3. Acts: Purposes

Course: New Testament Survey - Acts to Revelation

Lecture: Acts: Purposes


Let’s go on and talk about the purposes of the Book of Acts. The prologue in Luke says that he writes this material to Theophilus so that he may know the truth of the things that he has been taught or informed of. That is also true of the Book of Acts. Luke gives his personal credentials as a historian in Luke 1:3-4, stating that he has looked at all these things carefully for some time past, from the very beginning, writing an orderly account, that he may know the certainty of the things he’s been taught. He’s claiming to be an accurate historian, and he ties his accounts to various historical events. In Chapter 2 of the Book of Luke, look at the opening verses: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment when Quirinius was governor or Syria, and all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.” In Chapter 3 of Luke, he again ties events with what was going on in history: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, being governor of Judea, and Herod, being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Itrurea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” He doesn’t put dates down as we would tend to as calendar dates as “X BC”, or something like that, but he gives all the people who were then ruling to try to zero in on that time.

When we get to the Book of Acts, we have similar kinds of things -- Acts 5:36, “For before these days Theudas arose, giving himself up to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He also perished.” He’s talking about events that would be of interest to him as a historian, and to his readers. 11:27-28, “Now in those days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit ….” We have prophets being named: 18:1-2, “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, lately come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius [the Emperor of Rome] had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” Now that statement is supported by the work of Suetonius, a Roman historian, who, when he writes of the life of Claudius, writes specifically (and we can date it to AD 49), that in AD 49 Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome because of a riot that had been caused there. And we have Luke saying the same thing in his account, not to support Suetonius’s work (which is later), but just to give a historical feel of events – things going on. He refers to events as being well-known; he’s not writing of things that are unimportant. In Acts 26:26, when Paul gives his defense, “For the King knows these things, and to him I speak freely. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice.” This was not done in a corner – these are not secret things that I’m writing about; these things are well-known.

He refers to events having come from various eye witnesses. Luke 1:2 is perhaps the best [example] of this. But in the Book of Acts, the importance of eye witnesses and eye witness testimony is very important. Acts 1:21-22, with Judas having betrayed the Lord, that meant the symbolism of the number 11 was broken, and so the church decides: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us –one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” We need to replace Judas with an eye witness. And this would be someone who’s been with us since the time of John the Baptist all the way through the resurrection. This must be a witness. 2:32, “This Jesus God raised up, [Peter preaches], and we all are witnesses of these things.” 5:32, “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” 10:39-41, with the emphasis of the eye witness testimony of this material: “And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” 13:30-31 (the last oneI’ll refer to): “God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.” So there are eye witnesses that support the testimony of what is being said in the Book of Acts.

Another proof that Luke gives to support his material are the proofs from the fulfillment of prophecy. There are some 17 Old Testament quotations that are found in the Book of Acts. And in addition, six references to the Old Testament allusions. What is being done, what is being accomplished, this is true because the Old Testament affirms what has happened.

Another proof of the truthfulness of his accounts is the proof from miracles. The miracles that take place are often given. I’ll give references here to look up on your own: Acts 2:22, 2:43, 3:12-16, 4:30, 5:12.

And there’s another proof of the truthfulness of what’s being recorded here that Luke alludes to, and that is the growth of the church. There’s a key verse here in Acts 5:35-39. There’s about to be a persecution of the church when a man by the name of Gamaliel stands up, and this is his speech, and Luke records this for a purpose: “ Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.” In other words, there are people who have been rising up causing problems like these Christians, and so forth, but it all comes to naught. “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” If this is not of God it will fall apart. But now the Book of Acts talks about the church growing all the time. In light of the statement “If it is not of God is will come to naught”, the Book of Acts says that the Christian movement grows and grows. Let’s look at a couple of verses: 2:41, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” 2:47, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” 4:4, “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” 6:7, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” 9:31, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” 11:21, 11:24, 14:1, 14:21, 16:5, 19:20. So the growth of the church, Luke sees as proof to Theophilus of the truth of the Christian movement.

Another purpose of the Book of Acts is to assure the readers that the Roman government is not a threat, and also to assure Rome that Christianity is not a threat. Luke emphasizes time and time again that Roman officials always find Christians innocent. I will not read them but I’ll give you the references. Jesus’ innocence is declared by Pontius Pilate (“I find no fault in this man”) in Luke 23:4, 14, and 22. So that Jesus may have been crucified, but Pontius Pilate’s testimony was such that he found no fault in him.

Paul’s innocence is declared by the magistrates in 16:35 and following. He may be getting in trouble, but the trouble is not because of Rome; it’s because of people in the city; many times it’s Jewish rivals who cause the problems. In Corinth, he’s brought before the Roman proconsul in Acts 18:12-17, and the proconsul declares him innocent – he finds no fault in him. In Acts 19:37-40, when the town clerk declares the Christians innocent, there’s no problem that he sees with them. The Tribune finds them innocent, (Acts 23:29 “I see no fault in this man”). The Roman governor finds him innocent in 25:25, and a king finds Paul innocent, 26:31-32.

So Luke is trying to demonstrate (and I think he does rather well) the innocence of Christianity from all such complaints of problems; whatever problems happened were due to other evil people. It was nothing to do with Christians in this regard.