The Book of Acts

 

This is the longest lesson on one book that you will cover in this class.  Acts is important for two reasons:

  1. It traces a shift that takes place from the leadership of Peter to Paul

  2. It traces a major shift that takes place by the early church leaders in understanding the purpose of Jesus.

·         In this lesson you will see the shift from Peter to Paul.

·         In the next lesson you will learn about the shift in understanding the purpose of Jesus.

 

Author

 

Place and Time of Writing

 

Literary Character

 

Audience

 

Theme

·         Acts tells the history of the early church from AD 30-62.

 

Opening Acts Up

 

Timeline in Acts    All dates are approximate

 

30

1.  Jesus with his 11 Apostles and ascended out of sight

2.  Apostles returned to Jerusalem

3.  Apostles chose someone to take Judas’ place:  Matthias was the twelfth Apostle

4.  Day of Pentecost (explained below); Peter preaches the first sermon

5.  Over 3000 people became Christian

6.  Christianity spreads outside of Israel

30-50

In my opinion Peter was basically the leader of the Christian movement during this time period.  He was not chosen, but he was the leader of the 12 Apostles when Jesus was alive and he remained their leader until the Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 50.

33

Paul became a Christian on the road to Damascus

48-50

Paul went on his First Missionary Trip (date approximate)

50

Council of Jerusalem:  In my opinion at this point Paul basically became the leader of Christianity.  He was not chosen, but he had the most correct understanding of Christianity and he left to go on the most significant missionary trips of all the Apostles; Peter and John were at the Council

50-55

Paul went on his Second Missionary Trip (dates approximate)

55-60

Paul went on his Third Missionary Trip (dates approximate)

60-62

Paul arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Rome

62-63

(Not in Acts) Paul probably released from prison during this time

63-65

(Not in Acts) Paul probably traveled.  He may have gone to Spain

65

(Not in Acts) Paul back in Rome; He and Peter arrested and martyred

1.  Peter is crucified upside down

2.  Paul is beheaded

 

Outline of items in this section:

·         Ascension

·         Choosing a new apostle

·         Day of Pentecost

o    Speaking in tongues

·         Peter is the leader

·         Paul’s biography up to his First Missionary Trip

·         Paul’s First Missionary Trip (1MT)

·         Council of Jerusalem

o    Discuss the whole Bible view

·         Paul’s 2MT

·         Paul’s 3MT

·         Paul’s arrest and trip to Rome

·         Extra-biblical:  quote about Peter’s and Paul’s deaths

 

The Ascension:  1:1-11

 

The “Ascension” is the Christian belief that Jesus’ last act on earth was to take his 11 Apostles (Judas had committed suicide) to a lonely place, and then he rose up until he was out of sight.  (This happened after Jesus had been crucified and rose from the dead.)  This is described in four places in the NT:  The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the book of Acts.

 

Choosing a new apostle:  1:12-26

 

After they saw Jesus ascend out of sight, the 11 Apostles were probably not sure what to do.  After all, for three years they Jesus had made all the decisions:  where to go, what to do, etc.  This was the only the second time that they had been without Jesus.

Acts 1:4 shows that the 11 Apostles were staying in Jerusalem before the Ascension, and they returned.  The verse plus the next one shows that Jesus told them: 

They waited in Jerusalem, therefore, along with other followers of Jesus, including the mother of Jesus.  And they waited and waited.  Eventually they decided that they could do one thing:  replace Judas.

    Remember that Jesus had originally chosen 12 Apostles.  After betraying Jesus, Judas had committed suicide.  (Matthew 27:1-10)  Therefore, the 11 Apostles decided that Jesus must have meant for there to be 12 Apostles, and so they chose someone to take Judas’ place.

 

Day of Pentecost:  2:1-13:  Beginning of “speaking in tongues”

 

After they chose Matthias, the Apostles and others waited again.  And they prayed.  Then, according to 2:2-4:

This began the practice of “speaking in tongues.”  Much has been written about this incident in trying to figure out exactly what took place.  The next two verses give a clue (2:5, 6):

These verses show that the Apostles (and maybe others in their group?) began speaking in a language not their own, and Jews gathered in Jerusalem heard them speak in different languages. 

    This has led today to a practice known as “speaking in tongues.”  This is extremely popular within Christianity.  It is estimated that there are around 2.2 billion Christians today out of a total population of 7 billion.  And out of that 2.2 billion Christians, an estimated 300 million or about 14% practice speaking in tongues.

