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by Gary Hampton
Introduction to The Acts of the Apostles
The first verse points the reader back to the book of Luke which is obviously the "former account" ( Luk_1:1-4 ). Clearly, the author of the book of Luke is also the one who penned the book of Acts. The "we" passages show the author was a companion of Paul's ( Act_16:10-17 ; Act_20:5-38 ; Act_21:1-18 ; Act_27:1-44 ; Act_28:1-16 ). He also had a keen interest in sick people and their diseases ( Luk_4:38 ; Luk_5:12 ; Luk_6:6 ; Luk_8:43-44 ; Luk_8:55 ; Luk_9:38 ff; Luk_22:50-51 ). When Matthew and Mark write about the camel passing through the eye of the needle, they use the common term for a household needle, while we find the word for a surgeon's needle in Luk_18:25 . As Luke was called "the beloved physician" by Paul in Col_4:14 , he is the most likely author of both Luke and Acts. Early writings agree with that conclusion.
Luke's name is thought to have been an abbreviation of Loukanos. Some believe 2Co_8:18 indicates that this Christian doctor was Titus' brother. He may have been a Gentile. As Paul extends final greetings at the end of the Colossian letter, he begins by listing some who are circumcised and extend greetings. Then, he lists others, not of the circumcised, who also extend greetings. Luke is among the latter ( Col_4:7-15 ). He does not appear to have been an eyewitness of Christ's walk on earth ( Luk_1:2 ). Instead, he recorded what eyewitnesses had reported to him and others. It should also be observed that the physician was loyal to Paul as he was with him when the letter to Philemon was written. Later, he stayed with the apostle despite very trying and dangerous circumstances ( Phm_1:24 ; 2Ti_4:9-12 ).
The recipient of the book was a man named Theophilus, meaning "one who loves God." In Luke, he is addressed as "most excellent," which was a type of title used for those in the Roman government ( Act_23:26 ; Act_24:3 ; Act_26:25 ). Gardner suggests Theophilus may have been Luke's benefactor in this writing. That is, he may have supported him while the work was being written. Since the title was dropped by the time the book of Acts was written, Gardner also wonders if Theophilus may have been converted by his study of the first book, Luke.
Perhaps Luke's opening remarks can shed a little light on his purpose for writing. "The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach" ( Act_1:1 ). The beloved physician seems to have thought of Acts as a continuation of his account of the works and words of Jesus. Remember the church is the body of Christ. That is why, when Paul persecuted the church, Jesus asked, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" In a very real sense, the works of the church could be described as the works of Christ ( Eph_1:22-23 ; Act_9:4 ). So, it might be said that Acts gives its readers an overview of the workings of Jesus for the thirty years following his resurrection.
The Lord told Zacchaeus his reason for coming to earth when he said, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" ( Luk_19:10 ). Thus, McGarvey's thinking about Luke's purpose for writing is easily understood. He says, "Much the greater part of Acts may be resolved into a detailed history of cases of conversion, and of unsuccessful attempts at the conversion of sinners. If we extract from it all cases of this kind, with the facts and incidents preparatory to each and immediately consequent upon it, we will have exhausted almost the entire contents of the narrative."
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Bruce, F. F. Commentary on the Book of the Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Colossians, 1954 .
Cates, Curtis A., editor. The Book of Acts--Challenges of First Century Christianity Act_9:1-43 ; Act_12:1-25 ; Act_13:1-52 ; Act_14:1-28 ; Act_15:1-41 ; Act_16:1-40 ; Act_17:1-34 ; Act_18:1-28 ; Act_19:1-41 ; Act_20:1-38 ; Act_21:1-40 ; Act_22:1-30 ; Act_23:1-35 ; Act_24:1-27 ; Act_25:1-27 ; Act_26:1-32 ; Act_27:1-44 ; Act_28:1-31 . Lebanon, Tennessee: Sain Publications, 1985.
Coffman, James Burton. Commentary on Acts. Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1976.
Gardner, Don. The First Christians ( Act_1:1-26 ; Act_2:1-47 ; Act_3:1-26 ; Act_4:1-37 ; Act_5:1-42 ; Act_6:1-15 ; Act_7:1-60 ; Act_8:1-40 ; Act_9:1-43 ; Act_10:1-48 ; Act_11:1-30 ). Houston: Partners for Christian Education, 1986.
Gardner, Don. The Early Church In Action. Houston: Partners for Christian Education, 1988.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1934.
McGarvey, J. W. A Commentary on Acts of Apostles. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., n.d.
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