Introducing the Book of Acts

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.  He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:1-5


What Makes a Historian Reliable?

A good, reliable historian is worth his weight in gold quite honestly. A man who will undertake to reconstruct a segment of history from eye witness accounts and do so with the utmost integrity and concern for accuracy is a gift to those of us who come behind them.  Such was not the case with one rather dubious scientist in our past. A man named Charles Dawson who in 1912 claimed that he had found the missing link in history between humans and apes. During expeditions to a certain area called Piltdown, in England, the Piltdown man was reconstructed from the findings. There was a jawbone, some skull fragments, a set of teeth and some primitive tools there at the site. It was hypothesized that this human ancestor lived some 500,000 years ago.  Then in 1953, after some 41 years of wrangling over these so called facts, the discovery was declared a hoax and the findings were not trustworthy.

Dawson was said to have forged other important findings and was not to be trusted for anything of this significance. Fortunately for us much better can be said of Luke the Evangelist. Scholars in large part agree that His historical accounts are more reliable than many other historians that came after him. In fact, early in the twentieth century a British scholar named Mitchell Ramsay, a skeptic about Christianity, traced the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul as recorded in the book of Acts.

[box] He searched for evidence in the landscape and ruins. He searched in the titles of the local magistrates in foreign cities that were not common knowledge to people who lived in Jerusalem. Ramsay was said to have started out as a skeptic and ended up as a believer, because he was overwhelmed by the evidence he was able to uncover. Every magistrate was verified as he did his discovery — just as Luke had described them.[/box]

We owe a debt of gratitude to Luke and the Holy Spirit’s work through him to faithfully reproduce exactly what happened at the birth of the Christian church. We are grateful to God for his preserving it down to us in accurate form. As we look at the first couple of verses of the book today, we are going to ask and answer some critical questions that will give us solid footing for studying the rest of the book. Often times it is true that we refer frequently in future sermons to the facts we uncover today in this introduction to the book.



Introducing Luke the Physician, Author of the Book of Acts

The short answer to the question of who wrote the book is Luke. There is almost universal agreement among more conservative scholars that this is the case. You might notice I say, “more conservative scholars”, in making that claim. And this is because, for the last couple of hundred years in earnest, there have been those who seek to disprove and discredit pretty much everything in the Bible. Many of these men were German scholars and actual theologians who seem to think that they are doing the church some kind of service by questioning everything about holy Scripture. These men were, in a word, skeptics.

And what they did, in fact, end up doing was a disservice to Holy Scripture and the cause of Christianity by throwing everything into the shadow of constant doubt. But we are teaching what I believe to be a better way forward–the inerrancy of scripture and a basic level of trust in the more conservative scholars. These two things combine to create much less skepticism and much less doubt. We believe the words of the scripture to be as coming from God himself. And so what those words tell us of authors and dates and times, we take at face value. We believe what the early church had to report about these things as well.

The Proof for Luke’s Authorship

Now, you may have noticed that there is no author listed for the book of Acts. And so the way in which we determine who it is, in fact, is by a couple of things — the witness of the early church, and the other places in scripture that fill in the blanks for us. The gospel of Luke chapter one helps us a bit in this. It says:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4

Notice that the introduction to these two books is very similar. They both address Theophilus where no other New Testament books do so. They both speak about wishing to piece together an account of the things that Jesus did and said. Theophilus literally means either ‘lover of God’ or ‘loved by God.’ And some think that Luke was writing to all Christians by this name. Some think there was no actual person named Theophilus. But this doesn’t take into account that he calls him most excellent Theophilus in Luke chapter one. This is the standard address for someone of nobility.

It is believed that Theophilus was possibly a student of Luke’s and a generous benefactor of some nobility. This would have made sense in terms of Luke compiling these teaching aids of the Gospel of Luke, as well as the book of Acts, at the request of a rich student of Luke’s–so again, very similar openings. There is also a very similar account at the end of Luke and the opening of Acts.

Luke says:

“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:45-53”

And so both accounts have references to the gospel being proclaimed beginning in Jerusalem, and then the ascension taking place. Both make mention of the coming of the Holy Spirit, although the gospel of Luke is not as specific. As far as these post-resurrection events, this is the only place they are recorded. So we begin to suspect that whoever wrote the gospel of Luke must have written Acts as well.

Another Proof – The “We” Passages

Another proof is that the book of Acts was written by a constant companion of the Apostle Paul. And so this narrows it down considerably. We glean this from what is called the “we” passages in the back chapters of Acts. These passages are constantly saying things like, “We traveled here and we did this”,  in regards to the things that Paul did on his missionary journeys recorded there. Colossians 4, which is a contemporary passage to some of the events recorded in Acts says this, “Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.” Colossians 4:14  There are other places in Paul’s writings where Luke is present, but I won’t belabor that point with you. Suffice it to say, he was with Paul during this time.

