Reading Assignment: Acts 3 – 12
PERSPECTIVES ON AUTHORSHIP OF ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
Tradition assigned the work to Luke, late in the second century CE. This Luke came over time to be understood as a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, pointing to the “we” passages in Acts and linking them to passing references to a companion named Luke mentioned in some of Paul’s letters. Paul’s letters were collected by the early Church while Paul was still alive and writing. Those letters are the earliest written documents which we include in the New Testament.
Modern scholars share two other assumptions. The first is based on the assumption that, by the time Luke and Acts were written, those who had known Jesus “in the flesh” had already died. Many biblical scholars dispute the assignment of authorship made by early church leaders. The second is found with others who suggest that the author of Acts was not the same author as Luke–but someone who adopted the work and wrote the sequel.
While it is helpful to know a bit about the historical context, and authorship, in this study we will be:
- Calling the author “Luke” for ease of discussion
- Reflecting on the intention of the narrative as we received it alongside what the author of Acts is communicating to us
- Asking ourselves these two questions: What does this ask of me? Why?
“THE WAY” BECOMES CHRISTIANITY
At the time Luke was writing (most assign the date between 80-130CE) followers of “The Way” of Jesus were completing their transition from being a radical sect within Judaism to understanding themselves as a distinctive religion of their own – outside of Jewish practice. The name “Christians” was now used by the public to identify them and the Church was spreading through the Roman empire – the known world at the time.
ACTS AND THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
The Gospel of Luke is one of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke). The three share the same primary sources for their presentation of the good news (earlier written accounts which have been lost to us). Each of their authors, known as evangelists, selects from and organizes the material according to their own authorial intent. Although the synoptic gospels share a lot in common, there are distinctive contributions each one makes to our understanding of the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ life. The Gospel of John, the last to be written, is unique unto itself.
Tips for reading the Gospels
It is helpful to let each one stand on its own, rather than trying to mash up the stories into a single timeline or pretending that in all things thye come to the same conclusion, obscuring or denying their differences. It is in their unique presentations of the good news that the particular revelation and truths these evangelists have to share is made plain. In the case of Luke, the narrative continues in Acts of the Apostles.
THE EARLY CHURCH, PROVIDING CONTEXT FOR ACTS
Luke is unique among the gospel writers in taking the story forward after the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly life and his post-resurrection appearances. He concludes his gospel with the dramatic departure of Jesus up into heaven, obscured by the clouds. (Luke 24:50-53) He begins Acts, or “Part II,” with the same scene in Acts 1:1-11. It is a dramatic “what’s next?” moment. As the title suggests, Acts is all about action, what the disciples did after Jesus departed. Their behavior was disruptive of the status quo wherever they went.
The twelve apostles annoyed the religious establishment of the faith community they had all been raised within, and they drew the watchful eyes of the Roman political establishment charged with “keeping the peace” in the occupied territories where the Church was born. It is in this context that Luke tells us about the early church.
QUESTIONS FOR TODAY
Identify the disruptive behaviors you see in various scenes. If this was being staged as a film or play, the first two chapters might storyboard like this:
Scene One: Ascension of Jesus
Scene Two: Rolling the dice – choosing a new disciple
Scene Three: Fire rains down from heaven
Scene Four: Peter preaches to an international crowd and is accused of drunkenness
Scene Five: The first altar call – exponential church growth
Scene Six: House Church
Reflect on these questions and write down your answers:
- Why would Luke choose to start his book this way?
- In choosing this progression of scenes, what might Luke want us to understand about the nature of the Church and it’s “essential DNA” from its formation?
- Where do you see evidence of that DNA still manifested in the Church as we know it today?
- What words would you use to describe the Holy Spirit as it appears in the text this week? It is the star of the show!