Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: Acts of the Apostles

Sara and Justin Kraft

Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: Acts of the Apostles

The Acts of the Apostles is Saint Luke’s self-described sequel to the Gospel of Luke. “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1) For this reason, it has sometimes been nicknamed the 5th Gospel. As such, it is perhaps one of the most important books of the bible. 

The book itself is quite long, spanning 28 chapters. There is some debate about the exact date which the book was written. Many scholars date the writing to approximately 80 A.D. This, however, is based primarily on assumptions about its relationship to other biblical works. Other scholars argue that the book should be dated within the lifetime of Paul. The primary reason for this is that Acts itself ends while Paul is still alive in Rome. Paul was executed in Rome between 64 A.D. and 66 A.D. This internal evidence would then provide a date of approximately 62 A.D. A brief explanation of this dating controversy by Catholic scholar Brant Pitre can be found at this link: or in his book The Case for Jesus

Acts itself provides a fascinating look into the early Church. While it is impossible to examine the totality of Acts here, we will provide three keys to enlighten your own reading of Acts. 

Acts: A Gospel of the Holy Spirit

As we said, Acts is part of a two-volume set along with the Gospel of Luke. Taken together, one may say that while the Gospel of Luke is designed to establish Christ as the central figure of salvation history, Acts is designed to establish the role of the Holy Spirit in extending salvation to all peoples. 

Just as Mark’s Gospel starts, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God].” (Mark 1:1) Acts could easily commence with “The beginning of the gospel of the Holy Spirit [the Spirit of God].”

The most striking feature of Acts is the overwhelming display of the power of the Holy Spirit. All throughout, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate protagonist. This point is highlighted by Luke’s own summary at the beginning of Acts. 

“In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.”” (Acts 1:1-5)

In other words, the reception of the Holy Spirit is the culminating event of Jesus’s promises. This fulfillment at Pentecost is described in detail in Act 2: 1-41 during which Luke presents a striking testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit. 

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Acts 2: 1-4

The power of the Holy Spirit is then depicted throughout Acts as Peter, Paul, and the other apostles work miracle after miracle or what Acts 15:12 refers to as “signs and wonders”. Moreover, it is this display of power that in some sense ratifies the work of Christ and extends His saving power to all believers. 

The Church: The Same Yesterday and Today

A second interesting aspect of Acts is its glimpse into the structure of the early Church. Here from the very beginning, we see the principle of succession (Acts 1: 15-26) from which bishops draw their authority. We see early reference to the Eucharist as they devoted themselves “to the breaking of the bread…” (Acts 2: 42). We also observe the method of the local churches for solving theological disputes in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-21). Finally, we also observe the primacy of Peter amongst all the apostles at various points throughout acts (and most especially Acts 15:7). 

Luke a First-Class Historian and the Missionary Journeys of Paul

Finally, Acts is noteworthy for the historical account of Paul’s missionary journeys which begin in Acts 13 and onward. Not only do these chapters give us a window into the life of Paul, but as many scholars note Luke’s chronicling of these journeys is among the finest historical work ever produced. Luke captures many subtle details which validate the historicity of the account and support the reliability of both Acts and the Gospels. As such, Acts is an extremely important work for emphasizing the truth of scripture.