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Posted on June 19th, 2012, by

The Book of Acts of the Apostles constitutes a very important part of the Bible which reflects the development of Christianity after the death of Christ. The Book depicts the major acts of Apostles that defined the development of Christianity. In this respect, it is necessary to underline that all these strategically important changes were carried out by the Apostles on who acts the book is actually focused on that reveals the significance of acts of the Apostles which actually give the title for the book.

At the same time, the origin of the book and the actual historical situation are also very important and need to be discussed since it may influence considerably the perception of the book and its historical credibility. According to recent researches (Carson et al, 1999), it is possible to estimate that the general line of the book was rather close to the real life and the Book of Acts was actually named in such a way because the Apostles really acted to spread Christian ideas in the Roman Empire.

Historical background

In order to better understand the significance of the Apostles acts described in the book and the significance of the book at large, it is necessary to briefly dwell upon the historical background of the epoch and the development of Christianity in that period of time. First of all, it should be said that the book is focused on the period of crucifying of Jesus Christ, his Resurrection and the following Ascension and the following period.  Basically, the book depicts that Day of Pentecost and the start of the Twelve Apostles’ ministry. In other words, the books is basically focused on the transitional period in the history of Christianity when its major leader and inspirer, Jesus Christ, has already died and his closest supporter and followers, the Twelve Apostles continue to promote his teaching and spread Christianity converting new adepts (Phillips, 2006, p.369). It was extremely important for the future of Christianity since it could potentially decline if the apostles remained passive and did not start take any actions

Obviously, after the death of Jesus Christ this religious movement actually lost its leader, a very charismatic and popular personality whose acts ad teaching could attract a large number of people. Naturally, after his death Christianity might have faced a serious crisis in the promotion of its ideas and beliefs and it was the Apostles who were supposed to prevent such a crisis and, instead, continue the work Jesus Christ had already started in his lifetime.

On the other hand, the loss of a leader demanded new approaches to the promotion and spread of Christianity. At any rate, the Apostles needed to undertake active steps in order to maintain the interest of people to Christianity and attract new adepts through the promotion of Christian ideas. In this respect, the ideas of their teacher could be really helpful since at the epoch of Jesus Christianity started to tend to universalization, i.e. the teaching tended to become universal and free of biases and national or ethnic boundaries. In this respect, it should be said that it was one of the major challenges and one of the major accomplishment of the Apostles that they had managed to realize this trend in practice.

However, the spread of Christianity through the Apostles’ missions and trips to different regions of the Roman empire resulted in the growing opposition to this religion from the part of the official authorities of the empire and other religious cults. As a result, the Apostles became the subjects of the official persecution and the growing opposition from the part of other religions as well as orthodox part of Jewish Christians. Nevertheless, in spite of all problems and hardships the Apostle had managed to establish a solid basis for the future Christian church which became the leading religious power in Europe and later in the entire world.

In such a way, the epoch depicted in the book was a very turbulent period in the development of Christianity and the future of this religion was highly dependent on the acts of its leaders and major ideologists, the Apostles. This is why the success of Christianity and its growing popularity may be viewed as the result of the acts of the Apostles, which became the cornerstone of the Book of Acts.

 

The authorship of the Book of Acts

Taking into consideration the significance of the book, it is quite noteworthy that the authorship of the book remains unclear that, actually, may be viewed as another evidence of the persecution of Christians in that epoch.

Traditionally, it is believed that the author of The Book of Acts of the Apostles is the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke. Many specialists (Phillips, 2006; Carson, 1999) heavily rely on the early Christian sources, according to which the author of the Gospel of Luke and, therefore, the author of the Book of Acts, was the physician Luke, who was a companion of Paul. Paul mentioned him in his Epistle to Philemon. Also, other early Christian authors, such as Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and others, refer to him as the author.

However, in recent years, the doubts concerning the authorship of Luke have started to grow stronger (Phillips, 2006, p.374). Nowadays it is argued that it is not only the name, Luke, that is not the real name of the author, but the authorship of this person is also under a question. Instead, specialists (Phillips, p.2006, p.377) suggest that the author of the book was an anonymous Christian who was not an eyewitness to the life and acts of the Apostles.

Basically, they refer to the fact that he does not name himself within the book and he does not even mention, probably explicitly, that he an eyewitness to any of the events he depicts (Sherwin-White, 1963, p.211). By the way, some researches (Randel, McCram, Helms,1997, p.135), though few they are, even argue that it was a male, instead they suggest that the book was written by a woman and support their arguments by the fact that the author pays a lot of attention to women and their position in society of that epoch.

