4. Acts: Outline
Lecture: Acts: Outline
Let me give a brief outline of the Book of Acts. The outline is based on the theme verse of the Book of Acts. The theme verse of Acts is Acts 1:8. If you want to know what the Book of Acts is about, it is Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Now that is the theme of the Book of Acts. And the division of Acts is done by Luke in a way to show the fulfillment of that theme.
For instance in 1:1 to 6:7 you have the spread of the Gospel to Jerusalem. And that section ends this way: “And the Word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” And the theme: “…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem …,” and here: “…the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem.”
Now, the gospel spreads outside Jerusalem to Palestine. Jews hate the word Palestine, by the way, from this line because “Palestine” comes from the land of the “Philistines”. We call it “Palestine,” but it ultimately goes back to the name “Philistines”. But it’s so popular and so common, we use it. Now, the 2d section ends [at 9:31, with] “so the church throughout all Judea, and Galilee and Samaria [Palestine, in other words], had peace and was built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”
The next section, the church spreads through to Syria, and you have a brief statement in 12:24 “But the word of God grew and multiplied.” After Syria it goes to Asia Minor, and that section ends [16:5] “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.” Remember how we talked about the growth of the church? The church then goes to Europe, and that section ends in 19:20 “So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily,” and then the book ends with the church in Rome as follows (28:30), “And Paul lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and unhindered.” So now you have the gospel being spread even to Rome itself. Even Rome hears the good news.
One of the issues that is often debated is the speeches of the Book of Acts. How did Luke know what Peter preached at Pentecost? How does he know what Stephen said when he was martyred? How does he know what Paul says when he preaches at Mars Hill or the Areopagus? Critical scholars say that he just made up speeches, and they have nothing to do with history – they have to do rather with Luke telling his story, creating and putting on the lips of his authors what he wants them to say. Well, it has to be acknowledged that the style and the vocabulary and the theology of the speeches tend to be Lucan. In other words, when Paul preaches, the vocabulary that he uses is Luke’s vocabulary. And some again have suggested that Luke has created them out of nothing – that what we have here are just creative accounts.
Well, against this there are a number of arguments. One is that if you look at the speeches, they have a different content and vary in emphasis. For instance if you look at the speeches that are given to Jews in Chapters 3-13 (in the synagogue, at Pentecost, Paul’s defense in Jerusalem, and so forth), they’re quite different than the speech that’s given to Cornelius, who is a God-fearer (in other words, a Gentile attracted to Judaism); and this is different from the speech that Paul gives to Greeks in Athens. So it’s not just one common speech that’s found in all, Stephen’s speech is unique as well. So it’s not as if you have one brush that’s painting all the speeches. Either what you have here is Luke being aware of the content in general of both speeches, or you have something that’s hard to explain – why they are different. Maybe he’s just a great creative writer.
The only time the term “justification” in the way that Paul used it is found, is in a Pauline speech (not in a speech by Peter, or a speech by James in Acts 15, not by Stephen, but by Paul). In general, good historians sought to reproduce what they knew an author talked about. Thucydides, a historian in 460-400 BC, is often thought of as a good historian, and he says in his writing: “As for speeches made by various persons, it was difficult for me to remember exactly the words which I myself heard. As also for those who reported of other speeches to me. But I have recorded them in accordance with my opinion of what the various speakers would have had to say in view of the circumstances at the time, keeping as closely as possible to the general gist of what was really said.” In other words, good ancient historians tried as best as they knew how to keep in touch and close to what the actual writers said during this time. For instance, you say, “Are you saying that what Peter said in Acts is not exactly what he said?” Well, first of all you have to realize that Peter did not speak Greek at Pentecost – it was a translation. But I believe that, yes, it is in essence the kind of thing that Peter preached during that time. And I think that Luke is that kind of historian as well. Would it have been word-for-word exactly what they said? No more than any other translation would be. As a good historian I think the fact is that he is not just creating out of nothing these kinds of speeches.