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Reference: Acts Of The Apostles


A canonical book of the New Testament, written by Luke as a sequel to his gospel, and a history in part of the early church. It is not, however, a record of the acts of all the apostles, but chiefly of those of Peter and Paul. In his gospel, Luke described the founding of Christianity in what Christ did, taught, and suffered; in the Acts he illustrates its diffusion, selecting what was best fitted to show how the first followers of Christ in building up his church. Beginning were his gospel indeed, he narrates the ascension of the Savior and the conduct of the disciples thereupon; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit according to Christ's promise; the miraculous preaching of the apostles, their amazing success, and the persecutions raised against them; with other events of moment to the church at Jerusalem, till they were scattered abroad. He then shows how Judaism was superseded, and how Peter was led to receive to Christian fellowship converts from the Gentiles. The remainder of the narrative is devoted to the conversion and calling of the apostle Paul, his missionary zeal, labors, and sufferings, and the ends with his two years' imprisonment at Rome.

Luke himself witnessed, to a great extent, the events he narrates. His Greek is the most classical in the New Testament; and the view he gives of the spirit of the early church so many of whose members had "been with the Lord," is invaluable. The book was probably written about A. D. 64, that is, soon after the time at which the narration terminates. The place where it was written is not known.

In order to read the Acts of the Apostles with intelligence and profit, it is necessary to have a sufficient acquaintance with geography, with the manners of the times and people referred to, and with the leading historical events. The power of the Romans, with the nature and names of the public offices they established, and the distinctions among them, must be understood, as well as the disposition and political opinions of the unconverted Jewish nation, which were to prevalent among the Christianized Hebrews.


the title now given to the fifth and last of the historical books of the New Testament. The author styles it a "treatise" (Ac 1:1). It was early called "The Acts," "The Gospel of the Holy Ghost," and "The Gospel of the Resurrection." It contains properly no account of any of the apostles except Peter and Paul. John is noticed only three times; and all that is recorded of James, the son of Zebedee, is his execution by Herod. It is properly therefore not the history of the "Acts of the Apostles," a title which was given to the book at a later date, but of "Acts of Apostles," or more correctly, of "Some Acts of Certain Apostles."

As regards its authorship, it was certainly the work of Luke, the "beloved physician" (comp. Lu 1:1-4; Ac 1:1). This is the uniform tradition of antiquity, although the writer nowhere makes mention of himself by name. The style and idiom of the Gospel of Luke and of the Acts, and the usage of words and phrases common to both, strengthen this opinion. The writer first appears in the narrative in Ac 16:11, and then disappears till Paul's return to Philippi two years afterwards, when he and Paul left that place together (Ac 20:6), and the two seem henceforth to have been constant companions to the end. He was certainly with Paul at Rome (28; Col 4:14). Thus he wrote a great portion of that history from personal observation. For what lay beyond his own experience he had the instruction of Paul. If, as is very probable, 2 Tim. was written during Paul's second imprisonment at Rome, Luke was with him then as his faithful companion to the last (2Ti 4:11). Of his subsequent history we have no certain information.

The design of Luke's Gospel was to give an exhibition of the character and work of Christ as seen in his history till he was taken up from his disciples into heaven; and of the Acts, as its sequel, to give an illustration of the power and working of the gospel when preached among all nations, "beginning at Jerusalem." The opening sentences of the Acts are just an expansion and an explanation of the closing words of the Gospel. In this book we have just a continuation of the history of the church after Christ's ascension. Luke here carries on the history in the same spirit in which he had commenced it. It is only a book of beginnings, a history of the founding of churches, the initial steps in the formation of the Christian society in the different places visited by the apostles. It records a cycle of "representative events."

All through the narrative we see the ever-present, all-controlling power of the ever-living Saviour. He worketh all and in all in spreading abroad his truth among men by his Spirit and through the instrumentality of his apostles.

The time of the writing of this history may be gathered from the fact that the narrative extends down to the close of the second year of Paul's first imprisonment at Rome. It could not therefore have been written earlier than A.D. 61 or 62, nor later than about the end of A.D. 63. Paul was probably put to death during his second imprisonment, about A.D. 64, or, as some think, 66.

The place where the book was written was probably Rome, to which Luke accompanied Paul.

