Book of Acts Bible Study
Overview of the Book

When you study the book of Acts, you are studying the establishment and growth of the church.   through the evangelistic efforts of five men.  The book of Acts can be divided in a number of ways, and one of the ways we can divide the book of Acts is by those five key individuals.

  1. Luke:  Luke engaged in evangelism.  Later, as you study the the book of Acts, Luke is one of the traveling companions of the apostle Paul and does some preaching.  You can also read about his evangelistic efforts in the first few verses of Acts as he is sharing the gospel with a man named Theophilus.
  2. The Apostle Peter:  from Acts 2 through Acts 11, just under half of the book of Acts, follows Peter and His preaching.
  3. Stephen:  You can read about him in Acts 6 through 8.  In Acts 6, Stephen was appointed as a deacon in the church.  His only sermon that is recorded in found in Acts 7.  It was that sermon that resulted in his being stoned to death in Acts 8.  Stephen was both a deacon and an evangelist.
  4. Philip:  Philip was also a deacon and an evangelist.  As a result of Stephen’s death in Acts 8, the disciples of Jesus were scattered throughout Palestine, and among those who were scattered was Philip.  (Acts 8.4,5)
  5. The Apostle Paul:  The bulk of the book of Acts is devoted primarily to the work that he accomplished.

As you study the book of Acts, there are also five key trips that were taken.

  1. The first trip was taken in Acts 8 after the death of Stephen where those who were scattered had left Jerusalem and traveled to Samaria and beyond.  You can read about that in Acts 8.1-4 as well as Acts 11.19.  So you have the scattering in Acts 8, and in Acts 11, you will read some additional information as to where they went.
  2. The second, third, and fourth trip would be Paul’s three missionary journeys.
  3. The fifth and final trip would be Paul’s journey to Rome.  It is there that the book of Acts comes to a close with Paul under house arrest in Rome.    

Studying the book of Acts will tells you about five key individuals who went on five trips to preach the gospel, and these five trips took them to five different locations.

  1. The first key location was Palestine.  If you look on a map, you will learn that Palestine consists of three major regions.  There is Southern Palestine which is Judea, and it is there that you will find the city of Jerusalem.  Moving north, you will come to central Palestine which is the region of Samaria.  Keep going north, and you’ll come to the northern part of Palestine which is Galilee.
  2. The second key location is Asia Minor.  This is the location where Paul preached traveled on his first missionary journey.  If you turn to the book of Revelation, you will read about the seven churches of Asia.  
  3. The third key location is Macedonia.  When Paul returned from his first missionary journey, he wanted to go back and check on the congregations he had visited and see how they were doing  (Acts 15.36).  It was during that second missionary journey that Paul had a vision and was told to go to Macedonia.  (Acts 16.9,10)
  4. The fourth key location is Greece.  
  5. The fifth and final location is the city of Rome.  It is there that Paul stands trial and preaches the gospel to the authorities, Felix, Festus, and even King Agrippa all the while making an appeal to appear before Caesar.  

These are things to keep in mind when you study the book of Acts.  There are five key evangelists who went on five key journeys to five key locations.  These observations provide for us a summary of the book of Acts.  As you study the book of Acts, you want to give attention to the overall context of the book.  To get a sense of the book, there are three questions you need to answer.  By answering these three questions, you will have a context in which to frame the things you find in this book.  Everything that you read in the book of Acts will be flavored by how you answer the following three questions.  

The Book of Acts Bible Study
Who Wrote the Book of Acts?

You will find a hint to this question at the beginning of the book.  The author does not identify himself, but he does give some indication of his identity by referencing his previous work.

Acts 1.1:  “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach”  

From this verse, we can conclude that the book of Acts was written by Luke.  The book of Luke and the book of Acts were written to the same person.  If you go to the book of Luke and read the first four verses, you will find the same person being addressed.  

Luke 1.1-4:  Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed."

It was written so that this man, Theophilus, could understand who Jesus was and what Jesus did.  The book of Acts was addressed to the same man, and that means that the author was Luke.

Consider three additional reasons why Luke is the author of Acts.

1.  Luke ends the same way that Acts begins

The reason why we can know that the book of Acts was written by Luke is because the last chapter of Luke and the first chapter of Acts contain the same content.  

In Luke 24, the book ends with three events.  

