Keys to Understanding the Book of Acts

May 7, 2014


The Acts of the Apostles is easily one of the most exciting books in the New Testament. It is part two of the two volume set that started with the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel covered the life and ministry of Jesus. Acts covers the first thirty years of the Church. It traces the growth and spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome.

There are two primary ways to outline the Acts of the Apostles. Both of these outlines provide natural study guides to the book. The first way to outline Acts is found in Acts 1:8 where Jesus told His apostles, “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.”

This verse provides a natural outline to the book. The story opens in Jerusalem. Peter and the other apostles spread the message of Jesus throughout Jerusalem and Judea. Peter is seen performing many similar miracles that he saw Jesus perform, including raising a woman from the dead.

A man named Philip is then shown taking the Gospel into the region of Samaria. Acts records that Philip preached and performed miracles in Samaria and won over a large number of people. Acts 8:5-8 records, “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.”

A severe persecution forced many Christians to flee Jerusalem. As many of these went even farther away, the message of Christ began to take root in many other cities in the Roman Empire. The second half of Acts is devoted to the ministry of Paul. He was the first Christian to take the message, on a large scale, to non-Jews. He and his team travelled throughout the Roman Empire preaching the message of Christ in some of the largest cities.

The second way to outline The Acts of the Apostles focuses on the personalities that Luke wrote about. Most of the first half of Acts is interested in what Peter did. Few of the other apostles are mentioned. Peter’s ministry is followed very closely and Luke provides the reader with a number of stories about what he did.

The second half of Acts is only interested in Paul’s ministry. Luke provides three different accounts of Paul’s conversion. A number of years after his conversion, Barnabas brought Paul to the church in Antioch to serve as an assistant pastor. Barnabas and Paul spent a year together there before they decided to take the message of Christ further into the Roman Empire.

Paul’s missionary work is then divided into three trips that he took to plant churches. Each trip becomes successively longer and goes farther. Paul and his team spent time in some of the biggest cities in the Roman Empire. For example, they spent around two years in Corinth and over three years in Ephesus. Studying Paul’s missionary journeys are a great way to see how Christianity grew and spread in the First Century.

The book of Acts provides a fascinating window into the early Church. Luke shows how Christianity grew from a Jewish sect to a universal movement that was spreading throughout the Roman Empire. One of the other interesting things about Acts is the fact that Luke doesn’t just focus on the big picture. He provides a number of snapshots of the kinds of people that made up these Christian communities.

For further study, please check out my book, Peter and Paul in Acts: A Comparison of Their Ministries: A Study in New Testament Apostolic Ministry. This book provides an in-depth study in Acts. It gives a great study of the kinds of ministry that Peter and Paul were involved in.


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