Acts of the Apostles

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The Acts of the Apostles is the fifth book in the New Testament and describes some of the things that transpired after Jesus' ascension.

Contents

Authorship

The work of one author, given the unity of style and its artistic completeness, (such an effect could never arise from the piecing together bits of writings of different authors). The writer writes as an eyewitness and companion of Paul. The passages 16:10 - 17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1; 28:16 are called the "we passages". In these the writer employs the first person plural, closely identifying himself with Paul. This excludes the theory that Acts is the work of a redactor. Renan [1] held that such use of the pronoun is "incompatible with any theory of redaction".

We know from many proofs that Luke was the companion and fellow-laborer of Paul. Writing to the Colossians, in his salutation Paul associates with himself, "Luke, the beloved physician" (4:14). In II Tim 4:11 Paul declares: "Only Luke is with me". To Philemon (24) Paul calls Luke his fellow-worker. Many suppose the Lucan authorship of the third Gospel as proved. The writer of Acts in his opening sentence implicitly declares himself to be the author of the third Gospel. He addresses his work to Theophilus, the addressee of the third Gospel. The writer also mentions his former work and in substance makes known his intention of continuing the history which, in his former treatise, he had brought up to the day when the Lord Jesus was received up. There is an identity of style between Acts and the third Gospel. An examination of the original Greek texts of the third Gospel and of the Acts reveals that there is in them a remarkable identity of manner of thinking and of writing. There is in both the same tender regard for the Gentiles, the same respect for the Roman Empire, the same treatment of the Jewish rites, the same broad conception that the Gospel is for all men. In forms of expression the third Gospel and the Acts reveal an identity of authorship. Many of the expressions usual in both works occur rarely in the rest of the New Testament, other expressions are found nowhere else save in the third Gospel and in the Acts.

The evidence of the Lucan authorship of Acts is cumulative. The intrinsic evidence is corroborated by the testimonies of many witnesses. It must be granted that in the Apostolic Fathers we find but faint allusions to the Acts of the Apostles. The Fathers of that age wrote but little and time has robbed us of much of what was written. The Gospels were more prominent in the teachings of that day and they consequently have a more abundant witness.

Prologue

The Departure of the Apostles
by Charles Gleyre
1845


The book opens telling of the forty days after the Resurrection of Christ, during which He appeared to the Apostles, "speaking the things concerning the Kingdom of God".[2] The promise of the Holy Spirit and the Ascension of Christ are then noted. Peter advises that a successor be chosen in the place of Judas Iscariot, and Matthias is chosen by lot.

Pentecost

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles, and confers on them the gift of tongues. To the wondering witnesses Peter explains the great miracle, proving that it is the power of Jesus Christ that is operating. By that great discourse many were converted to the religion of Christ and were baptized, "and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls". This was the beginning of the Judeo-Christian Church.

Peter and John heal a man, lame from birth, at the door of the Temple which is called Beautiful. The people are filled with wonder and amazement at the miracle and run to Peter and John in the "Solomon's" portico. Peter again preaches Jesus Christ, asserting that by faith in the name of Jesus the lame man had been made strong. "And many of them that heard the word believed", and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

