Interpreting Acts

The Book of Acts is a unique book in all of Scripture.  Being the only narrative-based book in the New Testament that isn’t a Gospel, extra hermeneutical precaution must be made.

Narrative Reminders

  • In reading biblical narratives, we must be aware of the three levels:
    1. Top Level – the complete universal plan of the Sovereign God being worked through His creation
    2. Middle Level – key aspects of God’s plan centering around God’s people
      • Old Testament – Israel
      • New Testament – Church
    3. Bottom Level – composed of hundreds of individual narratives that provide the content for the other two levels
  • To grasp the significance of the bottom level, we must read it with the other two levels in mind.
  • Narratives are descriptive, not prescriptive.
    • Acts 1:23-26 – does God want us to cast lots for major decisions?

The Narrative of Acts

  • As Christians, we unknowingly approach Acts differently than we do Old Testament narratives.
  • Luke wrote Acts as volume two to his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2).
  • Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Philemon 1:24; Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11).
  • As Luke widens his focus from Jesus to the early church leaders, he shifts from theological biography in his Gospel to theological history in Acts.
    • While Peter (Acts 1-12) and Paul (Acts 13-28) serve as the primary leaders during different sections of Acts, the book still focuses on continuing the work of Jesus.
    • If it was a story about these men, the book would have ended differently.
  • In reading passages in Acts, look for repeated themes and patters to identify major theological emphases (The Holy Spirit, the name of Jesus, God’s Sovereignty, the Church, prayer, suffering, Gentiles, witness).

The Structure of Acts

The thesis of Acts is found in 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 ends of the earth.”  -Acts 1:8

The book then outlines this progression:

  • In Jerusalem
    • 1 – Preparation for Pentecost
    • 2 – Pentecost: The Coming of the Holy Spirit
    • 3-4 – The Spirit Works Through the Apostles
    • 5-6 – Threats to the Church
  • In Judea and Samaria
    • 6-8 – Stephen the First Martyr
    • 8 – Philip the Evangelist
    • 9 – The Conversion of Paul
    • 9-11 – The Ministry of Peter Beyond Jerusalem
    • 11 – Christianity Comes to Antioch
    • 12 – The Gospel Spreads in Spite of Challenges
  • To the Ends of the Earth
    • 13-14 – Paul’s’ First Missionary Journey
    • 15 – The Jerusalem Council
    • 15-18 – Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
    • 18-21 – Paul’s Third Missionary Journey
    • 21-23 – Paul’s Witness in Jerusalem
    • 24-26 – Paul’s Witness in Caesarea
    • 27-28 – Paul’s Witness in Rome

The Holy Spirit comes on Jewish Christians (Acts 2), Samaritan Christians (Acts 8), and Gentile Christians (Acts 10).