You will receive power when
the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses
both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the
remotest part of the earth.
~ Acts 1:7-8 ~
Every so often, a commentary comes to the attention of the
student of Scripture that strikes him or her as being head and shoulders
above the crowd. Steven Charles Ger's Acts: Witnesses to the World
has struck this editor and AMC's board secretary Mottel Baleston just
that way For this reason, we have decided to present Acts in its
entirety - not just for the wealth of information that may be gained
from its study, but, as Mottel stated, as a model for how a Bible study
ought to be done.
Has God given you the gift of
teaching? Perhaps you will be next to pick up the torch for this level
We will begin with the first half of Steven's very
informative introduction to the Book of Acts; but first, Steven's
dedication and a little bit about Steven himself.
To my wife, Adria Lauren, whose worth
is far above rubies and who reassuringly certified that my ramblings
made sense; and to my son, Jonathan Gabriel, our five-year-old gift from
God, who impatiently waited for his Dad to get his nose out of this book
to come play with him.
About the Author
Steven Ger grew up in a Jewish family
in Brooklyn, New York and Aberdeen, New Jersey, where he was educated in
both church and synagogue due to his distinctive heritage as a Jewish
He is the founder and director of Sojourner Ministries, an organization
dedicated to exploring the Jewish heart of Christianity with both Jew
and Gentile. The name of the ministry is derived from the Hebrew meaning
of Steven's surname. In Hebrew, the word "ger" means sojourner or
wanderer. This particular "wandering" Jew's faith journey has led him to
the conviction that Jesus is the Messiah who was foretold in the Hebrew
Scriptures. Steven's life is dedicated to helping people see their
Messiah more clearly through Hebrew eyes.
Steven is the former host of the North Texas weekly radio show, The
Jewish Heart of Christianity, and is uniquely equipped to comment on
Israel, Judaism and the Church. He has appeared as a guest expert on
both radio and television. He is also the host of an hour-long teaching
video showing how Christ's reinterpretation of the Passover meal
instituted the celebration of communion and announced a new era in human
Television audiences and church
congregations alike have enjoyed Steven's leading them in invigorating,
contemporary messianic worship. He is an accomplished singer, pianist
and songwriter whose composition, "Jeremiah 31", was recorded by
Liberated Wailing Wall.
Steven has led 11 tours to Israel, with extensions to Egypt, Greece,
Jordan, Turkey and Germany. He has lectured at Dallas Theological
Seminary and at Tyndale Seminary. He served for 7 years as Director of
Worship/Education at Providence Church in Rowlett, Texas.
He earned a BA in psychology and interpersonal communications from
Trenton State College and a Th.M from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Steven lives in the Dallas area with his wife, Adria, and their son,
INTRODUCTION: BACKGROUND TO ACTS
Part 1 of 3
INTRODUCTION TO ACTS
book of Acts grants readers a unique and fascinating glimpse into the
world of the
early church. We peer through the corridors of two millennia and see the
foundations of our own faith. Beginning in Jerusalem, Acts shows us the
believers have traveled to arrive at our present state. All that we, the
church, are today, we owe to the pioneers to whom its author, Luke,
introduces us. Luke
continues to perform an inestimable service for contemporary believers
by unveiling the
historical, social, cultural, political and religious milieu of the
first three decades of
Indeed, Acts is, at its most basic, a book of history. Yet for so many
of us, the
mention of any sort of history book immediately brings to mind dry,
dusty tomes filled to
overflowing with infinitely irrelevant data from some unrelated, bygone
Acts is not that sort of history book.
In many ways, Acts is the singularly most earthy and accessible book in
New Testament. It is entirely in its own distinct category. It is not
chock full of
challenging, doctrinal propositions, as are the epistles. It is not
composed of enigmatic,
apocalyptic imagery, as is Revelation. Nor does it consist of the
biography, teaching and
parables of the crucified and resurrected God-man, as do the gospels.
provides the necessary context for the New Testament and is the
connecting bridge that
links this collection of gospels, epistles and apocalypse together.
Acts is unique. It is story. A simple story about regular human beings
who are just
like us. They share our same hopes and similar fears; our worst biases
and best qualities.
In fact, Acts is, essentially, our story. It is your legacy and mine. It
is the record of our
brothers and sisters who came before us, blazing a revolutionary,
messianic trail from
Jerusalem to "the ends of the earth."
