Spring 2020 Acts Bible Study
March 2020: As the Covid-19 virus changes how we worship, it also changes how we meet together to study the Bible. Since we aren’t meeting physically for Bible studies at Cross of Christ or at people’s homes, we will be posting a Bible study on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. For the next few weeks, we will study the book of Acts in the New Testament. Please take time to read not just the study portion posted here, but read the Scripture that it is referring to as well. Acts is all about how the early church learned to live as followers of Jesus. We too, in this new time, must re-learn in some ways what it means to follow Jesus and be church together. The most recent study will be posted at the top; previous studies are below.
March 16, 2020 – A Brief Introduction to the Book of Acts
Before we dive into the twenty-eight chapters in Acts over the next few weeks, it’s good to look at an overview of the book, so we know where we are and have an idea of the overall scope.
Acts is a sequel to the Gospel according to Luke. The full name of the book is “The Acts of the Apostles”. It begins with the Ascension of Jesus from earth back to heaven, just as the Gospel of Luke ended with that event (see Luke 24:50—53).
In Acts we’ll hear about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, hear of the scattering of the apostles, and end with the imprisonment of the Apostle Paul in Rome. The book moves the story from the land of Israel to the lands surrounding it, and from only Jewish people to include Gentiles (non-Jews) as well.
Acts is a sort of bridge between the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the epistles (letters – the rest of the New Testament except Revelation). Acts is written as narrative, and yet theology is incredibly important throughout the book.
While Acts was written by Luke, he wasn’t an eyewitness to (at least most) these stories. He gathered stories from individuals and possibly from other writings that we do not have anymore (or, perhaps, that we haven’t discovered yet). There was a Luke who was a travelling companion on Paul – the name Luke shows up in other places in the New Testament, in Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24 (Philemon is just one chapter, so “24” denotes the verse number), and 2 Timothy 4:11. While it is difficult to be certain that this is the same “Luke”, it is generally believed that it is one and the same.
Acts begins between 30 and 33 A.D. with Jesus’ resurrection, near the town of Bethany outside of Jerusalem. It ends in 61 A.D. with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. In twenty-eight chapters, we journey at least twenty-eight years. There is little evidence to give exact years for each of the stories, especially in the early part of the book. Guesses are made, and these guesses are made easier the later we read in the book, when we hear stories of Paul’s missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean.
The people in these stories were on an uncharted journey. Jesus had come and lived on earth, ascended to heaven, and left them the task for figuring out how to be the body of Christ on earth. This was a time of struggle and trials, uncertainty as well as joy.
As in the Gospel according to Luke, in Acts we find that the author pairs stories of men and women. In Luke, we see the stories of Zechariah and Mary (Luke 1:5-23; 26-38), Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38), as well as others. This pairing shows up in Acts as well. This balancing of stories has received a great deal of attention – Luke was ahead of his time! some claim – it is difficult to fully extrapolate what Luke was intending, though. Though his pairing could signal seeing equality as important, women are not seen in key Jesus-follower roles of forgiving, healing, nor exorcising in the book of Acts, like men are. So, while Luke does lift of up women, he does continue many of the societal norms of the day that kept men above women.
Luke wrote Acts after he wrote the Gospel. Since the Gospel was probably written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (which took place in 70 A.D.), Acts was most likely written between 80-90 A.D.
The book of Acts was written within a very different culture and time than our modern-day experience. The Roman Empire was vast at this time, though not yet at its peak. It was nearly the size of the contiguous US: North Africa and Egypt, modern day Israel and Palestine, Syria, Turkey, and parts of Iraq, the modern-day Balkans, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal. The entire Mediterranean was surrounded by the Roman Empire. Trading routes all led back to Rome, and went as far away as India. The Romans first entered Britain in the 40s A.D.
Different towns had different cultures. The larger cities – Rome, Antioch (Syria), Alexandria (Egypt), Ephesus (Turkey), and Carthage (Tunisia) were metropolitan areas, with populations over 200,000 people, and with occupants from all over the Empire. Slavery was legal and widespread. The city of Rome itself was probably between 500,000 and 1 million people. We see some of the differences between the cities in the letters that are written to them. The people of Rome (Romans), Colossae (Colossians), Corinth (1 and 2 Corinthians), deal with different topics and issues, because the people of that city had different issues they were dealing with.
Acts may have been written to a specific person or group, or to a larger audience. It is difficult to tell, based on the opening, “In the first book, Theophilus…”. “Theophilus” means “God-lover” or “friend of God” – this could be one person, a group, or a larger audience of all who consider themselves followers of God. Whatever the case, the book was copied over and over, so that it came to be read throughout many churches and was considered part of the New Testament Canon early in Christian history.
- What stories do you know from the book of Acts?
- What do you know about the group called the Apostles?
- How do you see God working in the world today?
- Where do you hope to see the Holy Spirit?
- How do you describe your walk of faith with Jesus?
For earlier Bible studies in this series, click one of the links below:
Do you have questions or comments about this study? Please email Pastor Will