranean. Take your reading a step further by tracking the text on a modern map and giving events a contextual setting.
Who was the writer?
Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. A Gentile (non-Jew), possibly Greek, he was a co-worker with the Apostle Paul. You’ll discover sections where Luke writes in first person, speaking of “we.” He likely witnessed many miracles and also experienced perils as he journeyed with Paul.
A doctor, Luke was highly educated and wrote excellent Greek. Like modern physicians, he had a keen sense of observation. He often used specific Greek medical terminology to describe events.
When was it written?
According to evidence, the Book of Acts was penned between 63 A.D. and 65 A.D.
Who was it written for?
The book opens with an address to Theophilus (Acts 1:1), who is also the recipient of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:3). Theophilus means “friend of God.” Historians suspect that Theophilus was either the name of a specific wealthy benefactor or it is a generic reference to believers. Luke’s writing style and explanations of terms, traditions and geography all serve as clues that he was corresponding to a Gentile audience, possibly in Italy.
Why was it written?
If you have ever wondered how the church started, Acts is the book for you. It's a diary of the first
30 years of the Church. Luke very intentionally highlights how the Holy Spirit inspired the spread of faith through Jerusalem and to the world.
The gift and work of the Holy Spirit is clearly the preeminent theme throughout Acts. The Spirit is mentioned at least 50 times. Luke reminds readers of God’s promise of the Holy Spirit in Chapter 1. The next chapter opens with the powerful coming of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. The Spirit filled both men and women—showing that, like Jesus, God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is for all people.
As the book unfolds, it becomes clear that God also intends that the Gospel of Jesus Christ be for all people, regardless of race. To this point in time, the early Christians thought the Gospel of Jesus was only for a Jewish audience. But Acts shows Jesus’ followers grew to understand the commands in Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15—to preach the gospel to all, including non-Jews. It is Peter who first declares that God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34) and that the gospel is for Jew and Gentile alike.
Acts traces the steps of the apostles as they travel and preach in modern Syria, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and Rome. Throughout the book, Luke shows the Holy Spirit teaching, leading, working miracles and breaking old ways of thinking. For instance, the Jewish Christ-followers still strongly adhered to their heritage of following Old Testament law, and they expected new Gentile believers to do the same. But Jesus's death and resurrection revealed a new message—God's grace. In Acts Chapter 15, Luke recounts how grace triumphed over the old ways during a major Church council in Jerusalem.
Paul’s Mission Journeys
The second half of Acts follows Paul on his three missionary journeys. In about 15 years, the trips took him through much of the known world.
Paul’s first mission trip, 46 to 48 A.D., covered about 1,200 miles—much of it on foot. Imagine walking from Minneapolis to Atlanta and you’d be covering slightly less ground than Paul did on that first missionary journey.
The second venture, 49 to 52 A.D., was with Silas. On this journey, Paul and his companion traveled over 2,700 miles. At Philippi, Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail, and God sent an earthquake to free them. The jailer and his family believed in Jesus after the miraculous prison break.
The third missionary journey, 52 to 57 A.D., stretched about 2,500 miles. The trip included three years working in Ephesus and other cities in
A time of miracles
Acts is also a book filled with the miraculous. It begins at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descends on the small group of believers. Revival rocks Jerusalem. Then a crippled beggar is healed. “Many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” follow (Acts 5:12). The miracles keep coming:
• Philip was geographically transported after he witnessed to an Ethiopian (Acts 12:1-9)
• Peter and Paul had visions (Acts 10 and 16)
• Agabus prophecies a coming famine (Acts 11:28)
• Paul commands a lame man to walk (Acts 14:8)
• Sorcerers become Christians (Acts 19:19)
• After surviving a shipwreck, Paul is bitten by a snake but shakes off the viper (Acts 28:3)
Characters in Contrast
Peter and Paul, both Jewish, had little else in common. With strikingly different personalities, they grew up with different educational, cultural, geographic and political experiences. Yet even more striking was their unity. Their bond grew through discussion, debate, Scripture and reliance on the Holy Spirit.
Peter’s transformation from a rough-edged fisherman to a man of God can be seen in Luke’s Gospel and the first 12 chapters of Acts. As a man who worked hard on a small boat, Peter was an outdoor type of guy. Historical writings suggest he was uneducated, unpolished, brash and impulsive. His best friends, James and John, nicknamed “Sons of Thunder,” were loud and boisterous. So it’s no surprise that local rabbis passed over Peter for training during his teens. He wasn’t the studious type.
But Peter was changed by his time with Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit. He is the first disciple who acknowledges that Jesus is both Messiah and the Son of God (Matthew 16:13–19). He is also the first disciple Jesus appeared to after the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5, Luke 24:34). After the Holy Spirit comes to believers on Pentecost, it was Peter who boldly addressed a Jerusalem crowd (Acts 2:14–38). Later, the priests, rulers and teachers admit that they were astonished by these “unschooled, ordinary men” and “they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Then, as now, spending time with Jesus changes a life. As a matter of fact, the believers in Acts considered Peter, James and John to be the three pillars of the early church (Galatians 2:9).
The Holy Spirit transformed Peter’s Jewish world view through a supernatural vision from God and an invitation to meet with a Roman centurion who was a devout, God-fearing man (Acts 10). Peter’s acceptance of Gentiles (non-Jews) represented a radical transition for a Jew of his time. Only divine intervention could have led Peter to share the gospel with Gentiles. Because Peter was seen as a leader of strong faith, his actions and testimony led the Early Church to realize that “God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:1–18).
Paul had the best of both Jewish and Roman cultures. When he is first introduced in Acts, he is referred to by his Jewish name: Saul (Acts 8:1). He was intelligent, studious and dedicated to Judaism.
Born and raised in a colony of Rome, Tarsus (a city in today’s Turkey), Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin. He spoke several languages and studied in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, a noted teacher of the day. His zeal for the Jewish traditions was intense, which helped make him a rising star.
Though Saul coveted status, he also had a practical side. In addition to his studies of religion and philosophy, he learned tent-making to earn a living.
Saul first appears in Acts as a zealous young Pharisee who hunts and terrorizes believers. He was present when a deacon named Stephen became the first Christian killed for following Jesus. But Saul experienced a complete reversal when the risen Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus. God selected Paul, who began using his Roman name after his conversion, to share Jesus with the Gentiles.
Paul’s path took him first to Arabia, where the Holy Spirit began restructuring his beliefs and his entire life. Later, with help from the Apostle Peter, the authenticity of Paul's faith is accepted by Church leadership. He then becomes the instrument used by God to extend the Gospel to Gentiles. Until that time, most Christians were Jewish.
Paul’s famous missionary trips are detailed in the second half of Acts. In the last verses of Acts, he is under house arrest in Rome, awaiting the outcome of a legal appeal to the Roman emperor. Living in a rented house, Paul “boldly and without hindrance preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31).
Woman of Faith
Lydia was a businesswoman who heard Paul’s preaching in Philippi, a city in northern Greece. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14), and she became the first known European Christian. Luke notes that when Lydia was baptized, other members of her household were as well.
In her work, she sold either purple cloth or silk, or perhaps purple dyes. Lydia likely belonged to a guild of dyers since the guild controlled this trade. The dyes were probably made from the root of madder, a perennial plant, which was used to dye cloth a reddish purple color, now called Turkey red. During Biblical times, it was common for important people to announce their status by wearing purple garments.
• “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8 NKJV.
• “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12.
• “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” Acts 16:30-31.