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By Richard N. Longenecker
ZondervanCopyright © 1996 Zondervan
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Chapter OneText and Exposition
Introduction: The Constitutive Events of the Christian Mission (1:1-2:41)
The structural parallelism between Luke's Gospel and his Acts is immediately seen in the comparative size of the two books and the time spans they cover. Each would have filled an almost equal-sized papyrus roll; each covers approximately thirty-three years-though, of course, the Gospel is somewhat longer and more controlled in focus by existing traditions within the church. The parallelism is also evident in the plan and purpose of the opening chapters of each book. Luke 1:5-2:52 (after the Prologue of 1:1-4) is essentially a preparation for 3:1-4:13, and together these two sections constitute material introductory to the narrative of Jesus' ministry that begins with the pericope of 4:14-30. So, too, Acts 1:6-26 (after its Preface of 1:1-5) serves to prepare for 2:1-41, and together these two chapters comprise an introduction to the ministry of the church that commences with the thesis paragraph 2:42-47 and continues by means of a series of illustrative vignettes beginning at 3:1.
A. A Resumptive Preface
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 0n one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
The Prologue to Luke-Acts is really Luke 1:1-4. Here, however, Luke begins his second book with what may be called a "resumptive preface" which serves to link the two books and anticipates the features he wants to stress as being constitutive for the Christian mission.
1 Luke calls his Gospel "my former book" (ton proton logon). The Greek article ton specifies an antecedent writing and the suffix of the verb translated "I wrote" (epoiesamin) calls for the possessive "my." Luke uses the word logos (usually translated "word" or "message" in the NT) in the technical sense of a section of a work that covers more than one papyrus roll. The occurrence of the adjective protos ("first"; NIV, "former") rather than its comparative proteros ("former") need not imply that Luke intended his Gospel to be the first in a series of three or more treatises, as Zahn and Ramsay have supposed. While the classical usage of proteros as "former" to be contrasted with "present" or "latter" is maintained by Josephus in the Preface to Book II of Contra Apion and also appears in the Pauline letters (cf. Gal 4:13; Eph 4:22; 1 Tim 1:13), Luke never uses proteros, which is rare in the nonliterary papyri of the day. Just as we today use "first" for "former" even when speaking about only two things, Luke should probably be understood as using protos as a comparative (cf. Acts 7:12) without any implication that his work was intended to go beyond the two volumes.
Luke says that the subject of his first volume is "all that Jesus began to do and teach" up to his ascension. Throughout his two volumes Luke uses the word "all" as a general expression that the context in each case must define. So we cannot assume he meant his Gospel to be any more exhaustive than Acts. In a number of places in the NT "many" (polloi) and "all" (pantes) are used interchangeably (e.g., Matt 20:28, Mark 10:45 [cf. 1 Tim 2:6]; Matt 12:15, Mark 3:10; Rom 5:12-21), with the context alone determining in each case the precise nuance. "To do" (poiein) and "to teach" (didaskein) describe the nature of the third Gospel, combining as it does Mark's stress on the activities of Jesus and the material from the "Sayings" source (Q) about what Jesus taught. "He began to" (erxato), while used as something of a redundant auxiliary elsewhere in Acts (cf. 2:4; 11:4, 15; 18:26; 24:2; 27:35), probably appears here for emphasis, much as it does in 11:15. As such it serves to stress Luke's intent to show in Acts what Jesus continued to do and to teach through his church, just as Luke had previously presented "all that Jesus began to do and to teach" in his Gospel.
Acts, like the Gospel, is addressed to Theophilus, who is called "most excellent Theophilus" (kratiste Theophile) in Luke 1:3. Kratistos appears in Acts in addressing the Roman governors Felix and Festus (cf. 23:26; 24:3; 26:25). This suggests that the word should be taken here as an honorific title for a highly placed Roman official. But it was often employed as a form of polite address, and that is probably how Luke used it of Theophilus. It is precarious to suppose (cf. Origen and others after him) that "Theophilus" (etymologically, "Friend of God" or "Loved by God") is a symbolic name for either an anonymous person or a class of people. The name occurs as a proper name at least three centuries before Luke, and the practice of dedicating books to distinguished persons was common in his day.
2 The Greek of v.2 is awkward, chiefly because of the unnatural separation of "he was taken up" (anelermphthe) at the end of the verse from "until the day" (achri hes hemeras) at its beginning and because it separates "[whom] he had chosen" (hous exelexato) from "the apostles" (tois apostolois). But the awkwardness was evidently intentional; through this awkward word order Luke highlights four important introductory matters in about the order in which he sets them out in his first two chapters and according to his priorities throughout Acts.
