The title "Acts of the Apostles" (Greek Πράξεις ἀποστόλων Praxeis Apostolon) was not part of the original text. It was first used by Irenaeus late in the 2nd century. Some have suggested that the title "Acts" be interpreted as "The Acts of the Holy Spirit" or even "The Acts of Jesus," since 1:1 gives the impression that these acts were set forth as an account of what Jesus continued to do and teach, Jesus himself being the principal actor.
Main article: Source criticism
Acts 15:22–24 from the 7th-century Codex Laudianus in the Bodleian Library, written in parallel columns of Latin and Greek.
The author of the Acts probably relied upon oral tradition, as well as other sources, in constructing his account of the early church and Paul's ministry. Evidence for this is found in the prologue to the Gospel of Luke, wherein the author alludes to his sources by writing, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word." Some scholars theorize that the "we" passages in Acts are just such "handed down" quotations from some earlier source who accompanied Paul on his travels.
Historians believe that the author of Acts did not have access to a collection of Paul's letters. One piece of evidence suggesting this is that, although half of Acts centers on Paul, Acts never directly quotes from the Pauline epistles nor does it even mention Paul writing letters. Discrepancies between the Pauline epistles and Acts would further support the conclusion that the author of Acts did not have access to those epistles when composing Acts.
Other theories about Acts' sources are more controversial. Some historians believe that Acts borrows phraseology and plot elements from Euripides' play The Bacchae, and from Virgil's Aeneid. Some feel that the text of Acts shows evidence of having used the Jewish historian Josephus as a source (in which case it would have to have been written sometime after 94 AD). For example, R. I. Pervo dates Acts to the first quarter of the 2nd century.
THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
The purpose of Acts has been the subject of much scholarly research and debate. Assuming that Luke-Acts was originally a single work, it is important to note that the purpose of Acts is normally examined in conjunction with the Book of Luke. In Luke 1:3–4, the author states that he decided to “write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” Theophilus is Greek for lover of God and it is suggested that he may either be an individual who recently converted to the faith or a Roman official from whom the church is seeking acceptance. “Acts, then, is a continuation of the Lucan Gospel, not in the sense that it relates what Jesus continued to do, but how his followers carried out his commission under the guidance of his Spirit.” Thus, part of the answer to the purpose of Acts is that Luke is writing to Theophilus, who is also mentioned in Luke 1:3, in order to explain to him the occurrences that take place in the church that fulfill Jesus’ promise to his disciples that “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). Fitzmyer states that by looking at the prefaces of Luke and Acts together it can be seen “that Luke-Acts purports to be basically ‘a work of edification’.”
Though the preface initially states Luke’s intentions for writing, by closely examining the contents of the work as a whole, scholars have surmised that Luke’s purpose is much more complex. In fact, Fitzmyer believes that the preface of Luke should only be “the starting point in the discussion of the aim of Luke-Acts.” Because the author’s intended purpose for the Book of Acts is not that straightforward, scholars have put forth four main claims to address this. It has been argued that Luke may be writing: a letter of apology (traditionally a defense for one’s beliefs), a letter of legitimation for Christian beliefs, a letter to equip the church to function amidst the Roman Empire, or a letter that is apolitical. Of course, some scholars believe Luke’s work may be fulfilling more than one purpose and thus may side with more than one of the claims that are presented here.
This view claims that Luke was uninterested in the politics of the Roman Empire but rather his main focus is on the power of God and building up the Kingdom of God. Supporters of this view believe that the Roman Empire does not threaten the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ because Luke “simply recognizes its existence as a political reality, but he is clear that God is greater.”Throughout Acts, believers like Paul are being charged with spiritual crimes concerning “teaching against Israel, the law, and the temple”(Acts 21:21, 28; 23:29; 24:5; 25:8, 19; 28:17) or being a civil disturbance (Acts 16:20, 21:38, 25:8) rather than political charges. “Charges of sedition come from the Jews” (Acts 17:6–7; 24:5) which shows that Luke’s emphasis was not on the politics of the Empire but rather on the spiritual matters of believers. Furthermore, when on trial, the church responds to the authorities by professing the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:20, 28–29; 5:29–32). Franklin agrees that Luke’s work is apolitical and believes that Luke’s main concern was the “triumph of God in Paul’s arrival in Rome."(Acts 28:14–15) While Walton agrees that Luke’s main concern is apolitical, he believes that “there is too much politically sensitive material for this view to be tenable when Luke-Acts is read in its first-century settings, both Jewish and Greco-Roman.”
Acts of the Apostles
This study started with the Ascension and the election of St. Matthias to complete the number of twelve Apostles. The Church at this point did not really exist. There were approximately one hundred and twenty disciples lamenting the second time Jesus was taken from them. They huddled behind closed doors in fear of further persecution by the leaders of the temple.
We then recounted the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Ghost and the birth of the Church. Immediately we see a change in all the Apostles. Peter started healing and preaching in the temple. We see them start to share their resources and they began to lead a communal life. The Apostles were imprisoned and rescued by an Angel. When they returned to the temple they were warned to quit preaching in the Name of Jesus. When they refused, the leaders of the temple plotted to kill the Apostles but were restrained by Gamaliel who said, "If they are of God we could not stop them. If they are not of God, their efforts will come to naught."
We saw the beginning of the spread of Christianity and the creation of the Order of Deacons. Stephen’s martyrdom was recounted and Philip’s mission to Samaria was described. It was interesting to note that the Apostles came to review Philip’s work and to perform the confirmations. We heard of Saul’s approval of the stoning of Stephen and his intent to persecute the Christians at Damascus. We read of Peter’s missionary efforts around Jerusalem, Samaria and Damascus. He was the first to contend with the Apostles about whether circumcision was required of the Gentiles before they could be admitted to Christianity.
