THE OBJECT.-- The fifth book of the New Testament begins where the first four end. These have recorded the life, words and acts of our Savior from his birth to the Cross, the tomb, the resurrection, and the Great Commission. They leave the apostles and the nucleus of the apostolic church waiting in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father which they must receive in order to endue them with power from on high needed for the work of preaching the Gospel of the Risen Lord. The historian of Acts begins with the Ascension, then portrays to us the waiting and praying disciples, ready to begin the great work as soon as they shall receive the promised baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then when the signal was given that all things were ready by the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, he enters upon the record of how the apostles and apostolic men preached the gospel under the Savior's commission, how sinners were made saints, how the church was founded, and how it was built up, nurtured and trained by the apostles. Acts is the history of apostolic evangelization, the book of conversions, the first book of ecclesiastical history.
It has been forcibly stated by Dean Howson that Luke declares in his preface that he had in his former treatise (the Gospel) given account "of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was taken up," while in Acts, he "reveals to the world what the same Jesus, having ascended into heaven, and being exalted to the right hand of God, continues 'to do and to teach,' not any longer within the narrow confines of Palestine, or during the few years of an earthly ministry, but from his royal throne in his imperial city, the heavenly Jerusalem; and what, there sitting in glory, he does and teaches, by the instrumentality of apostles, apostolic men, and apostolic churches, in all ages of the world; and what he will ever continue to do and to teach from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven after his ascension, even till he comes again in glory to judge both quick and dead." This view of the purpose of Acts is not to exalted, as will be seen, when we bear in mind that the apostles were forbidden to begin their work until endowed by the Holy Spirit which was "shed forth" by the Lord from his throne on high, and then, "spake as the Spirit gave them utterance," acting in all things under the immediate guidance of the Spirit. Thus, they became simply the agents of the Lord, led, directed, preaching and speaking as they were directed from on high. All that the Lord continued "to do and to teach" thus through them has been recorded as examples to his followers in all times, from which they cannot lightly depart without disloyalty to the King.
THE AUTHOR.-- The preface shows that it was written by the same author as the third Gospel, which has been ascribed by the church in all ages to Luke, and in the first canon of the New Testament Scriptures he is named as the author. Eusebius places it as Luke's among those books that were never disputed in the church, and it is quoted by the earliest Christian writers, such as Polycarp, who was a companion of the apostle John. It is also attributed to Luke by Irenæus in the second century, a hearer of Polycarp, who was a hearer of John. We learn from Acts itself that it was written by a companion of Paul, and one who attended him to Rome. His Epistles inform us that Luke was an attendant upon his imprisonment in that city.
TIME AND PLACE OF WRITING.-- Acts could not have been completed before the year A. D. 63, as it is continued at the time at which Paul had closed his second year of imprisonment at Rome, which is placed in that year, and it must have been completed before the year 68, as it makes no mention of his death, which did not occur later than that year. The closing chapters were no doubt written in Rome, as Luke was there in attendance upon Paul ( Col. 4:14 ) but it is probable that the greater portion might have been written during the two years' imprisonment of Paul in Cæsarea under the immediate direction of the great apostle. While the two years of Paul at Rome were busied with epistles to the churches, and preaching the gospel in Rome, the records are silent how his time was occupied while confined at Cæsarea. It would be impossible for such a man as Paul to be idle, and as his friend had full access to him, there is strong reason to believe that at this period Luke, his constant companion, under his direction, not only prepared his Gospel, but by the aid of such men as Philip the Evangelist, who had his home in Cæsarea, and Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, aided by the records preserved in the church at Jerusalem, prepared the history of Acts to the period of the departure to Rome. From the apostles themselves, no doubt, were obtained the accounts of the ascension, the preaching and founding of the church on the day of Pentecost, the acts of Peter, the dispute between the Hellenists and the Hebrews, the martyrdom of Stephen and of the Apostle James. And there was also the information which he could obtain from the Church of Cæsarea; in that city he met with Philip the Evangelist, ( Acts 21:8 ,) and perhaps also with Cornelius, the devout centurion. From this source he would derive his information concerning the evangelistic labors in Samaria, the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, the visions made to Peter and Cornelius, and the particulars connected with the death of Herod Agrippa. That portion of the history in which Paul is the principal figure would require no other source of information than the great apostle could furnish himself.
THE OUTLINE.-- I. Preaching the Gospel "in Jerusalem" and Judea. (1) Preparation for the work ( 1:1-26 ). (2) Events of Pentecost ( 2:1-47 ). (3) The Church unfolding in miracle and endurance of persecution ( 3:1-4:37 ). (4) The Church unfolding in penal power ( 5:1-16 ). (5) The Church in the second persecution ( 5:17-42 .) (6) The Church forming its economy ( 6:1-8 ). (7) The Church in last struggle and dispersion ( 6:8-8:4 ). II. Preaching the Gospel "in Samaria" and about Palestine. (1) The deacon Philip evangelizes Samaria ( 8:5-25 ). (2) The new Apostle of the Gentiles called ( 9:1-30 ). (3) Gentile induction; new Christian center, Gentile Antioch ( 10:1-11:30 ). (4) Desolation of Jerusalem Church by Herod; its avenging ( 12:1-25 ). III. Preaching the Gospel "in the Uttermost Parts of the Earth". (1) Paul's first mission from Antioch ( 13:1-14:28 ). (2) Jerusalem Council on Circumcision ( 15:1-34 ). (3) Paul's second mission from Antioch ( 15:35-18:23 ). (4) Paul's third mission from Antioch ( 18:23-21:17 ). (5) Paul in council with James--Arrest--Sent to Cæsarea ( 21:18-23:35 ). (6) Paul's two years at Cæsarea ( 24:1-26:32 ). (7) Paul en route for Rome; at Rome ( 27:1-28:31 ).