In ancient times when a book was a scroll, how was the book put together; more specifically, how was Luke’s Acts put together? Did Luke simply begin writing, stopping only when his work was written? It seems to me, if this were true, error would be rampant and confusing due to themes begun and left unfinished. There must be a better way to write a scroll. As I was reading the Book of Acts, I believe I stumbled upon a possible solution to my own query. I am uncertain if my theory has been put forward by others, but it appears likely that Luke wrote Acts in six parts, and more specifically according to three sets of themes of two parts each. When I stumbled upon this idea I had one of those “Ah-hah!” moments.
In Acts Luke lists six progress reports for the Church growing in understanding and multiplying numerically, and if I am correct, these reports represent the times in which he added to his original manuscript. The first comes to us in Acts 6:7 where Luke tells us “the word of God increased” and “the number of disciples multiplied.” This seems to be where Luke ends his first entry for his thesis. No doubt notes were kept, thoughts organized, errors corrected as he compiled information for his next entry, but Acts 1:1 to Acts 6:7 represents Luke’s first offering, and it covers approximately 3 ½ years (spring of 31 AD to fall of 34 AD).
Luke’s second entry was added several years later. It may be that Luke was one of the disciples who fled Jerusalem, as the persecution that arose after Stephen’s death grew ever more dangerous for the Hellenist Messianic believers, who held similar views with Stephen. This entry incorporates the time of the persecution, or from Acts 6:8 to 9:31 when the churches of Judea, Samaria and Galilee experienced rest at the end of the persecution waged against them by the Temple authorities in Jerusalem.
This period covered approximately 4 years (fall of 34 AD to summer or fall of 38 AD). What I see Luke doing is presenting how the Church had begun, in that it is the Temple built by Christ, not a Temple fixed to one area of the land. Rather, it was the Temple or Presence of God, which was wherever the people of God happened to be. Stephen put this idea forth to the Sanhedrin, and they considered it blasphemy. They thought the same of Jesus, for he said “destroy this Temple and I will raise it up…” He spoke of the Temple of his body, and the Church became the Body of Christ—the Temple of God. Luke records how it all began, how it was received by believers or rejected by the Jewish authorities. The end result was – we grew in the word of God and multiplied in converts to the Kingdom of God (Acts 9:31). Jesus is Lord!
As we grew in understanding of God’s word and multiplied to the point where gentiles were brought into the Church, Luke addressed his second theme—circumcision. Once the nations began believing the Gospel, how would that work out in what was by and large a Jewish movement? Luke’s new entry covers the time of the Church’s rest in Acts 9:32 to the end of the famine predicted by Agabus in Acts 12:24-25, a time span of approximately 10 years (38 AD to 48 AD). Acts 10 unveils the Lord’s attitude toward the physical act of circumcision, and Peter’s witness of the Holy Spirit falling upon uncircumcised and unbaptized gentile believers. The church only reluctantly believed what had occurred (cp. Acts 11), because Luke later shows that the teaching that gentiles had to become Jews in order to be saved was still believed and taught by the ultra-conservative group in Jerusalem. Another persecution broke out during the time of Herod Agrippa’s reign, probably with the encouragement of the Temple authorities. The Apostles and the moderate believers were expelled from Jerusalem and probably had to leave Herod’s realm in order to be completely safe, which is why we find Peter in Antioch when the “men from James” came and caused the trouble there (Galatians 2:11-12), but more about these things in my next blog entry.