The fifth book in the New Testament is commonly known as the Acts of the Apostles. It could just as easily be called “The Acts of Jesus Christ, Part 2”. The author of Acts identifies himself as the same person who wrote the gospel of Luke. He starts out be saying that in his first book he wrote about all that Jesus “began” to do and to teach. The implication is that Acts is a continuation of the “doing” and “teaching” of Jesus; he just used his apostles as the instrument through which he did and taught.
So who is Luke?
Luke was a companion of Paul, mentioned in several of his letters. From Acts 16 onwards, a lot of the text uses “we”, as apposed to “they”, so it is believed that Luke joined Paul at that point. Colossians 4:14 identifies Luke as a doctor. Considering the amount of trouble that Paul got into, having your own personal doctor travelling with you would be a very good idea.
When was it written?
According to scholars Acts was written anywhere from AD 60 to 150, so really, nobody knows. However many scholars believe that, as it does not mention the deaths of Peter and Paul, who died in AD 67, it is most likely to have been written before that date. Some scholars who believe Acts was written from a series of collected documents, put the date after the destruction of the temple in AD70 and before Paul’s letters were collected together and circulated in AD90.
Luke’s purpose in writing
There is nothing in the book itself which identifies the purpose for writing, but, as this is part of a 2-part work, we can go to the beginning of the first part, the gospel of Luke, for a clue “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught”.
Who was it written to?
The author addresses his work, both in Luke and in Acts, to Theophilus. No person by this name has been identified, but the word means “lover of God”, Theophilus could refer to the church in general.
The outline of the book can best be summed up by verse 8 in chapter 1. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The early chapters concentrate on the witness of Peter, John and others in Jerusalem and Judea. Philip takes the gospel to Samaria in chapter 8. Paul comes on the scene in chapter 9, and starts his missionary journeys in chapter 13. By the end of the book, they had reached “the ends of the earth”, or at least as much of it as was known at that time.
Acts is an exciting account of God at work in the early church. It tells how the church grew; of the internal problems they faced that accompanied that growth, and how they worked out those problems; of the persecution and trials they went through as they proclaimed the “good news”; and of the God who was with them throughout it all.
Questions to ask as you read each chapter
Since the ultimate aim of reading the Bible is to know God better, what does this chapter tell me about God’s character or personality?
What are: the key verses, key phrases, key words, the key points or principles, and how do they work in my life?
Do I see any commands to obey, promises to claim, standards to live by, examples to follow or avoid?
What three to six word title would I give to this chapter to help me remember its teaching?
What change do I need to make to my life because of the things in this chapter?
(Adapted from: The Complete Bible Discussion Guide by Mack Thomas).(As Acts is an historical book, not all these questions may be relevant to every chapter.)