Acts, Dr. Craig Keener
The book of Acts portrays, in a narrative way, the life of the early church. The theme of the book is, "the mission of the early church." It tells how Jesus continued to carry out the mission that he started as recorded in the book of Luke, by working through the people of the early church. Dr. Keeener discusses the growth of the church from its Jewish roots through reaching the ends of the earth to fulfill the Great Commission.
One way to describe Acts is, "Luke: Part 2." It's likely from both internal and external evidence that Luke was the author. It was probably written in the 70's or 80's of the first century as a historical monograph with a biographic focus.
Genre and Historiography of the book of Acts
Acts is not a novel because it doesn't fit the style that novels of that time period were written in. It has elements of both common folk literature and elite literature. One motive that Luke had in writing Acts is as an apologetic to support a Jewish perspective. Acts is an apologetic, ethnographic history in a monograph form.
Luke's Historiography in the book of Acts
Luke describes his sources for Luke and Acts in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1. People in Luke's culture primarily relied on oral tradition to preserve and pass down accurate accounts of historical events. Students were responsible for preserving the thoughts of their teachers. Mnemonic skills were widely practiced and highly valued. Jesus probably spoke mostly in Aramaic but his sayings were likely translated early into Greek. Luke was probably able to interview eyewitnesses during his travels with Paul. He also used documents that were already written and stories that were widely known. Archaeology confirms Luke's geographical and historical references.
By historical standards, Luke is a good historian. The literary construction of Acts is parallel to the literary construction of Luke. Themes in Acts are the idea of hinder/hindered, respect for Judaism, prayer, signs, and wonders, the Spirit, evangelism, the marginalized and cross-cultural communication. Relationship to Judaism is important. Dr. Keener also discusses the credibility of miracles.
Miracles and Evangelism in Acts
Dr. Keener relates accounts of recent healings and has a philosophical discussion of miracles citing Hume and Bultmann. Recent statistics show that a large number of people became believers in Jesus as a result of experiencing or seeing a miracle. Many of these miracles took place in groundbreaking areas similar to the situations that are in the book of Acts. Miraculous signs were important in the minstries of both Jesus and Paul. The unity of how Luke-Acts fits together by giving examples of parallel literary constructions. People who are gifted in evangelism are not necessarily good at church planting.
Evangelism and Introduction to Acts
The Gospel message is consistent in the book of Acts. The message is contextualized for different groups of people and explained to them in ways that were relevant to their own settings. The believers had relational networks and shared the Gospel as they travelled. Instances of miraculous healings recorded in Acts had an impact on people believing in Jesus. A common way in Acts for getting attention to the Gospel was signs and wonders. How we live is also a matter of evangelism. There are examples in Acts of the Spirit leading people to specific people and places to share the Gospel. There are various logistics used by people in Acts to share the Gospel. The leadership model in the book of Acts included indigenous people being partners in leadership. Much of Luke chapter 24 is recapitulated in Acts chapter 1. One of the first stories in the book of Acts was replacing an apostate apostle.
Acts Chapters 1 and 2
A theme of Acts chapters 1 and 2 is power for witness. A key verse is Acts 1:8. The world should be able to look at the Church and see a glimpse of the future age. The same power that was given to OT prophets is given to us to spread the Gospel. Prayer before the outpouring of the Spirit is a common theme in Luke and Acts and is important for us to remember today. We need the Spirit for conversion and for empowerment. Peter preaches a sermon. The community of believers changed the way they lived because of their faith.
Acts Chapters 3-5
Acts chapter 3 begins with healing someone physically in Jesus name, which leads to a preaching opportunity. The message of the Gospel goes out to all people, including the Gentiles, but the Jews are not forgotten. The Sadducees saw the message of the apostles as a threat to their political power. The apostles surprised them by responding to them boldly. The story of Annanias and Sapphira. Examples of signs and wonders associated with Peter.
Acts Chapter 5 - 6:7
When God did signs and wonders through the apostles and people became followers of Jesus, the political and religious authorities felt threatened and began to threaten and persecute them. One of the Pharisees convinced the others to not kill the apostles. Because many of the believers in Jerusalem were sharing their resources, the apostles appointed 7 people to help make the distribution of food equitable. One of the 7 was Stephen.
Acts 6:8 - 8:4
Stephen was performing signs and wonders and presenting the Gospel in a way that people could not refute, because of the power of the Spirit. Some Jews instigated false witnesses to accuse him of blasphemy. He preached a sermon ending with saying that the Jews betrayed the Law God gave them by killing the prophets and Jesus. This made people in the crowd angry and they stoned him. Saul supported the stoning and also persecuted other followers of Jesus.
Acts Chapter 8
Philip is the first person recorded in Acts to preach the Gospel outside of Jerusalem in Samaria. Simon the magician becomes a follower of Jesus. Peter and John pray for the Samaritans to receive the Spirit. Philip preaches the Gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, and the Ethiopian becomes a follower of Jesus.