The key to the contents of the book is in Ac 1:8, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." After referring to what had been recorded in a "former treatise" of the sayings and doings of Jesus Christ before his ascension, the author proceeds to give an account of the circumstances connected with that event, and then records the leading facts with reference to the spread and triumphs of Christianity over the world during a period of about thirty years. The record begins with Pentecost (A.D. 33) and ends with Paul's first imprisonment (A.D. 63 or 64). The whole contents of the book may be divided into these three parts:

(1.) Chaps. 1-12, describing the first twelve years of the Christian church. This section has been entitled "From Jerusalem to Antioch." It contains the history of the planting and extension of the church among the Jews by the ministry of Peter.

(2.) Chaps. 13-21, Paul's missionary journeys, giving the history of the extension and planting of the church among the Gentiles.

(3.) Chaps. 21-28, Paul at Rome, and the events which led to this. Chaps. 13-28 have been entitled "From Antioch to Rome."

In this book it is worthy of note that no mention is made of the writing by Paul of any of his epistles. This may be accounted for by the fact that the writer confined himself to a history of the planting of the church, and not to that of its training or edification. The relation, however, between this history and the epistles of Paul is of such a kind, i.e., brings to light so many undesigned coincidences, as to prove the genuineness and authenticity of both, as is so ably shown by Paley in his Horae Paulinae. "No ancient work affords so many tests of veracity; for no other has such numerous points of contact in all directions with contemporary history, politics, and topography, whether Jewish, or Greek, or Roman." Lightfoot. (See Paul.)

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The second treatise, in continuation of the Gospel as recorded by Luke. The style confirms the identity of authorship; also the address to the same person, Theophilus, probably a man of rank, judging from the title "most excellent." The Gospel was the life of Jesus in the flesh, the Acts record His life in the Spirit; Chrysostom calls it "The Gospel of the Holy Spirit." Hence Luke says: "The former treatise I made of all that Jesus began to do and teach;" therefore the Acts give a summary of what Jesus continued to do and teach by His Spirit in His disciples after He was taken up. The book breaks off at the close of Paul's imprisonment, A.D. 63, without recording his release; hence it is likely Luke completed it at this date, just before tidings of the apostle's release reached him.

There is a progressive development and unity of plan throughout. The key is Ac 1:8; "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me in (1) Jerusalem, and (2) in all Judaea, and (3) in Samaria, and (4) unto the uttermost part of the earth." It begins with Jerusalem, the metropolis of the Jewish dispensation, and ends with Rome, the metropolis of the whole Gentile world. It is divisible into three portions:

I. From the ascension to the close of Acts 11, which describes the rise of the first purely Gentile church, at Antioch, where the disciples consequently were first called See CHRISTIANS (see);

II. Thence down to the special vision at Troas (Acts 16), which carried the gospel, through Paul, to Europe;

III. Thence onward, until it reached Rome. In each of the three periods the church has a distinct aspect: in the first, Jewish; in the second, Gentile with a strong Jewish admixture; in the third, after the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15), Gentile in a preponderating degree. At first the gospel was preached to the Jews only; then to the Samaritans (Ac 8:1-5); then to the Ethiopian eunuch, a proselyte of righteousness (Ac 8:27); then, after a special revelation as Peter's warrant, to Cornelius, a proselyte of the gate; then to Gentile Greeks (not Grecians, i.e. Greek speaking Jews, but pagan Greeks, on the whole the best supported reading, Ac 11:20); then Peter, who, as "the apostle of the circumcision," had been in the first period the foremost preacher, gives place from Acts 13 to Paul, "the apostle of the uncircumcision," who successively proclaimed the word in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, and Rome. Luke joined Paul at Troas (about A.D. 53), as appears from the "we" taking the place of "they" at that point in his history (Ac 16:8-10). The repetition of the account of the ascension in Acts 1 shows that an interval of some time had elapsed since writing the more summary account of it at the end of Luke 24; for repetition would have been superfluous unless some time had intervened.

Matthew's Gospel, as adapted to Jewish readers, answers to the first period ending about A.D. 40, and was written probably in and for Jerusalem and Judaea; Mark answers to the second or Judaeo-Gentile period, A.D. 40-50, as his Gospel abounds in Latinisms, and is suited to Gentile converts, such as were the Roman soldiers concentrated at Caesarea, their head quarters in Palestine, the second great center of gospel preaching, the scene of Cornelius' conversion by Mark's father in the faith, Peter. Luke's Gospel has a Greek tinge, and answers to the third period, A.D. 50-63, being suited to Greeks unfamiliar with Palestinian geography; written perhaps at Antioch, the third great center of gospel diffusion.

