Acts 1:1-5

A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

Denton, TX

January 15, 2009

ACTS STUDY – SESSION 1

(Introduction and Acts 1:1-5)

 

Importance

Acts is a book of beginnings.  Just as Genesis tells of the beginning of God’s physical creation, Acts tells of the beginning of God’s spiritual creation, the church.  It is a remarkable story of the power and sovereignty of God and of the value of genuine Christian fellowship.  In the book of Acts we meet a fellowship of Christians who had very little of what the world would consider necessary to start a great movement:  Money, influence, political power, popularity, etc.  But, they turned the world upside down!  As one writer put it:

[Acts] is a book about people who thrust their feet into sweat-stained sandals and marched out to conquer the world.  They had no visible swords, they had no visible shields, they had no visible commander; nonetheless, they marched with matchless unconcern into the gates of prison, through the valley of persecution, and even into the jaws of death. [Maude De Joseph West, quoted in The Book of Acts, the Smart Guide to the Bible series]

 

Tertullian was one of the early church fathers who lived in the 2nd and 3rd century A.D.  He is best known for coining the word “Trinity” (trinitas in Latin) to describe the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  He also made the famous statement about the blood of martyrs being the seed of the church.  Of the book of Acts, Tertullian wrote:

Those who do not accept this volume of Scripture can have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit, for they cannot know whether the Holy Spirit has yet been sent to the disciples; neither can they claim to be the Church, since they cannot prove when this body was established or where it was cradled. [Quoted in Acts: A Study Guide Commentary, Curtis Vaughn]

 

Dr. Curtis Vaughn was one of my favorite professors in seminary, and I will rely on his work heavily in this study.  He wrote:

Acts is the bridge which connects the gospels and the epistles, being the sequel of the former and providing the background for understanding the latter.  It is in fact our primary authority for the history of the establishment and growth of early Christianity. [ Acts: A Study Guide Commentary, Curtis Vaughn]

 

Acts is a key New Testament book.  Understanding it is a key to understanding the New Testament, the early church, and God’s plan for Christians today.

Title

The book titles in the Scripture were not part of the original text.  They were added later by the editors who grouped the various writings into the Bible we have today.  Some Bibles simply title this book “Acts” (ASV, NIV).  Many others refer to it as “Acts of the Apostles” (KJV, RSV, NEB, NASB).  Actually, Acts does not contain a detailed account of the work of any apostle except for Peter in the early part of the book and Paul in the later part of the book.  John, one of the key apostles, is only mentioned by name three times, and each time merely as a companion of Peter.  More space is given to Stephen and Philip, two so the seven men selected in Acts 6 to assist the apostles, than to any other apostle.  Some have suggested that the book should be called “Acts of the Holy Spirit.”  I think this is a good suggestion because the Holy plays such a prominent role in Acts.  There are more than fifty (50) references to the Holy Spirit by name in the book of Acts.  On the pages of this book reference is made to:

·         The Holy Spirit empowering and directing the work of the early Christians

·         The promise and gift of the Holy Spirit

·         Baptism in the Spirit

·         Fullness of the Spirit

·         Filling of the Spirit

·         Speaking by the Spirit

·         Comfort of the Spirit

All that says to me that “Acts of the Holy Spirit” is an appropriate title for the book.

 

Authorship

Like several other books in the New Testament, an author’s name does not appear in the text.  There is general agreement among Bible scholars that Luke wrote Acts.  As scholars try to determine the authorship of New Testament books, they focus on both external evidence (evidence outside the text) and internal evidence (evidence from within the text).  We will briefly review each area of evidence that points to Luke being the author of Acts.

 

 External evidence for Luke’s authorship:

·         The Muratorian Fragment, a piece of an ancient manuscript dating to the last half of the 2nd century A.D. credits Luke with writing both the third gospel and the book of Acts.

·         The early church fathers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian) were unanimous in saying that Luke was the author.

·         Eusebius (ca.263-339 A.D.) is known as the father of church history.  He wrote:

Luke, by race a native of Antioch and by profession a physician, having associated mainly with Paul and having companied with the rest of the apostles less closely, has left us examples of that healing of souls which he acquired from them in two inspired books, the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. [ Acts: A Study Guide Commentary, Curtis Vaughn]

 

Internal evidence for Luke’s authorship:

·         A careful comparison of the style and language of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts reveals that the two works were without question written by the same person.  To reject Luke as the author of Acts would require that he be rejected as the author of the third gospel as well.

