The Book of the Acts of the Apostles

Introduction and Overview
Plan of the Book of Acts
Four Pivotal Events
Timeline for Acts and Epistles
Paul's Missionary Journeys Map

Introduction and Overview

The book of Acts was written by Luke, a Greek physician. He also wrote the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel and Acts, up to Acts 16, were written as a result of Luke's research. However we see in Acts 16 that he has joined Paul on his missionary trips. Luke wrote both his Gospel and Acts to "Theophilis" -- which may not be a personal name as the Greek translates into "lover of God." The Gospel of Luke was written while Paul was detained by the Governor in Caesarea -- about 57-59 AD. At that time, Luke had the chance to interview key witnesses in Jersalem, Judea, Samaria and Galilee.

In contrast, the Book of Acts was written progressively, first as research and then as a sort of diary after he joined the Apostles in their work, 49-63 AD. Acts 1:6-8 is a key passage to the entire book, and, in fact, to the entire rest of the New Testament. The disciples are talking to the risen Christ and they ask, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" Remember, that is what they all expected of the Messiah due to the multitude of prophecies about it. But Jesus answered:

It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

In Acts 1-12, the focus is on Peter and Jerusalem until chapter 8. Acts 8-12 extends the witness to Judea and Samaria. Acts 13-28 focuses on Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, as the Gospel begins its journey 'to the ends of the earth.' The center of Christianity then moves to Antioch. The basic message carried by the Apostles was that Jesus was crucified for sins, that He was ressurrected and rose to Heaven, that He has given His Holy Spirit to believers and that He is coming back to rule -- the Kingdom Promise.

There are many different claims made about the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Some claim it illustrates the doctrine of predestination -- that God predestined the Jews to reject Christ so that the Church Age could be established. This is closely connected to the idea that the Church is the "New Israel" and has supplanted Israel itself in God's eyes. (It needs to be noted here that the King James Bible was translated by followers of the Reformed Doctrine of which Calvinism is a part. Thus there are word choices and language -- not in the original Greek -- that appear to support that set of doctrines)

Please compare that interpretation with God's promises to Israel in Isaiah chapters 40-50 and many other places. If the churches who hold to the doctrine of the church being a new Israel want to confiscate those promises in Isaiah, they had better be ready to also accept all the other bits where God is angry at Israel and warns of what will happen. In some Bibles the chapter headings indicate that all of God's good things belong to the church and the bad to the Jews. This is not in line with the Bible itself.

Some claim Acts illustrates the Roman Catholic doctrine of Apostolic succession, giving the popes their authority. The Greek and Russian Orthodox churches also hold to the doctrine of Apostolic succession with their own top leaders. The idea of Apostles continuing into the present can also be found in the churches which claim an Apostle can be ordained by the laying on of hands.

The Apostles are the foundation of the church. See Ehpesians 2:20. Once the foundation is laid, the building goes up. There is no more foundation laid. The Apostles were for that initial generation; all others are now disciples.

Some claim Acts illustrates that you are not a true Christian if you do not speak in tongues.

This is one of the most widely abused ideas coming from the misunderstanding of the passages about tongues. In Acts we will see that the tongues used on the day Pentecost were tongues the various people assembled spoke. They were real languages and not anything garbled. They were provided by God on a miraculous level to demonstrate the truth of the message the Apostles were presenting. When Paul said he spoke in tongues more than any of the others, he was referring to the fact that he knew about five different languages and was fluent in all of them: Greek (both classical and koine), Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, as well as languages common in the area of today's Turkey, where he was born and grew up.

Some claim that the early church, as shown in Acts, shows the way all churches should be, and we need to 'get back to those days.'

The early church was a church in transition. That transition was accomplished and while we can adopt many of the positive aspects, we cannot go back to that time of transition.

The message of Acts, as delineated in Acts 3:19-26; 2:36-40; 19:8 etc. is that a). Jesus was crucified for sins b). He rose to Heaven and has given his Holy Spirit to believers c). He is coming back to rule. Peter and Paul both preached both personal and national repentance. If the Jews repented as a nation, Christ would come back and rule and the Kingdom Promise would be fulfilled immediately. This is why the message went to the Jew first. Thus, Acts records how the Jews both in and around Jerusalem reacted, and then how the dispersed Jews (those of the Diaspora) reacted to the message. Although a number of Gentiles became believers during the early years of the ministries, it was not until the final rejection by the Jews in Rome that the gospel would be taken almost exclusively to the Gentiles.

