Is the Book of Acts Loveless?

Screen Shot 2016-10-15 at 9.10.12 AMBy John Frye

For the observant reader of the Bible, it comes as a shock to read the Gospel of John with it use of the word “love” some 39 times. John: the gospel of love. The shock sets in as the reader continues on into the Book of Acts. How many times does the word “love” appear? Zero. None. Not once. We know that “love” is one of Luke’s vocabulary words because he uses it 19 times in his Gospel (I’m working with the NIV). Why the absence of this great word in Luke’s sequel to Theophilus—the Book of Acts?

The Book of Acts. Jesus ascended. The Spirit poured out. The apostles evangelize. People are converted. Churches are planted in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and in Asia Minor and Rome. Jews and Gentiles repent. All that evangelistic preaching by the apostles and all that saving activity by God and there is not one mention of love, God’s love. Food for thought.

The USAmerican evangelical gospel is a love-drenched message. One popular mantra: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” There it is: love. As far as the “wonderful plan” is concerned, you’ll have to talk that over with a meticulous determinist. And, oh, let’s not forget the gospel in a nutshell, John 3:16, that begins with “For God so loved the world… .” I remember when Darlene Zschech’s song, “Power of Your Love,” swept the country. Lyrics include “The power of your love, hold me close, let your love surround me…” I like the song very much. (I just listened to it again on YouTube.) But unwittingly that song and many like it exacerbate a real problem, a gospel problem.   The original gospel in the Book of Acts was not explicitly about the love of God. The story that turned the world upside-down and inside-out was not a love-drenched word as we assume today.

I know that I need to be careful with these thoughts because they are framed in an argument from silence. Yet, for me, the silence is deafening. A recurring observation that the reader of the Book of Acts can confidently make is this: the recorded evangelistic sermons in Acts recount the actions of God, not the love of God. You might quibble and say that those very actions demonstrate God’s love. I do wholeheartedly agree. But the popular perception of the love of God in today’s gospel is about God’s disposition toward sinners, not the profound actions God took in and through Jesus the Messiah on behalf of sinners. I think this distinction needs attention. A wily shift takes place when the gospel emphasis moves to the people who are the objects of God’s love. Before you know it, the gospel becomes more about me being loved rather the Christ Who loved. And if the gospel is anything, it is all about Jesus Christ.

Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s Messiah (King) coming intentionally and particularly to his Jewish people. The gospel includes Israel’s story and expands it in the most incredible, even shocking ways, so much so that Jews and Gentiles stood aghast. Christ died! (Unthinkable to Jews and moronic to Gentiles.) Christ was buried (yes, he was really, really dead). Christ was raised (to a new form of bodily life). Christ ascended. Christ reigns as Lord. Christ will come to judge all. The events are clear (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

That, my friends, is love in sacrificial acts (and in Acts), not words. Only as Christ is owned as Israel’s Messiah can he be received as Savior of the world. The one and only true God is Israel’s God made known in Jesus the Christ Who now is Savior for and Lord of all. Every word in that gospel announcement is written in costly love.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.