In the opening statement, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up” (Acts 1:1-2), Luke makes obvious reference to the Gospel that he had already written. Now he proceeds to write about the things that Jesus continues to do. The Holy Spirit was given to the church, and in His strength the apostles went forth to teach and preach. The exalted Christ continues His work in the gathering of the church. In a few short years the Gospel spread from Antioch to Asia Minor to Achaia to Macedonia to Rome. Many of the Jews continued to reject Him, yet the door was opened to the Gentiles. Only one thing explains this great wonder: Jesus, Who began His ministry as a babe in Bethlehem, climbed the hill of Calvary, arose from the dead, ascended into heaven, now gathers His church by His Word and Spirit. We see the evidence of this in the Book of Acts.
AUTHOR AND DATE
The opening verses quoted above indicate that Luke had written the Gospel prior to writing this book. Looking back at the first four verses of the Gospel, we notice that there too he mentions Theophilus and expresses, “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed” (Acts 1:4). Luke became the historian, both of the life and ministry of Jesus while He was on earth and of the gathering of the church in the early years. The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are companion volumes, both written by Luke, the beloved physician.
In connection with our article on the Gospel of Luke, we made reference to the fact that Luke also wrote Acts. We summarize the proof as follows:
1. The style of writing in both the Gospel and Acts is similar. Luke was well educated and his Greek vocabulary and sentence structure indicate this.
2. Luke was a traveling companion of Paul and was therefore an eyewitness to much of what he wrote in this book. He does not refer to himself by name, a practice which was common with the authors of the Bible. He does use the pronoun “we” in certain sections: Acts 16:10-17; Acts 20:6-16; Acts 27:27-28. He traveled from Troas to Philippi and remained there for some time. On the third journey he rejoined Paul and accompanied him to Jerusalem. Also he was with Paul on the journey to Rome and during his first and second imprisonment (Col. 4:14; Philemon 24; II Tim. 4:11).
3. He is referred to as “the beloved physician” in Col. 4:14. We do not know much about his labor as a medical man. The Gospel account makes special reference to events that had medical significance, e.g.,Luke 4:35; Luke 4:38; Luke 5:18; Luke 6:6; Luke 8:43;Luke 8:55; Luke 9:38;Luke 18:25; Luke 22:50. The same could apply to the reference in Acts 28:1-6 when the viper bit Paul and had no fatal results. A doctor would appreciate the reaction of the barbarians to the non-effect of venom.
4. The early church fathers attributed Acts to Luke. From the very beginning it was commonly accepted that Luke had written this history.
This is not to say that there was no subsequent controversy over the authorship of this book. Around the year A.D. 144 one named Marcion insisted that there was only one Gospel, his version of Luke, and that there was only one true apostle, Paul, and that only his nine epistles to the churches and the one to Philemon were authentic. The early church combated this error and thereby had opportunity to assert the complete canon of Scripture including Acts. Luke’s account of the history of the gathering of the church was especially crucial in this debate.
More modern critics have tried to discredit Luke’s authorship of Acts. They suggest for example that if Luke wrote Acts and he was Paul’s companion in travel, why is there so little mention in the book of Acts of Paul’s great suffering which he refers to in II Cor. 11:23-27. Also, if we read the epistles of Paul to the churches, we learn of much spiritual controversy and weakness in the churches which do not appear in Acts. An example of this is the council meeting held in Jerusalem regarding circumcision of the newly-converted Gentiles. From Acts it appears that this council settled the matter; from Paul’s letters to the churches we see that the problems continued to plague the churches. Does this discredit Luke’s authorship? The answer must be, no! Paul wrote from a different point of view. He became the pastor of the churches and deals with many things in a pastoral way. Thus his reference to his personal persecution was not to make more of it than others, it was to discredit his accusers in Corinth who claimed that he, Paul, was not an apostle and that he was preaching for personal gain. On the other hand, Luke wrote Acts from the point of view of history and a record of events that demonstrated the success of the gospel.
In trying to affix a date for the writing of Acts, we must consider the following:
1. There is no indication of the destruction of Jerusalem which took place in A.D. 70. It would seem strange, to say the least, that Luke would write a historical account of the advance of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome and not make some reference to Rome’s sacking Jerusalem if that had actually occurred.
