Introduction To The Acts Of The ApostlesSince the second century A.D., the book of Acts has commonly been called, "The Acts of the Apostles." In comprehending more completely and correctly the contents of the book, we may more accurately say that it is "The Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Believers." We find that ten of the apostles' "ministries" and "acts" are never mentioned; whereas, several "acts" of non-apostolic believers are mentioned (Ac 8:5-8; 9:10-11, and 17).
The book of Acts is the greatest handbook of information on the workings of the Holy Spirit in the world today. It is the practical working out of the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20, Mr 16:15-20, and Lu 24:46-49) and literally fulfills Mr 16:20, "They went forth and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." The Greek word for "working" in that verse is "SUNERGEO," and it literally means "to be a fellow-worker" (Strong's Concordance). This relationship between the Holy Spirit and the believers is clearly portrayed throughout the book of Acts.
Whereas "the former treatise" (that is, the Gospel of Luke) dealt with "all that Jesus began both to do and teach" (Ac 1:1), the book of Acts describes what Jesus continues to do and teach through the lives of the believers (His church). We might say, "These are the acts of the resurrected Christ through the believers."
As a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the witness of Christ and His teachings spread through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and into the uttermost parts of the earth (Ac 1:8). Certainly one of the aims of this book was to show that the Jewish Messiah and His atonement were for all people, for all time.
a. Internal evidence: Although no claim is made in the book as to authorship, there is much internal evidence that Luke is the author.
Both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were addressed to Theophilus (Lu 1:3 and Ac 1:1). This similarity, coupled with the statement, "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus" (Ac 1:1), seems to leave no doubt that Luke was the author.
Furthermore, a careful reading of the book of Acts makes it clear that its author was a companion of Paul and a partner in many of his travels. Other companions such as Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timotheus, Tychicus, and Trophimus are all excluded from being the author due to the wording of Ac 20:4-5.
However, the Apostle Paul himself stated that Luke was with him during his imprisonment in Rome (Col 4:14, 2Ti 4:11, and Phm 24), making special mention in 2Ti 4:11 that "only Luke is with me." This presence of Luke with Paul during his imprisonment, combined with the narrator's use of the word "we" throughout his accounts of Paul's imprisonment, provides conclusive evidence of Luke's authorship.
b. External evidence: The extra-biblical sources overwhelmingly support Luke as the author of the book of Acts. The Muratorian Canon, which Irenaeus (A.D. 133-200), Tertullian (A.D. 160-200), Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215), and Origen (A.D. 185-254) all supported, held Luke to be the author of both Acts and the Gospel of Luke.
The Recipient of the Book of Acts
The recipient of this book, as well as the Gospel of Luke, was a man named Theophilus (Lu 1:3 and Ac 1:1). Theophilus could possibly have been an important Roman official recently converted to Christianity. The term "most excellent" (Lu 1:3) came from the Greek word meaning "strongest, i.e. (in dignity) very honorable" (Strong's Concordance).
It is also possible that Theophilus may not have been a person at all. The word "Theophilus" is made of two Greek words: "THEOS," which means "a deity, especially...the supreme Divinity" (Strong's Concordance), and "PHILOS," which means "a friend" (Strong's Concordance). It may be that Luke wrote to a "friend of God" whose real name he did not mention, or to everyone who was a friend of God (Joh 15:14).
Whichever the case, Luke's two-volume work shows us the history of Christianity and bridges the gap between the Gospels and the teaching of the Pauline epistles. It is most valuable in understanding the truth of the Gospel and people's response to it.
Date of Writing
The date of the writing of this book is probably around A.D. 63, since Luke ends this book with Paul being a prisoner at Rome for at least two years (Ac 28:30). It seems certain that Luke would have given the outcome of Paul's trial if it had been written at a later date. Most historians believe the A.D. 63 date to be correct.
About the Author
a. Internal information: Luke is mentioned by that name three times in the New Testament (Col 4:14, 2Ti 4:11, and Phm 24 [Lucas]). He is the one referred to in the "we" portions of Acts (Ac 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, and 27:1-28:16). It is possible that the Lucius spoken of in Ac 13:1 and Ro 16:21 could be the same Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. If the Lucius spoken of in Ro 16:21 was this Luke, then he would be related to Paul.
Luke was referred to by Paul in Col 4:14 as "the beloved physician." In the Gospel of Luke, the attention given to the miracles Jesus performed reflects a physician's background (see note 2 at Lu 6:6). There is no evidence that he ministered as a physician after his conversion. On the contrary, if he had practiced medicine alongside Paul as some suggest, then he was remiss in not recording even one example of this in the book of Acts.
It is clear, however, that Luke was a close companion of the Apostle Paul. Luke joined Paul in Troas, as can be seen by the narration changing from the third person (Ac 16:4) to the first person plural (Ac 16:10-11). This first-person narration continued until Paul left Philippi heading for Thessalonica. This leads us to believe that Luke left the group in Philippi, then rejoined them again in Ac 20:5. The rest of the book of Acts continues to use "we," and Paul's references to Luke (Col 4:14, 2Ti 4:11, and Phm 24) show us that Luke was with Paul during his imprisonment (A.D. 60 to at least 62). In 2Ti 4:11, Paul said, "Only Luke is with me." No doubt, they must have had close fellowship during that time.
b. External information: External evidence about Luke abounds. Eusebius and Jerome both assigned Luke as being a native of Antioch in Syria. Nearly all physicians of his day were Asiatic Greeks educated at Tarsus in Cilicia. This would further lead one to think that Luke was a Greek.
Eusebius wrote, "And Luke, who was a native of Antioch, and by profession a physician, for the most part companion of Paul, and who was not slightly acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us two books, divinely inspired proofs of the art of healing souls, which he won from them."
Jerome wrote in A.D. 384, "Luke, a physician of Antioch, not unskilled in the Hebrew language, as his words show, was a follower of the Apostle Paul, and the companion of all his wanderings. He wrote the gospel of which the same Paul makes mention."
Additional material about Luke exists, but it is based mainly on tradition and not fact.