Early church

The fervor of the Christians at that time was very great. They had all things in common. As many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and delivered the price to the Apostles, and this money was distributed as anyone had need. But a certain Ananias, with Saphira his wife, sold a possession and kept back part of the price, the wife being accessory to the deed. Peter is inspired by the Holy Spirit to know the deception, and rebukes Ananias for the lie to the Holy Spirit. At the rebuke the man falls dead. Saphira, coming up afterwards, and knowing nothing of the death of her husband, is interrogated by Peter regarding the transaction. She also keeps back a part of the price, and lyingly asserts that the full price has been brought to the Apostles. Peter rebukes her and she also falls dead at his words. The multitude saw in the death of Ananias and Saphira God's punishment, and great fear came upon them all. This miracle of God's punishment of sin also confirmed the faith of those that believed and drew disciples to them. At this stage of the early Church miracles were necessary to attest the truth of their teaching. The power of miracles was abundantly bestowed upon the Apostles. These miracles are not reviewed in detail in Acts, but it is stated: "And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people".[3] Multitudes both of men and women were added to the Christian community. The people of Jerusalem carried out the sick and laid them on beds and couches in the streets that the shadow of Peter might fall on them. They brought the sick from the cities round about Jerusalem, and every one was healed. The most powerful sect among the Jews at this time were the Sadducees. They were especially opposed to the Christian religion on account of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. The truth of the Apostles' teaching was: Life Everlasting through Jesus, Who was crucified for our sins, and Who is risen from the dead. The High-Priest Annas favored the Sadducees, and his son Ananus. who afterwards became High-Priest, was a Sadducee. [4] This made Annas and Caiphas enemies of the Apostles of Christ. The Acts leaves us in no doubt as to the motive that inspired the High-Priest and the sectaries: "They were filled with jealousy". The religious leaders of the Old Law saw their influence with the people waning before the power which worked in the Apostles of Christ. An angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought the Apostles out, and bade them go and preach in the Temple. The council of the Jews, not finding Peter and John in the prison, and learning of their miraculous deliverance, are much perplexed. On information that they are teaching in the Temple, they send and take them, but without violence, fearing the people. It is evident throughout that the common people are disposed to follow the Apostles.
The council accuses the Apostles that, contrary to its former injunction not to teach in Christ's name, they had filled Jerusalem with Christ's teaching. Peter's defense is that they must obey God rather than men. He then boldly reiterates the doctrine of the Redemption and of the Resurrection. The council is minded to kill the Apostles.
At this point Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a doctor of the Jewish law, held in honor of all the people, arises in the council in defense of the Apostles. He cites precedents to prove that, if the new teaching be of men, it will be overthrown. But if it be of God, it will be impossible to overthrow. Gamaliel's counsel prevails, and the council calls the Apostles, beats them, and lets them go, charging them not to speak in the name of Jesus. But the Apostles departed, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name. And every day, in the Temple and privately they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus the Christ.

Saul, Paul

Saul, breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, sets out for Damascus to apprehend any Christians whom he may find there. As he draws near to Damascus, the Lord Jesus speaks to him out of the heavens and converts him. Paul is baptized by Ananias at Damascus, and straightway for some days abides there, preaching in the synagogues that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He withdraws into Arabia; again returns to Damascus. It is only after three years that he goes up to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem Paul is at first distrusted by the disciples of Jesus; but after Barnabas narrates to them Paul's marvellous conversion, they receive Paul, and he preaches boldly in the name of Jesus.

Judea, Samaria and Galilee

Acts then goes on to describe the Church in Judea, Samaria and Galilee as "at peace, being builded up, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and by the strength of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied". Peter now goes throughout all parts comforting the faithful. At Lydda he heals the palsied Aeneas; and at Joppa he raises the pious widow Tabitha (Greek, Dorcas) from the dead. These miracles still more confirm the faith in Jesus Christ. At Joppa Peter has the great vision of the sheet let down from Heaven containing all manner of animals, of which he, being in a trance, is commanded to kill and eat. Peter refuses, on the ground that he cannot eat that which is common and unclean. It is then made known to him by God, that God has cleansed what was before to the Jew unclean. This great vision, revealed three times, was the manifestation of the will of Heaven that the ritual law of the Jews should cease. Henceforth salvation should be offered without distinction to Jew and Gentile. The meaning of the vision is unfolded to Peter, when he is commanded by an angel to go to Caesarea, to the Gentile centurion Cornelius, whose messengers were even then come to fetch him. He goes, and hears from Cornelius also the centurion's own vision. He preaches to him and to all assembled; the Holy Spirit descends upon them, and Peter commands that they be baptized. Returning to Jerusalem, the Jews contend with Peter that he has gone in to men uncircumcised, and eaten with them. He expounds to them his vision at Joppa, and also the vision of Cornelius, wherein the latter was commanded by an angel to send and fetch Peter from Joppa, that he might receive from Peter the Gospel. The Jews acquiesce, glorifying God, and declaring that "unto the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life". Those who had been scattered abroad from Jerusalem at the time of Stephen's martyrdom had travailed as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch preaching Christ; but they preached to none save the Jews. The calling of the Gentiles was not yet understood by them. But now some converts from Cyprus and Cyrene come up to Antioch, and preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. A great number believe, and turn to the Lord. The report of the work at Antioch comes to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem, which sends Barnabas, "a good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith", to them. He takes Paul from Tarsus, and they both dwell at Antioch a whole year, and teach many people. The disciples of Christ are called Christians first at Antioch.

The rest of Acts narrates the persecution of the Christians by Herod Agrippa; the mission of Paul and Barnabas from Antioch by the Holy Spirit, to preach to the Gentile nations. The labors of Paul and Barnabas in Cyprus and in Asia Minor and their return to Antioch. The journey of Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem and the decision of the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem are told.

