Acts of the Apostles 2017 Lesson 01


This talk is by Catherine Upchurch

Acts gives us a sense of the energy and vitality of the early church; how the early church presented the faith to others; the fears and problems of the early church; and a sense of the Mediterranean world at the time.

Key movers and shakers of the church

Our faith life often mirrors that of the story of Acts: HS as major actor then and now; can identify with one or more of the major or small players in the book (men and women)

The concern, as with the Gospel of Luke, is not primarily to give us an accurate chronology of what happened and when but more about providing his theological understanding of what was happening – using history to tell us

What does this tell me about the faith of the early church?  About the faith of the church in subsequent generations?

The events recorded in the Acts (what is included and what is not; their ordering, the tone etc.) are the result of Spirit-filled reflection, they are the writer’s understanding of how God was at work within them.  He relied on reports and the testimony of others as well as correspondence with some of the communities (Antioch, Caesarea, Jerusalem).  Travel diaries?

Three major themes:

  1. Journey – both the physical journeys of the apostles and the spiritual journeys of all
  2. The Holy Spirit as the guide and companion both then and for all time
  3. The local church community as the place of nourishment and courage

Gospel of Luke: Journey TO Jerusalem

Acts of the Apostles: Journey FROM Jerusalem to the known world (for them)


Luke 24:47  “Repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

They were equipped for the difficult physical journey as well as the spiritual one.

Chapters 1 to 7 – primarily in Jerusalem

Beginning with chapter 8 – dispersing, mostly because of persecution in Jerusalem.  Begin to encounter people from other cultural and religious traditions outside of Israel.  Paul and his companions dominate the later chapters.




Paul’s first journey.  Took 3 to 6 years.  Late 30’s.  Described in Acts Chapters 13 and 14.  Began in Antioch in Syria, to Cyprus, to Antioch in Pisidia and Iconium, to Lystra, Derbe, Perga, and then return to Antioch in Syria.








Paul’s second journey begins shortly after the Council in Jerusalem (Gentile issue).
Described in chapters 15 through 18.  Jerusalem to Antioch, Tarsus, 3 years into Asia Minor and into Europe (including Philippi, Appolonia, Beroea, Athens, Corinth); Back to Asia Minor (Ephesus) and home.









Paul’s third journey mid-50’s.  return to previously visited cities: Tarsus, Antioch in Pisidia, Ephesus, Philippi, Appolonia, Berea, Corinth and backtracking a lot – a return to Jerusalem.








Paul’s last journey (chapters 27, 28) Jerusalem to Rome as prisoner.





Journeys as metaphor and type in scripture:

  • Abraham sets out from Mesopotamia for the Promised Land,
  • Joseph into Egypt,
  • Israel out of Egypt,
  • Babylonian captivity and return,
  • Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.
  • Interior journey from sin, from family of origin, professional.  Some by choice, some not.


Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Complacency with tried and true in culture and religious life makes for passive disciples

Acts often called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit

HS Promised by Christ:

  • As a good gift of a loving Father (Luke 11:1)
  • As one who will speak through the disciples, especially when persecuted (Mark 13:11)
  • As flowing water for the thirsty (John 7:38-39)
  • As the Advocate who will stay with them always, and the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17
  • As the one who will teach them everything and remind them of all Jesus said (John 14:26)

HS as the companion for the physical journey of the early church as well as the interior journey of the church for all time

Faithful, encouraging, honest

Note the importance of the community in supporting and nourishing believers, unity

Not a perfect community however – conflict (Ananias and Sapphira, Greek widows, what to do with Gentiles etc.)

“… gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”  Eph. 1:22-23

“He gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to  equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  Eph. 4:11-12

“Living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ.”  Eph. 4:15

Through personal testimony and effective teaching the early church grew exponentially

In ancient prisons the basics of life (food, water, clothing etc.) were NOT provided by the prison, it was left to family and friends and community to do so.  (Many were kept under house arrest too)

Members were not “lone rangers” but operated under community and divine commission

“You were called for freedom, brothers (and sisters).  But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.”  Gal 5:13






The Acts of the Apostles, the second volume of Luke’s two-volume work, continues Luke’s presentation of biblical history, describing how the salvation promised to Israel in the Old Testament and accomplished by Jesus has now under the guidance of the Holy Spirit been extended to the Gentiles. This was accomplished through the divinely chosen representatives (Acts 10:41) whom Jesus prepared during his historical ministry (Acts 1:2122) and commissioned after his resurrection as witnesses to all that he taught (Acts 1:8; 10:3743; Lk 24:48). Luke’s preoccupation with the Christian community as the Spirit-guided bearer of the word of salvation rules out of his book detailed histories of the activity of most of the preachers. Only the main lines of the roles of Peter and Paul serve Luke’s interest.


