Introduction to the Bible - 44 - Acts

The Acts of the Apostles 

by Louis Berkhof

 The contents of this book is naturally divided into two parts; in each  of which the main topic is the establishment of the Church from a  certain center:

 I. The establishment of the Church from Jerusalem, 1:1--12: 25. In this  part we first have the last discourse of Christ to his disciples, the  ascension, the choice of an apostle in the place of Judas, the  fulfilment of the promise in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the  conversion of three thousand, 1: 1--2: 47. Then follows the healing of  the lame man by Peter and John; their faithful witnessing for Christ in  the temple, for which they were taken captive by the priests, the  captain of the temple and the Sadducees; their release, since the  enemies feared the people; and their thanksgiving for deliverance, 3:  1--4: 31. Next the condition of the Church is described: they had all  things in common, and severe punishment was meted out to Ananias and  Sapphira for their deception, 4: 32--5:11. On account of their words  and works the apostles were again imprisoned, but delivered by the  angel of the Lord; they were brought before the council of the Jews and  dismissed after a warning, 5:12--42. The murmuring of the Grecians  leads to the appointment of seven deacons, one of which, viz. Stephen,  wrought miracles among the people, and after witnessing for Christ  before the council, became the first Christian martyr, 6: 1--7: 60.  This is followed by a description of the persecution of the Church and  the resulting scattering of believers, of the work of Philip in  Samaria, of Sauls conversion, and of Peters healing of Eneas and  raising of Tabitha, 8:1--9:43. Then we have Peters vision of the  descending vessel, his consequent preaching to the household of  Cornelius, and the defense of his course before the brethren in Judea,  10:1--11:18. The narrative of the establishment of the Church at  Antioch, of James martyrdom, and of the imprisonment and miraculous  deliverance of Peter concludes this section, 11: 19--12: 25.

 II. The Establishment of the Church from Antioch. 13:1--28: 31. From  Antioch Barnabas and Saul set out on the first missionary journey,  including visits to Cyprus, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and  Derbe, from where they returned to Antioch, 13:1--14: 28. Then an  account is given of the council of Jerusalem and its decisions  affecting the Gentiles, 15:1-34. After his contention with Barnabas,  Paul starts out on the second missionary journey with Silas, passing  through the Cilician gates to Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Troas, whence  he was directed by a vision to pass into Europe, where he visited  Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth, preaching the gospel  and establishing churches. From Corinth he again returned to Jerusalem  and Antioch, 15: 35--18: 22. Shortly after Paul began his third  missionary journey, going through Asia Minor, staying at Ephesus for  over two years, and passing into Corinth, from where he again returned  to Jerusalem by way of Troas, Ephesus and Cesarea, 18: 23--21:16. At  Jerusalem the Jews sought to kill him, his defense both on the steps of  the castle and before the Sanhedrin merely inciting greater rage and  leading to a positive determination to kill him, 21:17--23:14. A  conspiracy leads to Paul's deportation to Cesarea, where he defends his  course before Felix, Festus and Agrippa, and on account of the unfair  treatment received at the hands of these governors, appeals to Caesar,  23:15--26: 32. From Cesarea he is sent to Rome, suffers shipwreck on  the way, performs miracles of healing on the island Melita, and on  reaching his destination preaches the gospel to the Jews and remains a  prisoner at Rome for two years, 27:1--28: 31.


 1. The great outstanding feature of this book is that it acquaints us  with the establishment of Christian churches, and indicates their  primary organization. According to it churches are founded at  Jerusalem, 2: 41-47; Judea, Galilee and Samaria, 9: 31; Antioch, 11:  26; Asia Minor, 14: 23; 16: 5; Philippi, 16: 40; Thessaalonica, 17:10;  Berea, 17:14; Corinth, 18:18, and Ephesus, 20:17-38. From the sixth  chapter we learn of the institution of the deacons office, and from 14:  23 and 20:17-38 it is clear that elders, also called bishops, were  already appointed.