Because of the rejection of the Jewish hierarchy, it became evident that the believing Jews could not meet in the Temple or synagogues. Thus, in meeting in homes, those early believers were unintentionally the nucleus of the first church assemblies. Gradually, the emphasis changed from national repentance to individual repentance. The Church Age was to continue until "the fullness of the Gentiles comes in."

For a much more full overview of the church Christ established, it can be found in the "Church" section of "The King, the Kingdom and the Church."

Plan of the Book of Acts

note the parallels of events

PART 1 : Chapters 1-12
PART 2: Chapters 13-28
Jerusalem the center Antioch the center
Peter the chief figure Paul the chief figure
Message gets out as far as Samaria Message gets out to Empire capital,Rome.
Word rejected by Jews of the homeland Word rejected by Jews of the Dispersion
Peter imprisoned Paul imprisoned
Judgment on Herod Judgment on Jews
PART 1: FOCUS ON PETER
PART 2: FOCUS ON PAUL
First sermon (Ch. 2) First sermon (Ch. 13)
Lame man healed (Ch. 3) Lame man healed (Ch. 14)
Simon the sorcerer (Ch. 8) Elymas the sorcerer (Ch. 13)
Influence of shadow (Ch. 5) Influence of handkerchief (Ch. 19)
Laying on of hands (Ch. 8) Laying on of hands (Ch. 19)
Peter worshipped (Ch. 10) Paul worshipped (Ch. 14)
Tabitha (Dorcas) raised to life (Ch.9) Eutychus raised to life (Ch. 20)
Peter imprisoned - message still goes out (12) Paul imprisoned – message still goes out (28)

Four pivotal events

1. Stoning of Stephen (Acts 7): The stoning of Stephen concluded the time when the Christian witness was confined to Jerusalem. It marked the point of final rejection by the Jewish leaders there of the Gospel, and initiated the first outward movement of evangelism. This produced a new center for the faith in Antioch.

2. The Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15): At this point it was accepted that God was also calling out to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

3. Outcry against Paul in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 21-22): This outcry of Asian Jews against Paul ended up concluding his Asian witness. It marked the official rejection of the Christian message by the Jews outside of Israel (in the Dispersion). This eventually leads to Paul's witness in Rome.

4. Roman Jews reject Paul's message (Acts 28): At this point Paul's total emphasis shifts to the Gentiles.


Initial Offering of the Gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem, Samaria and Judea

 

Action
Reaction
Pentecost 33 AD – Message in all languages of people present “Cut to the heart” “What shall we do?” 2:37-43
3000 baptized.
Lame man healed at Temple gate (3:1-11) Priests and Sadducees “greatly disturbed”; 5000 believed; apostles in custody  4:1-22; threatened and released
Peter and John resume preaching in Temple court. Arrested, then witness before Sanhedrin. Jailed. Miraculously released. Preach again. Arrested again. Witness to Sanhedrin again. (5:12-40). High Priest & Sadducees “filled with indignation” – “furious and took counsel to kill them” – commanded them not to speak of Jesus.
Stephen witnessing, doing miracles – Some priests accept Gospel message.(Ch. 6 & 7) Stephen before Sanhedrin – they reject his message in anger and stone him. Saul is present, aiding.
Ch. 8 – Message taken to Samaria by Philip, Peter & John – “preached in many villages” 8:25 “Multitudes heeded with one accord what was spoken” (8:6). Ethiopian Eunuch baptized 8:39
Ch. 9 – Message taken to Damascus and other areas; Saul starts for Damascus trying to stop 'heresy.' Confronted by Jesus. Saul converted (becomes Paul); Dorcus raised
Ch. 10 – Message taken to Caesarea by Peter First Gentile converted – Centurion Cornelius
Ch. 11 – Peter explains about Cornelius to meeting in Jerusalem, vindicating ministry to Gentiles. New center of operations in Antioch established. Name of "Christian" first used.
Ch. 12 – Peter delivered miraculously from prison; guards killed by Herod. Because Jews expected end of Christian sect with expected death of Peter, they end up totally rejecting Christian message.