Literary Style as Proof

Another proof that we can offer is in the literary style of both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. The style of writing is very similar. Both are written in a very pure classical Greek style of writing. This style would have come from someone very educated, and of course, Luke was a physician, so he would qualify as someone highly educated. It is said of this writing style that few would be able to write as well as this author has written, so it commends Luke as being the author. Also, in the content of both books, there is a fair amount of attention given to medical issues, which is either absent or less emphasized in the other New Testament books. This would lend itself to the idea of Luke being the author.

The Testimony of the Early Church

Then finally, as I mentioned, the testimony of the early church about authorship adds many proofs. Eusebius is the primary source for this, although he was not super early in the process; he lived in the late 200’s and early 300’s AD. He was, however, a noted church historian, and he did compile lists of the books of the canon and who wrote them.

[box] Eusebius attributes both the gospel of Luke, as well as the book of Acts, to the canon of Scripture and says they were both written by Luke the physician.[/box]

Other testimonies, though more brief, come from other early figures as well, among those being Clement of Rome who was considered the earliest church Father in the 80’s and 90’s AD. There was also Polycarp, who we have talked about a fair amount because of his martyrdom, who lived from 69 to 155 AD. Both of these men among others, including John Crysostom, all mention Luke as the author of both books. So this is pretty good evidence for authorship in terms of a couple of books that we no longer have the original manuscripts for. The church began, at a very early date, to copy and distribute these books, the four gospels and the book of Acts, to as many of the churches as they could. And so I think we have given pretty good evidence about Luke being the author of the book of Acts, but who is this person — the historical Luke the Physician?


Who was the Historical Luke the Physician?

The question of the identity of Luke is a little less easy to answer. There is not a great deal of information on him in the pages of Scripture. Much of what we can glean of him comes from other sources and from church tradition. The Catholic church calls him St. Luke the Evangelist. This is related to the fact that he wrote the book of Luke–one of the gospels. Euangelion–where we get our word evangelist — gospel — and good news are all synonyms.

Luke was Probably a Gentile

He is possibly the only Gentile to write in the pages of the New Testament. We think he was a Gentile based on what we read in chapter four of Colossians earlier. Paul had just listed a large group of Jews who were with him. And then he separately mentions Luke and Demas.

[box] If this is true, and Luke is indeed the author of the two books, then a Gentile would have written about 27% of the New Testament![/box]

Luke was a Constant Companion of Paul

He was a fairly constant companion of Paul’s after a time and was with him just before his death according to 2 Timothy where Paul says, “Only Luke is here with me.”  Luke’s death according to Foxe’s book of Martyrs was by hanging on an olive tree at the hands of the priests of Greece. These were apparently idolatrous priests who were very angered by the teaching of Luke while he was among them. This allegedly took place in 84 AD. So he outlived Paul by 15 years or so.

Luke – A Man of Noble Character

A small recap of his life from a book written in the 1800s’ said this:

 “In both these treatises his manner of writing is exact and accurate; his style noble and elegant, sublime and lofty, and yet clear and perspicuous, flowing with an easy and natural grace and sweetness, admirably adapted to an historical design. In short, as an historian he was faithful in his relations, and elegant in his writings; as a minister, careful and diligent for the good of souls; as a Christian, devout and pious; and to crown all the rest, he laid down his life in testimony of the gospel he had both preached and published to the world.” John Kitto’s 1870 History of the Bible.

If these things are true of him, I think he would have been someone I would like to know.


Luke’s Qualifications as a Writer of Acts

Now the third question to answer in this section is, “What made him qualified to write this book?” Well the first and readiest answer is that he was pretty much a constant companion of the apostle Paul during missionary journeys.

[box] As far as a historian writing an account of the early church, this was the guy who was on the scene. This would not be unlike a journalist who goes onto the battlefield with the hopes that he can faithfully recreate what it is like for those soldiers who serve in harm’s way each and every day of their deployment. It was apparent from his words and his style of writing that he intended to give an accurate account, and a favorable account.[/box]

The fact that he was an eyewitness of Paul for those years certainly qualifies him to write about what he saw. There is no indication that Luke was an eyewitness of Christ while he was alive, and so his information was gleaned from others. These accounts, while they were not first hand, were still highly accurate. Much of what Paul learned and taught came through revelation from Christ himself. And so Paul would have been an accurate historian as well. The two of them, in each other’s company for many years, would have made a team who could easily be trusted.

Read More:

Intro to Acts Pt. 2: The Early Church and Roman Persecution

Intro to Acts Pt. 3: The Acts of the Apostles, Paul, and the Holy Spirit

Watch the full sermon on our Youtube Channel: Koinoina Livestream

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info] Pastor Dan Woody is a founding elder for Koinonia. He has been serving churches as a pastor for the past 13 years. He and his wife Peggy are the parents of two sons, Chris and Jonathan. Pastor Dan is currently studying for his Mdiv with The North American Reformed Seminary. His interests include music, and most outdoor sports like golf, hiking, tennis and fishing. [/author_info] [/author]