Survey of ActsBook Type: A book of history, sometimes grouped with the Gospels, sometimes treated as a unique work; the fifth book of the New Testament; the forty-fourth book of the Bible.
Author: The book of Acts is the second of a two-part work, both traditionally attributed to Luke. The introduction to Luke (Luke 1:1–4) also explains the purpose of the book of Acts: to create an orderly record. Luke travelled with Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24), and the writer of Acts uses the terms "we" or "us" in several instances (Acts 16:10–17; 20:5; 27:1). This further supports the view that Luke was indeed the author.
Audience: Luke is most likely the only Gentile (non-Jewish) author of New Testament writing, emphasizing God's plan for all people. He also wrote the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:1–4) as the first segment of a two-part work. In Acts, Luke picks up where his Gospel ends, starting with the ascension of Jesus and continuing to the end of Paul's first Roman imprisonment in approximately AD 62.
Date: Many dates have been suggested for Acts. The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are two parts of a single overall narrative. Acts ends with Paul in Rome in approximately AD 62, but does not mention Paul's death in the mid-AD 60s. Therefore, a date between AD 62 and 65 is likely.
Overview: Acts is one of the largest books in the New Testament, expressing the theme summarized in Acts 1:8: being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
The first section focuses on the growth of the church in and around Jerusalem (Acts 1:1—8:3). Following a time of waiting and prayer (Acts 1), the Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost and empowers the apostles to speak in different languages. Peter shares the gospel and more than 3,000 people are baptized that day (Acts 2:41). The first church forms (Acts 2:42–47), while miracles begin to occur through the apostles (Acts 3:1—5:42). Other church leaders emerge to serve, teach, and face persecution, especially in the death of the first martyr, Stephen (Acts 6:1—8:3).
At that time, Christians fled Jerusalem, taking the gospel to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:4—12:25). The church grew among Samaritans (Acts 8:4–25) and an Ethiopian eunuch believed in Jesus (Acts 8:26–40). Most surprisingly, the faith also transformed the life of a Christian persecutor Saul, later known as Paul (Acts 9:1–31). The gospel extends to Judea (Acts 9:32–43); to the Roman centurion Cornelius and those with him (Acts 10:1–11:18); to the Jews in Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch; and to the Greeks in Antioch (Acts 11:19–30). Peter is persecuted, miraculously freed from prison, and flees Herod to minister elsewhere (Acts 12:1–25).
The remainder of Acts focuses on the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth, largely following the missionary activities of Paul (Acts 13—28). Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark take a missionary journey (Acts 13:1—14:28), the Jerusalem Council determines guidelines for Gentile believers (Acts 15), Paul takes a second (Acts 15:30—18:22) and third missionary journey (Acts 18:23—21:16), and then travels to Jerusalem where he is arrested and held in jail (Acts 21:17–36). Paul speaks to the assembled crowd (Acts 21:37—22:21) who react in anger. When the Roman soldiers prepare to flog him, Paul appeals to his legal rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:22–29). While a plot brews to kill him (Acts 21:30—23:22), Paul is then transferred to Roman custody (Acts 23:23–35), where he pleads his case before various authorities (Acts 24—26). Along with other prisoners, Paul survives a shipwreck en-route to Rome (Acts 27:1–28:16). The book of acts ends with Paul under two years of house arrest in Rome, the empire's capital, where he helps spread the gospel to everyone in the area (Acts 28:17–31).
Key Verses (ESV):
Acts 1:8: "But you will 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 end of the earth."
Acts 4:12: "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
Acts 4:19–20: "But Peter and John answered them, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.'"
Acts 9:3–6: "Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' And he said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.'"
Acts 16:31: "And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'"