  1. First, you will read about the great commission.  This commission is different than what you will find in Matthew 28 and in Mark 16.  It is here that Jesus tells His disciples that they are to preach repentance and remission of sins starting at Jerusalem.  (Luke 24.46-48).  
  2. After Jesus gives the great commission, He promises the Holy Spirit.  (Luke 24.49)    
  3. The book of Luke then concludes with the ascension of Jesus.  (Luke 24.50-52)

The book of Acts begins with the same three subjects although in a different order.  

  1. After the introduction of Acts in the first three verses, the writer begins with promise of the Holy Spirit  (Acts 1.4-7).
  2. Then in verse 8, you will read the great commission.  (Acts 1.8)
  3. Then you will read about the the ascension of Jesus.  (Acts 1.9-11)

The similarities with the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts indicates that the author of Acts is Luke.

2.  Acts is the Continuation of the book of Luke

Acts 1.1:  "The former account I made, O Theophilus..."

The book of Acts is the second account which follows the book of Luke.  

The first part of the account is the book of Luke.  In this book, Luke tells the story of Jesus.  Acts picks up where Luke stops.  Luke is the the former account.  Acts is the second part of the story that begins in Luke.  

In the first part, you are reading about Christ.  In the second part, you are reading about the church of Christ. 

3.  Both Luke and Acts have similar lanaguage

You can know that the book of Acts was written by Luke because of the vernacular that is used.  

There are words and phrases that are found both in Luke and in Acts that are not found anywhere else in the New Testament.  That suggests that the author of Luke is also the author of Acts.

Based on this evidence, we can conclude that Luke was the author of the book of Acts.

The Book of Acts Bible Study
To Whom was the Book of Acts Written?

When you study the first verse of the book of Acts, you will find the answer to this question.  The recipient of this letter was a man named Theophilus.  Consider how Luke addressed him in the gospel of Luke.

Luke 1.3: “it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus”

The word “excellent” found in verse 3 to describe Theophilus is a Greek word describing nobility and power.  That implies that Theophilus was a man of great position whether in government or in society.

This same description was made of governor Festus and Felix.  (Acts 23.26; 24.3)

Theophilus was probably someone had some sway.  He probably held some position of authority.  This book was written to that man.  

Acts 1.1:  “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”

The name Theophilus is actually two words put together.  

  • The first word is “theos” and that is the word for “God.”
  • The second word is “Phileo” and that is the word for the love of a friend.

The name “Theophilus” is a name that literally means, "One who loves God."  

Scholars have suggested that this is not his real name but a nickname.  It is possible that the real name of the target of this letter is unknown, and that he is only know by a nickname which describes him as someone who loves God.

There is an example of someone known for their nickname in Acts 4.  There you can read about a man named Joses.  Because he was such a good encourager, they gave him the nickname, Barnabas  (Acts 4.36).

Theophilus could be his real name, and it could be his nickname.  Regardless of his name, this is the one to whom the book of Acts was written.

The Book of Acts Bible Study
Why was the Book of Acts Written?

The book of Acts is a book of history.  It is a piece of recorded history that documents the spreading of the gospel and the establishment of the church.

If you study the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, will constantly read about how the kingdom of God is at hand.  In fact, the very first message that Jesus preached when He began His ministry was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”  (Matt. 4.17).  The gospels were written to tell us about Jesus and to prepare us for the coming of the kingdom, the church.  

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, "On this rock, I will build My church”  (Matt. 16.18).  In the gospels, the church did not yet exist.  It was still future.

From Romans through Jude, you have a series of epistles written to Christians.  It may be an individual Christian such as Timothy or Philemon.  It may be a church such as the church in Corinth or the church in Ephesus.  It may be a bunch of local churches within a specific area such as the churches of Galatia.  In all of these epistles, it is assumed that the church has already been established.  Paul wrote to a young preacher named Timothy, "I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth”  (1 Tim. 3.15).

In the gospels, the church was going to be established.  In the epistles, the church had already been established.  Right in between the gospels and the epistles is this book of history that documents how the church came into existence.  

Consider the great commission as recorded in the first chapter of Acts.

Acts 1.8:  "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Jesus tells these men that they were going to be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  That was accomplished through the preaching of five men who went on five trips to five locations.

These instructions in Acts 1.8, propelled these five individuals to go out to the world and preach the gospel.  They did what they did because that is what Jesus commanded them to do.  The book of Acts is the historical record of them doing just that.

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