 2. The narrative which it contains centers about two persons, viz.  Peter and Paul, the first establishing the Jewish, the second the  Gentile churches. Consequently it contains several discourses of these  apostles, as Peters sermon on the day of Pentecost, 2:14-36; and in the  temple, 3:12-26; his defenses before the Jewish council, 4: 8-12; 5 :  29-32; his sermon in the house of Cornelius, 10: 34-43; and his defense  before the brethren in Judea, 11: 4-18. And of Paul the book contains  the sermons preached at Antioch, 13: 16-41; at Lystra, 14:15-18; and at  Athens, 17: 22-3 1; his address to the Ephesian elders, 20: 18-35; and  his defenses before the Jews on the stairs of the castle, 22:1-21;  before the Sanhedrin 23:1-6; and before Felix and Agrippa, 24:10-21;  26:2-29.

 3. The many miracles recorded in this writing constitute one of its  characteristic features. Besides the miracles that are not described  and of which there were many "signs and wonders" by the apostles, 2:  43; 5:12, 15, 16; by Stephen, 6:8; by Philip, 8: 7; by Paul and  Barnabas, 14: 3; and also by Paul alone, 19:11,12; 28:1-9 ;--the  following miracles are specifically described: the gift of tongues,  2:1-11; the lame man cured, 3:1-11; the shaking of the prayer hall,  4:31; the death of Ananias and Sapphira, 5:1-11; the apostles delivered  from prison, 5:19; the translation of Philip, 8: 39, 40; Eneas made  whole, 9: 34; Dorcas restored to life, 9: 36-42; Pauls sight restored,  9:17; the deliverance of Peter from prison, 12: 6-10; the death of  Herod, 12: 20-23; Elymas, the sorcerer, struck blind, 13: 6-11; the  lame man at Lystra cured, 14: 8-11; the damsel at Philippi delivered  ,16: 16-18; the jail at Philippi shaken, 16: 25, 26; Eutychus restored  to life, 20:9-12; Paul unhurt by the bite of a poisonous viper, 28:1-6;  the father of Publius and many others healed, 28:8, 9.

 4. The style of this book is very similar to that of the third Gospel,  though it contains less Hebraisms. Simcox says that "the Acts is of all  the books included in the New Testament the nearest to contemporary, if  not to classical literary usage,--the only one, except perhaps the  Epistle to the Hebrews, where conformity to a standard of classical  correctness is consciously aimed at." The Writers of the New Testament,  p. 16. The tone is most Hebraic in the first part of the book,  especially in the sermons in chs. 2 and 13 and in the defense of  Stephen ch. 7, in all of which the Old Testament element is very large  ;--and it is most Hellenic in the last part of the book, as in the  epistle of the church at Jerusalem, the letter of Lysias, the speech of  Tertullus, and the defense of Paul before Agrippa. This is undoubtedly  due to the fact that the first part of the book deals primarily with  Jewish, and last part especially with Gentile Christianity.


 The Greek title of the book is praxeis apostolon, Acts of Apostles.  There is no entire uniformity in the MSS. in this respect. The  Sinaiticus has simplypraxeisalthough it has the regular title at the  close of the book. Codex D is peculiar in havingpraxis apostolon, Way  of acting of the Apostles. We do not regard the title as proceeding  from the author, but from one of the transcribers; nor do we consider  it a very happy choice. On the one hand the title, if translated, as is  done in both the Authorized and the Revised Version, by "The Acts of  the Apostles," is too comprehensive, since there are but two apostles  whose acts are recorded in this book, viz. Peter and Paul. On the other  hand it is too restricted, because the book contains not only several  acts, but also many words of these apostles; and also, since it records  besides these acts and words of other persons, such as Stephen, Philip  and Barnabas.


 The voice of the ancient Church is unanimous in ascribing this book to  Luke, the author of the third Gospel. Irenaeus in quoting passages from  it repeatedly uses the following formula: "Luke the disciple and  follower of Paul says thus." Clement of Alexandria, quoting Paul's  speech at Athens, introduces it by, "So Luke in the Acts of the  Apostles relates." Eusebius says: "Luke has left us two inspired  volumes, the Gospel and the Acts." The external testimony for the Lukan  authorship is as strong as we could wish for.

