Acts is considered to be the second part of a two volume work. The first volume is the “Gospel of Luke”. Both works have the same addressee, Theophilos and a similar style and language. Acts was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, sometime in the last quarter of the first century. Irenaeus (d. ca. 200 CE) is the first author who uses Acts in his work.
Acts, is not like other New Testament writings, even though it follows well after the gospels. It also serves as an introduction to Paul’s letters.
Acts reads as if it is history, and in a sense it is. But it is a narrative with a variety of elements within it, biography, theology, sermons, apologetics. It was written to strengthen the faith of its readers (Luke 1:4). Acts, like the gospels, is a theological interpretation on historical events. The theological significance is more important than chronological accuracy or objectivity. About 20% to 30% of Acts is speeches which help to provide the reader with theological summaries and help us interpret the story.
The use of language and they literary style of “Acts” was usual for “literary circles” of the time. While “Acts” is definitely influenced by the Hebrew Bible, it also can be compared to the works of Greek writers of the time.
Acts, as a book can be read apart from Luke, but there are themes which are present in both works. The kingdom of God is frequently mentioned. The necessity of Jesus suffering and death and resurrection, and the prominent role of the Holy Spirit. There is a continuing concern for proper use of possessions and the behavior of disciples. People are healed, raised from the dead, and demons are exorcised in both books.
Acts can be read “geographically”, that is the spread of the gospel begins in Jerusalem (chp 1-7) then through Judea and Samaria (chp 8-12) and then to the rest of the world (chp 13-28). Or Acts can be read as two parts, chapter 1-12, of which Peter is the central figure and which recounts the church’s beginning and then chapters 13-28 where Paul is the main figure and the westward spread of the gospel, particularly to the gentiles, is told.
Robert W. Wall in his Acts commentary suggests a five point outline of the theological “master story” found in Luke’s telling of the Christian story.
1. God, the only God, has a plan of salvation disclosed in Israel’s Scriptures.
2. According to prophecy’s script, Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Messiah, the only Savior, who realized God’s redemptive purpose as attested by his prophetic ministry and resurrection.
3. All who earnestly repent and call upon the living Jesus will be saved, the Jew first and also the Gentile.
4. Those who repent and belong to the Lord Jesus Christ receive the Holy Spirit and are initiated into a community of goods.
5. The community’s resurrection hope during the last days is for the return of Jesus and the promised season of universal restoration he will fulfill.
An outline of Acts
I. 1:1-26 Between Easter and Pentecost
A. 1:1-8 Jesus Story Continued
B. 1:9-12 Ascension
C. 1:13-26 Replacing Judas
II. 2:1-8:3 Beginning of the Church and Spread of the Gospel in Jerusalem
A. 2:1-47 Inauguration of the Messianic community on Pentecost
1. 2:1-4 the Coming of the Spirit
2. 2:5-13 the Worldwide Audience
3. 2:14-36 Peter’s Sermon
4. 2:37-41 Response to Peter’s Sermon
5. 2:42-47 Profile of the Early Church
B. 3:1-4:31 Prophetic Witness in the Temple
1. 3:1-11 The Lame Man healed
2. 3:12-26 Peter’s Sermon in the Temple
3. 4:1-4 Peter and John Arrested
4. 4:5-22 Peter and John before the COuncil
5. 4:23-31 Praying Confidently
C. 4:32-5:11 Using Possessions
1. 4:32-37 Sharing Possessions: Barnabas
2. 5:1-11 Hording Possessions: Ananias and Sapphira
D. 5:12-42 Further Prophetic Witness in the Temple
1. 5:12-16 Apostolic signs and wonders
2. 5:17-26 Apostles arrested
3. 5:27-32 Apostles’ defense
4. 5:33-42 Apostles Vindicated: Gamaliel
E. 6:1-8:3 Prophetic Witness Extends Beyond the Apostles: Steven
1. 6:1-7 Choosing Seven Apostolic Assistants
2. 6:8-15 Stephen’s Arrest
3. 7:1-53 Stephen’s Sermon
4. 7:54-8:3 Stephen’s Death and its Impact
III. 8:4-12:25 The Gospel Spreads Outside Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and the Coastland
A. 8:4-40 Prophetic witness of Philip
1. 8:4-8 Philip preaches in Samaria
2. 8:9-13 Simon the Magician Converted
3. 8:14-25 Apostles Confirm the Samaritan Mission.