Anyway, the variety of versions and the lack of historical and factual evidences make it virtually impossible to definitely estimate what the name of the author of the Book of Acts of the Apostles was.

 

The Book of Acts and the reflection of the Apostles’ deeds

The book begins with a prologue addressed to someone named Theophilus and references my earlier book that specialists view as the reference to the Gospel of Luke (Randel et al, 1997) that is followed by the narrative set in Jerusalem. After that the book depicts the meeting of Apostles and the election of Mathias who replaced Judas as the member of the Twelve. On Pentecost day the Holy Spirits descends on them that makes them speak in tongues to the crowd which perfectly understands them if though the Apostles knew all languages (Randel et al, 1997). Peter and John preach to people in Jerusalem performing various miracles such as healing converting thousands of early Christians (Robinson and Pierpont, 2005).

However the increasing number of Christians led to their persecution from the part of the officials. The Bok depicts the persecution of early Christians revealing their difficult position and problems the Apostles faced in the spread of Christianity. For instance, Stephen was arrested for blasphemy and executed by stoning (Sherwin-White, 1963). This is why he became the first Christian martyr. Nevertheless, the Apostles, including Peter, continue to preach and Christianity continues to grow spreading to Gentiles. Peter sees a vision in which a voice commands him to eat impure animals that is viewed as an attempt to make Christianity more universal eliminating limitations in nutrition (Gooding, 1990).

In the second half of the book the acts of Paul of Tarsus are mainly depicted. At first, he is introduced as a persecutor of Christians but he converts into Christianity after the encounter with Christ (Gooding, 1990). Several years later, he and Barnabas set out in a mission to spread Christianity, especially among Gentiles. In fact, it was the continuation of the advancement of Christianity in the Roman Empire carried out by the Apostles (Gooding1990). Paul travels throughout Asia Minor preaching and visiting churches throughout the region. Then he travels back to Jerusalem where Paul takes part in the Council of Jerusalem. In the result of the council, another decision contributing to the wider spread of Christianity and its transformation into the universal religion was taken, namely it was agreed that Christians do not need to be circumcised (Phillips, 2006).

Further, Paul continues his missions and travels to Asian Minor and Greece where he preaches and establishes churches contributing to the spread of Christianity. Greece was very important for Christians because it was one of the major cultural centers of the Roman Empire (Sherwin-White, 1963). However, the innovative ideas supported and promoted by Paul, contradicting to Moses law provokes a strong opposition to his ideas in Jerusalem and he is persecuted by local orthodox Jews and, being saved by Romans, is sent to Rome, where he spends two years under house arrest preaching the Kingdom of God (Gooding, 1990). According to Christian tradition he is supposed to be executed in Rome, though, some specialists argue that he survived and travelled to Spain continuing the spread of Christianity (Sherwin-White, 1963).

Basically, the book of Acts is called Acts apparently because of Apostles’ activities since they really acted. In this respect, it is necessary to distinguish the literary description of their acts and actual acts of the Apostles. It should be pointed out that since the time of Jesus, Apostles were fishers of men. This means that initially they were supposed to attract new adepts to Christianity. As a result, they acted respectively to their original function and they baptized new adepts, especially Peter and Paul, who converted many people into Christianity. At the same time, it is worthy of mention that Paul, for instance, often proclaimed that he was appointed to apostleship by Jesus Christ, but many of his colleagues, including Peter, had serious doubts concerning this fact. Nevertheless, such a presumably divine sanction of Paul contributed to his growing authority to the extent that he even entitled some of his companions in his missions as apostles, including Barnabas, Silas, Apollos, Andronicus and Junia. Moreover, he even referred to some of his opponents as super-apostles.

In such a way, Paul fulfilled a very important action attempting to construct the basis of the future Christian church since he did not only convert many ordinary people to Christianity, as it has been already mentioned above, but he also attempted to create a kind of hierarchy within the Christian church since apostles, being fisher of men, could improve the position of Christianity in the Roman Empire. In actuality, this means that Paul, in a way similarly to Jesus Christ, attempted to construct his own circle of followers whom he taught Christianity and the way it could spread further. Objectively speaking such actions resembled a kind of pyramid when the followers of Jesus, such as Paul, selected the most talented people to make them apostles, who were followers and promoters, i.e. fisher of men, of Christianity. Consequently, in such a way, Christianity could be spread further throughout the Roman Empire.

This fact is very important and this experience indicated to the possible way of the development of the Christian church with a well-organized structure and hierarchy, which contributed to the further expansion of this religion.

