Introduction to the Acts of the Apostles

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual, 2016


Why study this book?

The Acts of the Apostles forms a bridge between the record of Jesus Christ’s life and teachings in the four Gospels and the writings and labors of His Apostles. The book of Acts illustrates how the Savior continued to direct His Church through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to those who held the keys of the priesthood. The Holy Ghost revealed truth to the Apostles, who then led and taught the Church. The Apostles also performed miracles in the name of Jesus Christ. Through their study of this book, students will learn how the Church of Jesus Christ began to spread from Jerusalem “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Studying this book can also help students see the wisdom of following modern prophets and apostles and can inspire them to boldly stand as witnesses of Jesus Christ.

Who wrote this book?

Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as “the second of a two-part work. … The first part is known as the Gospel According to Luke” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Acts of the Apostles,” scriptures.lds.org; see also Luke 1:1–4; Acts 1:1).

When and where was it written?

Acts was written after the Gospel of Luke (see Acts 1:1), which was likely written in the second half of the first century A.D. We do not know where it was written.

To whom was it written and why?

Luke addressed the book of Acts to a man named Theophilus (see Acts 1:1).

What are some distinctive features of this book?

The book of Acts recounts the rise and spread of Christianity, beginning in the provincial Jewish capital of Jerusalem and ending in Rome, the great capital of the empire. The events described in Acts occurred over a period of about 30 years (about A.D. 30–62) and focus mainly on the ministries of Peter (see Acts 1–12) and Paul (see Acts 13–28). Without the book of Acts, our knowledge of the early history of the Church would be limited to the small amount provided by the New Testament epistles. In addition, Acts provides valuable historical context for the epistles of Paul.

Critical to the growth of the early Church were the conversion of Paul (Acts 9) and his subsequent missions; the vision Peter received regarding the acceptance into the Church of Gentiles who had not previously converted to Judaism (Acts 10:9–16, 34–35); and the doctrines taught at the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15).

As recorded in Luke 24:49, the Savior instructed the Apostles that they were to begin their ministries only after they had been “endued with power from on high.” Acts records the endowment of this power by the Holy Ghost and describes its dramatic results, beginning with the conversion of thousands on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2). Throughout Acts, Luke emphasized the workings of the Holy Ghost on individuals and congregations. The phrase “endued with power from on high” also likely meant that the Apostles “received certain knowledge, powers, and special blessings, normally given only in the Lord’s Temple” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:859).

Outline

Acts 1–2 Jesus Christ ministers to His disciples for 40 days following His Resurrection and then ascends into heaven. By inspiration, the Apostles call Matthias to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The Holy Ghost is poured out on the day of Pentecost. Peter boldly testifies of the resurrected Savior, and about three thousand people are converted.

Acts 3–8 Peter and John heal a man who has been lame from birth. Peter and John are arrested for preaching and healing in the name of Jesus Christ and are delivered from prison. The Apostles call seven men to assist them in their ministry; one of these men, Stephen, testifies before the Jewish council, and the council members put him to death. Philip preaches throughout Samaria.

Acts 9–12 Saul is converted and begins his ministry. Through a vision, Peter learns that the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles. Herod Agrippa I has the Apostle James (the brother of John) put to death and imprisons Peter.

Acts 13–15 Saul and Barnabas are called to be missionaries. They encounter opposition from Jews and are accepted by some Gentiles. Church leaders meet in Jerusalem and determine that Gentile converts do not need to be circumcised (or continue to observe the law of Moses) when they join the Church. Paul (as Saul is now called) departs on his second missionary journey, along with Silas.

Acts 16–20 Paul and Silas strengthen various churches that had been established earlier. On Mars’ Hill in Athens, Paul preaches that “we are the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29). Paul concludes his second mission and departs on a third mission throughout Asia Minor. Paul determines to return to Jerusalem.

Acts 21–28 In Jerusalem, Paul is arrested and continues to testify of Jesus Christ. The Lord appears again to Paul. Many Jews plot to kill Paul. In Caesarea, he testifies before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. Paul is shipwrecked on his way to Rome. Paul preaches the gospel while under house arrest in Rome.