Summary: This marks official rejection of message by religious and secular leaders in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. The message is then taken around the Roman Empire by Paul to “the Jew first.”

Results from Paul’s 1st Missionary Journey Acts 13 & 14 – led to Pivotal Event 2.

Place
Reaction
Result
Salamis Nothing stated Nothing stated
Paphos Opposed by Jew Elymas Received by Gentile Roman Proconsul
Antioch (in Pisidia) Some respond; Jews oppose “Lo, we go to the Gentiles”
Iconium Some respond; Jews oppose Flight to Lystra
Lycaonia Persecution from Jews Many Gentile disciples

Summary: A few Jews respond positively; most Jews actively oppose it. This is the first categorical rejection of the message by Paul (Acts 13:44-47). Many Gentiles accept. This leads to the second pivotal event, the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35). The Gentiles were to be accepted with minimal laws to be kept.

Results from Paul’s 2nd Missionary Journey – Acts 15:36 – 18:22.

Place
Reaction
Result
Philippi Unrecorded – Lydia is won On to Thessalonica
Thessalonica Gentiles accept; most Jews oppose Flight to Berea
Berea Many accept; most Jews oppose Flight to Athens
Athens No Jewish response recorded Out to the Gentiles
Corinth Bitter Jewish opposition “Henceforth to Gentiles”
Ephesus Not recorded until later Back home to Antioch

Summary: A few Jews respond but most oppose it, some very emphatically.  This is the second categorical rejection by Jews, the Jews of the Diaspora (Acts 18:1-7). The message is widely accepted by Gentiles.

Paul’s 3rd Missionary JourneyActs 18:23 – 21:3. Luke was present with Paul the entire time and records what happened. The emphasis is on Paul's two years in Ephesus (Acts 19). The first three months they concentrated on the Jewish people, speaking in the synagogue. Some believed, but in the long run they were rejected and turned for most of the two years to the Gentile population, where they were widely accepted. In Acts 21, Paul reports to James and the elders in Jerusalem, leading to the third pivotal event, the outcry against Paul in Jerusalem. This outcry was instigated by Jews from the Diaspora in Asia. The High Priest rejects Paull and his message. Mob action threatens Paul's life, but he is saved by a Roman guard. Paul receives message from Jesus to go to the Gentiles.

Paul starts for Rome. This initiates pivotal point 4 -- the Jews there also reject Paul's message. This is the last opportunity for the Jews to accept or reject Jesus as their Messiah. From this point on the whole emphasis is on evangelizing the Gentiles. (Acts 27:1-28:31).

The book of Acts records five Jewish rejections of their Messiah, first with Stephen, then two during Paul's first journeys, the fourth with the mob in Jerusalem and lastly, in Rome. Paul’ s statement in Acts 28:28 says God will now go to the Gentiles. Later, as recorded in Paul's letter to the Ephesians (chapters 2 and 3), it is revealed that Israel is being put aside for the advent of the Church Age. Jesus indicated this age, or time, would be over when the Jews again took control of Jerusalem (Luke 21:24).

 

