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God’s Word for You

Acts 1:1 In my first book, Theophilus

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, August 5, 2019

Introduction and Theme

1 In my first book, Theophilus, I wrote about everything Jesus began to do and to teach,

As in his Gospel, Luke addresses this book to Theophilus. This time, Luke doesn’t call his friend “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3), but just “Theophilus.” Since the honorific title is dropped, does that mean that Theophilus had come to faith in Jesus, and now Luke is on friendlier terms with him as a Christian brother? We can’t say for certain.

Summarizing the Gospel, Luke says that it was “everything Jesus began to do and to teach.” This, we will see, is in contrast to what he will write about in this second volume, which is what took place in the years after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Or, we could say that Acts continues “everything Jesus began to do and to teach,” now working through his Apostles. This would emphasize the “began,” which is the word erxato (ἤρξατο) in the Greek text.

Sometimes readers speculate that the book deserves a different title, such as “Some Acts of Some of the Apostles” or “The Acts Done through the Holy Spirit.” But Acts is simply the second volume of Luke’s Gospel. It falls roughly into two parts, the first part focusing on Peter’s work in Judea (1-12) and the second part focusing on Paul’s work in the mission field (13-28).

Over the years there has been a mild scholarly debate about whether the “first book” in this verse is a reference to the first of two volumes or the first of three. While only two volumes exist (Luke and Acts), it is often pointed out that the word proton (πρῶτον) means first in a series, whereas the “first of (just) two” would be “former,” proteros (πρότερoς) as in Galatians 4:13. As to the words themselves, Luke never uses the word proteros, which occurs just three times in the Gospels (all in John), three times in Hebrews, and five other times in the New Testament (mostly in Paul’s letters). My opinion is that we have a two-volume set before us, not two volumes with a missing third.

One argument that is put forward in favor of a missing (third) volume is that since Acts seems to end so abruptly with Paul in prison in Rome, he must have intended to write another book, What happened? Did Luke die before he could complete volume three? Or does Acts actually present a fair ending to the story of how the spread of the Gospel began, with Paul finally in Rome about to preach Christ crucified in the capital city of the Gentile world? Perhaps the ending Luke leaves us with is not satisfactory to those who think that the work of proclaiming the gospel should have an end, at least in a single lifetime. But the work continues. What Peter and Paul took up from Jesus continues today with me and with you.

The author of the Great Psalm prayed to God: “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 119:68). What Jesus did and taught are his decrees, especially the decree that the payment for sin is satisfied in his blood. This is what we teach and pass along to each other. We have forgiveness in Jesus, and that forgiveness means everlasting life.


Luther: “(Luke) emphasizes not only how both Gentiles and Jews must be justified without any merits or works, but also (emphasizes) the examples and the instances of this teaching, how the Gentiles as well as Jews were justified through the gospel alone, without the law.” (LW 35:363, condensed).

Author:  Luke

Date:  Probably soon after the events that are recorded, about 63 AD, making Acts from the second or ‘early’ period of New Testament writing. At the end of the book, Paul is still living. Since he was executed sometime between 66-69 after making at least one more journey, 63 is about the latest date possible for the writing of the book.

Earliest (50-56):
      1-2 Thessalonians

Early (57-63):
      Luke and Acts
      1-2 Corinthians

Middle (64-69):
      Prison Letters of Paul (Ephesians, Philippians., Colossians, Philemon)
      Letters of Peter
      Pastoral Letters of Paul (1-2 Timothy, Titus)

Late (70-100):
      Writings of John: John, 1-2-3 John, Revelation

Theme:  In his opening paragraphs, Luke summarizes his first volume (Luke’s Gospel) and outlines this book with Jesus’ words: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The four main purposes of the book are (1) To present a history of the early church, (2) To give a defense of the Christian faith,  (3) To be a guide for Christians in the future, and (4) To show the triumph of Christianity in the face of bitter persecution.

Acts follows a two-part division:

PART I (Acts 1-12)

• The early work of the church
• Peter is the key worker
• Jerusalem is the center
• Reaching out to Judea and Samaria
• Ends with rejection of the Gospel by Jews of Judea and Samaria, but the word goes out to Jews and Gentiles in the world.
• Judgment on Herod
• Ends with Peter in prison

PART II (Acts 13-28)

• The later work of the church
• Paul is the key worker
• Antioch is the center
• Reaching out to the known world
• Ends with rejection of the Gospel by Jews of the dispersion
• Judgment on Jews
• Ends with Paul in prison

Some other parallels between Peter and Paul:

Peter in Part I                 Paul in Part II
• First sermon (ch. 2)          • First sermon (ch. 13)
• Lame man healed (ch. 3)    • Lame man healed (ch. 14)
• Simon the sorcerer (ch. 8)  • Elymas the sorcerer (ch. 13)
• Influence of the shadow (ch. 5)• Influence of the handkerchief (ch. 19)
• Laying on of hands (ch. 13)  • Laying on of hands (ch. 19)
• Peter worshiped (ch. 10)      • Paul worshiped (ch. 14)
• Tabitha raised (ch. 9)          • Eutychus raised (ch. 20)
• Peter imprisoned (ch. 12)      • Paul imprisoned (ch. 28)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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