You will find an introduction and outline of Acts, here.
Here is a prayer from the Book of Common Worship to use with your reading.
O Lord our God, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, that we may be obedient to your will and live always for your glory; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
II. 2:1-8:3 Beginning of the Church and Spread of the Gospel in Jerusalem
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: Notice that in Acts, speeches or actions will often be interrupted. Watch how Luke uses these interruptions to tell the story.
Scholars don’t know much about the Sadducees but believe they were devout laity who were wealthy and closely allied with political and financial powers. Luke presents them as representing those who were responsible for Israel’s reluctance to accept the message of the early church.
Notice, even though the powerful people oppose the apostles, the people are receptive to their message.
4. 4:5-22 Peter and John before the Council: the Greek word translated as “healed” is sozo, which also means “saved”. Notice that the council doesn’t deny that the healing occurred or that Peter and John speak with amazing boldness, they are concerned about their affect on the people.
5. 4:23-31 Praying Confidently
C. 4:32-5:11 Using Possessions
1. 4:32-37 Sharing Possessions: Barnabas: Luke gives his second example of what the church should be like. In Greek literature, close friendship was often described as being of “one heart and soul”.
2. 5:1-11 Hording Possessions: Ananias and Sapphira: Looking at both stories of giving, is giving voluntary or obligatory? Notice that Ananias is filled by Satan rather than the Holy Spirit. This story is part of a larger struggle. In verse 4, Peter answers the question about giving. The problem was not what Ananias gave but his deception.
D. 5:12-42 Further Prophetic Witness in the Temple
1. 5:12-16 Apostolic signs and wonders: a summary of the the Twelve’s authority and power.
2. 5:17-26 Apostles arrested: This is the first of several appearances of the “angel of the Lord”. What does the appearance of angels tell us about God’s plans? Verse 26 the reference to stoning suggests that the people’s support of the apostles was religious. Notice the fear of the authorities
3. 5:27-32 Apostles’ defense: notice how this is similar to the story in 4:5-31. Notice how Peter preaches the gospel to the council. Do you think the council’s problem with the apostles is primarily theological or political?
4. 5:33-42 Apostles Vindicated: Gamaliel: Gamaliel appears to support the apostle’s claim that they must obey God and keeps the council from killing the apostles.
Notice that what Jesus predicted for his followers is happening.
E. 6:1-8:3 Prophetic Witness Extends Beyond the Apostles: Steven
1. 6:1-7 Choosing Seven Apostolic Assistants: Another interlude describing life in the early church. We don’t know what the problem between the “Hellenists” and the “Hebrews” and their widows actually was. Luke is more concerned to tell us about the practical aspects of the early church there. It may be a language problem, Greek v. Hebrew, which causes difficulties. Or it may be a cultural problem between diaspora Jews ( speaking Greek) who have relocated to Jerusalem and Jews from Jerusalem (speaking Hebrew).Notice how the early church solves this problem. What do the apostles do? How might the selection of these 7 inform current church practices? What does this say about the sharing of “power” and “authority”?
2. 6:8-15 Stephen’s Arrest: Notice how Stephen’s story is similar to previous stories about Peter. The Synagogue of the Freedmen” was “a religious movement within diaspora Judaism, which included vast regions of the Roman Empire, including Asia and Africa….A few of these “freedmen” became Roman citizens with influence in the political arena related to Judaism. Apparently a substantial number had settled in Jerusalem out of a sense of religious devotion and had founded a local chapter, or “synagogue”, of the religious movement.” (Wall, 121).
verse 11, “blasphemy against Moses” was not illegal. What was really at stake? Notice how Stephen’s trial is similar to Jesus’ trial.
verse 15 is this another transfiguration? Like Moses face as he descends from Mt. Sinai?
3. 7:1-53 Stephen’s Sermon: Stephen’s sermon is like a midrash, he retells Israel’s story through selected Biblical stories. Wall offers four points to help us understand Stephen’s sermon.
1 God is the principle subject of Israel’s story, and God’s provident care throughout Israel’s history is its main predicate.
2 God grants wisdom, special insight, and “signs and wonders” to those chosen and called by God to lead the repentant Israel.
3 Unrepentant Israel is a “stiff necked people”
4 The Lord God’s activity on behalf of Israel is not bounded by a particular place of worship or time of salvation.
Stephen tells Israel’s story by looking at three figures, Abraham (v2-8), Joseph (v9-16) and Moses (v9-16). Then Stephen shifts to discussing the Temple where he makes the case than not man made place can house God. God is at work in through the Messiah and his followers even though they are rejected by unrepentant Israel.
4. 7:54-8:3 Stephen’s Death and its Impact: With Stephen’s death, Acts shifts from Jerusalem looks toward Rome. Notice how Stephen’s death echoes Jesus’ death. He prays “receive my spirit” (see Luke 23:46) and “Do not hold this sin against them” (see Luke 23:34).
Saul is now introduced into the story.
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 : Philip’s story serves as a transition between the stories of Stephen and Paul. Philip moves the story out of Jerusalem and into Samaria
1. 8:4-8 Philip preaches in Samaria Samaritans and Jews did not get along. The Samaritans worshiped in a different location and were considered impure by some Jews.
2. 8:9-13 Simon the Magician Converted The good news overcomes popular religion.
3. 8:14-25 Apostles Confirm the Samaritan Mission. The visit of John and Peter validate Philip’s work. Simon had not really understood Philip’s preaching. What didn’t Simon understand? The authority of the Apostles is re affirmed.
4. 8:26-40 Ethiopian Official Converted: Notice how the Holy Spirit is at work in this story. Contrast this story with the previous one. This “outsider” is seeking to understand and wants to follow the true God of Israel. Even though eunuchs were not allowed to worship in the Temple, this man still traveled all the way to Jerusalem. Isaiah has hopeful references to Ethiopia, and the hope that eunuchs and foreigners will be included. ( see esp Isa 56:3-8) This story reminds the reader of stories about Elijah with its references to chariots, and God’s spokesperson being carried away.
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.