STUDY 9 - THE ACTS OF THE
For this study see: M.C.Tenney, selected pp.231-318; R.H.Gundry,
pp.295-338. Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An Introduction to the
New Testament, pp.181-213.
1. AUTHORSHIP, SOURCES AND DATE OF ACTS
M.C.Tenney states: "Acts itself is not a unit, for it is
obviously designed as a sequel to Luke". So, Luke and Acts may be
viewed as two parts of one work, with Lk.1:1-4 forming a general
introduction to them. Quite often textbooks refer to Luke-Acts.
"The book of the Acts is the sequel to the third Gospel, and written
traditionally by the same author, Luke the beloved physician and
companion of Paul. The external evidence from the second century
onwards, which is unanimous on this point, is corroborated by the
internal evidence of the styles outlook and subject-matter of the two
Luke indicates in Lk.1:1-4 he is dependent on different sources for his
writings. What were these as far as Acts is concerned? Note:
Luke himself was present at some of the events recorded in
These are indicated by the use of the first person plural (16:10-17;
20.5-21:18; 27:1-28:16). These are referred to as the 'we' sections. In
these passages Luke may have been using his own travel-diary. 
The apostle Paul. As a companion of Paul, Luke had
access to first-hand information about events which concerned the
Other sources. Peter, Mark, Mnason and James could
have shared details
about the life and people of the Jerusalem church. Luke could
gleaned first-hand details about the riot in the Ephesian theatre from
Gaius and Aristarchus (Acts 19:23-41). Barnabas would have information
to share with him in Antioch. Luke had time to collect material while
he was with Paul at Caesarea, during the apostle's two year custody
Date of Luke-Acts
The date of Luke-Acts is often disputed. A.M.Hunter says that the
Acts must have been written after the Gospel, though not long
after. He writes:
"And early date (say, about A.D. 64) is excluded by the fact that Luke
used Mark's Gospel (A.D. 65-67) when composing his own. On the
other hand, those who would date the book of Acts late - say, about
A.D. 95 - assume that Luke had read, or rather misread the Antiquities
of Josephus the Jewish historian, which appeared about A.D. 93... On
the whole a date about A.D. 80 seems likely". 
But a number of factors demand consideration here, for example:
The dating of Acts relates to the dating of the third
Gospel - and the way that the book ends, with Paul witnessing in Rome.
The fact that the destruction of the temple is not
mentioned (A.D. 70).
The theological outlook of the book.
There may have been an earlier draft of Acts.
2. THE PURPOSE OF ACTS
Luke, in selecting his material is not seeking to write a
history of the NT church. He has objectives which may be classed
as primary and secondary.
First, Luke is seeking to provide Theophilus (and those
associated with him) with a trustworthy account of the origin of the
gospel and its spread throughout the Roman Empire (Lk.1:1-4; Acts
Secondly, Luke is obviously concerned, in both parts of his
work, "to demonstrate that the Christian movement was not a menace to
imperial law and order" (F.F.Bruce).  This makes the work a
Further purposes are suggested, e.g., to show that the gospel
is for Gentiles as well as Jews; to refute certain heresies; to defend
Paul's ministry; to show Christianity's continuity with Judaism; to
explain the delay of the Parousia.
3. CONTENTS AND OUTLINE
M.C.Tenney notes that the contents of Acts suggests a number
outlines, the first is based on the outline of geographical development
given in Acts 1:8:
Acts: An outline based on
The origin of the church: Jerusalem (1:12-8:3)
The Period of transition: Samaria (8:4-11:18)
The expansion to the Gentiles: the Pauline mission:
Antioch and the Empire (11:19-21:16)
The imprisonment and defence of Paul. Note: Caesarea and
An outline based on the record
of church growth
"In 2:47; 5:14, 6:7, 9:31, 12:24, 16:5, and 19:20 notations of increase
in numbers or in quality of spiritual life show that Acts is concerned
with the progressive development of the group. In the last part of the
book from 19:20 to the end the emphasis is more personal than general.
It stresses the events in the life of Paul as an individual rather than
the church as an institution" (M.C.Tenney). 
An outline based on
The Acts of the Apostles is mainly about two apostles - Peter, the
apostle to the Jews, and Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. But
notice Stephen (6-7), Barnabas, Philip and Paul (8-12), and Paul and
his companions (13-28). Interestingly, it can be demonstrated
that Luke-Acts compares the ministries of Peter and Paul with that of
the Lord Jesus. For example, each had a time of preparation, were
anointed by the Spirit, proclaimed the word, performed miracles, and
experienced a miraculous deliverance from opposition (cf., 5:15-16 with
A major theme - mission
Acts 1:8 is the key verse to the book. It anticipates the church
witnessing in the power of the Spirit to the four corners of the Roman
world. The verse answers a number of questions concerning
witnessing: Who was to witness? How were they to witness? Of whom were
they to witness? Where were they to witness? Acts records the
fulfilment of the mission given by Jesus, as the gospel reaches
Rome. Acts 28 leaves the book open-ended. Perhaps Luke planned to
add material later - alternatively the ending is planned. It
could be his way of anticipating the continuation of the Christian
mission. Note the models for mission in Acts that involve people and
4. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF ACTS
Note these characteristics of Acts and add to them if you can:
Luke the historian
"Luke's sources of information were second to none in value, and he
well knew how to use them. The resultant work is a masterpiece of
historical accuracy" (F.F.Bruce).  The research of Sir William
Ramsay vindicates Luke as a 'historian of the first rank'. The
inclusion of miracles in Acts is sometimes held to mitigate against the
historical credibility of the work. However, as miracles are messianic
signs in the ministry of Jesus, so miracles indicate the presence and
continued ministry of the Lord in and through his church. Luke,
however, was not writing a history of the Christian church.
Notice how he represents the mission and ministry of the church as he
provides examples of ministers, churches, sermons, miracles, angelic
ministry, and the work of the Spirit. 
Luke the theologian
Modern scholarship recognises Luke as a theologian. The
dominating theological motif of Acts is the presence and work of the
Holy Spirit. The book is sometimes called 'The Acts of the Holy
Spirit'. The promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8 is seen as fulfilled in
the Spirit being outpoured on Jew and Gentile (in Acts chapters 2 and
10). Luke shows a marked interest in the outward manifestation of
the Spirit. The theme of the Lord's saviourship continues from
the Gospel, 'the name' being of importance (see 2:21, 3:6,16; 4:12,
1. See the study notes on Luke's Gospel on the subject of
2. F.F.Bruce, "Acts" in D.Guthrie & J.A.Motyer (eds.), The
New Bible Commentary - Revised, Leicester, Inter-Varsity, 1970, p.968.
3. Some scholars suggest that a different author used Luke's
diary as a source for Acts.
4. A.M.Hunter, Introducing the New Testament, p.75.
5. F.F.Bruce, "Acts", p.971.
6. M.C.Tenney, p.232.
7. F.F.Bruce, "Acts", p.970.
8. You may sense other topics or motifs in Acts for yourself.