Paul eventually joined the community at Antioch (Acts 11:2526), which subsequently commissioned him and Barnabas to undertake the spread of the gospel to Asia Minor. This missionary venture generally failed to win the Jews of the diaspora to the gospel but enjoyed success among the Gentiles (Acts 13:1414:27).

Paul’s refusal to impose the Mosaic law upon his Gentile converts provoked very strong objection among the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1), but both Peter and James supported his position (Acts 15:621).  Paul, like Peter, is presented as a miracle worker (Acts 14:818; 19:12; 20:712; 28:710) and the object of divine care (Acts 16:2531).

In Acts, Luke has provided a broad survey of the church’s development from the resurrection of Jesus to Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, the point at which the book ends. In telling this story, Luke describes the emergence of Christianity from its origins in Judaism to its position as a religion of worldwide status and appeal. Originally a Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem, the church was placed in circumstances impelling it to include within its membership people of other cultures: the Samaritans (Acts 8:425), at first an occasional Gentile (Acts 8:2630; 10:148), and finally the Gentiles on principle (Acts 11:2021).

Fear on the part of the Jewish people that Christianity, particularly as preached to the Gentiles, threatened their own cultural heritage caused them to be suspicious of Paul’s gospel (Acts 13:4245; 15:15; 28:1724). The inability of Christian missionaries to allay this apprehension inevitably created a situation in which the gospel was preached more and more to the Gentiles. Toward the end of Paul’s career, the Christian communities, with the exception of those in Palestine itself (Acts 9:31), were mainly of Gentile membership. In tracing the emergence of Christianity from Judaism, Luke is insistent upon the prominence of Israel in the divine plan of salvation (see note on Acts 1:26; see also Acts 2:56; 3:1315; 10:36; 13:1641; 24:1415) and that the extension of salvation to the Gentiles has been a part of the divine plan from the beginning (see Acts 15:1318; 26:2223).

In the development of the church from a Jewish Christian origin in Jerusalem, with its roots in Jewish religious tradition, to a series of Christian communities among the Gentiles of the Roman empire, Luke perceives the action of God in history laying open the heart of all humanity to the divine message of salvation. His approach to the history of the church is motivated by his theological interests. His history of the apostolic church is the story of a Spirit-guided community and a Spirit-guided spread of the Word of God (Acts 1:8). The travels of Peter and Paul are in reality the travels of the Word of God as it spreads from Jerusalem, the city of destiny for Jesus, to Rome, the capital of the civilized world of Luke’s day. Nonetheless, the historical data he utilizes are of value for the understanding of the church’s early life and development and as general background to the Pauline epistles. In the interpretation of Acts, care must be exercised to determine Luke’s theological aims and interests and to evaluate his historical data without either exaggerating their literal accuracy or underestimating their factual worth.

Finally, an apologetic concern is evident throughout Acts. By stressing the continuity between Judaism and Christianity (Acts 13:1641; 23:69; 24:1021; 26:223), Luke argues that Christianity is deserving of the same toleration accorded Judaism by Rome. Part of Paul’s defense before Roman authorities is to show that Christianity is not a disturber of the peace of the Roman Empire (Acts 24:5, 1213; 25:78). Moreover, when he stands before Roman authorities, he is declared innocent of any crime against the empire (Acts 18:1315; 23:29; 25:2527; 26:3132). Luke tells his story with the hope that Christianity will be treated as fairly.

The principal divisions of the Acts of the Apostles are the following:

  1. The Preparation for the Christian Mission (1:12:13)
  2. The Mission in Jerusalem (2:148:3)
  3. The Mission in Judea and Samaria (8:49:43)
  4. The Inauguration of the Gentile Mission (10:115:35)
  5. The Mission of Paul to the Ends of the Earth (15:3628:31)


Kurz -p. 15: “With most of the Fathers and Church tradition, it makes sense to accept the traditional and simplest interpretation – that the author, Luke, was present at some events in the latter half of Acts.  Although some scholars still treat the matter as historically insoluble, Joseph Fitzmyer has dealt with all the positions pro and con and has concluded that the most plausible historical explanation of the “we” passages, beginning with Acts 16:10, is that they are credible indications by the author of Acts that he actually was present on some of Paul’s travels.”

Kurz p. 17 summarizes: “The framework for Luke’s narrative is the biblical story of God’s saving actions for his people, which began in the Old Testament and came to climactic fulfillment in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  The Acts of the Apostles is a decisively new chapter in this story.  In Acts the messianic age has dawned, and God is present in the world in a new way through the activity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the Church.”

Kurz p. 18: Jesus’ followers are his witnesses, are filled with the HS as he was, empowered to speak and act in his name.



Comments are closed.