Presenter: Fr. Antonio O. Moreno
Opening Prayer: Psalm 1 – True happiness in God’s Law
Week 1: Introduction – What is Acts and by whom?
Theme: God’s guidance of the Christian Way
Acts of the Apostles – Introduction
The Acts of the Apostles is the only book in the New Testament which continues the story of Jesus into the early church. St. Luke is writing not as some kind of “pure historian,” but as a Pastoral leader to provide his Christian readers with models to follow. His account is a faith account, full of belief in God’s action within the events he narrates. It tries to edify or build up the readers’ faith as well. In fact, one could describe Acts as a presentation of the Christian way of following Jesus, as seen in the lives of the earliest Christians.
Traditions from the early church identify the author of Acts with St. Luke. The Gospel of St. Luke and Acts of the Apostles were written in the eighties or nineties A.D., some twenty to thirty years after the death of St. Paul.
Outline of Acts of the Apostles
1:12-8:3 Birth and growth of the church in Jerusalem through the Holy Spirit
8:4 -9:31 Persecution and expansion in Judea and Samaria
9:32-15:35 Gentiles: Peter and Cornelius, Barnabas and Saul, the Council of Jerusalem
15:36-18:23 St. Paul’s mission to the Gentiles: The second journey
18:24-21:14 St. Paul’s destiny in Jerusalem: the third journey
21:15-26:32 St. Paul as prisoner witnesses to the resurrection
27:1-28:31 “You shall bear witness at Rome”
Themes in Acts of the Apostles
Acts is written as a narrative, yet the story contains several theological themes that continually re-emerge. Those include:
1. Triumph of Christianity despite all obstacles
Frequently Acts will remark that “the word of God continued to spread” (6:7), no matter what persecutions or natural disasters got in the way.
2. The fulfillment of God’s saving plan
God’s establishing the risen Jesus as Messiah in Heaven and his outpouring of the Holy kingdom. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate realization of the promises to Abraham. The Holy Spirit would anoint leaders for God’s people and empower Christians to preach, heal, cast out evil spirits, and witness even unto death. Thus it would restore Israel and bless all nations by cleansing and incorporating them into God’s people without circumcision.
3. Continuity amidst change
Acts reassures Christians facing unexpected changes in God’s people. Just as today many Christians are bewildered and dismayed by rapid changes in the church, so it was in St. Luke’s time. Acts traces the major changes in God’s people from its beginnings in Jewish disciples of Jesus from Nazareth to the mostly Gentile church spread out over most of the Roman Empire in the first century.
Acts exhibits continuity between these church stages by showing how God instigated the major shifts. Thus God sent St. Peter and St. Paul to convert Gentiles without circumcising them.
Other principles of continuity are the Twelve, who passed on church leadership from Jesus to later leaders like St. Paul, and the many Jews who became Christians. These were the “missing link” between the primarily Gentile church of St. Luke’s day and its origins in the Jewish Messiah, people, and Scripture. St. Luke treats Jewish Christians as the restored Israel who continue the people of God’s promises.
4. Jesus does the will of God
Because St. Luke wants to stress continuity with the Jewish people, he emphasizes the human aspects of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. He points out how much like Moses Jesus is. He reserves the term “God” for the Father. Jesus is only carrying out the will of the God of the Old Testament.
5. New leadership for God’s people
The early chapters of Acts show how the apostles replaced the Jewish Sanhedrin as leaders of God’s people. All attempts to silence them were frustrated. Clearly, God was blessing the apostles’ leadership, even by healings. He was simultaneously rejecting the Sanhedrin from leading his people.
6. Jesus acting through his Spirit-filed disciples
Despite Jesus’ ascension into heaven, he continues to act on earth through his disciples. After giving them the Holy Spirit, he enables them to preach and heal in his name. Especially through St. Paul, he “will proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles” (26:23). Finally, those who reject his disciples in Acts reject Jesus and are excommunicated from his people (3:23).
7. Healing and restoration
Acts stresses healing as a sign of restoration and salvation. Cripples were considered unclean and unable to pray in the temple. The healing of the cripple in Acts 3 so he can enter the temple symbolizes the restoration of Israel to be able to pray worthily (Luke 1:75). Often in St. Luke, Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.”In Acts 4:9-10 St. Peter uses “saved” for the cripple’s healing. As a form of salvation, healing can symbolize eternal life. St. Luke carefully distinguishes healing from magic (Acts 8 and 9)
8. God’s guidance of the Christian Way
Acts makes clear that Christians do not go wherever they wish or do what they feel like when they are following Christ. Rather, all through Acts God guides Christians. He refuses to let St. Paul go into Asia but directs him to Macedonia and Greece instead (Acts 16). The Holy Spirit is the principal way God leads Christians in Acts, but he also uses appearances, visions, dreams, angels, and prophecies. All these forms of guidance demonstrate for St. Luke that the decisions and actions of the early church were not human ideas but a response to God’s direction.
9. Apologetic for Christianity and especially for St. Paul
Act stresses that Jewish Christians, including St. Paul, remained faithful to the Jewish law. St. Luke defends St. Paul against the charge of being a Jewish apostate. Likewise, Acts insists that the decision to admit non-Jews without circumcision came from God. If God cleanses pagans by his Holy Spirit, Christians are not to treat them as unclean.
Acts also insists the St. Paul was innocent of any violation of Roman law or order, as St. Luke’s Gospel did for Jesus. St. Paul’s trials in Acts 22-26 repeatedly ended in innocent verdicts by Roman judges. Christians are no threat to the order of the state.