May 7, 2017

Introduction to the book of The Acts of the Apostles

I'm writing a book, a commentary on the bible book The Acts of the Apostles and will be putting the content here first so that I can ask for feedback on it. The content will also be gathered together into an e-book, which will eventually be made available for free and after that as a printed book which will be available for a reasonable price.

Acts, or The Acts of the Apostles - to give it its full and proper title - is a fascinating book within an already fascinating book. As part of the New Testament it fills the role of transitioning the reader from the gospels to the epistles. It is not actually a gospel, yet is understood to be written by one of the gospel authors and does cover the final moments of Jesus upon this earth. It is not an epistle, yet contains the entire text of the epistle written by the church leadership in Jerusalem to the churches explaining the decision of the first recorded church council.

Many describe Acts as a history book and while technically true, this robs it of much of its importance. It does record the growth and development of the early church in chronological fashion, but not like a traditional history book. I liken it more to an exciting and wide-ranging action story that is just itching for a Hollywood producer, with access to an an awesome special effects department, to make it into an epic movie.

The author of the book of Acts is universally agreed to be Luke, the same author of the eponymous gospel. After that, the agreement reduces, with some scholars believing him to be a Greek gentile, while others believe he was a Hebrew. History tells us that Luke was a disciple, healer and traveling companion of the apostle Paul. This fits well with Paul's reference to him in Colossians 4:14 as the beloved physician.

The purpose of the book of Acts is to continue the recounting of the life and ministry of Jesus found in the gospel of Luke, which he addressed to Theophilus. Acts contains the acts of the apostles as they founded the church that Jesus had intended them to lead. This narrative aspect earns Acts its label of history book, but its faithful, detailed and often literal recording of the teaching of the apostles earns its status as a preeminent source of truth concerning the behavior and doctrines of the early church. Finally, the fact that it is recognized as scripture and included in the closed canon of the New Testament further endorses its important place in the scriptures.

Joined only by Genesis, Exodus and Revelations, Acts is that rarity in the scriptures, a dispensation spanning book. It starts with the dispensation of the Law and carefully documents the arrival of the dispensation of Grace.

The timespan of Acts covers over thirty years of the history of the early church. The exact dates are uncertain, for several reasons. Biblical dates are often determined relative to the reigns of emperors and history always gets fuzzy and imprecise with the passing of years, such that modern historians are often forced to give a range of dates for events. Even the most recent biblical events are approaching two thousand years ago, so exact dates are often strongly disputed by scholars. It doesn't help that the calendars used during the last two millennium have been changed a number of times. These changes were usually intended to bring more precision to timekeeping, but in the case of several Roman emperors, it was just because they wanted to do things differently. Regardless, this brings us to the modern day with the amusing circumstance that according to the calendar we have inherited from these historical changes, which is based on the birth of Jesus being the start of the modern age, the actual birth of Jesus took place approximately four years before the declared date of the birth of Jesus. It would be wonderful to know the exact dates of biblical events precisely, instead we must be thankful that we do know that they happened and that we know the order they happened in. The book of the Acts of the Apostles starts with the ascension of Jesus and ends shortly before the execution of Paul. In this book I'll be using the Klassen dates found in The Reese Chronological Bible. According to Mr. Klassen, the span of Acts stretches from 29 to 67 A.D.

In conclusion, the book of the Acts of the Apostles is a valuable key to help us understand the context and message of the New Testament. We know that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is the lynch pin of the scriptures, but Acts shows us the unfolding of the outcome of that sacrifice. We know that the epistles are letters written to the churches by the apostles, but Acts gives us the back stories of those apostles, their letters and the churches they founded. We know that Peter was given the keys to the kingdom, but Acts shows us how he used them. We know that Paul had a miraculous encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, but Acts shows us how the Lord used him after that as the apostle to the gentiles and the writer of the majority of the New Testament. The book of the Acts of the Apostles gives context to so much of the New Testament that we do ourselves a disservice when we neglect to include it in our times of deeper studies.

I sincerely hope that this commentary upon the book of the Acts of the Apostles will encourage you to explore more of the heritage we have received from the early church and I pray that it will bless you greatly.

Tags: Church Writings Apostolic Commentary on Acts