·         There is a close similarity between many of the words used by the author of Acts and the medical vocabulary of the 1st century world.  The writer of Acts was familiar with the Greek medical vocabulary.  The tradition that Luke was a physician strongly argues for his authorship.

·         The “we” sections (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16) in the book of Acts indicate the author was a travelling companion of Paul.  Luke would certainly meet that requirement.

Actually, even though he penned nearly one-fourth of the New Testament, very little is known about Luke.  He is mentioned by name only three times in the New Testament.

·         Colossians 4:14 describes him as “…the beloved physician…”

·         2 Timothy 4:11 places him with Paul during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment

·         Philemon 24 describes him as one of Paul’s “…fellow workers…”

There has been much speculation about Luke’s background.  According to Eusebius and Jerome, two of the early church fathers, Luke was born in Antioch of Syria.  Some speculate that he may have been the brother of Titus and that he first met Paul when Paul was a student at Tarsus.  Others say he may have been a freed slave from the household of Theophilus who is mentioned by name in the prologues of both Luke and of Acts.   But all that is mere speculation and cannot be verified.  All that we can know for certain about Luke is that he was a physician, he was a Gentile, and he was a faithful companion to Paul.

 

Date

While it cannot be nailed down with absolute certainty, more than likely Acts was written sometime after 63 A.D. (the probable date of the last two verses of Acts) and before 65 A.D. when Nero began an intense persecution of Christians beginning in Rome and spreading throughout the empire.  It is obvious from the last verse of Acts that at that point in time the Neronian persecution had not yet begun.

 

Purpose

Several ideas have been proposed to explain why Luke wrote Acts.

·         Some say the Acts is just a logical progression from the Gospel of Luke.  The Gospel begins the story and Acts is a continuation of the story.

·         Some say Luke was writing with history in mind, wanting to document the beginnings of the church and its spread across the ancient world.

·         Some say the book is a legal brief to be used in Paul’s defense when his case would be heard by Caesar.

Obviously, Luke wrote at the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Probably, on a personal level,  Luke’s motive for writing was a mixture of all of the above suggestions.

 

Structure

Acts 1:8 (“…but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”) gives us the thesis sentence and the outline for the book of Acts.

·         Chapters 1-8 tell the story of the witness in Jerusalem and Judea

·         Chapters 9-11:18 tell the story of the witness in Samaria and the coastal regions

·         Chapters 11:19-28 tell the story of the witness to the remotest part of the earth

 

 

Acts 1:1-5 – The Preface

In ancient times writers tended to divide their literary works into volumes.  The initial volume in the series of works would begin with a preface that described the purpose and the method of research used by the writer.  Luke does this in the first four verses of the Gospel of Luke. (see Luke 1:1-4)  In succeeding volumes the author would include a preface that summarized the contents of the previous volume and served as a link to the current volume.  Luke does this in Acts 1:1-5.

 

A brief overview of the Gospel of Luke (1:1-2)

“…first account” – Obviously a reference to the Gospel of Luke.  “Account” is a logon, a form of the word logos.  Logos was the name usually given to a long composition.  Some say logon was used specifically to describe an historical narrative, which would certainly describe the Gospel of Luke.

“…Theophilus…” – A compound name meaning God (theos) lover (phileo). The Gospel of Luke is addressed to the same person.  Some view this name as a literary device and not a reference to specific person.  However, others (and I agree with this position) say Theophilus was a real person to whom Luke was writing but with the intent for others to see his work.  Several theories have been put forth concerning his identity:

·         A wealthy person to whom Luke was a personal physician.  Some have even suggested Luke was a slave of Theophilus who became seriously ill and who was nursed back to health by the physician.  In gratitude Theophilus gave Luke his freedom and in return Luke gave Theophilus the most precious give he had, the good news concerning Jesus.

·         A new Christian who needed to be instructed in the ways of Jesus.

·         Paul’s attorney needing information to present the apostle’s case before Caesar.  I do not think this is likely because Paul tended to speak for himself in such situations.

