As I told you before Acts is similar to Luke’s Gospel in that he has been careful to give us an ordered account. He makes that point clear to us in the beginning of his Gospel. But as we have seen as we gemmed Luke’s Gospel, the order is not chronological. Luke carefully structures his Gospel in expanding themes and linking ideas together. He has something very particular to say. This ordered structure is no less true of his second book, The Acts of the Apostles as it has become titled. Similarly there is structure to the way Luke has written this second historical account. Once more he has carefully research it. As I told you in an earlier Gems, he has no doubt interviewed many of the notable participants. Again the book is addressed to Theophilus. So all I wrote in Gems 733 applies to the Book of Acts as well. For that reason permit me to repeat again what I wrote in that Gems.
it seemed good also to me, having traced out all things accurately from the first, to write in order to you, most excellent Theophilus,Luke 1:3
Indeed, O Theophilus, I made the first report concerning all things which Jesus began both to do and to teach,Acts 1:1
There is a difference of opinion among the “experts” as to who or what this name refers to.
The name means “friend of God” or more literally “God lover” or as David Pawson likes to say “Mr God Friendly” or even Mr Sincere Inquirer. Is this person, Theophilus, a real person or a non de plume to depict all God Inquirers or God Lovers? Was Luke’s Gospel written for one man who then shared it with the masses or written for all God lovers?
Many have supposed that Luke did not refer to any particular “individual,” but to all people that loved God. Others feel there is no reason for this opinion. Significant names were very common, and there is no good reason to doubt that this was some individual known to Luke. They feel the application of the title “most excellent “proves it further. It would not be given to an unknown man. The title “most excellent” has by some been supposed to be given to express his “character,” but it is rather to be considered as denoting rank or office. It occurs only in three other places in the New Testament, and is there given to men “in office” – to Felix and Festus, Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25. These titles express no quality of the “men,” but belong to the “office;” and we may hence learn that it is not improper for Christians, in giving honor to whom honor is due, to address men in office by their customary titles, even if their moral character be altogether unworthy of it. Who “Theophilus” was is unknown. It is probable that he was some distinguished Roman or Greek who had been converted, who was a friend of Luke, and who had requested an account of these things. It is possible that this preface might have been sent to him as a private letter with the gospel, and Theophilus chose to have them published together. Theophylact says, he was of the order of the senators, and perhaps a nobleman, or prince. Salvian however, this name was not a general name but the name of a particular man, who believed in Christ, and was an acquaintance of Luke’s. Webster and Wilkinson suppose that “Theophilus” was the chief magistrate of some city in Greece or Asia Minor.
David Pawson in his excellent overview of the Bible [Unlocking the Bible] suggests it would be strange for Luke to spend four years researching in order to write for just one person. Hence the conclusion that Luke has written for all believers or lovers of God. The Theophilus becomes an imaginary representative for all God lovers – “Mr Sincere Inquirer”. Or that Theophilus was a real person and Luke did indeed write for him but then the “letter” was so good and was recognized as such it was published for all. Others have put forward the theory that Theophilus was a high official in some way connected with Paul’s case before Festus and Felix.
David Pawson picks up on this thought and suggests that Theophilus was Paul’s defense lawyer. Such a defense lawyer would need to have all the facts in an ordered concise way. The thought is then that Luke researched the facts related to the life and death of Jesus and the reason why Paul was linked to this new religion. Luke was not one of the 12 Apostles and so he had to interview the eye witnesses as to the facts of the case. Pawson argues the content of Luke and Acts fits with what a lawyer would require – accurate dates of the events, and the repeated suggestions that Roman authorities found both Jesus and Paul innocent of the charges. Pawson maintains it explains why Paul is the focus of the Book of Acts to the exclusion of Peter, why Paul’s testimony is given three times in Acts and why the Book of Acts ends so abruptly with Paul awaiting trial. In point of fact it was not just Paul who was on trial but Christianity itself.
Interesting I will leave you to ponder these things and figure out for yourself what you believe about Theophilus and who the book was written to – a single particular man or all God lovers everywhere. I know what I believe about it but I am not telling you, you have to come to your own conclusion before I will say anymore. We pick up these thoughts again now as we look at the Book of Acts. Hold on to these thoughts and “treasure them in your heart” like Mary did with the things of Jesus.
Notice too in terms of structure that Acts is arranged in particular ways. The most significant thing to note is the comment made by Jesus in Acts 1:8 appears to become a statement of intent around which the Book of Acts is arranged.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8
There is clearly a progression in the Book of Acts which follows the order of Jesus statement.
- First: Jerusalem
- Second: Judea and Samaria
- Third: Ends of the Earth – well the extent of the Rome Empire at that time.
The Acts of the Apostles is based on the activities of two Apostles in particular, namely Peter and Paul. Peter, the Apostle to the Jews is the focus of Acts 1 to 12 while Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles is the focus of Acts 13 to 28. Maybe it should be called the Acts of Two Apostles or the Acts of Peter and Paul. I suggested earlier in these Gems it could be called The Acts of the Holy Spirit. Why are only Peter and Paul in focus?
There is yet another pattern in this book to note as we move through the details before us. Take note of the following verses:
So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.Acts 6:7
The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.Acts 9:31
Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.Acts 12:24
So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.Act 16:5
So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.Act 19:20
Do you notice something about these verses? We will look at the significance of this in the next Gems, after you have had some time to ponder it. Whatever else you do, keep these things in mind as we progress through the rest of the Acts. The above features will help us to get a handle on Luke’s second book and enable us to work out what his purpose was. After all that is the paramount task in hand. Why was the Book of Acts written as it was and what is its message to us?
Keep tuned into this station and keep your thinking caps on.
He who has a why . . . can bear almost any how.Nietzsche
It is the height of ignorance to reject something you know nothing about!Anon
The prudent man looks at all angles and weighs up the evidence before forming his conclusions.Anon
Do your best to present yourself to God as an approved worker who has nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of truth with precision. (ISV)
Give diligence to present yourself approved to God, a workman unashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (LITV)2 Timothy 2:15