Acts 9:1 - 10:1
As Saul is taking followers of Jesus captive, Jesus takes Paul captive. If God can use Saul, he can use anyone. Saul preaches in Damascus and escapes the Jews that wanted to kill him by being lowered from a window on the city wall. A call gives you direction but may it may take time and preparation to be ready. Peter raises Tabitha from the dead. Saul's conversion and the conversion of Cornelius are both narratives that are recorded three times in Acts.
Acts Chapters 10 and 11
Cornelius was a centurion and a God-fearer, and had a vision which led him to become a follower of Jesus. Peter has a vision which prepared him to go to the home of Cornelius and explain the Gospel to him. The Spirit fell on them and they were baptized. Believers in Jesus established a community in Antioch, which was a cosmopolitan center and one of the largest cities in the Roman empire. Barnabas and Paul became a team.
Acts Chapters 12 and 13
Acts chapter 12 is the last focus on Peter and Jerusalem church in Acts. Herod had James killed to please the Jews and then arrested Peter. God miraculously rescued Peter from prison as believers were praying for him. Herod died suddenly. Barnabas and Paul returned from Jerusalem to Antioch and brought John Mark with them. Paul and Barnabas leave on their first missionary journey. They took John Mark with them, but John Mark left them after a short time.
Acts Chapters 13 - 15
Paul's speech at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch was about how the history of Israel points to the coming of Jesus. The Jews persecuted them here and in Iconium. In Lystra, the people thought they were an appearance of Greek gods. Some people came from other cities and stoned Paul. They left him for dead but he survived and they returned to Antioch. There was a controversy about whether or not gentiles who became believers in Christ would be required to follow the Jewish law and become circumcised. The apostles agreed that the gentiles should be responsible to abstain from meat that had been offerred to idols, from blood and animals that were strangled, and sexual immorality. Paul and Barnabas went separate ways and Silas went with Paul.
Acts Chapters 15 and 16
There's a debate whether the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is the same time as Galatians chapter 1 or Galatians chapter 2. God uses real, fallible people. Barnabas' strength and Paul's strength came into conflict because Paul wanted to not take Mark and Barnabas wanted to give Mark another chance. They split, with Barnabas travelling with Mark and Paul travelling with Silas and Timothy. The Lord leads Paul in a dream to go to Macedonia. In Philippi and they encounter a slave girl who had a spirit of divination.
Acts 16:16 - 17:9
After Paul cast the demon out of the servant girl, her owners took Paul and Silas to court. The people of the city beat them and put them in prison. God miraculously released them from prison. When they saw the jailer about to kill himself, they told him about Jesus, and the jailer and his household became followers of Jesus. Paul and Silas then went to Thessalonica.
Paul travelled to Berea and then to Athens. He saw the idols there and went to Mars Hill and preached a sermon based on an idol there that was dedicated to, "the unknown god." When you have conversations, find common ground and move to the essential elements of the Gospel.
Paul went to Corinth and began by preaching in the synagogue. When the Jews opposed him, he began preaching to the gentiles. Paul had a vision of Jesus telling him to continue preaching there and that he would be safe, so Paul stayed there a year and a half.
Acts Chapters 18 - 20
When Paul was brought to trial in the court of Gallio the proconsul, the Jews claimed he was persuading people to follow a religion that was contrary to Judaism. Apollos preached in Ephesus and Corinth. In Ephesus, Paul publicly encountered demons. Some important business people began a riot to oppose Paul and the message he was preaching. Paul raises Eutychus from the dead. He also speaks a farewell message to the elders of the church in Ephesus.
Acts Chapters 21 and 22
Paul travels to Jerusalem and greets their believers there, including James who is mentioned by name. The church modeled ethnic hospitality. Paul is arrested for preaching in the temple but is allowed by a soldier to preach publicly. We may be right in what we know, but we don't know everything. Paul illustrates the importance of being able and willing to answer peoples' objections and to make a case to them for being followers of Christ, even though they may not respond positively.
Acts Chapters 23 - 26
Paul is put on trial in front of the Jewish council. The Romans protect Paul from an assassination plot send him to Caesarea for trial in front of Felix the Roman governer. Paul was held in prison for two years, and was tried before Felix, Festus and Agrippa. Agrippa was sympathetic to Paul but sent him to Rome to continue his trial because Paul had appealed to Caesar.
Acts Chapters 27 and 28
Paul had been eager to get to Rome for a long time, and finally goes there, but as a prisoner in Roman custody. He arrives in Rome but only after they experience a shipwreck. Paul continued to preach in Rome even though he was under house arrest. The mission continues because the power of the Holy Spirit is still active to fulfill Acts 1:8 through you.