How to Read the Book of Acts for All Its Worth
by Matt Rawlings
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
So, Luke wants his two books to so that he may be certain of his faith in Christ. Theophilus is a Greek name and one of the most contentious debates within early Christianity was whether a Gentile had to become a Jew in order to be admitted to the faith. Luke wants his two books to explain why it is that Jesus is Lord of all regardless of ethnic heritage.
Luke uses a form of ancient historiography to accomplish his goals. The important thing to remember about ancient historiography was that its goal was not just to inform but was also meant to encourage and offer an apologetic.
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The way Luke structures his sequel to his Gospel provides us further insight. In their wonderful book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan 2003), Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart write:
“…notice the brief summary statements in 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:4; and 19:20. In each case the narrative seems to pause for a moment before it takes off in a new direction of some kind. On the basis of this clue, Acts can be seen to be composed of six sections or panels that give the narrative a continual forward movement from its Jewish setting based in Jerusalem, with Peter as its leading figure, toward a predominantly Gentile church, with Paul as the leading figure, and with Rome, the capital of the Gentile world, as the goal. Once Paul reaches Rome, where he once again turns to the Gentiles because they will listen (28:28), the narrative comes to an end.”
Fee and Stuart go on to write, “You should notice, then, as you read how each section contributes to this “movement.” In your own words, try to describe each panel, both as to its content and its contribution to the forward movement.”
What you will notice in each movement is that it is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. Luke has little interest in biography or outlining church government or liturgy but emphasizes the work of God in expanding the people of God…
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