You’ve probably noticed before, that at the Easter time Acts of the Apostles are being read during masses. The same applies to the first readings of Sunday Masses.
In the following article, I will present the structure and the theological meaning of the Acts of the Apostles. Separately I will also present two events from the text which are, in my opinion, two of the most important in the history of Christianity and enable the church today to be as it is. The first one is the Pentecost event when Jesus’s promise to send the Holy Spirit became true.
The first one is the Pentecost event when Jesus’s promise to send the Holy Spirit became true.
No less important is the conversion of Saul near Damascus, which transformed from the persecutor of Christians into Paul, one of the biggest fanatics and witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Who wrote the Acts of the Apostles?
The introduction of Acts (1:1-3) was written by the same person, who wrote the Gospel of Luke, according to the science of the Bible. It was written around the year 90 AD and talks about the history of the first Christians and churches in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and among other people. It talks about Paul’s missionary journeys and how Christianity spread all the way to Rome, which was, at that time, the world capital.
The purpose of Apostle acts is to show, that the preaching of the gospel spread all over the world. The exact place of the writing is unknown.
The structure of the Acts of the Apostles
1. Preface (1:1-3); see also Lk 1:1-4
2. Introduction (1:4-26)
The introduction shows the events, that represent the preparation for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. It includes:
– Last guidelines and instructions of the Risen One (1:4-8)
– Jesus’s Ascension (1:9-11)
– The communion of Christians, praying (1:12-14)
– The election of Matthias as an Apostle (1:15-26)
3. First part (2:1-8,3) The church in Jerusalem
The apostles of Jesus Christ preached in Jerusalem. The main events were:
– Pentecost event (2:1-13)
– Peter’s Pentecost speech (2:14-36)
– First repentance (2:37-42)
– The life of the young communion (2:43-47)
– The election of seven deacons (6:1-7)
– Stephen gets captured (6:8-15)
– Stephen’s speech (7:1-53)
– Stephen’s death (7:54-8:1a)
After the persecution in Jerusalem all the Christians, except the Apostles, scattered across Judea and Samaria. The proclamation thus spread and caused the rising of controversy and persecution (5:40; 7:57-8:3).
4. Second part (8:4-12:25) The church in Judea and Samaria
The gospel is spreading among the Jews living outside Jerusalem. Saul, the persecutor of Christians becomes a missionary among the Gentiles. The acceptance of Gentiles into the Church represents a new era of preaching. The highlight of this part is the baptism of Cornelius (10:1-11:18) and the creation of a new communion in Antioch (11:19-26).
5. Third part (13:1-28:31): The Church among the nations
This part talks about the first three missionary travels of Apostle Paul and the assembly of apostles in Jerusalem, where they clarified the questions related to the acceptance of the Gentiles into the Jewish Christian community. The decision of their assembly was, that the path of preaching is wide open for the Gentiles. This part also talks about the beginnings of Paul’s suffering and persecution in Rome as a result of preaching the gospel.
Acts doesn’t reveal anything about Paul’s death. It ends with a report, that the Kingdom of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ are being announced in Rome. Writer’s aim is thus achieved: The good news travel from Jerusalem to Rome which means that it spread across the entire world, known at that time.
The Theology of the Acts of Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles represent the continuation of Luke’s Gospel (Acts 1:1-3). The writer does not describe the works of the great people of early Christianity. The main theme is the testimony of Jesus Christ and the Church, which is based on God’s work. The Church consists of Christians, who were originally Jews and Gentiles.
The proclamation of Jesus Christ takes place on three different levels:
– Apostles spread the good news in Jerusalem,
– The proclamation of God’s words in Judea and Samaria,
– The proclamation to all the Jews and Gentiles towards Rome, which means nations all over the known world.
The development of the proclamation of the first Christians shows us the way of the further preaching of the Church.
Acts contains the following theological centers:
-The Holy Spirit works in church, where it grows,
– We must always be ready for Jesus’ second coming,
– Jesus represents the center of time,
– God’s words must be preached all over the world,
– The proclamation of God’s words is being led and protected by the Holy Spirit.
The Pentecost event
The name Pentecost was founded in Hellenistic Judaism and means the 50th day. In early Judaism that represented the fifth day after the feast of the Passover and at the same time the end of Passover celebrations. The feast was also connected with the memory of God’s revelation and the reception of God’s commandments on mount Sinai (2Mz 19), which took place 50 days after leaving Egypt.
The Pentecost event is connected to salvation even in Acts. With the help of certain symbolism (the noise from the sky, tongues, similar fires) the writer describes the fact, that everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit. Something unusual happened. People from all around the world pilgrimaged to Jerusalem.
The list of nations (2:9-11) shows an immediate spreading of Christianity right after the Pentecost event. In my opinion, that is the most important consequence and the essence of the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
Peter’s Pentecost speech
Peter, lead by the Holy Spirit, explains, that a prophecy from the Old Testament from the book of Joel came true. The prophecy announces, that the God poured his spirit onto mankind and will gift everyone with a prophecy. Different miracles and signs will start happening.
The Holy Spirit also reveals the truth about Jesus, who was awakened from death by God and freed from the pain of the death and was also elevated as the God’s right hand. He received the promise of the Holy Spirit from his father, which he outpoured over his Apostles.
The main message of Peter’s speech is, that Jesus was saved after his death which means that all the humanity is saved. In it, he refers to the Old Testament.
The first conversions Peter’s Pentecost speech also focused on the call to conversion and baptism. He mentions a promise of the prophet Joel, that everyone will receive the Holy Spirit and be saved.
