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.
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: Once again, into the synagogue and once again notice the presence of gentiles there. And that both Jews and gentiles oppose Paul and Barnabas.
5. 14:8-20 Lystra and Derbe: Verses 8-10 this story is reminiscent of Peter’s actions in 3:1-8. What is gained by comparing these two healing stories? Verse 17, Is then, the logical deduction from this statement that natural disasters are God’s judgment? What Biblical texts sway you, one way or the other?
6. 14:21-28 Return to Syrian Antioch” Paul and Barnabas return to the cities they have previously visited to “strengthen” and “encourage”. This includes Lystra where Paul was stoned. Sometimes we think of Paul as a lone traveling evangelist, but Acts tells us differently. Paul worked with others and kept in contact with the congregations he knew. Does Paul’s example have implications for missions work? For relationships between congregations? Within denominations?
B. 15:1-35 The Jerusalem Council Resolves the Status of Gentiles: Sometimes Christians long for the “good old days” of the Acts church. But it appears that the church has always had, shall we say, vigorous debate about matters of faith and faithfulness.
1. 15:1-5 Convening the Council: Recall that for Jews, circumcision is an act of publicly identifying oneself as Jewish, a member of the covenant. “Christians” are still part of Judaism. This is an intra faith, not inter faith, debate. This is not exactly the same issue that was discussed at the first Council, but it is related.
2. 15:6-11 Peter’s Speech: Peter recounts his experiences (11:4-7).
3. 15:12-21 Jame’s Speech: Barnabas and Paul also speak. Then James speaks and doesn’t explicitly address the issue of circumcision. Some commentators believe that the concern is that people with a pagan background will, if exempted from Jewish religious requirements, retain pagan religious practices which will defile believing Jews in the same congregations. James requirements for gentile believers comes from Leviticus 17-18. How should Christians who come from different backgrounds and have different ideas about appropriate behavior “get along”?
4. 15:22-29 Letter of Accord: Notice the “credentials” of those accompanying the letter. “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” What do you think about this phrase? Is it authoritative? Equivocal? Humble?
5. 15:30-35 Joy at Antioch: Notice they don’t just deliver the letter and leave.
C. 15:36-21:14 Paul’s Mission in the Aegean
1. 15:36-41 Paul’s Split with Barnabas: More disagreement in the early church, not about beliefs but actions. Recall the Barnabas was the one who supported Paul after his conversion, when others did not trust him. Can you think of another follower of Jesus who “deserted” and then returned?
2. 16:1-5 Strengthening Churches in Eastern Asia: Timothy is introduced. Wall says “Timothy is the personification of the diversity found in the Christian synagogues of the diaspora and embodies Paul’s solution to the theological crisis James addresses at the Jerusalem Council (see 15:19-21;28-29). He is an uncircumcised believer, the “son of a Jewish woman, who was a believer” and a Greek father (v.1).” Timothy symbolizes ” The ambivalence among repentant Jews of the diaspora…” (Wall, 226) Scholars think Timothy’s Jewish identity had been neglected coming from a mixed home and neighborhood. Paul circumcises Timothy to restore Timothy’s Jewish identity and to maintain good relationships between Jews and Gentiles in the churches Paul founded. Paul and James are concerned to maintain the Jewish heritage of Christianity.
3. 16:6-10 A New Mission Emerges: Again the Holy Spirit is active and directs the early church. Notice the use of “we”. This is the first of four “we” passages. Scholars are uncertain what this use of “we” means. It may means that the author of Acts actually joined Paul at these points in the story and so writes from a first person perspective. It may also mean that the author traveled extensively with Paul and occasionally adds authority to his narrative by using “we”. It could be that these sections are taken directly from someone’s travel diary and placed, loosely edited, into the text. Or it could just be a stylistic “device” which does not add to our historical understanding of the text.
4. 16:11-40 Philippi: Paul wastes no time getting to Philippi. Notice the more prominate Roman/pagan presence, there is a smaller Jewish population in Macedonia than previous places we have “been” in Acts. Paul has to leave the city to worship and he does not end up in a synagogue but in a place of prayer with God fearing Gentiles, and women Gentiles at that! “Lydia” is a Roman name. Purple cloth was used by the rich and the royal. Lydia, most likely, was socially prominent.
Verses 16-18. “Most High God’ was a phrase that was also used of Zeus. In a sense this scene is a confrontation between the God of Israel and Zeus ( or any pagan god) via their ‘slaves’. Verses 23-27 We’re expecting the Spirit to deliver Paul and Silas based on earlier stories in Acts, but this time something different happens. First a God-fearer woman is saved and now a pagan man, and both their households. Verse 37 we discover that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens. Why do you think Paul waits until now to tell the authorities?
5. 17:1-15 Thessalonica and Beroea: Notice that Paul, again, goes to a synagogue. “Argued” means not really argumentative but the careful scholarly preparation of a persuasive case. The Jews who are opposed to Paul’s message use the civil authorities and a secular legal approach to the “problem” of Paul. Verse 7, to say “Jesus is Lord” is to say Caesar is not.
6. 17:16-34 Athens:Here Paul gives his only speech to non- believers. Athens was considered a place of learning and high culture. Paul again goes to the synagogue but also the to marketplace. The marketplace was where Socrates would engage citizens in philosophical debates. Paul, like Socrates was also accused of “advocating foreign gods”. Paul is depicted here as a Socrates- like philosopher. The word used for debates in verse 18 means a collegial discussion rather than hostile debate. You can read more about Epicurianism and Stoicism with these links. Three claims were needed to establish a new religion in Athens, the person speaking must represent the deity, they must prove the deity wants to live in Athens and the deity’s presence in Athens must be of benefit to Athenians. Does Paul address these criteria? How does his Judaism shape his presentation to pagans? How does the fact that his audience is pagan shape his presentation? Notice again both men and women respond. Remember that naming women in this way was unusual. Why do you think Luke is so careful to always note the conversion of women as well as of men?
7. 18:1-17 Corinth: Again, Paul is at the synagogue. Again a vision and direction from the Spirit. Historians think that the expulsion of the Jews occurred in 49 CE, so Aquila and Priscilla may have arrived in Corinth around 50 CE. Historians think that the Jews who were expelled from Rome ( not all the 40,000 Jews in Rome were expelled) included believers. So there may well have been a preexisting community in Corinth. Verse 4-5 Paul was evidently not “bi-vocational” for very long. Here again in verses 6-8 we see the authors concern to point out the importance of believers maintaining a Jewish heritage. While Paul and his congregation move out of the synagogue, the Jewish heritage is maintained by the conversion of Crispus and his household. Notice how long Paul stays in Corinth. Notice also that for the Roman official Gallio this is an intra – Jewish argument, not Rome’s concern.
8. 18:18-23 Moving toward Ephesus: Paul on the move. Notice, again, Paul does not travel and work alone and he still attends the synagogue. Verse 18 Paul remains a pious Jew as evidenced by his vow and ritual haircut.
9. 18:24-19:41 The Pauline Mission in Ephesus: The story of Apollos. We don’t know exactly what was lacking in Apollos knowledge and experience, some think (because of the reference to John’s baptism) that it was an inadequate knowledge/experience of the Holy Spirit. Does this passage have something to tell us about how leaders in the church should interact?
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.