The Acts of the Apostles (Latin: Actus Apostolorum), usually referred to simply as Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; Acts outlines the history of the Apostolic Age. The author is traditionally identified as Luke the Evangelist.
While the precise identity of the author is debated, the general consensus is that this work was composed by a (Koine) Greek speaking Gentile writing for an audience of Gentile Christians. The Early Church Fathers wrote that Luke was a physician in Antioch and an adherent of the Apostle Paul. Luke is said to have written the volume entitled Acts of the Apostles. 
The title "Acts of the Apostles" (Greek Πράξεις ἀποστόλων Praxeis Apostolon) was not part of the original text. It was first used by Irenaeus late in the second century. Some have suggested that the title "Acts" be interpreted as "The Acts of the Holy Spirit" or even "The Acts of Jesus," since 1:1 gives the impression that these acts were set forth as an account of what Jesus continued to do and teach, Jesus himself being the principal actor.
The word "Acts" denoted a recognized genre in the ancient world, "characterizing books that described great deeds of people or of cities." There are several such books in the New Testament apocrypha, including the Acts of Thomas, the Acts of Andrew, and the Acts of John.
Others have also suggested that the book of Acts may have been written as a legal document written in defence of Paul of Tarsus, for his trial in front of the Emperor in Rome, an event mentioned in the Book of Acts itself.
The author of Acts likely relied upon other sources, as well as oral tradition, in constructing his account of the early church and Paul's ministry. Evidence for this is found in the prologue to the Gospel of Luke, wherein the author alludes to his sources by writing, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word." Some scholars theorize that the "we" passages in Acts are just such "handed down" quotations from some earlier source who accompanied Paul on his travels.
It is generally believed that the author of Acts did not have access to a collection of Paul's letters. One piece of evidence suggesting this is that, although half of Acts centers on Paul, Acts never directly quotes from the Pauline epistles nor does it even mention Paul writing letters. Discrepancies between the Pauline epistles and Acts further supports the conclusion that the author of Acts did not have access to those epistles when composing Acts.
Other theories about Acts' sources are more controversial. Some historians believe that Acts borrows phraseology and plot elements from Euripides' play The Bacchae. Some feel that the text of Acts shows evidence of having used the Jewish historian Josephus as a source (in which case it would have to have been written sometime after 94 AD). For example, R. I. Pervo dates Acts to the first quarter of the second century.
The question of authorship is largely bound up with the one of the historical value of the contents. Conservative scholars view the book of Acts as being extremely accurate and corroborated by archaeology while critics view the work as being inaccurate, particularly when compared with the Epistles of Paul.
Traditionally the book of Acts has been dated in the second half of the first century. At one extreme, Norman Geisler dates it as early as between 60-62. Donald Guthrie noted that the absence of any mention of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 would be unlikely if the book were written afterwards. He also suggested that since the book does not mention the death of Paul, a central character in the final chapters, it was likely penned before his death. Guthrie also saw traces of Acts in Polycarp's letter to the Philippians (written between 110-140) and one letter by Ignatius († before 117) and thought that Acts probably was current in Antioch and Smyrna not later than circa 115, and perhaps in Rome as early as circa 96. Another argument used in favor of a 1st century origin of Acts is the suggested absence of clear references to Paul's Epistles.
On the other hand, the lack of a mention of the destruction of Jerusalem is also used as an argument for a later date, well beyond 70, while the prologue to Luke's Gospel itself implies the dying out of the generation of eyewitnesses as a class. The Tübingen school and its heirs suggested a date in the early 2nd century, partially on observing traces of 2nd century Gnosticism, "hierarchical" ideas of organization, and in light of the relation of the Roman state to the Christians, though William Ramsey used the latter instead to suggest an origin prior to Pliny's correspondence with Trajan on the subject in the year 100.
Parallels between Acts and Josephus' The Wars of the Jews (written in 75-80) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94) have long been argued. Several scholars have argued that Acts used material of both of Josephus' works, rather than the other way around, which would indicate that Acts was written around the year 100 or later. Three points of contact with Josephus in particular are cited: (1) The circumstances attending the death of Agrippa I in 44. Here Acts 12:21-23 is largely parallel to Antiquities 19.8.2; (2) the cause of the Egyptian pseudo-prophet in Acts 21:37f and in Josephus (War 2.13.5; Antiquities 20.8.6); (3) the curious resemblance as to the order in which Theudas and Judas of Galilee are referred to in both (Acts 5:36f; Antiquities 20.5.1).