As you dip your toe into the first few pages of the narrative, you just
may see your
reflection. Perhaps a spark of recognition will be ignited by the
hesitant first steps of a
fisherman who, at long last, emerges as a "fisher of men." Or perhaps by
athletic stride of legs, useless for forty years, now miraculously
healed. Could it be that
you relate to the paralyzing chill of being called on to defend your
faith before those who
despise you? Maybe you recognize the initial flood of disbelief as God
answers a prayer
that you considered the utmost of longshots?
We easily identify with the people in Acts because Luke never allows us
their humanity. It is impossible to confuse Peter or Paul with fictional
ancient novelist would ever create men whose lives were characterized by
contradictions: the brash and blustering everyman who blossoms overnight
into an elder
statesman; a movement's most infamous persecutor who develops into its
prominent advocate. Luke has drawn two millennia's worth of readers into
overlapping apostolic "adventures" of these two first century Jewish men
who, while so
dissimilar, shared a common vision and served the same Messiah.
While Acts is the definitive account of the early church's expansion, it
Luke's intention to provide a comprehensive report on the apostolic
mission to Israel and
the Roman world. To do so would have taken an entire series of sequels
to his original
gospel. At its present length, Acts already approaches an ancient
length of between thirty-two and thirty-five feet.
Luke provides considered selections, chosen from the vast historical
early church history. The majority of the apostles barely make a cameo
the narrative. Nor does Luke mention their eventual destinations or
destinies. Even Peter
disappears from the narrative after fifteen chapters.
In a series of vignettes, or "postcards," some historical, some
biographical, still others
theological, Acts reveals the successes and defeats, the conquests and
tragedies of the
original band of Jesus' followers. In Acts we are able to share in the
joy, the loss, the
rejection, the confident assurance, the jealousy, the setbacks, the
passionate debate and the ultimate triumph of these pioneers of the
These are ordinary people who, through the power and enablement of the
accomplish extraordinary things in the name of their Messiah. In less
generation, three decades, this initial cohort of Christians boldly
"turned the world
The existing literature on Acts is voluminous, and new works are
added. I have introduced nothing in this commentary that has not been
about Acts, most likely with superior style and scholarship.
on Acts written from the perspective of and with the sensitivities
peculiar to a Jewish
Christian are in the distinct minority. Most of the Acts narrative,
however, deals with
specifically Jewish issues, questions, concerns and controversies, which
arose as the
church expanded from its initial Jerusalem borders and Hebrew
boundaries. These issues
and questions are not often examined through Jewish eyes or explained
categories. I believe that providing such a basic cultural insight
in the study of this foundational work.
I am a fourth-generation Jewish believer, nurtured in the faith from
family found our Messiah, beginning with my great-grandmother, over
three quarters of a
century ago. This project is an outgrowth of that legacy, and I pray
that this Jewish
Christian perspective may prove of value in studying Acts.
As I cannot be your personal study partner, I submit this volume as my
accompany you on your sojourn through the world of the nascent church.
are the modest study notes of this particular "Hebrew of Hebrews;" the
views of a
messianic Jew as he ponders the book of Acts.
The traditional claim that Luke wrote
Acts has been essentially uncontested throughout
the book's history. There is clear internal evidence that Luke is the
author of Acts.
First, Acts was written by the same individual who penned the gospel of
prologues of both books are linked to one another (Acts 1:1 refers back
to Luke 1:1-4)
and both prologues designate the same person, Theophilus, as the book's
Second, Acts was written by one of Paul's traveling companions, as is
the famous "we" passages (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:128:16) when,
points, the author changes narrative voice from third to first person.
Luke was one such
companion of Paul and is mentioned in three of Paul's letters (Col.
4:14; Philem. 24; 2
Tim. 4:11). Aside from Luke, Acts notes another eight companions: Silas,
Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, and Trophimus. Each of
however, is mentioned at some point within the context of the "we"
for authorial consideration all but Luke. Luke alone is not referenced
by name anywhere
within the "we" passages.
Third, it is an indisputable fact that Luke, as an eyewitness and
demonstrates exceptional familiarity with Roman law and government. He
accurate in his use of the proper political terminology for each Roman
official in every
Roman province he mentions. This is no small accomplishment, as titles,
terminology frequently shifted from time to time, province to province
and, often, from
one administration to another. (2)
For example, in Cyprus, Luke recognizes Sergius Paulus as proconsul; in
which is accurately recognized as a colony, the leadership are called
strategoi (magistrates); in Thessalonica, the leaders are called politarchs; in
Malta, the leader is
called the protos (chief man); in Ephesus, Luke deftly differentiates
(religious administrators), the grammateus (town clerk) and proconsuls.
