Summary: We must begin the exposition of Acts with a clear view of the authorship, date, theme and redemptive historical significance.
Introduction: The Lectio Continuo
If you came to church before the Reformation, you would have seen the transcendence of God in the architecture. You probably would have heard an uneducated priest "say" the mass in a language neither of you understood. The entire experience would have been shrouded in mystery and lacking intelligibility to a large extent. Such were the abuses and the exceses of the later medeival church. Then lights began to shine, John Wycliffe, John Huss, and finally the 95 Thesis were nailed to the door at Wittenberg, penned by Martin Luther. The sola fide, sola gratia gospel was heraled. It was the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli who first put into practice the service of the word using the "Lectio Continuo" - the ongoing lecture through books of the Bible. We know it today as expositional teaching, through the Bible’s literary units. I have a firm conviction that this must be the meat and potatoes of the church’s Word diet. That has been my intention, though it was necessary to address The Covenant in the first series and Shepherding as a foundational practice, and then of course we had Easter. Now we are getting to the regular diet. Acts is a fitting book for us as a newly formed congregation. We can see God’s approach to the growth and maturity of the church.
Thesis: We must begin the exposition of Acts with a clear view of the authorship, date, theme and redemptive historical significance.
1. Authorship and dating:
a. Luke, a companion to the Apostle Paul wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Texts which describe Luke are:
i. Colossians 4:14 Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you. 2 Timothy 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. Phm 1:23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.
ii. From these we see that Luke was a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, that he was a physician, and that he was a faithful to the gospel and its messenger, Paul.
iii. We also have a hint that a companion with Paul wrote the works by the "we" passages in Acts (16:10ff; 20:5ff; 27:1ff).
iv. Moreover, early witnesses to the Lukan authorship include Irenaus and Tertullian and no conservative scholar disputes the authorship.
b. Luke addressed it preeminantly to a Roman dignitary, whose Christian name was Theophilus. Some have thought that this was a literary device aimed at Gentile Christians, but that is almost certainly not the case, given the way "Theophilus" is addressed as "excellent Theophilus."
c. As such Luke writes as one who has diligently researched these things. He reports this as history, though it is not aimed at a comprehensive history of the church. Still, it is a kind of literature which abundantly manifests attention to detail, sequential actions, names of significant people and events relevant to the message of the book.
d. Luke must have completed its writing around 62 A.D. because of the lack of reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the ending with Paul in Rome under house arrest. It is a strong argument that all the NT books were complete prior to 70 A.D. since none mention the destruction of the Temple, something they certainly would not have overlooked in defending the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. Especially so, given their interpretation of the predictive prophecies of Daniel and Jesus to this effect.
2. The theme of Acts: the book has many themes in addressing the apostolic ministries of (primarily) Peter and Paul. Clearly several things are prominent:
a. The continuation of what Jesus began doing in the earthly ministry through his ordained and empowered messengers.
b. The spread of the gospel to the "end" (singular) of the "earth" (evsca,tou th/j gh/j e.g., Rome).
c. The ministry expansion from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, to the "end" of the "earth."
d. The empowering of the apostolic messengers by the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost.
e. The theme according to John Calvin is "the beginning of the reign of Christ, and, as it were, the renewal of the world is being depicted here." -- "an account of the reign of Christ beginning with his triumphant resurrection and exaltation, and continuing until his gospel has reached Rome itself, as Christ our king, puts all enemies under his feet."
3. The Redemptive Historical Significance of the Book
a. Bible students should be able to place a Bible book in its significance in the unfolding plan of redemption. Where does Joshua fit? What does Genesis teach of the plan of redemption? What does Ruth teach about redemption?
b. Acts gives us the foundational testimony of the fulfillment of what the OT taught, according to Jesus. Consider Luke’s words: (Luke 24)