    But what does “speaking in tongues” mean?  Today when people say they speak in tongues it means one of three practices:

  1. Praying in tongues.  I would estimate that when 95% or more of people say they speak in tongues, they really mean that they pray in tongues.

    1. If you heard someone pray in tongues, you would think it was a different language.  After the person finishes, if you ask her what she said, she would not know.  Plus, it does not all sound alike.  I have heard people pray in tongues where it sounds like a song-type of speech with lots of s’s and l’s and m’s.  I have heard other people pray in tongues where it sounds earthier with lots of k’s and t’s and d’s. 

                                                               i.      The idea is that a person receives a “heavenly language” that is unique to each person and that God understands.  In a sense, it is a sign of obedience in that the person begins speaking and allows God to form the syllables. 

                                                             ii.      A verse that describes this is Romans 8:26:  “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

    1. Therefore, someone who prays in tongues usually accepts that God guides the tongue to express what the person is not able to express. 

  1. 2.  Speaking in tongues.  I have noticed that this takes two forms:

    1. I have been in churches where a person stood up, spoke in tongues (again, it sounds like a foreign language), and sit down.  Another person stood up and said, “This is what the Lord has to say to you,” and then preceded to tell the church what God wanted the members to hear. 

    2. I have heard of an American woman who traveled to Africa on a mission trip.  While there she was in an orphanage and noticed a child who was withdrawn.  She asked about the child and was told that both his parents had been killed and the child would not speak to anyone.   The woman went to the child and began talking to him, and he answered.  They had a conversation and then she turned to go.  One of the nurses mentioned that they did not know the American woman knew the local language.  The woman said she didn’t, and the nurse told her that she listened as the American woman spoke to the boy in his language.  The American woman said that she had heard the boy speak in English.

    3. So different types of “speaking in tongues” exists.  This is different than praying in tongues: 

                                                               i.      Praying in tongues is between the person and God.

                                                             ii.      Speaking in tongues involves other people listening

  1. Singing in tongues.  This could be related to “praying in tongues.”  A person will sing but will be doing this “in tongues.”  Again, if you ask the person what they said afterwards they will not know.  The point to them is not in knowing what they said, but in being obedient so that God can control the tongue. 

To close this section, let me remind you that the Bible does describing speaking in tongues.  Over time the understanding of what that means has grown so that several different types of “speaking in tongues” exists in Christianity today.

 

Peter is the leader:  chapters 2-12

 

Peter is shown to be the leader of the early Christian movement in several ways:

  1. After the Ascension, Peter stood up suggested that a replacement for Judas be found.

  2. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached a sermon to a crowd that had gathered and about 3000 people became Christian (2:41)

  3. Peter is the first Apostle to heal someone (3:1-10)

  4. Peter and John were arrested, and Peter spoke to the Jewish council known as the Sanhedrin (4:1-22)

  5. The Apostles were arrested and Peter was the spokesman (5:29)

  6. The Apostles sent Peter and John to Samaria, a small region in Israel (8:14)

  7. Peter raised a woman from the dead (9:40)

  8. Cornelius, a Gentile, wanted to know more about God, and he had a vision in which an angel told him to send for Peter. (10:1-6)

  9. Peter is shown to be the first one to truly understand that Jesus came not only for Jews but also for Gentiles by means of a vision (10:9-11:18)

  10. Peter was arrested and an angel helped him to escape (12:1-10)

In the first 12 chapters of Acts, no other Apostle is spoken of as much as Peter.  It is safe to say that from the Ascension of Jesus in 30 Peter was the de facto leader of the early Christian movement.

    That will change as Paul becomes prominent.

 

Paul’s biography up to his First Missionary Trip

 

 

Paul’s 1st Missionary Trip (1MT):  chapters 13 & 14

 

·         The church leaders in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas on a journey to tell people about Jesus. 

·         Paul is described as an Apostle in 14:14.

·         For a map, go here:  http://studythechurch.com/mappauls1mt.htm

·         Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe are in an area known as Galatia           

o    Later we will discuss the letter to the Galatians

·         Note:  Making a connection with an earlier idea:  why was Paul able to travel freely?  Because of Pax Romana.

 

Council of Jerusalem:  15:1-35

 

·         After the 1MT was over, Paul traveled back to Antioch. 