Therefore, we are on extremely safe ground when we assert Luke to be the
LUKE THE MAN
Aside from what facts may be gleaned
from the Acts "we" passages and his triple
mention within Paul's epistles, as noted in the above discussion, very
little is known
about Luke as an individual.
Based upon Luke's literary skill and vocabulary usage, there is no
question that he
was extremely well educated. It comes then as no surprise that Paul
identifies Luke as a
"beloved physician" (Col. 4:14). In the realm of the Roman Empire, there
were only three
major medical schools where Luke may have studied. The three celebrated
towns of the ancient world were Athens (in Greece), Alexandria (in
Egypt) and Tarsus (in
Asia Minor, specifically, Cilicia, Paul's hometown). (A fourth
possibility is the small
Greek isle of Cos, which had both hospital and medical school.) (4)
Precisely at which of
these three eminent sites of learning Luke studied is a point open to
imagination as well, if he was educated in Tarsus and, if so, whether he
concurrent with Paul's five year residency, from 37-42 AD [Acts
course, in his medical capacity, Luke could verify the many healing
miracles of which he
was an eyewitness.
There is an ongoing debate over whether or not Luke was Jewish. While
overwhelming consensus has always been that Luke was a Gentile, the New
does not explicitly reveal Luke's nationality. However, in Paul's letter
to the Colossians,
Luke is listed separately (4:14) from Paul's list of Jewish coworkers
(4:10-11). While this
is the sole New Testament hint that Luke was a Gentile, on the surface
would seem to be conclusive.
There is, however, at least an adequate case to be made for Luke having
not a native of Israel, but a Hellenistic (Greek) Jew of the diaspora
(if so, he would be the
earliest recorded "Jewish doctor"). First, beneath the surface of Luke's
superb mastery of
Greek literary style, there are indications that, while the author wrote
in Greek, he may
have been thinking in Hebrew. This is indicted by the presence of
word order, phrases and terminology) scattered throughout the text. An
less satisfying way to explain the presence of such Hebraisms in Acts is
that they derive
from the original Jewish sources, either written or oral, which Luke
translated as he
compiled his account.
Second, Luke's exquisite knowledge of Jewish theological issues and
parties, familiarity with the Temple, acquaintance with Jewish holidays
concern for Jerusalem go beyond that of merely a historian's reporting
of the facts. It is
difficult to explain Luke's Jewish expertise and concern by simply
citing the two years he
spent in Israel, from 57-59 AD (Acts 21:8-27:1) or imagining the
quantity of time he
spent personally with his friend, Paul, that noted "Hebrew of Hebrews."
Third, Luke deftly weaves quotations and allusions from the Hebrew
throughout his book. His fluency and familiarity with the Law, Prophets
reveal a mind saturated in the contents of the Old Testament. Luke's
facility with the
Hebrew Scripture indicates comprehensive study. Such sophistication
simply cannot have
been developed over a limited period.
Fourth, Paul affirms in his letter to the Romans that God entrusted "the
God," meaning the Holy Scriptures, to the Jewish people, in
contradistinction to the
Gentiles (3:2; 9:4). Paul seems to be saying that God has appointed the
Scripture to Jews. Therefore, since the gospel of Luke and the book of
Acts are both
Scripture, Luke must have necessarily been Jewish. Alternatively, Paul
may have been
referring only to the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).
A probable way to satisfactorily synthesize the evidence, pro and con,
Luke's Jewish or Gentile status, would be to posit that prior to
becoming a Christian,
Luke was either a God-fearer, a Gentile worshiper of the God of Israel,
or a "proselyte of
the gate," a near convert to Judaism. This would explain Paul having
separately from the Jewish Christians, Luke's familiarity with Judaism
and the Temple as
well as his facility with the Hebrew Scripture. In addition, it would
clarify the profound
interest in God-fearers that Luke demonstrates throughout Acts.
As indicated in the prologue of Acts,
Luke's gospel must necessarily have been written
prior to Acts. Since Acts is the sequel to Luke's gospel, most scholars
hold that one
should assign a date for the creation of Acts only after first
determining a date for the
writing of the gospel. This methodology, while logical, is not the only
approach to dating
Acts. To reverse this equation is equally justified, as the following
In Luke's gospel, Jesus graphically predicts the coming destruction of
(19:43-44, 21:20-24). His prophecy was fulfilled by the Romans in 70 AD.
extreme bias against accepting the validity of any predictive prophecy,
even that which
originated with Jesus, many scholars assign a date after 70 AD to Luke's
would allow Luke to portray Jesus as predicting something which, by the
had already occurred.