Antioch is assigned by tradition as his residence (A.D. 52) before joining Paul when entering Europe. Beginning it there, he probably completed it under Paul's guidance, and circulated it from Philippi, where he was left behind, among the Greek churches. Probably Paul (A.D. 57) alludes to his Gospel in 2Co 8:18; "the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches." Certainly he quotes his Gospel as Scripture, and by inspiration stamps it as such in 1Ti 5:18. His having been chosen by the Macedonian churches joint trustee with Paul of their contributions to Jerusalem implies a long residence, during which he completed and circulated his work. As Acts was the fruit of his second connection with Paul, whose labors down to his imprisonment in Rome form the chief part of the book, so he wrote the Gospel through the help he got in his first connection with him, from Troas down to Philippi. (See Birks' Horse Evarig., 192, etc., for the probability that Theophilus lived at Antioch.) Jerome says Luke published his Gospel "in the parts of Achaia and Baeotia."

The Book of Acts links itself with the Gospels, by describing the foundation and extension of the church, which Christ in the Gospels promised; and with the Pauline epistles by undesigned, because not obvious, coincidences. It forms with the Gospels a historical Pentateuch, on which the Epistles are the inspired commentary, as the Psalms and Prophets are on the Old Testament historical books. Tertullian De Bapt., 17, and Jerome, Vir. Illustr., Luc., 7, mention that John pronounced spurious the Acts of Paul and Thecla, published at Ephesus. As Luke's Acts of the Apostles was then current, John's condemnation of the spurious Acts is a virtual sanction of ours as genuine; especially as Re 3:2 assigns this office of testing the true and the false to John's own church' of Ephesus. The epistle of the churches of Lyons and Vienna to those of Asia and Phrygia (A.D. 177) quotes it. Irenseus, Adv.

Hser., 1:31, Clemens Alexandrinus, Strom., 5, and Origen, in Euseb. H. E., 6:23, attest the book. Eusebius, H.E., 3:25, ranks it among "the universally recognized Scriptures." Its rejection by the Manicheans on purely doctrinal grounds implies its acceptance by the early church catholic. Luke never names himself. But the identity of the writer with the writer of the Gospel (Lu 1:3) is plain, and that the first person plural (Ac 16:10,17; 21:1,18; 27:1; 28:16) includes the writer in the first person singular (Ac 1:1). Paul's other companions are distinguished from the writer (Ac 20:4-6,15). The sacred writers keep themselves in the background, so as to put forward their grand subject. The first person gives place to the third at Ac 17:1, as Paul and Silas left Luke behind at Philippi. The nonmention of Luke in Paul's epistles is due to his not having been with him at Corinth (Acts 18), whence the two epistles to the Thessalonians were written; nor at Ephesus (Acts 19), whence he wrote to the Romans; nor at Corinth again, whence he wrote to the Galatians.

The first person is not resumed until Ac 20:5-6, at Philippi, the very place where the first person implies he was with Paul two years before (Acts 16); in this interval Luke probably made Philippi his head quarters. Thenceforward to the close, which leaves Paul at Rome, the first person shows Luke was his companion. Col 4:14; Phm 1:24, written there and then, declare his presence with Paul in Rome. The undesigned coincidence remarkably confirms the truth of his authorship and of the history. Just in those epistles written from places where in Acts the first person is dropped, Luke is not mentioned, but Silas and Timothy are; 1Th 1:1; 2Th 1:1; 2Co 1:19 compared with Ac 18:5.

But in the epistles written where we know, from Acts 28, the writer was with Paul we find Luke mentioned. Alford conjectures that as, just before Luke's joining Paul at Troas (Ac 16:10), Paul had passed through Galatia, where he was detained by sickness (Ga 4:13, Greek "Ye know that because of an infirmity of my flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first"), and Phrygia, and as the epistle to Colossae in Phrygia terms Luke "the beloved physician," Luke became Paul's companion owing to the weak state of the apostle's health, and left him at Philippi when he was recovered, which would account for the warm epithet "beloved."

In Ac 21:10 Agabus is introduced as if he had never been mentioned before, which he was in Ac 11:28. Probably Luke used different written sources of information, guided in the selection by the Holy spirit. This view accounts for the Hebraistic style of the earlier parts (drawn from Hebrew sources), and the Grecian style of the

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1. Summary of contents.