The place of composition is still an open question. For some time Rome and Antioch have been in favor, and Blass combined both views in his theory of two editions. But internal evidence points strongly to the Roman province of Asia, particularly the neighborhood of Ephesus. Note the confident local allusion in 19:9 to "the school of Tyrannus" and in 19:33 to "Alexander"; also the very minute topography in 20:13–15. At any rate affairs in that region, including the future of the church of Ephesus (20:28–30), are treated as though they would specially interest "Theophilus" and his circle; also an early tradition makes Luke die in the adjacent Bithynia. Finally it was in this region that there arose certain early glosses (e.g., 19:9; 20:15), probably the earliest of those referred to below. How fully in correspondence with such an environment the work would be, as apologia for the Church against the Synagogue's attempts to influence Roman policy to its harm, must be clear to all familiar with the strength of Judaism in Asia (cf. Rev 2:9, 3:9; and see Sir W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches, ch. xii.).
Like most biblical books, there are differences between the earliest surviving manuscripts of Acts. In the case of Acts, however, the differences between the surviving manuscripts are more substantial. The two earliest versions of manuscripts are the Western text-type (as represented by the Codex Bezae) and the Alexandrian text-type (as represented by the Codex Sinaiticus). The version of Acts preserved in the Western manuscripts contains about 10% more content than the Alexandrian version of Acts. Since the difference is so great, scholars have struggled to determine which of the two versions is closer to the original text composed by the original author.
The earliest explanation, suggested by Swiss theologian Jean LeClerc in the 17th century, posits that the longer Western version was a first draft, while the Alexandrian version represents a more polished revision by the same author. Adherents of this theory argue that even when the two versions diverge, they both have similarities in vocabulary and writing style—suggesting that the two shared a common author. However, it has been argued that if both texts were written by the same individual, they should have exactly identical theologies and they should agree on historical questions. Since most modern scholars do detect subtle theological and historical differences between the texts, most scholars do not subscribe to the rough-draft/polished-draft theory - res ipsa loquitur.
A second theory assumes common authorship of the Western and Alexandrian texts, but claims the Alexandrian text is the short first draft, and the Western text is a longer polished draft. A third theory is that the longer Western text came first, but that later, some other redactor abbreviated some of the material, resulting in the shorter Alexandrian text.
While these other theories still have a measure of support, the modern consensus is that the shorter Alexandrian text is closer to the original, and the longer Western text is the result of later insertion of additional material into the text. Already in 1893, Sir W. M. Ramsay in The Church in the Roman Empire held that the Codex Bezae (the Western text) rested on a recension made in Asia Minor (somewhere between Ephesus and southern Galatia), not later than about the middle of the 2nd century. Though "some at least of the alterations in Codex Bezae arose through a gradual process, and not through the action of an individual reviser," the revision in question was the work of a single reviser, who in his changes and additions expressed the local interpretation put upon Acts in his own time. His aim, in suiting the text to the views of his day, was partly to make it more intelligible to the public, and partly to make it more complete. To this end he "added some touches where surviving tradition seemed to contain trustworthy additional particulars," such as the statement that Paul taught in the lecture-room of Tyrannus "from the fifth to the tenth hour" (added to Acts 19:9). In his later work, St Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (1895), Ramsay's views gain both in precision and in breadth. The gain lies chiefly in seeing beyond the Bezan text to the "Western" text as a whole.
It is believed that the material in the Western text which isn't in the Alexandrian text reflects later theological developments within Christianity. For examples, the Western text features a greater hostility to Judaism, a more positive attitude towards Gentile Christianity, and other traits which appear to be later additions to the text. Some also note that the Western text attempts to minimize the emphasis Acts places on the role of women in the early Christian church.
A third class of manuscripts, known as the Byzantine text-type, is often considered to have developed after the Western and Alexandrian types. While differing from both of the other types, the Byzantine type has more similarity to the Alexandrian than to the Western type. The extant manuscripts of this type date from the 5th century or later; however, papyrus fragments show that this text-type may date as early as the Alexandrian or Western text-types. The Byzantine text-type served as the basis for the 16th century Textus Receptus, the first Greek-language version of the New Testament to be printed by printing press. The Textus Receptus, in turn, served as the basis for the New Testament found in the English-language King James Bible. Today, the Byzantine text-type is the subject of renewed interest as the possible original form of the text from which the Western and Alexandrian text-types were derived.
Acts tells the story of the Apostolic Age of the Early Christian church, with particular emphasis on the ministry of the Twelve Apostles and of Paul of Tarsus. The early chapters, set in Jerusalem, discuss Jesus' Resurrection and Great Commission, his Ascension with a prophecy to return, the start of the Twelve Apostles' ministry, and the Day of Pentecost. The later chapters discuss Paul's conversion, his ministry, and finally his arrest and imprisonment and trip to Rome.
