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"Acts" is the second installment of Luke's two-volume account of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus (volume 1) and the story of the beginning of the early church (volume 2). It is an account of God's plan of salvation consummated in Jesus Christ and going out to all peoples-both geographically (from Jerusalem to Samaria, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy) and ethnically (not only to Jews, but now embracing Gentiles of every nationality). The book of Acts reflects the continuation of Jesus' ministry after his death and exaltation (Acts 1:1).
Acts is not a comprehensive history of the church, but rather a focused history centering on the beginnings and early development of the church in Jerusalem, the ministry of the apostle Peter (and to some degree, John), and a rather extensive account of the way God used the apostle Paul to take the gospel to Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. A complete history of the church would have told us about the ministries of the other apostles, the development of the church in Galilee, the story of the spread of Christianity to Egypt, the origins of the church in Rome, and a variety of other topics.
Luke's primary burden is to give testimony to the fact that God's salvation has arrived in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. This salvationis the fulfillment of Israel's hope and is now being sent to Gentiles and to people throughout the entire world.
Although Luke never names himself as the author of Acts, ancient historians are unanimous in their assertion that Luke was the author of Acts and the third Gospel. The earliest evidence comes from a late second-century papyrus (P75) that has the phrase "the gospel according to Luke" at the end of the scroll. The church father Irenaeus gives fairly extensive testimony about Luke:
Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.... But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself.
After summarizing the passages in Acts where Luke includes himself in the story (the so-called "we" sections), Irenaeus adds these remarks: "As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness."
Another important ancient source, a second-century prologue to the Gospel of Luke, gives additional historical information: "Luke was a Syrian of Antioch, by profession a physician, the disciple of the apostles, and later a follower of Paul until his martyrdom. He served the Lord without distraction, without a wife, and without children. He died at the age of eighty-four in Boeotia [a region in central Greece], full of the Holy Spirit." Eusebius and Jerome contain similar historical traditions about Luke.
* Acts IMPORTANT FACTS:
AUTHOR: Luke. He was a coworker of the apostle Paul, who ministered with him in Troas and Philippi, accompanied him with the collection to Jerusalem, and was with him during his Caesarean and Roman imprisonments. He was a physician who may have come from Syria.
PART TWO OF A TWO-VOLUME WORK: Luke's Gospel is the first half of a single two-volume work ("Luke-Acts"), sharing purpose, themes, and theology with the book of Acts.
CENTRAL THEME OF LUKE-ACTS: Luke seeks to show that God's great plan of salvation has come to fulfillment in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Messiah, and continues to unfold as the Spirit-filled church takes the message of salvation from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
OTHER KEY THEMES:
1. Promise-Fulfillment: The age of salvation has arrived in Jesus the Messiah.
2. The Age of the Spirit: The sign of the new age is the coming of the Spirit in the ministry of Jesus and the early church.
3. The gospel is "good news" for all people, regardless of race, gender, or social status.
PURPOSE IN WRITING: To defend and legitimize the claims of the church as the authentic people of God in the present age. To help believers grow in their faith and to inspire their evangelistic zeal.
RECIPIENT: Theophilus, but intended for a larger Christian audience.
Excerpted from Acts Copyright © 2002 by Clinton E. Arnold. Excerpted by permission.
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