Timeline for Acts and Epistles

Date AD
Event
Bible Reference
*33
Palm Sunday, Crucifixion, Resurrection. Christ’s Ascension 40 days later. Acts 1
33
Promise of the Spirit fulfilled at Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) Acts 2:1-13
33
Gospel preached in Judea; Jerusalem Church established. Acts 2:40-47
34
Persecution of the Way begins. Stephen stoned to death. Acts 4:1-22; 5:21-42; 7:1-60
34-35
Gospel preached in Samaria and to the Ethiopian Eunuch Acts 8:1-40
36-37
Saul (Paul) converts to the Way; preaches in Damascus; escapes in a basket Acts 9:1-25
39-40
Saul meets with disciples in Jerusalem Acts 9:26-30
41
Gentiles convert to the Way through Peter’s ministry. Acts 10: 1-48
41-43
Church established at Antioch – first called Christians there Acts 11:19-30
41-43
Matthew’s Gospel probably written about this time. Matthew
*44
James killed by Herod Agrippa I; Peter arrested – & escapes; Herod dies Acts 12:1-25
48
Barnabas and Saul chosen Acts 13:1-3
48-49
Saul’s 1st Mission – Cyprus, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra. Saul becomes Paul Acts 13:4 – 14:26
49
Paul & Barnabas report back to Church at Antioch Acts 14:27-28
49
Council at Jerusalem to decide if Gentile Christians should keep the Law Acts 15:6-35
*49
Claudius expels Jews from Rome – rioting about “Chrestos” - 45,000 leave Aquila/Priscilla go to  Corinth
49-51
2nd Mission – Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth. Timothy, Luke Acts 15:36 – 18:22
50
Paul writes 1 and 2 Thessalonians 1 & 2 Thessalonians
52-57
Paul’s 3rd Mission – Galatia, Phrygia, Ephesus, Macedonia, Troas, Miletus Acts 18:23-21:17
*54
Claudius dies – Jews can return to homes in Rome. Nero Emperor aged 16 History
55
Paul writes 1 Corinthians and Galatians 1 Corinthians, Galatians
57
Paul writes 2 Corinthians & Romans 2 Corinthians, Romans
57
Paul goes from Tyre, Ptolemais, Caesarea to Jerusalem and is arrested. Acts 21:7 – 22:29
58
Luke writes his Gospel Gospel of Luke
57-59
Paul in prison at Caesarea. He gives his testimony to Festus and Agrippa II Acts 23:23 – 26:32
60
Paul’s starts for Rome – long voyage involving shipwreck – 4th Mission. Acts 27:1 – 28:10
61
Paul reaches Rome Acts 28:11-16
61-63
Paul ministers in Rome while under house arrest. Luke finalizes Acts Acts 28: 17-31
62
Paul writes prison letters Ephesians, Philippians Colossians, Philemon Eph. , Phil.,  Col.,  Philemon
62
James appears to have written his epistle about this time James
63
Epistle of 1 Peter probably written about this time. 1 Peter
63
In Spring Paul acquitted & released. Sails from Rome to Crete meet Titus Titus 1:5
63
Paul leaves Titus in Crete & sails to Nicopolis in Greece – part of 5th Mission Titus 1:5 and 3:12
63-64 **
Paul writes 1Timothy & Titus @ Nicopolis.  (Goes to Spain? Rom. 15:24,28) (Hebrews), 1 Timothy, Titus
64
Gospel of Mark probably written possibly assisted by Peter (1 Peter 5:13) Mark
*64
Great fire in Rome – Emperor Nero blames Christians – persecution starts. History
65
Epistle of 2 Peter seems to have been written about this time. 2 Peter
66-67
Paul’s final imprisonment in a common prison in Rome  - writes 2 Timothy. 2 Timothy
67
Nero has Peter crucified & Paul beheaded.  Jerome & Chrysostom  (Hist.)
*68
Nero's suicide; Galba, Otho, Vitellus all rule in one year; instability History
*69
Vespasian finally emerges as Emperor in Rome History
*70
Armies under control of Titus sack Jerusalem disperse Jews around  Empire History
75
Epistle of Jude probably written about this time Jude
85
Gospel of John written around this time *** John
90
John’s 3 epistles written around this time 1, 2 & 3 John
96-97
John has visions and writes Revelation Revelation

*Historically fixed dates

** There is a two year gap after Paul wintered in Nicopolis (western coast of Greece). His plans had been to go to Spain, but we don't know if he made it or where those two years were spent. Unlike Thomas, who left record of himself in India, we have no record in Spain of Paul's possible arrival and ministry there. All we know is that two years after his winter in Nicopolis, he was again in Rome and there he was beheaded.

*** Because in John 5:2 there is mention of the Sheep Gate, and because most translators chose the verb "is," there is an argument that the Gospel of John must have been written before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. The earliest manuscripts do not contain that verb but simply state "in Jerusalem, at the Sheep Gate, a pool...."

Paul's Missionary Journeys

Paul's Missionary Journeys

Go to Acts chapter 1