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The introduction to this book compared with the introduction to the gospel by Luke makes it plain that the two were written by the same person. The Acts ends with the two years' imprisonment of the apostle Paul at Rome: it could not therefore have been written before the end of that time, and was probably written very soon afterwards or it would have given the issue of Paul's trial. This would place the date about A.D. 63.

The 'Acts' forms a link between the Gospels and the Epistles, as the ascension of Christ formed a link between the Gospels and the Acts. It occupies a sort of transition time, for though the church was soon formed, the doctrine of the church was not made known until Paul's epistles. The title, 'Acts of the Apostles,' might have led us to expect a more general account of the labours of all the Twelve; but their mission in the ways of God is superseded by that of Paul, both as minister of the gospel of the glory of Christ, and of the church. A wise selection of the fruits of apostolic energy has been made, verifying some things stated in the Gospels, and forming an indispensable introduction to the Epistles.

After the ascension of the Lord, and the choosing an apostle to fill the place of Judas, the first great event recorded is the day of Pentecost. The Lord had said, "I will build my church," Mt 16:18 ; and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is the answer to the question, when did the incorporation of the church begin? 1Co 12:13 proves that it was by the gift of the Holy Spirit, though, as it has been said, the doctrine of the church was not revealed till afterwards.

Ananias was charged with lying to the Holy Spirit, by whom God was then dwelling in the church. Our Lord had promised that on His departure He would send them another Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to abide with and be in them. This also was fulfilled at Pentecost. Peter, Stephen, etc. were full of the Holy Spirit: cf. Ac 4:31.

After this another call was made to Israel to receive Jesus as the Christ. They had killed the Prince of life, but God had raised Him from the dead, and now in mercy and on the ground of their ignorance one more appeal was made to them to repent and be converted that their sins might be blotted out, and that God might send again Jesus Christ who was then in heaven. The rulers however were grieved that they preached by Jesus the resurrection from among the dead, and commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Stephen, being accused before the Sanhedrim, rehearsed the history of Israel from the beginning, and charged them with resisting the Holy Spirit, as their fathers had done. The indictment of Israel as man in the flesh, and the exposure of his enmity to God led to the final sin of rejecting the glorified Christ, expressed by the stoning of Stephen who calling upon the Lord not to lay the sin to their charge, exemplified the life of Christ in his body.

This ends the first phase of the acts of the Holy Spirit, and clears the way for the going out of the gospel and the revelation of the truth of the church. The persecution that followed led to the spread of the gospel. Philip preached Christ to the Samaritans and many believed. Peter went from Jerusalem, laid his hands upon them and they received the Holy Spirit. Peter was then used at Caesarea in opening the door to the Gentiles (answering to his having the keys of the kingdom committed to him, Mt 16:19), and they also received the Holy Spirit.

In the meantime Saul had been converted, and immediately preached that Jesus was the Son of God. The churches had rest, and walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied. Ac 9:31. Herod Agrippa however soon began to persecute the church; he killed James the brother of John, and put Peter into prison, who was however miraculously delivered. Herod died a miserable death; and the word of God grew and multiplied. Acts 12. This ends the phase of the church's history in connection with the remnant of Israel.

Antioch, instead of Jerusalem, now became a centre of evangelisation, independent of apostolic authority, yet without breaking the unity of the Spirit by forming a separate church. Barnabas and Saul are separated to the work by the Holy Spirit, and with John Mark take a missionary journey.

Certain persons from Judaea insisting at Antioch that the Gentile converts must be circumcised or they could not be saved, the question was referred to the church at Jerusalem. In their decision they could say, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves ye shall do well. Fare ye well." Ac 15:28-29.

Paul with Silas took a second missionary journey, extending to Europe and returned to Antioch. Ac 18:22. From thence Paul went a third journey. (For the particulars of these journeys and from whence Paul wrote some of his epistles, see the article PAUL.) It may be noted that while at Ephesus, because of the opposition of the Jews in the synagogues, Paul separated the disciples and they met in a building distinct from the synagogue, commencing a further development of the church's history. Ac 19:9.

At the close of the third missionary journey Paul, led by deep spiritual affection for his nation, but forbidden by the Spirit in whose energy the ministry entrusted to him had hitherto been carried out, went up to Jerusalem, where he was arrested. The rest of the book details his trials and danger from the Jews; his journey to Rome, where he calls together the chief of the Jews, to whom he preaches Jesus. We read no more of any of his labours, and the Acts leaves him a prisoner.

