What is the trustworthiness and character of the Book? Scholars apply exhaustive tests to ancient writings to determine the trustworthiness of such documents. Every statement made which can be checked is checked against other information that is known to be facts. If the writer’s statements, which can be checked, stand up, then the statements which cannot be checked are given greater credence. The possibility of checking ancient documents is growing because of the increased store of ancient monuments and manuscripts and coins found in recent years. This book, Acts of the Apostles, might actually be called, Acts of Peter and Paul, because they are the two Apostles concerned. There were other books written called Acts of Andrew, Acts of John, Acts of Paul, etc, which could not stand the tests, and were discarded by the scholars as forgeries. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles is the only book standing up as true and correct. The author of Acts shows a correct knowledge of many details. He has a full knowledge of the Sanhedrin and the ROman laws and the civil government of that time, and even such details as knowing which cities fell under which governor. These details lead only to the belief that the author lived during these times and saw these events or that he got his information first-hand.
What is the plan and the purpose of the book? Acts represents the exact religious standpoint of Paul, the keynote of the whole book, being set out in the eighth verse of the first chapter, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” These words spoken by the risen Lord fell on deaf ears, because the Disciples still considered themselves as messengers to the Jews only. This was the reason for the sudden and outstanding conversion of Paul in 36 AD. The book is therefore a defense of Gentile Christianity and its originator, Paul. The letters of Paul give us an insight into Paul’s inner life, but it is the Acts that make Paul live before us as an actual character in history.
The writer had another purpose, however, because he recognized the great work done for the church by Peter. There is a possibility that in the early church of about 60 AD, there was still a suspicion of the 12 Jewish apostles. While in the Jewish Christian churches, there was dislike and distrust of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Luke apparently intended to remove both these thorns at one time. Luke intended his Gentile readers, by reading the first 12 chapters, to be brought to understand Peter. He intended his Jewish readers, by reading the remaining 16 chapters, to understand Paul. Luke therefore divided the book into two sections: one concerning Peter covering the first 12 chapters, and the other concerning Paul, covering the 13-28 chapters. True to this objective of being a peacemaker, Luke paints his heroes in the best possible light, glosses over the differences between them and stresses the points where they are in agreement.
There are reasons for thinking that Luke wrote this book as an explanation of Christianity to the whole heathen world. The book is written in an excellent Greek form, as an educated man to an educated man. A heathen Greek reader would easily understand that here was an educated man among these Christians. Scholars say that the Greek of the Acts is superior to that of any of the rest of the New Testament. The author is in close sympathy with the heathens and does not berate or belittle them, but recognizes that they too are seeking the true God. He seeks to show that Paul is not a revolutionist, but a peace-loving man who, far from cherishing disloyal designs, actually appeals to it for aid against the turbulent Jews.
Where are some other characteristics of the book that we should mention? The first of these is in the Christology of the book. The book is full of quotations from the Old Testament concerning the messiahship of Christ. The Apostles insisted that the resurrection is ample proof of it. It is a characteristic of Acts that stress is laid upon the continued activity of the Ascended Lord, who is regarded as still carrying on from heaven the work which He began on earth.
There is much prominence given to the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, who is regarded mainly as the spirit of the Ascended Christ. The divinity and personality of the Spirit are not set out in definite theological language, and there is a great deal of difference in the exactness of the theology of Acts, and the Epistles of Paul.
The writer is strong for Paul’s idea of universalism, and the carrying of the message to the Gentiles, and for the abrogation of the ceremonial law of the Jews, although he is sympathetic to the Jews, and conciliatory to them.
There was some thought that this book might have been written as an explanation for Paul at his trial, as counter evidence to that introduced by his accusers. Whether this is true or not, there was certainly an attempt to influence favorably all Gentiles who might read this book.