Book of Acts Study - Acts of the Church through the Holy Spirit
A quick look:
A Narrative Dominated by Speeches
Acts contains a surprising number of speeches, which convey theological perspectives on reported events and carry the narrative forward
Key passage and theme of book
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.
Addressed to Theophilus
Who was Theophilus?
Why is this important?
Continuation of purpose and history of Luke
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?
How do history and doctrine relate?
The explosion of the Church
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.
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
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
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.
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.