Acts of the Apostles :: Catholic News Agency
Acts of the Apostles

Author: Luke the Beloved Physician

Date Written: 60's or 80's AD

Date of Narrative: 30-50 AD


Acts is the second volume of the two-volume work, Luke-Acts.  Written by Luke the beloved physician (Col 4:14), Luke-Acts seamlessly connects the life of Jesus to the lives of the early Apostles after the resurrection.  The gospel of Luke is about what Jesus "began to do and teach." (Acts 1:1)  But Acts is about what Jesus continued to do and teach through the lives of his followers.  Acts highlights the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and illustrates that Christianity is not an offense to Roman law or custom.


Acts begins with a recapitulation of Jesus' ascension mentioned at the end of Luke.  Jesus tells the apostles that they will bring his message to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (1:8).  Luke uses this prophetic statement as an outline for Acts.  Once the apostles are "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (1:5) at Pentecost (2), they evangelize the people in Jerusalem (1-7).  Soon they are suppressed in the city and begin to evangelize in the surrounding territory of Judea and Samaria (8-12).  Eventually, the Church accepts Gentile believers and promotes the gospel throughout the whole known world (13-28).


The apostles, the first bishops of the Church, appoint deacons to assist them (6).  Stephen, one of these deacons, is executed for his faith and so becomes the proto-martyr of the Church.  The persecutor Saul encounters Jesus in a dramatic vision and becomes a Christian (9).  His named is changed to Paul and Acts follows his life.  He is also the author of many of the letters in the New Testament.


Church authority becomes a key issue when debate is raging over the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Church.  Peter's vision of unclean animals (10) and his speech before the apostles (15) constitute the deciding factors in favor of the Gentiles.  Peter and Paul figure as the central apostles in Acts.  They each give seven speeches and each plays a particular role: Peter as the central authority of the Church; Paul as the chief evangelist.  In fact, to this day their skulls are in adjacent reliquaries in St. John Lateran and statues of the two flank St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.


The Holy Spirit's action is central to the movement of the plot.  He descends on the apostles with power, inspires their preaching, tells them where to go and aids them in making doctrinal decisions.  The Holy Spirit fills Stephen when he testifies before the Sanhedrin and the Spirit comes upon the Gentiles to indicate God's desire for their salvation.


Twice the issue of Paul's Roman citizenship is brought up.  Luke carefully shows that his practices were not contrary to Roman law and that each time he was imprisoned or beaten there was no legal justification.  In the last few chapters, Paul gets entangled in an inefficient legal system.  The Jews in the Temple are about to kill him for supposedly bringing Gentiles into the part of the Temple where they were not allowed.  He is arrested by Roman authorities because they think he started a riot.  The tribune who arrested him hands him over to the governor in Caesarea, Felix, who never decides his case as a favor to the Jewish authorities (24:27).  Felix's successor, Festus, takes a similar approach and suggests that Paul be tried before the Jews in Jerusalem which would have meant sure death (25:9).  Paul then appeals to Caesar, which was his right to do as a citizen.  He is thus taken to Rome and Acts ends with him under house arrest in Rome.  From piecing together the evidence we have, historians posit that Paul's case was eventually dismissed.  He proceeded to travel and evangelize, but finally is brought back to Rome and martyred there about six years after the end of Acts' narrative.

By Mark Giszczak

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