2. Also, there is no mention of Nero’s terrible persecution of the Christians. As we learn from history, Rome was burned about A.D. 64, and Nero blamed the Christians for it. This led to one of the worst periods of persecution, and that persecution had a tremendous impact upon Christians everywhere. Yet, we do not read of this in Acts. Rather we get the impression that the gospel was well received wherever the apostles went.
3. Another consideration is that there is no mention of the death of Paul. This we know took place during the time of Nero. Acts closes with Paul’s imprisonment. If he had in fact been executed, would not Luke have closed his account of Paul’s missionary labors with such a reference?
These facts lead us to consider the year A.D. 63 as the approximate time of the writing of Acts. , During those years, there would also have been need for such a history that Luke wrote. We will examine this in connection with the purpose of Luke’s writing it.
PURPOSE OF WRITING
We must remind ourselves that the purpose of writing this book did not simply rest in the heart of Luke. Rather the Holy Spirit over-ruled all of Luke’s thoughts and provided the church with this book. God had need for this book and He moved Luke to see that need as well.
In this connection we point out three things.
First, the book of Acts serves as a bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles. It would seem that originally the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles circulated as a two-volume set. Both were written at about the same time, the early to middle 60’s. We can just imagine how the historical account was useful to the early church. In time, however, Luke was joined to the other gospel accounts (Mark and Matthew) and later John was added. Next to the Gospel accounts, the church had Paul’s letters. These dealt with specific needs in specific churches, but they were, however, edifying for all the churches. Without the book of Acts, we can see there would be a vacuum, a lack, especially since it is a book that demonstrated the establishment of the churches and the continuity that existed between them. To meet this need the Holy Spirit led Luke to write Acts.
Secondly, Luke had a continuing concern for his friend Theophilus. As we pointed out in connection with the Gospel of Luke, the name means “lover of God” or “loved by God.” More than likely he was converted by Luke’s preaching. There must have been more to this man than his being a personal friend of Luke. Since he is addressed as “most excellent” (Luke 2:3), he seems to be a Greek that lived in Rome, perhaps one with some position of authority, and therefore in a key position to influence the gospel for good. We can only imagine that the Holy Spirit used Luke to direct the evidence of the Gospel and the spread of Christianity to convince this man that Jesus is indeed the Christ, Savior and Lord. By such evidence the door would in turn be opened to the entire world.
Finally, the contents of the book of Acts indicate that Luke also had a purpose in defending the faith of Christianity over against any Roman charge that Christians were guilty of sedition or insurrection against world government.
Let’s try to place this book in its historical perspective. During the writing of it, Paul was in prison. The movement of history was leading the world against Christianity. Nero was on the horizon. The world-wide curiosity about Christianity centered in this question: Do Christians stir up trouble, do they fulfill their obligations as citizens, are they trouble-makers? The Jews were constantly stirring up the people, trying to establish this case against Christianity. Consider how they did this before Pilate, and in the uprisings in Jerusalem, Iconium, Derbe, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and even Rome. As trouble arose, the Jews tried to blame the Christians and cast them in an evil light.
Luke sought to disprove this in the Acts of the Apostles. He set forth the fact that the Jews were the trouble-makers, not the Christians. Christ Himself was not guilty of insurrection. He taught the people to render to Caesar the things of Caesar. He paid his taxes. Even Pilate had to testify, “I find no fault in this man.”
The same was true of His followers. Peter and Paul did not set the people against the government. They preached Christ Jesus, the Living Lord, Who required obedience to government. Christians are not instructed to rise up against the government, not even repressive governments like Rome. Rather, they are to be obedient for Christ’s sake.
Luke sets forth in Acts the evidence that even Jewish and Gentile officials in government believed in Christ and found no incompatibility in doing so. In Cyprus the proconsul believed (Acts 13:7-12); in Philippi the chief magistrate apologized to Paul and Silas for illegal beatings (Acts 16:37); in Corinth Gallio declared that the disagreement with the Jews was religious not civil (Acts 18:12); at Ephesus, the leading citizen declared Paul was not guilty of public sacrilege (Acts 19:31-35); in Palestine Felix and Festus found Paul innocent, and even the Jew Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice agreed that nothing was done amiss (Acts 24:1-26, 32). At Rome Paul was allowed to carry on his missionary activity (Acts 28:30ff.).
Let the whole world behold that Christ is Lord and that His Lordship does not make a Christian violate his earthly citizenship.