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Bible Commentaries

Dunagan's Commentary on the Bible


- Acts

by Mark Dunagan

The Book Of Acts


When one compares Luk_1:1-4 with Act_1:1 , we are immediately impressed with the truth that God used the same human author to write both books. In fact, the book of Acts claims to be a sequel, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach”. At various places in the book of Acts the events taking place are cast in the first person plural, indicating that the author was present when these events took place (16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16). From these passages we learn that the same author wrote the entire book. The author was one of Paul’s traveling companions and was with him in Rome (28:16). Most of Paul’s traveling companions are mentioned in contrast to the author. Therefore, we already know that the author couldn’t be Silas, Mark, Barnabas, Timothy ( Act_15:37-41 ; Act_16:1-11 ) , or, Sopather, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus or Trophimus (20:5). McGarvey notes, “As then the writer was none of these, and yet he journeyed with Paul on his visit to Jerusalem, and thence to Rome, we can identify him with no other than Luke ( Col_4:10-14 ; Phm_1:24 )” (Commentary On Acts, p. xi). In addition, the book of Acts was listed as Scripture in the Muratorian Fragment (c. 170-180 A.D.), was quoted by Polycarp (69-155 A.D.) , and Irenaeus cites passages so frequently from the Acts of the Apostles that it is certain that he had constant access to the book. Tertullian also ascribes the book to Luke, as does Clement of Alexandria.

Historical Accuracy

In the Gospel that bears his name, Luke notes that diligent and careful research went into his writings, “having investigated everything carefully from the beginning…so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught” ( Luk_1:3-4 ). Professional historians and archaeologists have long recognized the historical reliability and accuracy found in the book of Acts. Luke is always accurate in the titles that he gives for the various regional and local officials, even though titles often differed from province to province. “The ‘rulers of the city’ (politarchs) in Thessalonica ( Act_17:6 ) was unknown in any classical author until a few years ago. It has now been found in 19 inscriptions ranging from the 2nd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D., as a title of magistrates in Macedonian cities. Publius is called the ‘chief man’ of the Island of Malta ( Act_28:7 ). Inscriptions in both Latin and Greek have shown this to be the proper title” (Introduction To Christian Evidences, Ferrell Jenkins, p. 64). “Luke was an intricate observer. James Smith, who was a seaman, in his ‘Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul’, shows that Luke is accurate even in the storm and wreck. They cast goods out of the hold, threw off the rigging, bound the ship around, and precisely the proper term in Greek is used for each activity. Every place where Luke’s accuracy can be checked, he has been found to be exactly right” (New Testament History, Acts, Gareth L. Reese, p. xxxi).

The Date

Luke leaves his readers with a description of Paul, a prisoner at Rome, but enjoying considerable liberty to preach and teach. The abrupt ending of the book is strong evidence for the date. The book ends here because there was nothing else to report, hence the book was written around 62 A.D. from the city of Rome.

Historical Timetable

One of the real benefits of the book of Acts is that it enables us to date Paul’s letters. In addition, we know the dates of various events in this book, because secular records mention the same basic event. For example: 1. Peter’s appearance before Caiaphas in chapter 4 took place prior to A.D. 36, for we know in that year that Caiaphas was removed from office. 2. We that the Herod who died in Acts chapter 12:20-23 , died in the spring of A.D. 44. 3. We know that Act_13:7 , took place before A.D. 52, because by that time Sergius Paulus had been replaced. 4. Paul took before Gallio in Act_18:12-17 , and we know that this man was proconsul of Achaia from 50-54 A.D.