Acts doesn’t provide a clear message, as to how the first Christians in Jerusalem lived. 2,42 describes four elements, which were the basis for the life and work of the Christians:
• The persistence of the teaching of Apostles
The Apostolic tradition is a part of the foundations of every Christian life.
There was unity in the relationships among the members of the communion. Their property was used together. They handled their assets in a socially responsible way. They helped the poor.
• Breaking the bread
Breaking the bread in Christianity marks the Lord’s supper, the Eucharist. It was celebrated at the end of a meal.
Christians kept attending temple masses and accounted the Jewish prayer time. In addition, they had more and more of their own prayers.
The life of the first Christians was reflected in a connection with God in prayer and with people through mutual help.
Is the Holy Spirit still active in the Church?
On the Pentecost day, the Holy Spirit arrived followed by the murmur of a storm and dropped to the ground like a fire from the sky. Those present started experiencing ecstasy and started speaking in »foreign languages.« It seems, that now there’s less of external and extraordinary signs like this one in Church, however, that doesn’t mean, that the Holy Spirit isn’t among us anymore.
Acts also talks about some different actions of the Holy Spirit. After preaching of the apostles, who were imbued with the Holy Spirit, the first Christians used their teaching, converted, helped one another, celebrated the Eucharist and prayed.
These things we also do today, but, would we succeed, if we only related to our human will and power? Even me and you and the entire Church grow internally with the help and power of the Holy Spirit and not externally.
The conversion of Saul
Paul originated from the tribe of Benjamin and lived in the Hellenistic city Tarz. Thus, he also had, besides the Jewish name Saul, a Hellenistic name Paul (Paulus). The Christian tradition only kept the name, Paul.
He was a missionary among the Gentiles, whose main accomplishment was, to bring the Gospel to the center of the world they knew at that time, Rome.
The writer of Apostle acts thought that the conversion of St. Paul was so important, that he had to mention it three times.
Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-22)
The narrative of Paul’s conversion can be split into 3 passages:
– Paul’s stance before conversion (9:1-9)
– The conversion–the main part of the narrative (9:10-19a)
– Paul’s stance after conversion (9:19b-22)
Saul, on the basis of the orders from the high priest, wants to continue with the violent acts against the »cult of Nazareth,« as they described Jesus and his followers.
In the middle of this »fight,« however, God unexpectedly reached into Saul’s life. To describe the event the writer used certain symbols of prayer from the Old Testament, like »light« and »drop to the floor.« The Christ appeared to Saul as a powerful one, and ordered him, to go the to the city and do as told. Jesus’s words were also heard by the companions. Saul went blind, which expressed his helplessness against Jesus.
The Christ appeared to Saul as a powerful one, and ordered him, to go the to the city and do as told. Jesus’s words were also heard by the companions. Saul went blind, which expressed his helplessness against Jesus.
The main part of the story talks about the calling of Hananiah, a representative of the Christian communion in Damascus. He has a vision in which he is told to place his hands onto Saul of Tarsus.
The greatness of the event is explained in Hananiah’s objection.
Saul is chosen to bring Christ to all the people and places and to the sons of Israel. Primarily this means that he will show himself as an adherent of Jesus and will testify about him. Placing the hands (9:17) is a sign of Holy Spirit fulfillment and a sign of recovery. His conversion was then completed with a baptism.
The final scene shows the exact opposite of Saul’s attitude compared to the first passage. Saul now proclaims Jesus as the son of God.
Paul’s speech in front of the temple (22:6-16)
The second story about Paul’s conversion is included in his defense speech. He defends himself against the Jew accusations, that he is spreading teachings, which work against the people, the law and the temple (21:28).
The writer presents Paul’s work towards the people as the God’s will. Hananiah is described as a »pious man« who obeys the law.
This story presents Paul’s conversion in a more clear way as a calling. The God enabled Paul to see to Risen one, to hear him and thus witness him which brings him experience and knowledge of Jesus Christ. With baptism, he is cleared of any sins.
Paul before a procurator of Judea Festus and King Agrippa (26:9-18)
Even the third story about Saul’s conversion is included in his defense speech. The trial before Festus and Agrippa represents a turning point in Paul’s work as he left Judea and went to Rome.
The speech summarizes Paul’s work. The scenes of the trial are very similar to Jesus’s trial before Pilate. The Roman province administrator also cannot find any fault to Paul through which the writer can show, that Paul will have to follow Christ on the path of suffering and persecution.
Saul was a Christian persecutor. He captured and enclosed that adherent to Jesus, voted for death sentences and forced the Christians to blasphemy. This image of Saul shows his conversion in the even brighter light. He saw a light »which was brighter than the sunlight« (26:13).
Paul’s story about his vocation is part of his defense speech before the procurator of Judea Festus and Jewish king Agrippa. It is intended to present the mission willed by God and to consolidate the faith. The reactions of both rulers are very interesting.
Festus thinks, that Paul went crazy. The Jew Agrippa was, however, stunned and said: “You will soon persuade me to play the Christian” (v.28). Both thought, that Paul could be released, but can’t be because he relied on the emperor so he had to travel to Rome.
Acts of the Apostles describe the life of the first Christians and how the Gospel started spreading all over the world. The two key events from that time, in my opinion, are the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the conversion of Apostle Paul.
It would be a shame, my dear reader, if you didn’t look at the first century after Christ more in depth and discovered, how the Church was created.
In this link, you can take a look at my selection of literature, which will bring you even closer to this period of the Church.
You can write any opinions or questions below.