The Structure of the Book of Acts ~ Part 2

12 Nov
Acts - 8

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This is the second in a three part study that shows how I believe Luke constructed his thesis, the Book of Acts. What he did was structure it in three pairs of subject matter or sub-themes. The first pair unveiled the Temple built without hands that was not stationary, but moved about the world, just as the original Tabernacle in the wilderness did (see Stephen’s argument in Acts 7 concerning the international, non-stationary God). Luke’s second pair concerns how the teaching of circumcision affected the Church, once gentiles began to be received into the predominantly Jewish body of believers. We are in the middle of this study now. The third and final pair of teachings will show that the Gospel and the Church are totally innocuous. Preaching Jesus is not against any political sphere nor will the presence of the Church upset the community at large. We are harmless and our existence is not against any law.

In my previous blog I left off with the Church, perhaps reluctantly, accepting the idea that gentiles could be saved without becoming Jews. Peter’s vision and how God received Cornelius and other unbaptized and uncircumcised gentiles in Acts 10 seemed to be incontrovertibly true, but actually there were still some who needed to be convinced. The theory was understood and believed, but how would this theory play out in reality, and who gets to say? Agrippa’s persecution against the Apostles sent them scattering, and we find Peter in Antioch living and breaking bread with gentile brethren without a care, until the “men from James” arrived from Jerusalem (cp. Galatians 2). Paul and Barnabas had already returned from their first missionary trip to Galatia and had spent some time in Antioch before James sent his envoy to the gentile churches, alerting them of the dire need of food supplies for the poor. Agabus’ prophecy (Acts 11:28-30) was becoming a reality. The Jerusalem church was running out of supplies and needed help.

The problem that occurred in Antioch occurred also in the gentile churches of Cilicia and, it would seem, even in those in Galatia, showing that these churches were known to James for some time before the need arose for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul, too, would have no doubt alerted the Galatians concerning Agabus’ prophecy before leaving there for Antioch and ending his first missionary journey.

How this plays out in Luke’s structure of Acts is that first he presents the problem the Church is faced with, as it pertains to the doctrine of circumcision, and in his next, or fourth, entry he tells us how the Church worked it out. There is a difficulty in the manner in which the text is written, however, that could lead the reader to have Luke saying Paul visited Jerusalem three times after his meeting Jesus in Acts 9, but Paul in Galatians 2 says he made only two visits in the space of 14 years after his becoming a believer. This may not seem to be an important point, but it is if we are going to fully comprehend how the circumcision question gets finally resolved among the believers at Jerusalem. The long story short is Acts 12:24-25 is the same time-line as Acts 15:30. In other words Luke’s third and fourth entry overlap in time. First he presents what occurred in Jerusalem, then he shows us how this developed around the Empire. Then, he brings us back to Jerusalem to show us how this big problem was finally resolved.

Not only were Paul and Barnabas sent to Jerusalem to resolve the issue of circumcision (Acts 15:1-2), but Paul also went up to Jerusalem from Antioch by revelation (Galatians 2:2), i.e. the revelation of Agabus’ prophecy (Acts 11:28-30). So, while the Apostles were hammering out the theological details of the circumcision question, the gentile brethren who had come with Paul and Barnabas from Antioch were daily (cp. Acts 6:1) “breaking bread” (i.e. sharing the bread of Antioch) with the needy disciples at Jerusalem. The theory was hashed out by the leaders of the Church, while the practicality was seen daily by every hungry Jewish disciple through those gentiles who had come up from Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.[1]

Luke’s fourth entry concludes with their bringing the letters from James to the churches in Antioch (Acts 15:30), Cilicia (Acts 15:41), perhaps Cyprus (Acts 15:39) and also to Galatia (Acts 16:4). Luke’s third entry covers the time-span of cir. 38 AD to 49 AD and his fourth covers cir. 45/46 AD (the time of his 1st missionary journey to Galatia in Acts 13-14) to 50/51 AD when the Galatian churches were strengthened and grew in the word of God and were multiplied (Acts 16:5).


[1] I intend to cover the famine-relief in a more detailed study later.

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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Kingdom of God


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