If I handed you a letter written from one person to another, and you began reading it somewhere in the middle, it would not likely make a lot of sense, would it? You would not know who was writing, to whom it was written, or what was the purpose for the letter.
Yet as silly as that sounds, this is exactly how many people begin studying the Bible – just jumping into the middle of some section of Scripture. And then, it is said to be difficult to understand! No wonder! We do not always know the “who, what, when, where, and why” for every book of the Bible, but we do know it for many, and that background helps us immensely with understanding the Scriptures.
It is fairly clear that the book of Acts was written by Luke and to a guy named Theophilus. We know that Luke also wrote his Gospel for a fellow addressed as “most excellent Theophilus.” And though the writer of Acts never identifies himself, he likewise addresses Theophilus again and references his former written book. (Look below to see these passages.)
As well, later in the Acts of the Apostles, the writer puts himself into the narrative of traveling with Paul for a time by talking about the places “we” went in “our” group. From other New Testament writings we are able to know who was with Paul at that time, and the list includes Luke. All the others are mentioned by name at some point in Acts, and so the process of elimination makes it pretty clear that Luke is the writer. We know too from Colossians 4:14 that Luke was a physician, as well as being a gentile believer in Christ.
The identity of Theophilus is more obscure. Many believe he was some sort of gentile Roman official who was interested in an accounting of who was this fellow named Jesus Christ, along with curiosity about what was this message of the Gospel. If so, that would make him likely a seeker of truth, perhaps someone very unique among his circle of acquaintances – which were more likely to ridicule this faith with its Eastern origins.
So the books of Luke and Acts go together. Just as it was unimaginable to write of the work of Jesus Christ without also recording the results worldwide of his teaching, it was likewise incomplete for Luke to write a history of those results without first reviewing the earthly ministry of Christ.
The title of the book “The Acts of the Apostles” was of course not selected by Luke, but was rather how it was commonly referenced in the first century or so after it was written. Peter is the primary character for the first part of the writing, while Paul takes center stage in the latter half. Some have said it should more appropriately be called “The Acts of the Spirit,” since it records the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and then the subsequent work of the Spirit in the spread of the Gospel.
Whatever it is called, it does present the growth of the message of the Gospel and the expansion of this truth through the establishment of the church in the Roman world. We would really be lost to understand so much about the letters to the churches that comprise the Epistles without having this historical background. And the book gives us a practical model for living in the midst of a secular world.
And beyond this historic progress report of the spread of Christianity, another theme is the prominence of prayer as supportive for successful living and ministry. And that is especially why we are studying the book this summer.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilledamong us,2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.