·         Some high Roman official who was genuinely interested in learning more about the Christian way.  Several things lend support to this view.  The Greek in the Gospel of Luke and Acts is of the caliber that would appeal to a well educated member of the Roman aristocracy.  Also, in the Gospel, Luke addresses Theophilus as “…most excellent.”  The root meaning of that phrase is strong or noble.  It is used only four times in the New Testament, once of Theophilus (Luke 1:3) and three times of high Roman officials (Felix in Acts 23:26 and 24:3 and Festus in Acts 26:25)

“…all that Jesus began to do and teach” – The clear implication is that the story continues.  It has not yet ended.  As it continues to unfold there will always be more to tell.  Luke is giving notice that the work of the Holy Spirit which he reports in the book of Acts is a continuation of the ministry of Jesus.

“...until the day He was taken up…” – A reference to the ascension of Jesus which is described in more detail in verse 9.  This event marks the end of the Gospel of Luke and the beginning of the book of Acts.

 

The period between the resurrection and the ascension (Acts 1:3-5) – After the ministry of Jesus climaxed in the cross event (crucifixion and resurrection) there were three things the disciples desperately needed.  They needed assurance that He was really alive.  They needed instruction on what to do next.  They need power to carry out His instructions.  In these verses Luke describes the activity of the resurrected Lord designed to meet these needs.

·         Assurance (1:3a) – “To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing over a period of forty days…”  There are a couple of interesting things about that statement.

o   “convincing proofs” is a translation of the Greek word tekmerios which means demonstrative evidence, evidence with is available to the senses.  This is the only place in the New Testament this word is used.  Luke is referring to the evidence of the resurrection the first disciples experienced with their own senses.  This is reminiscent of the statement John makes in 1 John 1:1 – “…what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled…”  Jesus convinced the disciples of His resurrection by appearing to them, eating with them, talking with them, allowing them to touch Him, etc.

o   “forty days” – He interacted with them over an extended period of time.  This is the only place in the New Testament where the length of time between the resurrection and the ascension is given.  It seems obvious to me that the forty day period has some religious significance.

§  The great flood in the days of Noah was for 40 days and nights

§  Moses was on Mount Sinai 40 days and nights receiving the law

§  The Israelites wondered in the wilderness for 40 years

§  Elijah was nourished by an angel during his 40 days of seclusion as he avoided the wrath of Jezebel

§  After His baptism, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting and praying

It is no accident that Jesus appeared to the disciples over a 40 day period.  That was a period of completeness deeply embedded in Jewish history.

·         Instruction (1:3b-4a) – “…and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.  And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem…”  The instruction Jesus gave the disciples during that forty day period was both generally and specific.

o   Generally, He reminded them of His teachings “concerning the kingdom of God.”  For three years He had been instructing them concerning the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.  He tried to impress upon them that the kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom or a political kingdom; it is the reign and the rule of God in the hearts of people.  The question they asked of Jesus in Acts 1:6 reveals the disciples still did not get it!  So, during this period Jesus kept teaching them about the nature of God’s kingdom.

o   Specifically, “…He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem…”  That was a difficult command for them to follow because their homes were fifty or so miles to the north in Galilee.  But in God’s plan Jerusalem was to be the center for the beginning of the church.

·         Power (1:4b-5) – “…but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,” He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” The power for living the life to which God calls us comes from God, Himself.  It is the gift of God’s Holy Spirit living within us that enables us to live for Him.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is described in three ways:

o   It is the promise of the Father, which was reiterated by Jesus in this verse and John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11.  The phrase “…what the Father had promised…” points back to Luke 24:49.

o   It is received in a baptism “…with (or in) the Holy Spirit…”  The image of baptism suggests an abundant supply.  His disciples will be immersed, dipped, plunged into the Spirit.  This is a prominent theme of Acts and we will explore it in detail in future studies.  1 Corinthians 12:13 seems to indicate that baptism in the Spirit is the normal state for Christians.  “For by (or in) one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

o   It is a promise on the verge of being fulfilled.  The phrase “…not many days from now…” indicates a soon fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit.

 

Practical Application from Acts 1:1-5

1.      We are to use our abilities in service to God, and the way we serve God is by serving people.

2.      Christian faith is not blind belief.  It is commitment based on evidence.  God has given us good reason to believe.

3.      We need constant instruction in the ways of God.  None of us ever graduates from the school of discipleship.