4. 8:26-40 Ethiopian Official Converted
B. 9:1-31 The Gospel Spreads to Damascus: Saul of Tarsus
1. 9:1-19a Saul’s call
2. 9:19b-31 Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem
C. 9:32-11:30 Prophetic Ministry of Peter in Judea and the Coastland: Apostolic witness to the Gentiles
1. 9:32-43 Peter’s Healing Aeneas and Raising Tabitha
2. 10:1-8 Cornelius’s Vision
3. 10:9-16 Peter’s Vision
4. 10:17-23a Peter Receives Cornelius’ Message
5. 10:23b-33 Peter and Cornelius Meet
6. 10:34-43 Peter’s Sermon
7. 10:44-48 Gentiles Accepted
8. 11:1-18 Peter Answers Jerusalem Critics
9. 11:19-30 Christianity at Antioch
D. 12:1-25 Gospel Resisted and Vindicated in Jerusalem
1. 12:1-5 Herod’s Resistance
2. 12:6-11 Vindication:Peter’s release
3. 12:12-19 Proof of Vindication
4. 12:20-25 Divine Reversal
IV 13:1-28:31 The Gospel Spreads Westward “To the Ends of the Earth”
A. 13:1-14:28 Beginning of the Pauline Mission: Preaching in Cyprus and Easter Asia
1. 13:1-3 Antioch: Commissioning Barnabas and Saul
2. 13:4-12 Cyprus
3. 13:13-52 Pisidian Antioch
4. 14:1-7 Iconium
5. 14:8-20 Lystra and Derbe
6. 14:21-28 Return to Syrian Antioch
B. 15:1-35 The Jerusalem Council Resolves the Status of Gentiles
1. 15:1-5 Convening the Council
2. 15:6-11 Peter’s Speech
3. 15:12-21 Jame’s Speech
4. 15:22-29 Letter of Accord
5. 15:30-35 Joy at Antioch
C. 15:36-21:14 Paul’s Mission in the Aegean
1. 15:36-41 Paul’s Split with Barnabas
2. 16:1-5 Strengthening Churches in Eastern Asia
3. 16:6-10 A New Mission Emerges
4. 16:11-40 Philipi
5. 17:1-15 Thessalonica and Beroea
6. 17:16-34 Athens
7. 18:1-17 Corinth
8. 18:18-23 Moving toward Ephesus
9. 18:24-19:41 The Pauline Mission in Ephesus
10. 20:1-38 Concluding the Aegean Mission
11. 21:1-14 Journey to Jerusalem
D. 21:15-23:30 Paul in Jerusalem
1. 21:15-26 Paul’s Arrival in Jerusalem
2. 21:27-40 Paul’s Arrest in Jerusalem
3. 22:1-21 Paul’s Defense Before the Temple Crowd
4. 22:22-29 Paul the Roman Citizen
5. 22:30-23:11 Paul before the Sanhedrin
6. 23:12-30 Plot Against Paul and His Planned Transfer to Caesarea
E. 23:31-26:32 Paul in Caesarea
1. 23:31-35 Paul’s Transfer to Caesarea
2. 24:1-27 Paul’s defense before Felix
3. 25:1-27 Paul Before Festus
4. 26:1-23 Paul’s Defense before Agrippa
5. 26:24-32 Paul Vindicated
F. 27:1-28:15 Paul’s Journey to Rome
1. 27:1-8 Getting under way
2. 27:9-12 Paul’s first Prophetic Word
3. 27:13-20 Getting Off course in the Storm
4. 27:21-26 Paul’s Second Speech
5. 27:27-32 Approaching Land
6. 27:33-36 Paul’s Third Speech
7. 27:39-44 Getting to Shore
8. 28:1-10 Paul at Malta
9. 28:11-15 Completing the Journey to Rome
G. 28:16-31 Paul in Rome
1. 28:16-22 Meeting with Jewish Leaders in Rome
2. 28:23-29 Preaching to Roman Jews
3. 28:30-31 Paul Vindicated.
Read More About It:
Holladay, Carl R. “Acts”, in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 9 “Luke-Acts”.
Johnson, Sherman E., Bruce M. Metzger, “Acts” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible,Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Wall, Robert W. “The Acts of the Apostles” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, Leander E. Keck,ed. (Nashville, Abingdon Press)2002.