·         Some men came to Antioch and taught that Gentiles had to be circumcised in order become a Christian.  (We will talk much more about this in the next lesson.)  The church leaders sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to get the matter resolved. 

·         Peter was at the meeting, which became known as the Council of Jerusalem. 

·         The Apostles and other church leaders decided that Gentiles did not have become circumcised before become Christian. 

·         They then sent Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with the message. 

 

Paul’s 2nd Missionary Trip (3MT):  15:36-18:22

 

 (·         From 15:36:  “Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brother’s in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’”

·         Paul initially traveled to some of the cities he visited before, but he decided to make a much larger loop and tell about Jesus in many more cities.  For a map, go here:  http://studythechurch.com/mappauls2mt.htm 

·         If you look in the upper right hand part of the map you will see the Aegean Sea.

o    Above that you will see the cities of Philippi and Thessalonika.

o    Below and to the left you will see the city of Corinth

o    Below and to the right you will see the city of Ephesus, and further inland you will see Colossae

o    Latter we will discuss letters Paul wrote to all these cities.

 

Paul’s 3rd Missionary Trip (3MT):  18:23-21:26

 

·         Paul returned to Antioch for a while.

·         From 18:23:  “After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place [in the cities he had visited before] strengthening all the disciples.” 

·         Basically Paul visited the cities he visited on the 2MT.  For a map, go here:  http://studythechurch.com/mappauls3mt.htm 

·         But instead of ending his trip in Antioch, like he did for the first two missionary trips, he ended up in Jerusalem.  While there he was arrested.

 

Paul’s Arrest and Trip to Rome:  21:27-28:31 (the end of the book)

 

·         While in Jerusalem Paul decided to go to the Temple. 

·         This caused a problem because Paul had taught that people do not have to be circumcised (from the Covenant with Abraham) nor follow the Law of Moses in order to please God.

·         A mob formed around Paul while he was in the Temple.  The Roman soldiers had to rescue Paul as the Jews were beating him.  The Roman army commander wanted to whip Paul, but Paul told him he was a Roman citizen.  The commander had Paul placed in prison.

·         40 Jews were so angry with Paul that they decided to kill him.  Paul learned about the plot and told the commander.  The commander ordered Paul to be transferred to Caesarea, 105 miles away.  Paul remained in prison there and then appealed his case to Caesar.  That meant the Romans had to take Paul to Rome.

·         Paul then traveled to Rome, mainly on ships.  For a map, go here:  http://studythechurch.com/mappaulsarrest.htm

·         The last two verses in Acts state this:  28:30,31:  “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.  Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

·         We do not know why Paul lived in a rented house instead of being in prison.  He must have been under house arrest since he was waiting to see the Emperor.  This was during the time when Nero was emperor. 

 

Acts ends here and we do not know what happened to Paul.  According to several sources Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside down on the same day under the rule of Nero. 

 

Outline of Acts

 

I put Peter in red boldface and Paul in blue boldface so you can see the shift from Peter to Paul.

·         Focus on Peter at first

·         Overlap between the two

·         Focus on Paul after the Council in chapter 15

 

Chapters

1:  Jesus with the 11 Apostles for the last time; Jesus ascends out of sight; Apostles return to Jerusalem and Peter led them in choosing the 12th Apostle to take Judas’ place

2:  Day of Pentecost; Peter’s sermon; The Church begins

3:  Peter heals a man and gives a speech

4:  Peter and John are arrested and then released

5:  Ananias and Sapphira killed because of a lie; The Apostles healed many people, are arrested, and released

6:  The Apostles chose seven leaders; the Jews arrested Stephen, one of the Seven

7:  Stephen gives a long defense of Jesus and Christianity and is stoned to death

8:  Paul watched as Stephen was stoned; the church persecuted; Philip in Samaria; Simon the Sorcerer confronted Peter and John; Philip led an Ethiopian to accepting Jesus as his savior

9:  Paul set out to arrest Christians and was converted to Christianity; Peter traveled and preached

10:  Cornelius, a Gentile, invited Peter to his house and Peter had a vision

11:  Peter explained his vision to others; Christianity spread; Barnabas and Paul brought money to Christians in Jerusalem

12:  Peter arrested and an angel set him free; Herod died

13-14:  Paul’s First Missionary Trip

15:  Council of Jerusalem:  Peter, James, John, and Paul were there with other church leaders; Paul sent as a missionary to Gentiles

