THE BOOK OF THE
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
O U T L I N E
Luke. Lucas or Luke, called "the beloved physician" (Col. 4:14), was the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. It is believed that Luke was a Gentile, as we gather from Col. 4:11 and the verses that follow. If that is the case, Luke was the only New Testament writer that was a Gentile. He was a faithful companion of the apostle Paul (Philemon 24) beginning from Troas where Luke uses the first person plural "we" (Acts 16:10). Luke followed Paul all the way to Rome, and remained with him to the end (2 Tim. 4:11). Luke also wrote the gospel that bears his name. His gospel and the book of Acts display the grace of God especially toward the Gentiles, although the order of "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" is carefully maintained. We know that Luke's profession was used by God to attend the needs of the Apostle Paul and his companions, and no doubt gave Luke personal access into places like the Roman palace at the end of Paul's life. It is interesting that we can see the impression of the human instrument God used to write Luke and Acts. Although both were inspired, we can see the attention to detail that is so characteristic of doctors. Luke notices that the fever of Peter's mother-in-law was "bad" (Luke 4:38), that the leper was "full of leprosy" (Luke 5:12), that the withered hand was that man's "right hand" (Luke 6:5), that the Good Samaritan used medical techniques when he "bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine" (Luke 10:33, 34), that the woman with the issue of blood "had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any" (Luke 8:43, 44), as well as other instances in Acts, such was when the father of Publius "lay ill of fever and dysentery" (Acts 28:8, 9).
Theophilus. Both the gospel of Luke and Acts are addressed to the same individual, “Theophilus”, which is Greek for ‘friend of god’ or perhaps ‘friend of the gods’. No doubt he was given that name as a baby by pagan parents, who wished the friendship of the whole pantheon of Greco-Roman deities upon their son. But the one true God had His eye on Theophilus for blessing, and through time he would come to be a friend of God! Theophilus was most likely a Roman governor or someone of importance in Roman society, the expression “most excellent” being a parallel to “your excellency”, the same title Paul used in addressing Felix (Acts 23:26; 24:3) and Festus (Acts 26:25). He was a believer but needed more teaching about “the way”, and some additional assurances about the things he had been taught and believed. It is interesting that the prefix “Most Excellent” is dropped in Acts. We are not told why, but perhaps as Theophilus was growing in his soul and the earlier formality between himself and Luke was no longer appropriate. Also, it is possible that Theophilus lost his position because of his faith. God was rewarding the faith of Theophilus (Luke 8:18), and helping him to know with certainty the things he had already believed by faith.
Overview. The book of Acts is the natural sequel to Luke. The gospel ends with the ascension of the Lord Jesus, and Acts begins with the same event. The book of Acts gives us the history of the early church from its beginning to the imprisonment of Paul, a span of about thirty years. The traditional name of the book is “The Acts of the Apostles”, and that is fairly accurate. Some have suggested “The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles”, as it would change the focus from the human instruments to the Divine Person that is seen acting through the members on earth. Another suggestion, in connection with Acts 1:1-2, is “What Jesus began both to do and teach after the day he was taken up”. If there are two apostles that are primarily in focus, it is Peter and Paul. Peter is prominent in the first twelve chapters, and Paul is prominent in the last sixteen. The city in view in the first half is Jerusalem, and in the second half is Antioch. Really the book follows the formation of the Church, the transition of the believers’ hopes and character from Judaism to Christianity, then its trials and triumphs along the way as the gospel went out to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
A pattern of Christianity. In the epistles we get the principles of Christianity, but in the book of Acts we have a pattern of Christianity, and a pattern given at the very beginning of the Church’s testimony. Today we live in the last days of Christianity on the earth when much failure has come in, but the pattern laid down at the beginning still stands. God’s wisdom is shown by giving us a pattern from the beginning, because things are presented to us in their purest form. Would you rather have the original blueprints to build a house, or a copy of a copy of a copy?