On Monday, we saw that the most likely author for Acts (and its companion gospel) is Luke, a physician and ministry companion of the apostle Paul. Yesterday, we identified A.D. 62-64 as the most likely time frame when look penned the book. Today, we examine the type of book Luke was trying to write.
It should come as no surprise that the genre with which Acts shares the most similarities is ancient history (not history about the ancient period, but history written during the ancient period). Luke takes great pains to write an accurate historical account (“having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order … so that you may know the exact truth,” Lk. 1:3-4). Furthermore, his use of language links him with other writers of history in the Hellenistic world, and he is the only New Testament writer to link the history of Jesus and the church with the greater context of world history (Polhill, p. 51).
However, like Josephus, a Jewish historian writing at about the same time, Luke casts his history in a theological light. For Luke, history is not just a dry telling of who did what where, but “the sphere of divine operation” (Wright, p. 378). Luke was not writing a history about what people had done; he was writing a history about what God had done. His gospel was “about all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1), with the implication that Acts is about all that Jesus continued to do and teach. This means that the best title for the book might not be “The Acts of the Apostles,” as it is traditionally rendered, or “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” as some people today favor, but “The Acts of Jesus Christ” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 16). Luke’s gospel tells of what Jesus did through his earthy life, and Acts tells of what he continued to do through his church.
Thus, Acts is history, but it is, more accurately, sacred history. Luke is not merely retelling events, but interpreting those events in light of what he knows about Jesus.
Other Posts in the Series:
- The Author of Acts
- The Date of Acts
- The Provenance & Destination of Acts
- The Purpose & Theme of Acts
References & Further Reading:
Carson, D. A. & Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.
Lea, Thomas D. & David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. 2nd Edition. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.
Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. Authentic Christianity. Studies in the Book of Acts. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000.
Polhill, John B. Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.
Wright, N. T. The New Testament and the People of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1992.