Commentary on Acts

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In depth study on Acts, with particular emphasis on the Greek text
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   The Book of Acts PR XEIS j POSTOLWN !" !$%&'()*%+'$,  Acts is unique among the writings of the New Testament in that it records some of the key events and speeches of the early Church. In some ways Acts is similar to Genesis (a Greek name that means “beginning”) in that it shows how the Church developed and crossed borders (quite literally) in order to spread the Gospel. This writing shows how the Gospel spread from “Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1 8  ). In fact the passage just cited could be construed as a mission statement that gives some structure to the overall content of Acts, but more on that in the discussion on chapter 1. A. Authorship & Audience: It is quite clear, and few scholars deny, that Luke and Acts were composed by the same author (probably a physician by the name of Luke) and at one time formed a single unit. Compare the opening verses of each book: Luke 1 1-4   Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent  Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.  Acts 1 1-3   In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many  convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 1   It is plain to see that the recipient of each work was one Theophilus, and that the second  work, Acts, is a continuation of the first, the Gospel of Luke.  We do not now know who this Theophilus was, though some propose he was a Roman official to whom Luke was trying to defend the existence and legality of the Church. Others  would suggest that perhaps he was the bishop of a congregation who was unfamiliar with certain tenets of the faith. It is possible that Luke intended “Theophilus” to be understood as a general address to the Christian community. The name Theophilus means “lover/friend of God” (  qeo  – God & filo  – friend).  The two volumes, now known as Luke and Acts, were - most likely - at one time a solitary  work, but when the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were collected Luke’s  version of the story of Jesus was separated from his writing about the beginning of the Church. The Gospel of Luke closes with the promise from Christ that he would send his Spirit: I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. - Luke 24 49   In Acts the story picks up right at this point, with the disciples waiting to receive the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. Luke does not claim to have personally received a divinely inspired message (such as John claims to have received in Revelation); rather Luke carefully investigated various aspects of the Christian community (history, practice, aspects of faith, etc.) and carefully crafted a literary work based on his findings. This does not mean that Luke-Acts is not an inspired 1  Note that Josephus makes a similar statement in the second volume of his  Apology   word from God, but it is for the most part a second hand account. Luke relied on the eye- witness accounts of others to gain a better understanding of the story of Christ and the Church. Early Church writers were unanimous that it was Paul’s companion Luke who composed Luke-Acts. There is really no good argument to debunk this assumption, but there are numerous supports of this position: 2  1.   Luke was clearly a close friend of Paul’s Our dear friend Luke , the doctor, and Demas send greetings - Colossians 4 14  Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark,  Aristarchus, Demas and Luke , my fellow workers. - Philemon 2 4  Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke  is with me. - II Timothy 4 9-11a   2.   One early tradition holds that Luke was a native of Antioch and a physician. In some ancient manuscripts (the Western text) after Acts 11 27  the following appears (while Paul is at Antioch, where Luke is supposedly from): “And there was great rejoicing; and when we were gathered together one of them stood up and said…” The passage then returns to the accepted text at 11 28  and records the prediction of the prophet Agabus. A series of “we” passages begins in Acts 16 11  where Luke is said to have joined Paul’s company and he remains with him through the end of the book. Therefore, from these passages it appaears that the writer joined Paul’s mission in Acts 16, and that writer was almost certainly Luke. 3.   In support of the idea that the Gospel of Luke was written by a doctor, W.K. Hobart identified 400 medical terms in Luke-Acts. However, 90% of these appear in the LXX, and another thirty in ancient writings that are known to have been composed by people 2   The Interpreter’s Bible  (Acts), 7-8   who were not in the medical field. Nevertheless, this study did reveal that the writer was a learned man, a description that certainly fits what we know about the physician Luke.  The writer of Luke-Acts also seems to take a special interest in the healings of Jesus. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is only found in Luke; Jesus’ healings are proof of his messiahship (Luke 7 18-23  ); healings in Acts are proof that Jesus is still at work (Acts 3 12-13  & 4 7-10  ). If Mark wrote his gospel first and Luke borrowed from his material, then Luke clearly left out the negative reference about physicians (compare Mark 5 26  and Luke 8 43  ): She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had , yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (Mark)  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. (Luke)  4. If the Gospel of Luke had not been written by Luke it is unlikely that anyone would have ascribed this work to him as he was not a companion of Jesus or a towering figure in Church history. 5. “The anti-Marcionite Prologue (c. 160-180) 3 , after giving some account of Luke as the  Third Evangelist, adds and it was necessary that following the same Luke wrote Acts of (the) Apostles.” 4  Early tradition (from 170) is unanimous that Luke was the writer of ad  Theophilum (to Theophilus, that is Luke-Acts). B. Purpose: For many centuries most believed that Acts was written to provide a history of the early Church; in the last two centuries this belief has been challenged. Four primary reasons for the composition of this work have now been proposed: 5  a)    A historical aim – to describe the expansion of Christianity in widening circles from  Jerusalem to Rome. b)    A religious aim – to demonstrate the power of the Spirit in the work of the apostles. c)    An apologetic aim – to commend the Pauline mission and to minimize the divisions  within the Christian community. 3  See Handout “Luke ant-Marcionite Prologue” 4  Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles , 1 5   The Interpreter’s Bible , 15  d)    A political aim – to commend the Christian church to the contemporary Roman authorities. Roman officials are presented in a positive light, appearing reasonable and not combative to the message of Paul. Christians were loyal to the Empire and not a threat to the government.  Though surely not Luke’s primary purpose for writing, Acts serves to bridge the gap between the Gospels and Paul’s epistles. It is hardly by accident that Peter and Paul’s actions mirror each other; the great apostle to the Jews (Peter) and the missionary to the gentiles (Paul) both perform the same feats: 6  a)   Healing of a Lame Man (Peter - 3 2ff  ; Paul - 14 8ff   ) b)   Peter’s shadow heals (5 15  ) and a handkerchief from Paul (19 12  ) c)   Exorcising Demons (Peter – 5 16 ; Paul 16 18  ) d)   Overcoming a Sorcerer (Peter – 8 18ff  ; Paul 13 6ff   ) e)   Raising the Dead (Peter - 9 36ff  ; Paul 20 9ff   )  Though Acts refers to other apostles, Peter and Paul clearly take center stage. C. Date: Possible dates for the writing of Acts range from 60-150 AD, though these are clearly extremes. Many would see in the Gospel of Luke knowledge of the destruction of the  Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 19 43-44 ; 21 20-24  ) which would place the work after the razing of the  Temple in 70 AD. On the other end of the spectrum nearly every scholar would attribute the  writing of Luke-Acts to Luke the companion of Paul and therefore any date outside of the first century is unlikely, definitely not one as late as 150. However, it is possible that Luke wrote Acts while Paul was imprisoned in Rome (ca. 63  AD), since the reader does not learn of the outcome of that first Roman trial. Acts concludes  with Paul under house arrest, though with some freedom. !!" -*%. / 6  Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, 33  
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