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Book of Acts Study - Acts of the Church through the Holy Spirit

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A quick look:

Author: Luke, a Gentile physician and missionary companion of Paul
Audience: Addressed to Theophilus, but intended for all believers
Date: About A.D. 63 or later
Theme: Luke shows how the gospel rapidly spread from Jerusalem to the whole Roman empire and from its Jewish roots to the Gentile World
Characteristics:
Accurate historical detail and reliability
Literary excellence
Dramatic Description
Effective use of speeches

A Narrative Dominated by Speeches

Acts contains a surprising number of speeches, which convey theological perspectives on reported events and carry the narrative forward

Continuation of purpose and history of Luke

Key passage and theme of book

Acts 1:8 ESV
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In broad terms, the narrative of Acts unfolds geographically and focuses on the ministry of key individuals within each context. The prediction of Jesus about the apostolic witness moving from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and ‘to the ends of the earth’ (1:8) is shown to be progressively fulfilled

An Historical Apologetic

The art of explaining the faith in such a way as to make a reasoned defence against its detractors. Paul’s Areopagus sermon is a classic example of biblical apologetics, which can be of value to all who are called upon to defend the faith today.

Acts 26:25–26 ESV
But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.

Addressed to Theophilus

Who was Theophilus?

Why is this important?

Continuation of purpose and history of Luke

Acts 1:1–3 ESV
1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
Luke 1:1–3 ESV
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
Luke 24:44–53 ESV
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.

Theophilus. 1. Person to whom the books of Luke and Acts are addressed (Lk 1:3; Acts 1:1). Since Theophilus can be translated “lover of God” or “loved of God,” many have suggested that Theophilus is a title rather than a proper name and that it designates the general audience of the books. However, the use of such generic titles is contrary to ordinary NT practice. Furthermore, the adjective “most excellent” generally designates an individual, particularly one of high rank. Paul refers to Festus as “most excellent,” just as Claudius Lysias and Tertullus address Felix (Acts 23:26; 24:2; 26:25)

is representative of the intelligent Roman middle-class reading public among whom Paul’s case had sparked interest (Acts 28:30; Phil 1:13;

Is Christianity based on philosophy or history? Why is this important?

A myth is written, “once upon a time, in a faraway land...” Acts is in the context of history: time, places, names, and events are written so that can be checked out and documented, while myths are vague, general and faraway, making investigation impossible.
Christianity is a historical religion. It is a religion that is not based primarily on an idea or philosophy. Most of the religions of the world can exist apart from their founder. You do not have to have a historical Buddha to have Buddhism. All you have to have are Buddhist teachings. So also with many other religions. This is not the case with Christianity. If you take away the history—if you reduce it, as some have tried to do, to a religion of mere ethics or ideas—Christianity evaporates. This is because Christianity is indissolubly linked to the life and accomplishments of Christianity’s founder.
Boice, J. M. (1997). Acts: an expositional commentary (p. 15). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

How do history and doctrine relate?

1 Corinthians 15:14 ESV
14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

The explosion of the Church

NT176 The Gospel Message in the Early Church Early Church Growth Statistics

Early Church Growth Statistics

The sociologist Rodney Stark has researched the historical data, and he surmised the following growth statistics: We know, and we’re pretty sure this is accurate, by AD 40 there were approximately 1,000 Christians in the Roman Empire. By AD 100 that number has risen to about 7,500 Christians in the Roman Empire. By AD 150 there are about 40,000 Christians in the Roman Empire. By the time we get to AD 300 there were approximately 1.2 million Christians in the Roman Empire, representing roughly 2 percent of the entire population. By AD 350 there were as many as 34 million Christians in the Roman Empire—more than half of the entire population.

Summary

In summary, we can say that by the middle of the second century, Christian churches existed in many Roman provinces from Palestine to Rome. By the middle of the third century, a significant minority of Christians are in every province of the Roman Empire. And by the fourth century, Christians formed a majority in some Roman provinces in North Africa and Asia Minor. Of course in AD 312 the Roman emperor Constantine officially gave his support to Christianity.

Sociological Factors in expansion of the Christian Church

Koine Greek

The first, and perhaps one of the most obvious ones, is Koine Greek. This was sort of the common commercial language in most of the Roman cities. You see this is called the “Graeco-Roman Empire” in many ways, where the culture was still very Greek. The language of commerce, even in Roman cities, was this Koine Greek, so that when people like Paul or Peter went to a Roman city, they spoke the language of most of the people in the city. They didn’t have to do like a lot of missionaries do today—go and spend two or three years in language study. It was already accessible to them

Pax Romana

Another sociological reason for the expansion of Christianity is something called the Pax Romana. That’s Latin for the “Roman peace.” It’s interesting that Christianity emerged in a particular period of time where there was an unusual amount of peace and stability throughout the Roman Empire; roughly about 200 years where the Roman Empire brought this stability. When there are no wars to fight, it creates an opportunity for people to travel the Roman roads that were built by Roman soldiers; and that facilitated travel. So the Pax Romana really opened up all kinds of opportunities without fear of death and so forth, when they traveled to different cities to share the gospel.

Jewish Diaspora

There’s also another key element in all of this called the “Jewish Diaspora.” Jews were dispersed all over Asia and Europe. They had moved and dispersed to the areas in Asia Minor and in Europe and in many places. Wherever the Jews went, they established synagogues. We know that from Paul’s NT journeys that he would often go to a new city, and the first thing he would do is go to a synagogue. So he had a place to go when he arrived in a new city. There was a place where he could go where people would kind of understand him—at least some of the basic ideas and the basic language—and it proved to be a wonderful platform or base from which to lodge his missionary endeavors.

Compassion for the Poor

Perhaps one of the most significant things that characterized this rapid expansion that explains why Christianity really expanded so quickly was their concern for the poor. This for me is very, very important. I dare say you will not understand why Christianity was able to expand with such rapidity. That is that the lifestyle of the early Christians was characterized by an enormous generosity and compassion for the poor and the disenfranchised. This characterized the Christians in contrast to pagans wherever they went.

We actually have a letter from the Roman emperor Julian in AD 360 complaining about the charity of Christians to the pagans. Listen to this: The emperor writes, “The impious Galileans”—by which he meant the Christians—“support not only their own poor but ours as well.” Frankly, the pagan world had never seen anything quite like these Christians, who were reaching out and taking care of people who were poor and impoverished.

Compassion for the Discarded

There’s one more thing that very much characterized the early church. It was a concern for those who had been discarded. Let me give you an example. The world of the Roman Empire was often characterized by infanticide—that is, the killing of infants. Primarily, it was the discarding of female infants that was characteristic in the Roman Empire. Females were not valued as much as males, so it was not uncommon for a Roman family that if the wife gave birth to a little girl, that little girl was then taken out to the dung heap on the edge of the town and left to die there of exposure. We actually have a letter, written in 1 BC, by a Roman named Hilarion, who wrote to his pregnant wife these poignant disturbing words. Hilarion wrote, “If you are delivered of a child before I return home, if it is a boy keep it, if it is a girl discard it.”

You see, these early Christians lived out their faith in these practical, tangible, obvious kinds of ways. I’m reminded of the fact that these little girls, for example, who were discarded on the dung heaps, what would happen is that Christians in the community would climb through the refuse, the garbage, and they would rescue those little girls. In some cases, little boys who were born with deformed limbs. They would rescue those little children and raise them as if they were their own.

The pagan world had never seen anything quite like this. In fact, it actually disturbed the Emperor Julian to see this kind of activity. If you want to know why Christianity expanded, one of the big reasons is their compassion for the discarded, their compassion for the poor.

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