Introduction to the Book of Acts

Summer in the cities: A journey through acts


Some scholars argue that the Book of Acts is a biography of the Apostle Paul. However, that doesn't make much sense because Paul's birth and up-bringing aren't recounted, nor is Paul's death. Others have claimed that Acts is about the transition of power from Peter to Paul, yet the book doesn't clearly narrate any such transition. Still others have said that Acts is meant to celebrate the triumphs of the early church. That too is debatable. How can the history of first generation Christians being beaten, stoned to death, or driven from city to city be considered triumphal?


What makes most sense is that Acts is about the work of the Holy Spirit spreading the word of God to different cities and regions. In fact, a better title for the book is probably The Acts of the Holy Spirit. In Acts, the Holy Spirit is the main character. So much so, that some claim Acts is the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.


In Acts, geography is very important. In verse 1:8, Jesus says that his earliest followers will receive the Holy Spirit and be witnesses "to Jerusalem, all of Judea, Samaria and the ends of the Earth." From then on, the book narrates the spread of the Word of God, through Jesus' followers, to Jerusalem in the early chapters, then to the rest of Judea in chapters 5 and 6, and then Samaria in chapters 7 and 8. In chapter 8, one of Jesus' followers named Phillip has an encounter with an Ethiopian official. Acts closes with Paul arriving in Rome. Many early readers of Acts would have considered Rome and Ethiopia to be the ends of the Earth.


Therefore, Acts is an attempt at helping us understand the work of the Holy Spirit through the power of narrative. Acts tells the stories that, when combined, add up to a greater story. As Jesus' early followers go from city to city, we witness the Word of God taking root in different cultures, amongst different peoples, and encompassing all types of people. From one city to another, the work of the Holy Spirit never looks quite the same. This book invites us to enter into the story, so that we too become witnesses to the work of the Holy Spirit in our world today.