What did Luke write the Book of Acts? What was the express purpose of it?
Dr. Luke the Historian
There are modern historians that declare Luke’s gospel and the Book of Acts to be one of historical veracity and accuracy. Both Luke’s gospel and the Book of Acts vividly display times, events, and names with an extraordinary precision that makes many declare Luke one of history’s greatest historians. We know he is the author of the Book of Acts but to whom was it written? In the very beginning of Acts Luke writes “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:1-2). The “first book” Luke mentions is almost certainly the Gospel of Luke and Theophilus may have been an actual person but interestingly, the name Theolphilus means “loved of God” so it could have been Luke’s way of writing this for those who would follow Christ in the first century and beyond and he wanted to provide an accurate, detailed historical account of the birth of the church, the growth of the church, and the acts of the church, even though this could well be called the “Book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit” because He is playing such a prominent role in this book.
The History of the Early Church
As we’ve already said, Luke wrote the Book of Acts and the purpose was probably so we’d have a historical record of how the church started and how it grew and what the church did through men and women of God by the Spirit of God however, the church may have predated the Day of Pentecost because we see Jesus already mentioning “the church” in the gospels. Jesus Himself said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18) but a little later in Matthew 18:15-20 He talks as if church discipline already exists.
First Century Church Growth
How did the first century church grow so rapidly? The answer is as easy to find as Acts 2:42 which says the church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” and they were “attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47). Of course the “apostle’s doctrines” included the teachings of Jesus. He later commanded them to take to this gospel into all the world, telling them to make disciples of all nations and be “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20a). The church grew because they remained in the Word of God, they were generous with one another, the fellowshipped together, and they prayed together. As a result, “God have the increase.” That last point is clear; only God can send repentance (2nd Tim 2:25) and grow the church as He purposes.
Prescriptive verses Descriptive
There are different sections of the Bible like the poetry found in the Book of Psalms and even though they’re written for musical accompaniment, they do have wisdom within them. The Book of Proverbs and the Book of James belongs to the section called wisdom literature. The gospels are eye witness accounts of Jesus earthly ministry. The epistles or letters in the New Testament are doctrinal in nature. Some are prophetic like Isaiah and the Book of Revelation but the point is, we must look at what the book is about, who it is written to, and whether it is descriptive or prescriptive. A prescriptive verse is Romans 10:9-10 which says “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Like a doctor writes a prescription, this is the prescription for receiving eternal life. It is prescribed for all but a descriptive verse or set of verses cannot be viewed as being prescribed in every circumstance. For example, some might read the Book of Acts and take it as prescriptive when the vast majority of it is descriptive. Some things in the Book of Acts cannot be repeated. Jesus ascended into heaven (descriptive) meaning we can’t take this as prescriptive and believe that we too can ascend to heaven.
Book of Acts Two?
It is my personal belief that since the Book of Acts ended having no conclusion or ending (Acts 28:30-31), the Book of Acts Two is being written today and many like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Polycarp, the prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon and many more you can probably think of will be in it. Of course, most of us will never show up in a book like this, if it is written, but isn’t it interesting to contemplate. Maybe God is recording the events of the church since the first century and this will be released when heaven comes down to earth (Rev 21, 22) and God will finally dwell with man. Perhaps some believers will be teaching those in the future about the things concerning God, including the history of the church from start to present.
Someday the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of God and the person who doesn’t know much about God will be deemed cursed. Habakkuk writes of this time when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (2:14) “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5) and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6). In the kingdom of heaven on earth, “no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:34).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.