By the placing of the adverbial participle enteilamenos ("after giving instructions"), Luke gives first place to Jesus' mandate to witness. The instructions he has in mind are undoubtedly those already set out in Luke 24:48-49 as the climax of Jesus' earthly teaching: "You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." In slightly revised form, Luke quotes these instructions in Acts 1:4-5 and develops them in 1:6-8 as the theme of Acts. Apparently Luke also wanted to show through the word order of v.2 that Jesus' mandate to witness was given to the apostles, who acted through the power of the Holy Spirit, whose coming was a direct result of our Lord's ascension. Each of these four factors-the witness mandate, the apostles, the Holy Spirit, the ascended Lord-is a major emphasis that runs throughout Acts; each receives special attention in chapters 1 and 2.
3 Having stated the relation of his present book to its predecessor and shown his interest in the four factors named above, which comprise the constitutive elements of the Christian mission, Luke turns back to the time before the Ascension. He will recapitulate and expand upon certain features in Jesus' ministry crucial to the advance of the gospel as he will present it in Acts. In view of v.2, this is slightly redundant; but Luke wants to be very explicit. Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7, Luke's emphasis is on the living Christ, who "after his suffering ... showed himself ... alive" and demonstrated his resurrection by "many convincing proofs." "Many convincing proofs" doubtless looks back to such things as the events in Luke 24:13ff. "Over a period of forty days" implies that during that time the risen Lord showed himself at intervals, not continuously. When he did so, he "spoke about the kingdom of God."
The theme of "the kingdom of God" (he basileia tou theou) is a common one in the OT and NT. Primarily it refers to God's sovereign rule in human life and the affairs of history, and secondarily to the realm where that rule reigns. God's sovereignty is universal (cf. Ps 103:19). But it was specially manifested in the life of the nation Israel and among Jesus' disciples; it is expressed progressively in the church and through the lives of Christians; and it will be fully revealed throughout eternity. In the Gospels the kingdom is presented as having been inaugurated in time and space by Jesus' presence and ministry (cf. Mark 1:15, passim). ("The kingdom of heaven" is Matthew's reverential form of the same idea, adapted to Jewish sensibilities.) In Acts the phrase "the kingdom of God" usually appears as a convenient way of summarizing the early Christian proclamation (cf. 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). In this Jesus is explicitly identified as the subject (cf. 8:12; 28:23, 31).
We may infer that Jesus' teaching during the "forty days" dealt in essence with (1) the validation and nature of his messiahship, (2) the interpretation of the OT from the perspective of his resurrection, and (3) the responsibility of his disciples to bear witness to what had happened among them in fulfillment of Israel's hope. This is what Luke 24:25-27, 44-49 reveals as the content of Jesus' postresurrection teaching, and this is what Acts elaborates in what follows.
4 In vv.4-5 Luke parallels his emphasis on the living Christ by stressing the coming and baptism of the Holy Spirit as essential to the advance of the gospel. Luke gives us an individualized scene (so the inserted connective "on one occasion," NIV) of Jesus and his disciples eating together at the time when he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who had been promised by God the Father and spoken of by Jesus. The command not to leave Jerusalem is a repetition of the one in Luke 24:49, with Hierosolyma, the Hellenized name for Jerusalem, being used. This breaks the usual pattern in Acts where Ierousalem appears exclusively in chapters 1-7 and always on the lips of those whose native tongue was Aramaic. "The gift my Father promised" also repeats Luke 24:49 and is defined in v.5: "You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." It is a promise that Jesus had made on behalf of the Father; its tradition has been incorporated in John's Gospel (cf. John 14:16-21, 26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15).
5 The statement appears to come from Mark 1:8, with parallels in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16 (which add "and with fire"), where it is part of the message of John the Baptist. One might take v.5 as an explanatory comment on Luke's part, but its parallel in Acts 11:16, where it is given as the word of the Lord Jesus, suggests that here too it should be understood as being attributed to Jesus. It may be that the transferral of the logion ("saying") from the Baptist to the lips of Jesus occurred in the early church before Luke wrote Acts, though by the common attribution of the saying to the Baptist in the synoptic tradition (including Luke's Gospel) this seems doubtful. The ascription of the statement to Jesus is probably Luke's own doing. But this need not be considered strange, particularly for an author who can quote the same logion of Jesus in two such diverse forms and in two so closely connected passages as Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4.
B. The Mandate to Witness
6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Excerpted from Acts by Richard N. Longenecker Copyright © 1996 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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