Scope

In Acts we see the fulfillment of Christ's promises. In Acts, 1:8, Jesus had declared that the Apostles should receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. And that they should be His witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. In John, 14:12, Jesus had declared: "He that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do, and greater works than these shall he do. Because I go to the Father". In these passages is found the key-note of the origin of the church. The church developed according to Christ's plan. There is in the narration evidence of the working out of a great plan. This is the reason the writer records the working-out of the great design of Christ, conceived in infinite wisdom and executed by omnipotent power.
The book has a systematic order of narration, an exactness and fullness of detail. After the calling of the first twelve Apostles, there is no event in the history of the church so important as Paul's conversion and commission to teach in Christ's name. Up to Paul's conversion, the inspired historian of the Acts has given us a condensed statement of the growth of the Church among the Jews. Peter and John are important in the work. But the great message is now to issue forth from the confines of Judaism: all flesh is to see the salvation of God. Paul is to be the great instrument in preaching Christ to the Gentiles. In the development of the Christian church Paul wrought more than all the other Apostles. His appointment as the Apostle of the Gentiles does not prevent him from preaching to the Jews, but his richest fruits are gathered from the Gentiles.


The nature of the history recorded in Acts suggests a division into two parts:

  • The beginning and propagation of the Christian religion among the Jews (1-9). Peter plays the chief role in the first part.
  • The beginning and propagation of the Christian religion among the Gentiles (10-28). Paul is the main focus in the second part.

The Acts of the Apostles is an integral part in a well-ordered series. Acts assumes its readers know the Gospels and itself continues the Gospel narrative. The Four Evangelists close with the account of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ.
Acts takes up the narrative here and records events which were evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit, through chosen humans. It is a condensed record of the fulfilment of the promises of Jesus Christ. The Evangelists record Christ's promises which He made to the disciples;

  • regarding the establishment of the Church and its mission [5]
  • the gift of the Holy Spirit [6]
  • the calling of the gentiles [7]


Agency of the Holy Spirit

Being an integral part in a well-ordered series, Acts "assumes" its readers know the Gospels and itself continues the Gospel narrative. The Four Evangelists close with the account of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ.
Acts takes up the narrative here and records events which were evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit, through chosen humans. It is a condensed record of the fulfillment of the promises of Jesus Christ. The Evangelists record Christ's promises which He made to the disciples;

  • regarding the establishment of the Church and its mission [8]
  • the gift of the Holy Spirit [9]
  • the calling of the gentiles [10]

Acts records the fulfillments. The history begins at Jerusalem and ends at Rome. With divine simplicity Acts shows us the growth of the religion of Christ among the nations. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is abolished by the revelation to Peter. Paul is called to devote himself specially to the Gentile ministry, the Holy Spirit works signs in confirmation of the doctrines of Christ. Though men suffer and die, the church grows and thus the whole world sees the Salvation of God.
Nowhere in the Bible is the action of the Holy Spirit in the church so forcibly set forth as in the Acts:

  • He fills the Apostles with knowledge and power on Pentecost
  • they speak as the Holy Spirit gave them to speak
  • the Holy Spirit bids Philip the deacon go to the eunuch of Candace
  • the same Spirit catches up Philip, after the baptism of the eunuch, and brings him to Azotus
  • the Holy Spirit tells Peter to go to Cornelius
  • when Peter preaches to Cornelius and his family the Holy Spirit falls on them all
  • the Holy Spirit directly commands that Paul and Barnabas be set apart for the Gentile ministry
  • the Holy Spirit forbids Paul and Silas to preach in Asia
  • constantly, by the laying on of the Apostles' hands, the Holy Spirit comes upon the faithful
  • Paul is directed by the Holy Spirit in everything
  • the Holy Spirit foretells Paul that bonds and afflictions await him in every city.

See also

Acts of the Apostles (Translated)

References

  1. Ernest Renan, The Acts of the Apostles (Les Ap“tres, 1866), trans. from the French. (New York: Carlton, Madison Square, 1866)
  2. Acts 1:3
  3. Acts 5:12
  4. Josephus, Antiq., XX, viii
  5. Matthew 16:15-20
  6. Luke 24:49; John 14:16, 17
  7. Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46, 47
  8. Matthew 16:15-20
  9. Luke 24:49; John 14:16, 17
  10. Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46, 47
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