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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

The Acts of the Apostles - Introduction

Acts is a sequel to the Gospel according to Luke (Acts 1.1 : “In the first book…,” see introduction to Luke). The title, the Acts of the Apostles, * which was probably added later, suggests parallels to accounts of the “acts” or “mighty deeds” of famous rulers and generals. After the fourth century when Christianity became the official religion of the empire, Acts was read as an account of the glorious Christian march from Jerusalem to Rome. Gentile * Christianity was understood as the successor that surpassed Judaism, as the Roman Empire once succeeded Greece. But reading Acts as the story of a gentile triumph, told at the expense of the Jews, is to forget its Jewish Christian origins.

Acts proclaims Jesus as the messiah * fulfilling the promises God made to Israel. Its historical origins probably lie in the decades following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (70–73 CE). All Jews shared the scriptures, including the prophetic * and historical books which were written following the first destruction by Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE). What repentance was required for God to restore Israel following this second destruction? Even the Pharisees * were divided. The vast majority argued for a repentance consisting of scrupulous observance of the law, separation from those who wanted to continue to fight against Rome, and exclusion of those who believed the messiah had come. On the other hand, Acts tells of “believers who belonged to the sect * of the Pharisees” ( 15.5 ). To call them “Christian Pharisees” may obscure their particular Jewish tradition of practice and faith in the kingdom of God and the messiah. They believed Jesus was the messiah. The Hebrew word for “anointed * one,” “messiah.” may fit them better than the Greek word “Christ.” Acts notes that these “messianist Pharisees” argued for the necessity of observance of the law, even for gentile converts.

But the Jerusalem council disagreed, deciding not “to trouble those Gentiles that are turning to God” ( 15.19 ), so that Jews and gentiles alike “will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” ( 15.11 ). The repentance required is a turning to “this Jesus God raised up” ( 2.32 ), and the restoration is “the rising of many in Israel” to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk 2.32–34 ), inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus.

Acts is the story of Jesus' apostles and witnesses, emerging from within a divided Israel, laying claim to the scriptural promises, and moving into mission in the Jewish and gentile communities of the Roman empire. The “restoration of the kingdom to Israel” ( 1.6; 3.20 ) is interpreted to be the renewal of Israel's calling to “restore the survivors of Israel” to be “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa 49.6 ).

Like the majority of Jews, these “messianists” or “Christians” (Acts 11.26 ) spoke Greek and read Israel's scriptures in the ancient Greek version known as the Septuagint * (abbreviated LXX * in the comments). They followed the map of synagogues * spread over centuries through the Greco-Roman world, from Egypt through North Africa in the south, to Spain in the west, and Babylonia in the east. Their mission was first to gather Israel, and extending the mission to the gentiles required profoundly difficult decisions. The Book of Acts has surprisingly few stories in which the audience is exclusively gentile.

The apostles are thus agents of the vindicated and exalted messiah, Jesus. Their journeys are the mission of God, directed or guided by the Holy Spirit from Jerusalem throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria out into Asia Minor, back to the Temple * in Jerusalem, and on to Rome, albeit in chains. Their encounters with Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures and authorities are defining moments for the Christian movement, requiring “boldness” from the witnesses and profound assurance from Israel's scriptures. The narrative * offers an affirmative verdict on this new “sect” ( 24.5, 14; 28.22 ) and a judgment against its adversaries in terms announced by the Pharisee Gamaliel, “If this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” ( 5.38–39 ).

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