The Book of Acts
“If none of those things is true whereof these accuse me, no man can give me up unto them. I appeal unto Caesar” (Acts 25:11 RVIC).
by Jim Parkinson
Each book of the Bible was written with a purpose. The Gospel of Matthew shows Jesus Christ as the Messiah of prophecy.1 Mark emphasizes Jesus as servant of both God and man. John combats the much later Gnostic (salvation is by knowledge) apostasy.2 Luke writes to a Roman court official, Theophilus, to show that the founder of the Christian religion was blameless (e.g., 23:1-12), and that he taught his followers to be likewise.3
The Acts of the Apostles also was written by Luke to the Roman official, Theophilus, continuing after Luke’s gospel, as a legal defense brief for the Apostle Paul before Caesar’s court. He writes “in order” (consecutively, not topically), as appropriate to a legal brief (Luke 1:3).4
(1) Matthew was written originally in Hebrew, as were the prophecies. In Hebrew alphanumerics, the name “David” adds up to 14 (DVD = 4 + 6 + 4), but this is not evident in Greek. Matthew 1:17 is showing that Jesus is the Son of David. (More than any other, Matthew’s gospel cites the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled.)
(2) John 1:1-3 states the thesis — that God with prehuman Jesus (the real Logos) created all things — and spends the rest of the book proving it.
(3) Taught throughout the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John. That Luke was the last of the three Synoptic Gospels is shown at the beginning (1:1-4). Many others (likely Matthew in Hebrew, Mark in Greek, Matthew translated into Greek) preceded Luke.
(4) (Editor note) Supposing that Acts was written for legal purposes is not apparent to all. Presumably Luke was able to compose his Gospel by researching while in Israel during the two years that Paul was held at Caesarea — and Acts was a continuation of Luke’s Gospel. But Luke would not have known until the close of those two years, and thus the close of his research, that Paul, having appealed to Caesar, would be tried at Rome.
Who Was Luke?
It is thought that Luke was born in Antioch of Syria, probably not of Jewish parents. He became a physician (Colossians 4:14). When Luke was converted is not known. But Luke evidently joined Paul in Troas, as the pronoun changes from “they” to “we” in Acts 16:8-10. Then Luke was evidently left at Philippi, but on Paul’s third missionary journey he evidently joined Paul there (Acts 17:1, 20:5,6).
Legal Brief — Part One (Gospel of Luke)
The Gospel according to Luke adds many events in Jesus’ life which are not found in the other Gospels (which helps to make it the longest of the four Gospels). Several events particularly appropriate to a legal brief are mentioned here:
(a) Jesus was sincerely religious, even from his youth: When Jesus tarried in Jerusalem, he was found in the temple discussing scriptures with the doctors of the Law (Luke 2:41-52).
(b) Jesus was doing good things for the people: He raised a widow’s son from the dead (7:11-17). He healed a man from dropsy, again asking nothing in return (14:1-6).
(c) Jesus was kinder to non-Jews and to tax collectors than were some of the Jewish rulers: he healed ten lepers and commended the Samaritan among them, who returned to thank Jesus for his healing (17:11-19); Jesus accepted an invitation to dine with Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector for the Romans (19:2-10).
(d) Jesus had enemies: He was rejected at Nazareth (4:16-30); he spoke against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and lawyers (11:37-54), and he reemphasized it in his parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (tax-collector; 18:9-14); he told the people they must either repent or perish (13:1-9).
(e) Jesus was merciful: He refused to call down fire on Samaritans who were prejudiced against him (9:51-56); even in his dying hour he was comforting a thief on another cross (23:40-43).
Jesus also made peace between two Roman officials: When he was sent for trial from Pilate to Herod and back again, this made peace between Pilate and Herod (23:1-12).
Thus, the Gospel of Luke details how the founder of the Christian religion had done nothing worthy of death but had done much that the Romans could appreciate.
Legal Brief — Part Two (Acts of the Apostles)
All four Gospels conclude with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which even a Roman could see was fundamental to the Christian religion. Luke’s Gospel concludes with Jesus’ ascension. Then Luke begins Acts
with more detail about that, until a cloud hid Jesus from their sight.
The apostles then chose a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:15-25). Pentecost showed God’s favor by a miracle, until they grew in number to 3000 (2:1-41). Then Peter and John healed a lame man in the name of Jesus Christ but were
arrested for it and threatened (3:1-4:22). Ananias and Sapphira lied and died, showing that the religion was deadly serious (5:1-11).
When Stephen made his defense of Jesus as the Messiah from the Law and prophets, Saul of Tarsus (later named Paul) agreed with a mob to stone Stephen to death (6:1-8:1). As if in answer to Stephen’s prayer, Paul was converted when
Christ appeared to him as a bright light on the road to Damascus (7:60, 9:1-22).
Peter raised Tabitha from the dead (9:36-42). Then he converted a Roman centurion (10:1-48), showing that
Christians were not prejudiced against Gentiles (10:1-11:18). A very perceptive Barnabas went to Tarsus, the city of Paul, and brought Paul back to Antioch (11:22-26). After Herod had killed John’s brother James, and had been eaten of
worms and died, Barnabas and Saul went to Jerusalem (chapter 12). Later, Paul and Barnabas were commissioned by the holy Spirit to go to Cyprus and south-central Turkey, Paul’s first missionary journey (13:1-14:26).
On his second missionary journey Paul went to Turkey, Macedonia, and Greece (15:36-18:22). His third missionary journey took him to Tarsus, central Turkey, Macedonia, and Greece (18:23-21:17). On this last journey, Eutychus went to sleep and fell out a window to his death during Paul’s discourse, but Paul brought him back to life again (20:9-12). Peter and Paul were the only ones after Jesus to raise someone from the dead, which confirmed God’s choice of Paul as one of the twelve.
During these journeys, Paul cast out a spirit of divination from a silversmith’s maid and he was jailed in Phillipi. Following an earthquake, they had an opportunity to escape but did not and their jailer was subsequently converted. When the magistrates heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they personally came to apologize (16:16-40). When Paul was accused by Corinthian Jews of perverting the Law, Gallio, proconsul of Achaia, refused to judge them according to the Jewish Law (18:12-17). When Paul’s message in Ephesus was hurting the silversmith’s business, Paul was accused. However, the town-clerk said, they are “neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess” (19:23-41).
Asian Jews at Jerusalem made the final accusation. Paul’s defense continued until he said the Lord had said unto him, “Depart: for I will send thee forth for hence unto the Gentiles” (Acts 21:27-22:29). Ultimately, Paul was unwilling to bribe Felix and appealed to Caesar in Rome (23:11, 24:26, 25:11, 25).
Thus, a Roman official could see, according to verifiable witnesses, that Paul had a history of being a law-abiding citizen.
Paul’s Capital Offense Court Trials
Paul was brought to trial in Rome twice. At his first trial all forsook him, but the Lord gave him strength and he was acquitted. The second time, Luke alone was with him (2 Timothy 4:10-17). Hence, Luke was there to write in
Paul’s defense the Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles.
When the penalty of death was pronounced upon Paul, there was no use continuing the legal defense brief for Paul in Roman court. Therefore, The Acts of the Apostles ends abruptly (28:31).
Paul had been the beneficiary of Stephen’s dying prayer, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (7:60 RVIC). In turn, Paul asked for mercy for those who forsook him, “may it not be laid to their account” (2 Timothy 4:16 RVIC).