 Now the question arises, whether the internal evidence agrees with  this. The book does not directly claim to have been written by Luke.  Our Scriptural evidence for the authorship is of an inferential  character. It seems to us that the Lukan authorship is supported by the  following considerations:

 1. The we-sections. These are the following sections, 16-10-17; 20:  5-15; and 27:1--28:16, in which the pronoun of the first person plural  is found, implying that the author was a companion of Paul in part of  the apostles travels. Since Paul had several associates, different  names have been suggested for the author of this book, as Timothy,  Silas, Titus and Luke, who according to Col. 4:14; Philemon 24; and II  Tim. 4:11, was also one of the apostles companions and best friends.  The first two persons named are excluded, however, by the way in which  they are spoken of in 16:19 and 20:4, 5. And so little can be said in  favor of Titus that it is now quite generally agreed that Luke was the  author of the we-sections. But if this is true, he is also the author  of the book, for the style of the book is similar throughout; there are  cross-references from the we-sections to the other parts of the book,  as f. i. in 21: 8, where Philip is introduced as one of the seven,  while we know only from ch. 6 who the seven were, and from 8: 40, how  Philip came to be in Cesarea; and it is inconceivable that a later  writer should have incorporated the we-sections in his work in such a  skillful manner that the lines of demarcation cannot be discovered, and  should at the same time leave the tell-tale pronoun of the first person  undisturbed.

 2. The medical language. Dr. Hobart has clearly pointed out this  feature in both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Some  make light of this argument, but Zahn says: "W. K. Hobart hat fur  Jeden, dem flberhaupt etwas zu beweisen ist, bewiesen, dass der  Verfasser des lucanischen Werks em mit der Kunstsprache der  griechischen Medicin vertrauter Mann, em griechischer Arzt gewesen  ist." Einl. II p. 429. We find instances of this medical language in  achlus13:11;paralelumenos;, 8:7; 9:33;puretois kai dusenteria  sunerxomenon, 25 :8.

 3. Assuming that Luke wrote the third Gospel, a comparison of Acts with  that work also decidedly favors the Lukan authorship, for: (1) The  style of these two books is similar, the only difference being that the  second book is less Hebraistic than the first,--a difference that finds  a ready explanation in the sources used and in the authors method of  composition. (2) Both books are addressed to the same person, viz.  Theophilus, who was, so it seems, a special friend of the author. (3)  In the opening verse of Acts the author refers to a first book that he  had written. Taking the points just mentioned in consideration, this  can be no other than our third Gospel, though Baljon, following  Scholten, denies this. Geschiedenis v/d Boeken des N. V. p. 421.

 4. The book contains clear evidence of having been written by a  companion of Paul. This follows not only from the we-sections, but also  from the fact that, as even unfriendly critics admit, the author shows  himself well acquainted with the Pauline diction. We have reasons to  think that he did not derive this acquaintance from a study of Pauls  Epistles; and if this is true, the most rational explanation is that he  was an associate of Paul and heard the great apostle speak on several  occasions. Moreover the authors characterization of Paul is so detailed  and individualized as to vouch for personal acquaintance.

 The authorship of Luke has not found general acceptance among New  Testament scholars. The main objections to it appear to be the  following: (1) The book is said to show traces of dependence on the  Antiquities of Josephus, a work that was written about A. D. 93 or 94.  The reference to Theudas and Judas in 5: 36, 37 is supposed to rest on  a mistaken reading of Josephus, Ant. XX, V, 1, 2. (2) The standpoint of  the author is claimed to be that of a second century writer, whose  Christianity is marked by universality, and who aims at reconciling the  opposing tendencies of his time. (3) The work is held by some to be  historically so inaccurate, and to reveal such a wholesale acceptance  of the miraculous, that it cannot have been written by a contemporary.  There is supposedly a great conflict especially between Acts 15 and  Galatians 2.

