Snapshots From Acts Number 1: Why Luke Wrote the Book of Acts
The Book of Acts-Twelve Snapshots: Why the Book of Acts?
In the 27 books of the New Testament, there is only one that can be classified purely as History. In Theological circles, it has often been referred to as “Salvation History”. It chronicles the history of the early church from the time of the resurrection of Jesus to the imprisonment of the Apostle Paul in Rome in about 60 AD. While the Gospels are certainly historical, their teachings and the selective information that each writer chooses to include makes them a somewhat unique type of literature. Going back to the Old Testament one of the types of literature that we find there is history, but not so in the New Testament, apart from Acts.
Reading any literature it is important to know what the writer is trying to achieve and it is no different in the Bible. Luke helps us here with a clearly stated aim in both his Gospel and in Acts (Luke 1:1-4 Acts 1:1-2). He writes to Theophilus to explain the truth about Jesus. One needs to ask the question, why does only Luke, of the four Gospel writers, choose to follow up his Gospel with a second volume? Perhaps the best answer can be given in the fact that “all scripture is God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16,) and so we can conclude that the Holy Spirit guided him in this task. At the same time as we read Luke’s “salvation history”, we cannot but help to see clearly that Luke was a writer of amazing talent and was also in the right place at the right time. The many “we” passages tell us that Luke was there when certain events happened and so one can almost see the man sitting down with his scroll and pen, recording the events that he not only heard about but also those he witnessed. Some argue that Luke wrote the Book of Acts while in Rome, not only as a defense of Christianity in general but also as a defense of the Apostle Paul as he appeared before Caesar.
At the same time, it must be realized that the Book of Acts only presents a very narrow view of the early church. It focuses on just a particular area of the world and the work of specific people. Because of this, we lack information about the spread of the Gospel to North Africa and elsewhere. Here we need to go to other writings of that time to find out about it. So a book like Williston Walker's "History of the Christian Church," is very useful. In it, he chronicles how the church spread out from Jerusalem in every direction.
Historians write their accounts from their own particular viewpoint and so two accounts of the same event can differ considerably when written by different people as can be seen in the Gospels and more so in other histories. One of the important characteristics of the Book of Acts is its accuracy. When facts have been questioned in times past further research has vindicated Luke as an accurate writer, never taking liberty with the truth. Apart from that, his descriptions of characters and places make them "come alive" in a way that gives us important insight into people and places that otherwise might have been lost. He describes the rich, the poor and the powerful in Acts. He takes us to great cities and into the rural countryside and introduces us to the battles that the first evangelists fought..
Luke, as a medical man, also shows compassion and insight into people and events in both his Gospel and the book of Acts. His interest in the women and in the emotions and health of people sets him apart from other writers in the Bible, and elsewhere in his time. The most important other historians of his time such are writers like Josephus and Tacitus, but of course other more modern writers have also researched and written about those times (Gibbons' "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" and Ramsay's " The Cities of St Paul" are examples).
As we stand back and take a broader view of the Book of Acts, we can divide it into five main sections: Introduction, Origin of the Church in Jerusalem, Time of transition, Expansion to the Gentiles and Paul’s missions. (Tenny pg. 230)
Both Luke and Mark refer to the Gospels as the things Jesus began to do. (Mark 16:20 Acts 1:1,2) The book of Acts gives us important information about how the instructions of Jesus were implemented in the time after His Ascension. How the early Church grew, spread, met with opposition and expanded into the world of that time. It follows the battle that Christianity had to become a universal church, to move from a Jewish organization to a place for all to find hope and direction. Thanks to Luke we can travel with Theophilus on that journey in order to fully understand what Jesus came to do and what he achieved.
Marshall, I.H. Acts
Tenny, M.C. New Testament Survey
Ramsay, WM.M. ST. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen.
Ramsay, WM. M. The Cities of ST Paul
N.I.V. Study Bible
© 2017 Johan Smulders