Date: Event: Contemporary Events: 30 Pentecost (ch. 2) Tiberius Emperor (14-37) Pilate Governor (26-36) 32-33 Stephen Stoned (ch. 7) 34-35 Saul Converted (ch. 9) 36-43 Saul in Jerusalem, Tarsus, Antioch (9-11) Cornelius Converted (ch. 10). Caligula Emperor (37-41) Claudius Emperor (41-54) Herod Agrippa I (41-44) dies. 43-44 James is executed (ch. 12) 45-47 Famine in Judea (ch. 12) 47-48 First Missionary Journey (13-14) 49 Council at Jerusalem (ch.15) Claudius expels all Jews from Rome 49-50 Second Journey begins (15-16) Gallio Proconsul of Achaia 50-52 Paul at Corinth (ch. 18). 1 and 2 Thessalonains Written ( 1Th_2:1-2 ) 52-55 Paul In Ephesus (ch. 19) Felix procurator of Judea (52-59) 1 and 2 Corinthians Written ( 1Co_16:8 ) 56-57 In Macedonia and Corinth (ch. 20) Nero Emperor (54-68) Galatians, Romans Written ( Rom_15:25-31 ) 57-59 Voyage to Jerusalem (20-21) Arrested, imprisoned at Caesarea (23:23-24:27) Festus procurator of Judea (59-61) 59 Paul stands before Festus/Agrippa (25:6-26:32) 59-60 Paul’s voyage to Rome (27:1-28:16) 60-62 Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (28:16ff) Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon written ( Eph_6:20 ; Php_1:13 ) The Importance Of Acts

 The Spread of the Gospel Is Documented (1:8):

The gospels end with the Great Commission ( Mar_16:15-16 ; Mat_28:19-20 ; Luk_24:46-47 ). The book of Acts reveals how this was accomplished. McGarvey notes, “The writers chief design was to set forth to his readers a multitude of cases of conversion. The cases recorded represent all the different grades of human society, from idolatrous peasants up to priests, proconsuls, and kings. They represent all the degrees of intellectual and religious culture; all the common occupations of life; and all the countries and languages of the then known world; thus showing the adaptation of the one system of life and salvation to all the inhabitants of the earth ( Act_9:2 ; Act_19:9 ; Act_22:4 ). If then, modern conversions accord with these, they must be right; if they do not, they must be to that extent wrong” (pp. xix-xx).

 The Establishment of the Church:

The church that Jesus promised to build ( Mat_16:18 ) , is established ( Act_2:47 ). Besides its establishment, we find its growth (8:4); work (2:42); mission and worship (20:7); and organizational structure (14:23; 20:17,28). We also see the importance of local church membership ( Act_9:24 ; Act_11:26 ; Act_13:1 ; Act_14:26 ; Act_11:30 ; Act_12:25 ; Act_15:2 ).

 The Absence of the an Argument against Christianity:

The book of Acts records the various persecutions inflicted upon the church. The Jewish authorities sought to put an end to this movement ( Act_4:1-37 ; Act_5:1-42 ; Act_6:1-15 ; Act_7:1-60 ; Act_8:1-40 ; Act_9:1-43 ; Act_13:1-52 ; Act_14:1-28 ; Act_15:1-41 ; Act_16:1-40 ; Act_17:1-34 ; Act_18:1-28 ). So did various pagan authorities or special interest groups ( Act_16:16-21 ; Act_19:24 ff). They sought to intimidate Christians, mock and physically hurt or imprison them, and yet we never find anyone being able to discredit, out-argue or undermine the truthfulness of the gospel message ( Act_6:10 ). The one glaring gap in all the opposition that the church faced is the absence of the great Jewish, heathen or Roman argument against the resurrection of Jesus and the Christian faith. This book tells us that the world really doesn’t have an argument against the validity of the gospel message.

 Agreement among the Apostles:

Some have argued that the book was written to contradict the claim that Peter and Paul were rivals. Whether that is true or not, the case remains that the book very clearly teaches us that Peter and Paul taught the same gospel. The terms of salvation that Peter preached ( Act_2:38 ) , are the same terms that Paul preached ( Act_18:8 ; Act_16:30-34 ). In fact, the first 12 chapters deal primarily with Peter while the rest of the book deals primarily with Paul. See also ( Act_15:7-12 ; Gal_2:1-10 ; 2Pe_3:15-16 ).

 The Necessity of Water Baptism:

When we study the conversion of Saul, we find a man who actually saw the resurrected Jesus (9:4-5) ; was sincerely repentant and was engaged in prayer (9:9-11) , and yet who still had his sins prior to being baptized (22:16). The same is true in reference to Cornelius, who was a good moral and religious man (10:2) , extremely obedient and humble (10:24-33) , was baptized in the Holy Spirit (10:44-45), and yet he was still commanded to be baptized in water ( Act_10:47-48 ).