There has been much debate over Luke’s purpose in Acts.
- Some see it as a book with political motivation.
- Others see it as a religious work dealing the tension between Jew and Christian.
- Still others view it as a defence of the Work of the Holy Spirit
- Most regard it as a purely historical work laying out for us the beginnings of Christianity.
Political, Religious, Social or Historical or even Apologetic, whatever you think may well reflect our own bias as to what we think of the book. Most of us view the world through our own grid and attribute to others motives which we ourselves hold dear. I will give you an outline of some of the views of others below. But ultimately we must grapple with Luke’s purpose, not ours. What evidence is there in the way Luke has structured the book, the repetitive patterns he has used and the choices he has made for what to include in terms of content which give us clues to his purpose? We will ultimately reserve judgement on all of this until we have examined all the detail of the book of Acts itself.
Baur’s theory was that this book was written to give a conciliatory view of the conflict between Peter and Paul, and that a pattern of parallelism exists in the Acts between these two heroes. But this theory does not take into view all the facts, and fails to explain the book as a whole. Peter and Paul are the heroes of the book as they undoubtedly were the two chief personalities in apostolic history. There is some parallelism between the two men (compare the worship offered Peter at Caesarea in Acts 10:25, and that to Paul in Acts 14:11. There is no real evidence to suggest Luke attempted to deal with the issue of who was greater Paul or Peter. The few similarities and comparisons included are merely factual similarities.
Both Paul and Peter:
- Performed miracles, healed the sick, healed a cripple
- Healed extraordinarily – Peter by his shadow and Paul through handkerchiefs
- Exorcised demons
- Saw visions
- Were persecuted and suffered
- Made long speeches
- Were filled with the Spirit
- Preached with boldness
- Were imprisoned and miraculously set free
- Raised the dead
- Refused worship
- Died in Rome
Others have seen in the Acts a strong purpose to conciliate Gentile (pagan) opinion in the way the Roman governors and military officers are so uniformly presented as favorable to Paul, while the Jews are represented as the real aggressors against Christianity. Here again the fact is beyond dispute. But the other explanation is the more natural, namely, that Luke brings out this aspect of the matter because it was the truth. Luke does have an eye on the world relations of Christianity and rightly reflects Paul’s ambition to win the Roman Empire to Christ, but that is not to say that he has given the book a political bias or coloured it so as to deprive it of its historical worth. It is probably true that Luke felt, as did Paul, that Judaism realized its world destiny in Christianity, that Christianity was the true Judaism, the spiritual and real Israel. If Luke wrote Acts in Rome, while Paul’s case was still before Nero, it is easy to understand the somewhat long and detailed account of the arrest and trials of Paul in Jerusalem, Caesarea and Rome. The point would be that the legal aspect of Christianity before Roman laws was involved. If Paul was condemned as a Christian, the whole aspect of the matter would be altered. Christianity would at once become an illegitimate religion. The last word in the Acts comments on the fact that Paul, though still a prisoner, was permitted to preach unhindered. After AD 64 and the persecution under Nero Christianity stood apart from Judaism in the eye of Rome.
Others believe Luke closed the Book of Acts when he did and as he did because the events with Paul had only gone thus far. Numerous scholars hold that Luke had in mind a third book (Acts 1:1), a possible though by no means necessary inference from “first treatise.” It was a climax to carry the narrative on to Rome with Paul, but it is rather straining the point to find all this in Acts 1:8. Rome was not “the uttermost part of the earth,” Spain could more naturally be considered that. Nor did Paul take the gospel to Rome. Besides, to make the arrival of Paul in Rome the goal in the mind of Christ is too narrowing a purpose. The purpose to go to Rome did dominate Paul’s mind for several years (Acts 19:21), but Paul has no role in the early parts of the book. Paul wished to push on from Rome to Spain (Rom 15:24). It is probably true that Luke means to announce his purpose in Acts 1:1-8. One needs to keep in mind also Luke 1:1-4. There are various ways of writing history. Luke chooses the biographical method in Acts. Thus he conceives that he can best set forth the tremendous task of interpreting the first thirty years of the apostolic history. It is around persons, two great figures (Peter and Paul), that the narrative is focused. Peter is most prominent in Acts 1 through 12, Paul in 13through 28. Still Paul’s conversion is told in Acts 9 and Peter reappears in Acts 15.
But these two great apostles do not stand alone. This second book of Luke has been called after all the Acts of the Apostles. John the Apostle is certainly with Peter in the opening chapters. The other apostles are mentioned also by name (Acts 1:13) and a number of times in the first twelve chapters (and in Acts 15). But after Acts 15 they drop out of the narrative, for Luke follows the fortunes of Paul. The other chief secondary figures in Acts are Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, James, Apollos, all Hellenists except for James. The minor characters are numerous (John, Mark, Silas, Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla, Aristarchus, etc.). In most cases Luke gives a distinct picture of these incidental personages. In particular he brings into focus such men as Gallio, Claudius, Lysias, Felix, Festus, Herod, Agrippa I and II, Julius. Luke’s conception of the apostolic history is that it is the work of Jesus carried out by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1). Christ chose the apostles, commanded them to wait for power from on high, filled them with the Holy Spirit and then sent them on the mission of world conquest. In the Acts Luke records the waiting, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the planting of a powerful church in Jerusalem and the expansion of the gospel to Samaria and all over the Roman Empire. He addresses the book to Theophilus as his patron, a Gentile Christian plainly, as he had done with his gospel. The book is designed for the enlightenment of Christians generally concerning the historic origins of Christianity. It is in truth the first church history. It is in reality the Acts of the Holy Spirit as wrought through these men. It is an inspiring narration. Luke had no doubt whatever of the future of a gospel with such a history and with such heroes of faith as Peter and Paul. There are some who believe he wrote the book to spread the message himself, so his purpose was Evangelical.
Others believe the Book of Acts was not written to record the birth of the church, the body of Christ. Rather they believe Luke’s primary purpose was to record the downfall of Israel. Why did the kingdom not come? The answer is that it could not come until the nation repented and believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Since the nation refused to repent, God set it aside and began to form His Church, the body of Christ, by commissioning Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. Many who believe replacement theology hold to this view. The idea is based around the three fold repetition of rejection by Israel of the message of salvation in Christ.
There is one more theory on why Luke wrote the book that I will deal with in the next Gem. It requires more investigation and links to something which we have covered already. More in Gem 1337 & 1338.
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.Mark Twain
Christianity is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good!David Pawson
I don’t have what it takes to sit back and be average.Anon
If things get better with age, then I must be approaching magnificent.Anon