The Pentecost Day, depicted in the book, was one of the major even in the post-Christ history of Christianity. In fact, after the death of Christ and following suicide of Matthias, the remaining apostles elected a twelfth apostle by casting lots. This act was supposed to reveal the will of God. At the same time, the fact of election of the twelfth apostle was very important for the future of the Christian church because it created the basis for the future eligibility of leaders of the Christian church.

Obviously, this was a very progressive act because it provided opportunities for the development of the Christian church through elections of its leaders that naturally contributed to the more effective management of the church through effective system of election the most trustworthy leaders and through the accessibility of the highest position in the Christian church to all of its members. In such a way, the Apostles demonstrated that any person can become an apostle if he deserved such an honor by his acts and faith. This principle remained dominant for future generations of Christians.

The Pentecost Day since it was the day when the followers of Christ actually united their efforts to continue to spread teaching of Jesus to other people. At the same time, the Pentecost Day symbolizes the unity of Christian leaders and their intention to continue their activities and bring the teaching of Jesus to possibly larger number of people. In fact, this day marked the beginning of the Twelve Apostles’ missionary which meant the strategic decision to start the further expansion of Christianity in the world.

The structure of the book represents a chronological narration of events and acts of the Apostles after the death of Jesus. The first part of the book from chapter 1 to chapter 12 is focused on the life and acts of Peter and the following chapters from chapter 13 to chapter 28 are focused on the life and acts of Paul.

After the Pentecost Day, the Twelve Apostles’ missionary starts and Peter plays an important part in functioning of the Christian church at that epoch. For instance, he along with John, whose role was also very significant in the promotion of Christianity and assistance to Peter, preaches to Jerusalem and performs many miracles, such as healing, which attracts new adepts and, in such, Peter manages to convert a lot of people increasing the popularity of Christianity (Phillips, 2006, p.381). This even is quite important since it reveals the significance of miracles for the promotion of Christianity, which the Book of Acts depicts in details.

In this respect, preaching was not less significant for the worldwide spread of Christianity. For instance, the Book reminds about the preaching of the Twelve Apostles who spoke to people and they understand their preaching in different languages as if the Apostles spoke their mother tongue (Phillips, 2006, p.371).

On the other hand, along with the growing popularity of Christianity, Peter and other apostles and leaders of Christians faced a serious problem of repressions and prosecution from the part of the official authorities of the Roman Empire. For instance, Stephen, one of the first deacons, is arrested and executed by stoning and becomes the first Christian martyr (Phillips, 2006, p.392) but it does not stop Peter. In stark contrast, he continues acts and he continues to preach and popularize Christianity. It is worthy of mention that the case of Stephen was not rare. In fact, Paul himself was imprisoned for his beliefs and his efforts to promote Christianity in the Roman Empire. The repressions against Christians on all levels were practically a norm at that epoch and many Christians lost their freedom or even their life in the struggle for their beliefs. The Book depicts numerous sacrifices of Christians in face of repressions and opposition of the state and other cults.

In fact Paul practically revolutionized preaching and promotion of Christianity as well as Christianity itself. To put it more precisely, he was the first apostle who started to preach in other parts of the Roman Empire. He made trips to Asia Minor, being accompanied by Luke, where he founds the first Christina church in Philippi, but, what was probably more important, he spent several years in Greece, namely he preached in Athens. Moreover, he suggested new ideas which were rejected by orthodox Jewish Christians. For instance, he suggested to stop the division of food on pure and impure, because it was only the God who created this food, he also rejected the old Jewish tradition of circumcision, etc. (Phillips, 2006, p.391).

Conclusion

Thus, taking into account all above mention, it is possible to conclude that the Book of Acts actually called the Acts because it is basically focused on the Acts of the Apostles, mainly Paul and Peter, and these acts were extremely significant for Christianity at the first years of AD. The book written about 60-62 AD (Phillips, 2006, p.380) reveals the fact that Paul really acted in such a way that he made Christian closer to other people who were not of the Jewish origin and, therefore, he, as well as Peter, contributed consistently to the survival and promotion of Christianity in the ancient world.  In fact the great contribution of the Apostles in the development of Christianity was the organization of Christian churches in different parts of the Roman Empire, including its Hellenist part, which was viewed as one of the major centers of the Roman civilization. As a result, they managed to convert a lot of adepts and spread Christianity in the Roman Empire as one of the major religious movements. In such a way, the Book of Acts may be viewed as an attempt to depict the real actions of the Apostles directed to the spread of Christianity and gaining its recognition throughout the Roman Empire and basically the author succeeds in his/her efforts to make the book a narration based on actual acts of the Apostles.

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