The book embraces a period of about thirty years: the mystery of the church, and the gospel of the glory committed to Paul, as well as the state of the assemblies must be gathered from the Epistles. During the above period Paul wrote the two epistles to the Thessalonians, the two to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, Romans, Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Philippians.

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Acts of the Apostles,

the fifth book in the New testament and the second treatise by the author of the third Gospel, traditionally known as Luke. The book commences with an inscription to one Theophilus, who was probably a man of birth and station. The readers were evidently intended to be the members of the Christian Church, whether Jews or Gentiles; for its contents are such as are of the utmost consequence to the whole Church. They are the fulfillment of the promise of the Father by the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the results of that outpouring by the dispersion of the gospel among the Jews and Gentiles. Under these leading heads all the personal and subordinate details may be arranged. First St. Peter becomes the prime actor under God int he founding of the Church. He is the centre of the first group of sayings and doings. The opening of the door to Jews, ch. 2, and Gentiles, ch. 10, is his office, and by him, in good time, is accomplished. Then the preparation of Saul of Tarsus for the work to be done, the progress, in his hand, of that work, his journeyings, preachings and perils, his stripes and imprisonments, his testifying in Jerusalem and being brought to testify in Rome, --these are the subjects of the latter half of the book, of which the great central figure is the apostle Paul. The history given in the Acts occupies about 33 years, and the reigns of the Roman emperors Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. It seems most probable that the place of writing was Roma, and the time about two years from the date of St. Paul's arrival there, as related in

Ac 28:30

This would give us fro the publication about 63 A.D.


ACTS OF THE APOSTLES. This book, in the very beginning, professes itself to be a continuation of the Gospel of St. Luke; and its style bespeaks it to be written by the same person. The external evidence is also very satisfactory; for besides allusions in earlier authors, and particularly in Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr, the Acts of the Apostles are not only quoted by Irenaeus, as written by Luke the evangelist, but there are few things recorded in this book which are not mentioned by that ancient father. This strong testimony in favour of the genuineness of the Acts of the Apostles is supported by Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Jerome, Eusebius, Theodoret, and most of the later fathers. It may be added, that the name of St. Luke is prefixed to this book in several ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and also in the old Syriac version.

2. This is the only inspired work which gives us any historical account of the progress of Christianity after our Saviour's ascension. It comprehends a period of about thirty years, but it by no means contains a general history of the church during that time. The principal facts recorded in it are, the choice of Matthias to be an Apostle in the room of the traitor Judas; the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of pentecost; the preaching, miracles, and sufferings of the Apostles at Jerusalem; the death of Stephen, the first martyr; the persecution and dispersion of the Christians; the preaching of the Gospel in different parts of Palestine, especially in Samaria; the conversion of St. Paul; the call of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert; the persecution of the Christians by Herod Agrippa; the preaching of Paul and Barnabas to the Gentiles, by the express command of the Holy Ghost; the decree made at Jerusalem, declaring that circumcision, and a conformity to other Jewish rites and ceremonies, were not necessary in Gentile converts; and the latter part of the book is confined to the history of St. Paul, of whom St. Luke was the constant companion for several years.

3. As this account of St. Paul is not continued beyond his two years' imprisonment at Rome, it is probable that this book was written soon after his release, which happened in the year 63; we may therefore consider the Acts of the Apostles as written about the year 64.

4. The place of its publication is more doubtful. The probability appears to be in favour of Greece, though some contend for Alexandria in Egypt. This latter opinion rests upon the subscriptions at the end of some Greek manuscripts, and of the copies of the Syriac version; but the best critics think, that these subscriptions, which are also affixed to other books of the New Testament, deserve but little weight; and in this case they are not supported by any ancient authority.

5. It must have been of the utmost importance in the early times of the Gospel, and certainly not of less importance to every subsequent age, to have an authentic account of the promised descent of the Holy Ghost, and of the success which attended the first preachers of the Gospel both among the Jews and Gentiles. These great events completed the evidence of the divine mission of Christ, established the truth of the religion which he taught, and pointed out in the clearest manner the comprehensive nature of the redemption which he purchased by his death.

OEcumenius calls the Acts, the "Gospel of the Holy Ghost; and St. Chrysostom, the "Gospel of our Saviour's resurrection," or the Gospel of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. Here, in the lives and preaching of the Apostles, we have the most miraculous instances of the power of the Holy Ghost; and in the account of those who were the first believers, we have received the most excellent pattern of the true Christian life.