The structure of the book of Luke is closely tied with the structure of Acts. Both books are most easily tied to the geography of the book. Luke begins with a global perspective, dating the birth of Jesus to the reign of the Roman emperors in Luke 2:1 and 3:1. From there we see Jesus' ministry move from Galilee (chapters 4–9), through Samaria and Judea (chs. 10–19), to Jerusalem where he is crucified, raised and ascended into heaven (chs. 19–24). The book of Acts follows just the opposite motion, taking the scene from Jerusalem (chs. 1–5), to Judea and Samaria (chs. 6–9), then traveling through Syria, Asia Minor, and Europe towards Rome (chs. 9–28). This chiastic structure emphasizes the centrality of the resurrection and ascension to Luke's message, while emphasizing the universal nature of the gospel.
This geographic structure is foreshadowed in Acts 1:8, where Jesus says "You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem (chs. 1–5), and in all Judea and Samaria (chs. 6–9), and even to the remotest part of the earth (chs. 10–28)." The first two sections (chs. 1–9) represent the witness of the apostles to the Jews, while the last section (chs. 10–28) represent the witness of the apostles to the Gentiles.
The book of Acts can also be broken down by the major characters of the book. While the complete title of the book is the Acts of the Apostles, really the book focuses on only two of the apostles: Peter (chs. 1–12) and Paul (chs. 13–28).
Within this structure, the sub-points of the book are marked by a series of summary statements, or what one commentary calls a "progress report". Just before the geography of the scene shifts to a new location, Luke summarizes how the gospel has impacted that location. The standard for these progress reports is in 2:46–47, where Luke describes the impact of the gospel on the new church in Jerusalem. The remaining progress reports are located:
This structure can be also seen as a series of concentric circles, where the gospel begins in the center, Jerusalem, and is expanding ever outward to Judea & Samaria, Syria, Asia Minor, Europe, and eventually to Rome.
The author opens with a prologue, usually taken to be addressed to an individual by the name of Theophilus (though this name, which translates literally as "God-lover", may be a nickname rather than a personal appellation) and references "my earlier book"—almost certainly the Gospel of Luke. This is immediately followed by a narrative which is set in Jerusalem.
The apostles, along with other followers of Jesus, meet and elect Matthias to replace Judas as a member of The Twelve. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on them. The apostles hear a great wind and witness "tongues of flames" descending on them, paralleling Luke 3:16-17. Thereafter, the apostles have the miraculous power to "speak in tongues" and when they address a crowd, each member of the crowd hears their speech in his own native language.
Peter, along with John, preaches to many in Jerusalem, and performs many miracles such as healings, the casting out of evil spirits, and the raising of the dead. As a result, thousands convert to Early Christianity and are baptized.
As their numbers increase, the Christians begin to be increasingly persecuted. Some of the apostles are arrested and flogged, but ultimately freed. Stephen, one of the first deacons, is arrested for blasphemy, and after a trial, is found guilty and executed by stoning by the Jews, thereby becoming the first known Christian martyr.
Peter and the apostles continue to preach, and Christianity continues to grow, and begins to spread to Gentiles. Peter has a vision in which a voice commands him to eat a variety of impure animals. When Peter objects, the voice replies, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." When Peter awakes from his vision, he meets with Cornelius the Centurion, who converts. Peter baptizes the centurion, and later has to justify this decision to the other Christians.
Paul of Tarsus, also known as Saul, is the main character of the second half of Acts. He is introduced as a persecutor of the Christian church (8:1:3), until his conversion to Christianity later in the chapter when he encounters the resurrected Christ. His own account of his conversion, Gal 1:11-24, is not detailed. The conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus is told three times. While Paul was on the road to Damascus, near Damascus, "suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground" (9:3-4), the light was "brighter than the sun" (26:13) and he was subsequently blinded for three days (9:9). He heard a voice in the Hebrew language (probably Aramaic): "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? ... I am Jesus" (26:14-15). In Damascus, St. Ananias cured his blindness, "something like scales" fell from his eyes, and baptized him (9:17-19). It is commonly believed that Saul changes his name to Paul at this time, but the source of this claim is unknown, the first mention of another name is later, (13:9), during his first missionary journey.
Several years later, Barnabas and Paul set out on a mission (13-14) to further spread Christianity, particularly among the Gentiles. Paul travels through Asia Minor, preaching and visiting churches throughout the region.
Paul travels to Jerusalem where he meets with the apostles — a meeting known as the Council of Jerusalem (15). Paul's own record of the meeting appears to be Galatians 2, however, due to the differences, some argue Gal 2 is a different meeting. Members of the Jerusalem church have been preaching that circumcision is required for salvation. Paul and his associates strongly disagree. After much discussion, James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church, decrees that Gentile Christian converts need not follow all of the Mosaic Law, and in particular, they do not need to be circumcised.
