Acts of the Apostles
is the second section of the Gospel According to Luke, one of four canonical Gospels written by early Christian evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospel, as a whole, outlines Jesus Christ’s origins, birth, life’s work, death, resurrection, and final ascension to Heaven. The Acts of the Apostles
focus on the beginnings of the Church in the wake of Jesus’s death on the cross. The Acts addresses a reader called Theophilus, a figure about whom very little is known. According to early Christian history, Luke is a traveling associate of Paul of Tarsus, a well-known missionary. Considerable dispute has arisen regarding whether Luke actually authored this section of his Gospel; however, authorship is still formally attributed to him. Similarly, the exact year in which the Acts
was written is unknown, but it is generally agreed to have been sometime between 80 and 90 A.D.Acts of the Apostles
begins with Jesus’s instructions to his Twelve Apostles to evangelize the Gospel around the world. He appoints Peter as their leader, and they accumulate a small congregation of Christians in Jerusalem. Their first act is to appoint Matthias as the twelfth Apostle. He replaces Judas Iscariot, the Apostle who betrayed Christ to Pontius Pilate. In the same year of Jesus’s death and resurrection, the disciples gather to celebrate the grain harvest in a holiday called the Pentecost. The Holy Spirit visits them and endows them with the ability to speak all of the world’s languages.
Peter gives a sermon in which he recounts the Holy Spirit’s miracle. He asserts that the gift of tongues belongs to people whom God has selected to become prophets. Peter also gives an overview of Jesus’s life work, crucifixion, and resurrection. He states that Jesus is the Messiah, backing up his argument with citations to the Old Testament, in which God promises the Jews that he will save them from persecution. 3,000 people become willing converts due to Peter’s sermon, and are all quickly baptized. They become a flourishing community of good-natured and peaceful practitioners of Christianity in which property is commonly owned and freely shared. Peter exalts a man named Barnabas who gives selflessly. He also tells the story of a couple that steals from the Church, and dies as punishment. John and Peter also travel to the temple and heal a crippled beggar.
Peter reminds his congregation that the Jews are God’s chosen people, and compels them to repent. The temple’s Sadducee high priests, who reject the possibility of resurrection, summon John and Peter to the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin. There, Peter reasserts his belief that Jesus was resurrected after his crucifixion. The court lets them go with a mere warning, since they know the public stands behind the Apostles.
When the Apostles continue to evangelize their religious beliefs, the high priest throws them in prison. An angel sets them free from their cells, and they go on preaching. Taken to court yet another time, Peter speaks on behalf of himself and the other Apostles, arguing that they must obey God over any earthly authority. A Jewish sage, Gamaliel, warns the court that they cannot overthrow the Apostles’ supporters, and provides additional caution that, should the Apostles be right, the Jews would have committed a crime against God. Heeding his advice, the court decides not to execute their prisoners.
The feud resolves itself somewhat through the division of the Church into two organized religions. The first is composed of Christians who were born Jewish, but descend from the Greeks; they are fittingly called the Hellenists. The second group is the Hebrews, which is composed of non-Greek Christians who were born Jewish (including the Apostles). The Hellenists feel that they are becoming subject to systematic discrimination because they originate from Greece and have fewer ties to the Holy Land. In an effort to placate them, the wider Christian congregation elects 7 council members to represent the Hellenists. The leader of this council becomes a minister named Stephen. An argument erupts between Stephen and a congregation of Jews who hold him responsible for the Hellenists’ opposition to the Sanhedrin. They contend that he has habitually undermined the Jewish people by speaking out against Jewish holy law and the traditions of the Jewish homeland.
Stephen responds by giving a long speech to the Sanhedrin council. He delivers a lengthy survey of Jewish leadership as recorded in the Bible. At the end of his speech, he warns the Hebrews that they are too preoccupied with reinterpreting the meaning of the Bible to fulfill their worldly needs. He rebukes them for living in “houses made with human hands,” a crime tantamount to fighting against the Holy Spirit. This speech sums up the general function of Acts of the Apostles
, which was to explain how the Apostles ushered forward a more authentic, godly, and sustainable religion than the traditional Jewish Hebrews.