 We cannot enter on a detailed examination of these objections; a few  remarks anent them must suffice. It is by no means proven that the  author read Josephus, nor that he wrote his work after the Jewish  historian composed his Antiquities. Gamaliel, who makes `the statement  regarding Theudas and Judas, may very well have derived his knowledge  from a different source; and his supposed mistake (which may not be a  mistake after all) does not affect the authorship, nor the  trustworthiness of the book. That the standpoint of the author is more  advanced than that of the Pauline Epistles (Baljon) is purely  imaginary; it is in perfect harmony with the other New Testament  writings. And the idea of a struggle between the Petrine and Pauline  factions is now generally discarded. Historical inaccuracy does not  necessarily imply that a book was written a considerable time after the  events. Moreover in the book of Acts there is no such inaccuracy. On  the contrary, Ramsay in his, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman  Citizen has conclusively proved that this book is absolutely reliable  and is a historical work of the highest order. It may be that some  difficulties have not yet found an altogether satisfactory solution,  but this does not militate against the authorship of Luke.


 1. Readers and Purpose. It is not necessary to speak at length about  the readers for whom this book was first of all intended, because like  the Gospel of Luke it is addressed to Theophilus, and like it too it  was undoubtedly destined for the same wider circle of readers, i. e.  the Greeks.

 But what was the purpose of the author in writing this book? This is a  very much debated question. The book of Acts is really a continuation  of the third gospel and was therefore, in all probability, also written  to give Theophilus the certainty of the things narrated. We notice that  in this second book, just as in the first, the author names many even  of the less important actors in the events, and brings out on several  occasions the relation of these events to secular history. Cf. 12:1;  18:2; 23:26; 25:1. Of what did Luke want to give Theophilus certainty?  From the fact that he himself says that he wrote the first book to give  his friend the certainty of the things that Jesus began to do and to  teach, we infer that in the second book he intended to give him  positive instruction regarding the things that Jesus continued to do  and to teach through his apostles. It seems that he found his program  in the words of the Saviour, 1: 8: "But ye shall receive power, after  that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be my witnesses both  in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost  parts of the earth." In harmony with this program he describes the  march of Christianity from Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish  Theocracy, to Rome, the center of the world. With Paul in Rome,  therefore, the authors task is finished.

 Opposed to this view are those that regard the book as a tendency  writing, in which history has been falsified with a definite purpose.  As such we have:

 (1) The theory of the Tubingen school, that the book was written to  conciliate the Petrine and Pauline factions in the early Church, and  therefore represents Peter as more liberal, and Paul as more Judaistic  than is in harmony with their own writings. The supposed parallelism  between Peter and Paul, according to some, ministers to the same  purpose. This theory in the bald form in which it was broached by Baur,  is now generally abandoned, and has been modified in various ways.

 (2) The view defended by some later scholars, such as Overbeck and  Straatman, that the book of Acts is really an apology for Christianity  over against the Gentiles, especially the Romans. Hence the author  gives the Romans due honor, and clearly brings out the advantages which  Paul derived from his Roman citizenship. He desires to convey the  impression that the doctrine taught by Paul, who was protected by the  mighty arm of Rome, who was acquitted of false charges by Roman  governors, and who with a good conscience appealed to Caesar himself,  could not be regarded as dangerous to the state. Wrede considers this a  subordinate purpose of the author.

 The abiding merit of these theories is that they contemplate the book  of Acts as an artistic whole. For the rest, however, they do not  commend themselves to our serious consideration. The basis on which  they rest is too uncertain; they are not borne out by the facts; they  are inimical to the well established historicity of the book; and they  come to us with the unreasonable demand, born of unbelief and aversion  to the miraculous, to consider the author as a falsifier of history.