The decision of the Council came to be called the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:19-21) and was that most Mosaic law, including the requirement for circumcision of males, was not obligatory for Gentile converts, possibly in order to make it easier for them to join the movement. However, the Council did retain the prohibitions against eating meat containing blood, or meat of animals not properly slain, and against "fornication" and idol worship. Beginning with Augustine of Hippo, many have seen a connection to Noahide Law, while some modern scholars reject the connection to Noahide Law (Genesis 9) and instead see Lev 17-18 as the basis. See also Old Testament Law directed at non-Jews and Leviticus 18. In effect, however, the Jerusalem Church created a double standard: one for Jewish Christians and one for Gentile converts. See Dual-covenant theology for the modern debate.
Paul spends the next few years traveling through western Asia Minor and (some believe) founds his first Christian church in Philippi. Paul then travels to Thessalonica, where he stays for some time before departing for Greece. In Athens, Paul visits an altar with an inscription dedicated to the Unknown God, so when he gives his speech on the Areopagos, he proclaims to worship that same Unknown God whom he identifies as the Christian God.
Upon Paul's arrival in Jerusalem, he was confronted with the rumor of teaching against the Law of Moses (21:21). To prove that he was "living in obedience to the law", Paul took a biblical vow along with some others (21:26). Near the end of the seven days of the vow, Paul was recognized outside Herod's Temple and was nearly beaten to death by a mob, "shouting, 'Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place'" (21:28). Paul is rescued from the mob by a Roman commander (21:31-40) and accused of being a revolutionary, "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes", teaching resurrection of the dead, and thus imprisoned in Caesarea (23–26). Paul asserts his right, as a Roman citizen, to be tried in Rome. Paul is sent by sea to Rome, where he spends another two years under house arrest, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching the "Lord Jesus Christ" (28:30-31). Surprisingly, Acts does not record the outcome of Paul's legal troubles — some traditions hold that Paul was ultimately executed in Rome, while other traditions have him surviving the encounter and later traveling to Spain — see Paul - Imprisonment & Death.
One of the central themes of Acts, indeed of the New Testament (see also Great Commission) is the universality of Christianity—the idea that Jesus's teachings were for all humanity—Jews and Gentiles alike. In this view, Christianity is seen as a religion in its own right, rather than a subset of Judaism, if one makes the common assumption that Judaism is not universal, however see Noahide Laws and Christianity and Judaism for details. Whereas the members of Jewish Christianity were circumcised and adhered to dietary laws, the Pauline Christianity featured in Acts did not require Gentiles to be circumcised or to obey all of the Mosaic laws, which is consistent with Noahide Law. The final chapter of Acts ends with Paul condemning non-Christian Jews and saying "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!" (28:28). See also New Covenant (theology).
As in the Gospel of Luke, there are numerous references to the Holy Spirit throughout Acts. Acts features the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" on Pentecost and the subsequent spirit-inspired speaking in tongues. The Holy Spirit is shown guiding the decisions and actions of Christian leaders, and the Holy Spirit is said to "fill" the apostles, especially when they preach. As a result, Acts is particularly influential among branches of Christianity which place particular emphasis in the Holy Spirit, such as Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement.
The Gospel of Luke and Acts both devote a great deal of attention to the oppressed and downtrodden. The impovershed are generally praised, while the wealthy are criticized. Luke-Acts devotes a great deal of attention to women in general and to widows in particular. The Samaritans of Samaria (see map at Iudaea Province), had their temple on Mount Gerizim, and along with some other differences, see Samaritanism, were in conflict with Jews of Judea and Galilee and other regions who had their Temple in Jerusalem and practiced Judaism. Unexpectedly, since Jesus was a Jewish Galilean, the Samaritans are shown favorably in Luke-Acts. In Acts, attention is given to the religious persecution of the early Christians, as in the case of Stephen's martyrdom and the numerous examples are Paul's persecution for his preaching of Christianity.
Prayer is a major motif in both the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Both books have a more prominent attention to prayer than is found in the other gospels. The Gospel of Luke depicts prayer as a certain feature in Jesus's life. Examples of prayer which are unique to Luke include Jesus's prayers at the time of his baptism (Luke 3:21), his praying all night before choosing the twelve (Luke 6:12), and praying for the transfiguration (Luke 9:28). Acts also features an emphasis on prayer and includes a number of notable prayers such as the Believers' Prayer (4:23-31), Stephen's death prayer (7:59-60), and Simon Magus' prayer (8:24). See also Prayer in the New Testament.
Acts features a number of extended speeches or sermons from Peter, Paul, and others. In fact, there are at least 24 different speeches in Acts, and the speeches comprise about 30% of the total verses. These speeches, which are quoted verbatim at length rather than simply summarized, have been the source of debates over the historical accuracy of Acts. (see below).
Books of the Bible