The description of St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was repeated several times throughout this book as Paul explained why he was so dedicated to preaching Christ crucified throughout the world. Initially the Apostles at Jerusalem were not willing to meet with Paul because of his reputation. Paul was forced to return to Tarsus where Barnabus found him and brought him back to the church at Antioch. Only at the insistence of Barnabus was he allowed to meet the Apostles and tell his story. Barnabus and Paul were selected to deliver relief to those suffering the famine in Palestine.
Herod killed James and when he saw it pleased the leaders of the temple, he put Peter in prison with the intent of killing him as soon as the feast of Unleavened Bread was past. Peter was rescued by an Angel and departed from Jerusalem for some time. Barnabus and Paul were sent from the Church in Antioch to spread the word to Cyprus and their efforts were directed to the Jews who understood the prophecies of the Old Testament. At this point, Barnabus was the primary spokesman with Paul as an assistant.
When Paul and Barnabus moved on to Pamphylia, Pisidia and Lycaonia, Paul began taking a more assertive role. They always started preaching in the temple and among the Jews but the number of converts were minimal. For the most part, the Jews not only rejected their message but refused to allow them to speak at all. Thus the mission to the Gentiles became the most productive field. Gradually the resistance of the Jews to Paul’s message grew into full persecution. They followed them from town to town to drive them out repeatedly. Paul was actually stoned in Lystra but survived and they moved on to Derbe.
When Paul and Barnabus returned to Antioch, they were opposed by the Jews who favored circumcision for all Christians. They came from Jerusalem to Antioch just to oppose Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. They really wanted to keep Christianity as a subset or sect of Judaism. Paul and Barnabas were compelled to go to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles and Elders to decide the controversy. Peter pointed out that the Gentiles he converted received the Holy Spirit just as did the Jews. James announced the decision of the Apostles as a compromise. The Gentiles would not have to be circumcised, but they must abstain from pollutions of idols, from fornication and from things strangled and from blood.
When Paul and Barnabus returned from Jerusalem, James sent others with them to verify and recount the decision of the Apostles. Paul then decided to check on the people he converted in Asia while Barnabus checked on the people in Cyprus. When he reached the west coast of Asia, he was advised in a vision to cross over to Macedonia where churches were established in Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, Athens and Corinth.
After a return to Caesarea and Antioch, Paul again returned to the churches in Asia and then on to Macedonia. His last return to Jerusalem was fraught with danger because of the Jews who wished to kill him and take the relief money he was bringing to Jerusalem. Upon arriving in Rome, Paul agreed to sponsor two men in a purification ritual to show his continued respect for the Pharisaic traditions. Paul was falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple. He was arrested by the Roman authorities to avoid a riot. Once it was known that he was a Roman citizen, the authorities inherited the problem of satisfying the Jews claims against Paul while protecting the rights of a free Roman citizen. He was detained two years under the procurator Felix until Felix was removed from his position. Faustus replaced Felix and at Paul’s request granted his Roman privilege to be tried before Caesar. His appeal to Rome allowed him to escape the influence of the Jerusalem Jews who at this point no longer cared about circumcision or ceremonial law. At this point, they simply wanted to avoid his ability to affect their leadership of the temple.
The last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles does not tell us Paul’s fate. It implies that he was acquitted by the lack of any witnesses to oppose him. He taught there for two years. Luke was not interested in providing a biography for Paul. His only interest was the growth of the Church. Many people have examined all of Paul’s Epistles to glean further information on his activities and fate after reaching Rome. They are not conclusive. For example, many scholars believe that Luke would have made a big issue of Paul’s acquittal as a confirmation of God’s Will for his church. We do not know with any degree of certainty about the outcome of his trial in Rome.
Paul was born at Tarsus in Celicia. His father was a Roman citizen. The piety of the Pharisees was hereditary and he zealously followed their traditions and observances. He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin and was given the name Saul at his circumcision in memory of the first king of the Jews. He also carried the Roman name Paul. He learned how to make tents, or at least the mohair of which the tents were made. He was sent to Jerusalem to receive his education at the school of Gamaliel. His sister’s son saved his life from a planned attack by the leaders of the temple.
Paul’s last years are wrapped in obscurity. The account in Acts was not complete. Tradition is uncertain. His other Epistles give clues but are not definitive. He promised in Philemon to return after his captivity. He promised the Philippians that he will send them a messenger as soon as he learns the result of his trial. This indicates he was planning another journey before he returned to the East. Romans indicated a desire on his part to visit Spain.
There are compelling but incomplete arguments to support many theories, but they remain largely speculation. However, tradition and legend agree on one thing. They say that both Peter and Paul perished at the hands of the heathen, and that the Jews played no direct part in their fate. They did not die as renegade Jews. They died as Christian disturbers of the Roman peace.
Eusebius writes that Nero, as part of the general persecution of Christians, accused Peter and Paul of setting Rome on fire. The story relates that they were both executed around 64 or 65 AD. Peter was crucified upside down according to Caius. Paul, being a Roman citizen could not be crucified. He was beheaded as was more fitting for a noble citizen. According to Eusebius, the burial of both is reputed to be Via Ostiensis about two miles from Rome.
According to the most common opinion, Paul and Peter died on the same day near the end of the reign of Nero. Their saints’ days were originally both on June 29th but the five mile distance between the two basilicas was too exhausting for a double ceremony in a single day. Thus St. Paul’s celebration was moved to June 30th but we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul instead.
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