 2. Time and Place. As to the time, when the book was composed little  can be said with certainty. It must have been written after A. D. 63,  since the author knows that Paul staid in Rome two years. But how long  after that date was it written? Among conservative scholars, such as  Alford, Salmon, Barde e. a. the opinion is generally held that Luke  wrote his second book before the death of Paul and the destruction of  Jerusalem, because no mention whatever is made of either one of these  important facts. Zahn and Weiss naturally date it about A. D. 80, since  they regard this date as the terminus ad quem for the composition of  the third gospel. Many of the later rationalistic critics too are of  the opinion that the book was written after the destruction of  Jerusalem, some even placing it as late as A. D. 110 (Baljon) and 120  (Davidson). Their reasons for doing this are: (1) the supposed  dependence of Luke on Josephus; (2) the assumption, based on Lk. 21:20;  Acts 8:26 ff. that Jerusalem was already destroyed; and (3) the  supposed fact that the state of affairs in the book points to a time,  when the state had begun to persecute Christians on political grounds.  None of these reasons are conclusive, and we see no reasons to place  the book later than A. D. 63.

 The place of composition was in all probability Rome.

 3. Method. The problem of the sources used by Luke in the composition  of this book has given rise to several theories, that we cannot discuss  here. And it is not necessary that we should do this, because, as Zahn  maintains, none of these repeated attempts has attained any measure of  probability; and Headlam says: "The statement of them is really a  sufficient condemnation." Hastings D. B. Art. Acts of the Apostles. For  a good discussion of the various theories of Van Manen, Sorof, Spitta  and Clemen cf. Knowlings Introduction to Acts in the Expositors Greek  Testament. With Blass we believe that, if Luke is the author, the  question of sources for the greater part of the book need not be  raised. The writer may have learnt the early history of the Jerusalem  church from Barnabas at Antioch and from several others who found  refuge in that city after the persecution; from Philip, whose guest he  was for several days, 21: 8-15, and with whom he must have had frequent  intercourse during Pauls later stay at Cesarea; and from Mnason, an old  disciple, 21:16. And regarding the missionary journeys of Paul he, in  all probability, received full information from the apostle himself,  and could partly draw on his own memory or memorandum. It is quite  possible that the author had written records of the speeches of Peter  and Paul, but he certainly did not reproduce them literally but colored  them in part with his own style.


 The book of Acts is a part of the inspired Word of God. We have in it  the fruit of apostolic inspiration, in so far as we find here speeches  of some of the apostles and of Stephen, who was filled with the Holy  Ghost, when he defended his course before the Jewish council, 6:5, 10.  And in the composition of his book Luke was guided by the Holy Spirit,  so that the whole work must be regarded as a product of graphical  inspiration. This follows from the fact that this book is a necessary  complement of the Gospels, which are, as we have seen, inspired  records. It is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, that is quoted as  Scripture in I Tim. 5:18 (cf. Luke 10: 7). If the Gospel is inspired,  then,. assuredly, the work that continues its narrative is also written  by inspiration. Moreover we find that the Church fathers from the  earliest time appeal to this book as of divine authority,--as an  inspired work.


 The place of Acts in the canon of Holy Scripture has never been  disputed by the early Church, except by such heretical sects as the  Marcionites, the Ebionites and the Manichaeans, and then only on  dogmatical grounds. Traces of acquaintance with it are found in the  apostolic fathers, as also in Justin and Tatian. Irenaeus, Clement of  Alexandria and Tertullian frequently quote from this book. It is named  in the Muratorian canon, and is also contained in the Syriac and old  Latin Versions. These testimonies are quite sufficient to show that it  was generally accepted.

 As an integral part of Scripture it is inseparably connected with the  Gospels, and reveals to us, how the Gospel was embodied in the life and  institution of the Church. We here see that the sowing of the precious  seed that was entrusted to the apostles resulted in the planting and  extension of the Church from three great racial centers of the world,  from Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish Theocracy, from Antioch, the  center of Greek culture, and from Rome, the capital of the world. The  Gospels contain a revelation of what Jesus began to do and to teach;  the book of Acts shows us what he continued to do and to teach through  the ministry of men. There is an evident advance in the teaching of the  apostles; they have learnt to understand much that was once a mystery  to them. In the Gospels we find that they are forbidden to tell anyone  that Jesus is the Messiah; here we read repeatedly that they preach  Christ and the resurrection. They now exhibit Christ in his true  character as the Prince of Life and as the King of Glory. And the  effect of their teaching was such as to bear striking evidence to the  regenerating power of Him, who by the resurrection from the dead was  powerfully declared to be the Son of God.