The New Testament

History
Acts of the Apostles

Addressed to a certain Theophilus, about whom nothing is known (1:1), the Book of Acts records the early history of the Apostolic Church. Beginning with the Ascension of Jesus to heaven, it traces the growth of Christianity in Palestine and its spread to Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and eventually to Rome. The leading figure in the first chapters is Peter, who delivered the stirring sermon on the day of Pentecost. The greater part of the book, however, is devoted to the experiences of Paul and his companions during their missionary endeavors.

1.  Acts of the Apostles, portray the church as God's instrument of redemption on Earth in the interim between the death of Christ and the Second Coming.

2.  Acts tells the story of the Early Christian church, with particular emphasis on the ministry of the Twelve Apostles and of Paul of Tarsus.

3.  The early chapters, set in Jerusalem, discuss Jesus's Resurrection, his Ascension, the Day of Pentecost, and the start of the Twelve Apostles' ministry. 


4.  The apostles, along with other of followers of Jesus, meet and elect Matthias to replace Judas as a member of The Twelve. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on them. The apostles hear a great wind and witness "tongues of flames" descending on them. Thereafter, the apostles have the miraculous power to "speak in tongues" and when they address a crowd, each member of the crowd hears their speech in his own native language. Peter, along with John, preach to many in Jerusalem, and perform many miracles such as healing, the casting out of evil spirits, and the raising of the dead. As a result, thousands convert to Early Christianity and are baptized. As their numbers increase, the Christians begin to be increasingly persecuted. Some of the apostles are arrested and flogged, but ultimately freed. Stephen, one of the first deacons, is arrested for blasphemy, and after a trial, is found guilty and executed by stoning, thereby becoming the first known Christian martyr. Peter and the apostles continue to preach, and Christianity continues to grow, and begins to spread to Gentiles. Peter has a vision in which a voice commands him to eat a variety of impure animals. When Peter objects, the voice replies, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." When Peter awakes from his vision, he meets with a centurion, who converts. Peter baptizes the centurion, and later has to justify this decision to the other Christians.


5.  The later chapters discuss Paul's conversion, his ministry, and finally his arrest and imprisonment and trip to Rome.


Paul of Tarsus, also known as Saul, is the main character of the second half of Acts. He is introduced as a persecutor of the Christian church (8:1:3), until his conversion to Christianity later in the chapter when he encounters the resurrected Christ.

The conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus is told three times. While Paul was on the road to Damascus, near Damascus, "suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground" (9:3-4), the light was "brighter than the sun" (26:13) and he was subsequently blinded for three days (9:9). He heard a voice in the Hebrew language (probably Aramaic): "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? ... I am Jesus" (26:14-15). In Damascus, St. Ananias cured his blindness, "something like scales" fell from his eyes, and baptized him (9:17-19). It is commonly believed that Saul changes his name to Paul at this time, but the source of this claim is unknown, the first mention of another name is later, (13:9), during his first missionary journey. Several years later, Barnabas and Paul set out on a mission (13-14) to further spread Christianity, particularly among the Gentiles. Paul travels through Asia Minor, preaching and visiting churches throughout the region. Paul travels to Jerusalem where he meets with the apostles, a meeting known as the Council of Jerusalem (15).  Members of the Jerusalem church have been preaching that circumcision is required for salvation. Paul and his associates strongly disagree. After much discussion, James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church, decrees that Gentile Christian converts need not follow all of the Mosaic Law, and in particular, they do not need to be circumcised. Paul spends the next few years traveling through western Asia Minor and founded his first Christian church in Philippi. Paul then travels to Thessalonica, where he stays for some time before departing for Greece. In Athens, Paul visits an altar with an inscription dedicated to the Unknown God, so when he gives his speech on the Areopagos, he proclaims to worship that same Unknown God whom he identifies as the Christian God. Upon Paul's arrival in Jerusalem, he was confronted with the rumor of teaching against the Law of Moses (21:21). To prove that he was "living in obedience to the law", Paul took a biblical vow along with some others (21:26). Near the end of the seven days of the vow, Paul was recognized outside Herod's Temple and was nearly beaten to death by a mob, "shouting, 'Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place’ (21:28). Paul is rescued from the mob by a Roman commander (21:31-40) and accused of being a revolutionary, "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes", teaching resurrection of the dead, and thus imprisoned in Caesarea (23–26). Paul asserts his right, as a Roman citizen, to be tried in Rome. Paul is sent by sea to Rome, where he spends another two years under house arrest, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching the "Lord Jesus Christ" (28:30-31).

One of the central themes of Acts, indeed of the New Testament is the universality of Christianity, the idea that Jesus's teachings were for all humanity, Jews and Gentiles alike. In this view, Christianity is seen as a religion in its own right, rather than a subset of Judaism. Whereas the members of Jewish Christianity were circumcised and adhered to dietary laws, the Pauline Christianity featured in Acts did not require Gentiles to be circumcised or to obey all of the Mosaic laws.  The final chapter of Acts ends with Paul condemning non-Christian Jews and saying "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!" (28:28).

Holy Spirit

There are numerous references to the Holy Spirit throughout Acts. Acts features the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" on Pentecost and the subsequent spirit-inspired speaking in tongues. The Holy Spirit is shown guiding the decisions and actions of Christian leaders, and the Holy Spirit is said to "fill" the apostles, especially when they preach. As a result, Acts is particularly influential among branches of Christianity which place particular emphasis the Holy Spirit, such as Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement.

The Gospel of Luke and Acts both devote a great deal of attention to the oppressed and downtrodden. The impoverished are generally praised, while the wealthy are criticized. Luke and Acts devote a great deal of attention to women in general and to widows in particular. The Samaritans of Samaria, had their temple on Mount Gerizim, and along with some other differences, were in conflict with Jews of Judea and Galilee and other regions who had their Temple in Jerusalem and practiced Judaism. Unexpectedly, since Jesus was a Jewish Galilean, the Samaritans are shown favorably in Luke and Acts.  In Acts, attention is given to the religious persecution of the early Christians, as in the case of Stephen's martyrdom and the numerous examples are Paul's persecution for his preaching of Christianity. <> 

Prayer

Prayer is a major motif in both the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Both books have a more prominent attention to prayer than is found in the other gospels. The Gospel of Luke depicts prayer as a certain feature in Jesus's life. Examples of prayer which are unique to Luke include Jesus's prayers at the time of his baptism (Luke 3:21), his praying all night before choosing the twelve (Luke 6:12), and praying for the transfiguration (Luke 9:28). Acts also features an emphasis on prayer and includes a number of notable prayers such as the Believers' Prayer (4:23-31), Stephen's death prayer (7:59-60), and Simon Magus' prayer (8:24).

Speeches

Acts features a number of extended speeches or sermons from Peter, Paul, and others. There are at least 24 different speeches in Acts.