15:30-18:22:  Paul’s Second Missionary Trip

18:23-21:16:  Paul’s Third Missionary Trip

21:17-23:22:  Paul in Jerusalem and arrested; Paul stood trial before different people

23:23-end of 28:  Paul traveled to Rome under arrest

Last two verses:  28:30,31:  “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.  Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

Timeline so far      Additions are boldfaced   All dates are approximate

 

63BC

Rome Empire conquered Israel without fighting

44BC

Julius Caesar assassinated by Brutus, Cassius, and others.  Mark Antony tries to seize power, and he and Octavian (Caesar’s nephew) fight for power.

40BC

The Roman Empire made Herod the Great king of Israel

37BC

Antony married Cleopatra in Egypt

31BC

Octavian’s forces defeated Antony and Cleopatra’s forces; they committed suicide the next year.

27BC

Octavian is given name of Augustus, becomes Augustus Caesar.  This is the beginning of Pax Romana

4 BC

Jesus born

4 BC

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt because Herod the Great wanted to kill Jesus

4 BC

Herod the Great died

4 BC

After Herod the Great died, the kingdom of the Jews was divided and given to Herod’s three sons:

  • The northern part, north of Nazareth, went to Philip.

  • The middle part called Galilee, north of Jerusalem but where Nazareth was located, went to Herod Antipas.  (He is referred to as “Herod” in the Gospels and so this can be confusing.)

  • The southern part called Judea, where Jerusalem and Bethlehem was located, went to Herod Archelaus. 

AD

All years after this point are AD

Before

6

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Nazareth instead of moving to Bethlehem

6

Archelaus was removed from power because he was so brutal

6 and after

The Romans did not choose another of Herod’s descendants to control Judea (southern Israel) but instead appointed Roman governors

8

Jesus lost in Jerusalem at age 12; Joseph and Mary found him in the Temple; possible Bar Mitzvah

8-27

Jesus probably worked as a carpenter

26-36

The Roman governor in charge of southern Israel was Pilate

27

Jesus baptized by John the Baptist

27-30

Jesus traveled in Israel and preached, taught, and performed miracles

30

1.  Jesus was crucified under the Roman governor Pilate, raises from the dead three days later and ascends out of sight about a month-and-a-half later

2.  The Apostles return to Jerusalem and pick a replacement for Judas

3.  Day of Pentecost

4.  Over 3000 people become Christian

5.  Christianity spreads outside of Israel

30-50

In my opinion Peter was basically the leader of the Christian movement during this time period.  He was not chosen, but he was the leader of the 12 Apostles when Jesus was alive and he remained their leader until the Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 50.

33

Paul became a Christian

48-50

Paul went on his First Missionary Trip

50

Council of Jerusalem:  In my opinion at this point Paul basically became the leader of Christianity.  He was not chosen, but he had the most correct understanding of Christianity and he left to go on the most significant missionary trips of all the Apostles;

Peter and John were at the Council

51-90

We do not know what John did during this time period

50-55

Paul went on his Second Missionary Trip

54-68

Nero was Roman emperor

55-60

Paul went on his Third Missionary Trip

60-62

Paul arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Rome

63

Paul released from prison and travelled; he may have gone to Spain

64

Fire in Rome.  The emperor Nero blamed, persecuted, and killed many Christians.  This was the first Roman persecution of Christians. 

65

1.  Paul back in Rome

2.  Peter and Paul martyred around this year in Rome

66

Some of the Jews got tired of the Roman rule and killed many Roman soldiers.  They thus took back the land of Israel for the Jews.

66-70

The Romans counter-attacked.  The Romans lost one battle, but won the war.

68

Mark written around this year

70

The Romans captured Jerusalem and burned the Temple. 

80

Matthew and Luke written around this year

81-96

Domitian is Roman emperor

90

John and Acts written around this year

95

1.  Persecution of Christians

2.  John was placed on the island of Patmos as a prisoner of Domitian

96

1.  Domitian died

2.  John was probably released from Patmos; he probably traveled to Ephesus where he stayed for the rest of his life

100

John died

367

First listing of the 27 books in a letter written by an Egyptian bishop

390s

Two councils “closed” the NT canon to those 27 books

1200s

NT divided into chapters

1500s

NT divided into verses

 

 

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