Yet presuppositions against the possibility of Jesus' prophetic ability
allowed to take precedence over documentary data. There is no other
reason other than
bias against predictive prophecy to accept this late a date for the
composition of Luke's
gospel, and so this late dating must be rejected. Therefore, there is no
rationale for first assigning a date to the composition of Luke's gospel
prior to assigning
a date to Acts. Indeed, it is easier to first date the creation of Acts
and only then move
backward in time to date Luke's earlier composition of the gospel.
A logical starting point in assigning a date to Acts is the last
recorded event, which
was Paul's two-year long imprisonment in Rome. This two-year term began
in the first
few months of 60 AD. Counting ahead two years makes 62 AD the earliest
of composition. This much is certain. What remains controversial is the
range between the earliest possible date and the latest likely date of
It is possible that the Acts narrative deliberately ends as it does
through Luke's own
creative design. Many commentators presuppose that it was his calculated
complete the account with Paul's arrival in Rome. Therefore, Acts could
composed at any point before Luke's death. If this view is correct, then
comfortably date the composition of Acts anytime between 63 AD and 85 AD
even later, since the date of Luke's death is unknown.
However, ending Acts with Paul under Roman house arrest seems an
unsatisfying manner in which to conclude this majestic chronicle. For
Luke to have
known the outcome of Paul's "appeal to Caesar" (Acts 25:11) and not have
for his readers, effectively leaving them up in the air concerning
Paul's fate, is simply not
credible, especially since Luke expends the final quarter of the book on
Paul's arrest and
A more persuasive case may be made for a date of composition no later
than 64 AD.
There is compelling evidence that the window between 62 AD and the
latest possible date
is extremely narrow, for the following reasons.
First and foremost, when read at face value, Acts seems to bring readers
up to date
with Luke's own contemporary circumstances. In other words, there was
nothing more to
write. Paul still awaited trial, and the church continued expanding,
unopposed. Any additional chapters would necessarily have had to wait
unfolded with the occurrence of new events.
If Acts had been written later than 64 AD, it is inexplicable that Luke
would fail to
mention Paul's trial, his release from Roman imprisonment, the first
of Christians under Nero beginning in 64 AD, the death of Peter that
same year, or the
death of James, the brother of Jesus, two years earlier. If Acts had
been written after 70
AD, it is unfathomable that Luke would avoid mention of Paul's death in
68 AD or the
Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. The fact is that
Luke makes no
reference to any crucial events that concerned the church after AD 62.
Second, the sole theological controversy Acts records is the debate over
inclusion. This debate was only active through the fifth decade of the
first century. It was
finally settled in 49 AD at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). By 70 AD,
was universally accepted and this issue no longer controversial. Whether
needed to first become Jewish before becoming a Christian was hardly a
believers after 70 AD and an unlikely topic on which to expend so much
Third, throughout Acts, the Roman Empire shows no animus toward the
is still impartial, in fact, almost disinterested, concerning the
movement. Time and again, the Romans do not comprehend the nature of the
accusations brought against the church or the ferocity of those
accusations are of a religious, not political nature. Indeed, in most
instances within the
early years, Rome treated Christianity as one more incomprehensible
Jewish sect among
many. This was no longer the case after 64 AD, when the Roman Empire
began to view
Christians as a political and cultural threat.
A fourth reason to assign Acts an early date is Luke's expenditure of a
great deal of
narrative energy in demonstrating Christianity's Jewish roots and
association with the
nation of Israel. Following the initial outbreak of Israel's revolution
against Rome in 66
AD, it would no longer have been prudent to press the fledgling faith's
Israel as dynamically as Luke does in his narrative.
Finally, Acts obviously does not rely on Paul's epistles as a source of
information about Paul. Luke makes no attempt to correlate his account
of Paul's life
with the apostolic correspondence. Therefore, Acts had to have been
Paul's letters had been collected as Scripture and widely circulated.
Peter's final epistle,
written in 64 AD, recognizes the circulation of Paul's epistles and
authority (2 Pet.3:16).
Therefore, for these reasons, the composition of Acts may confidently be
between 62-63 AD.
During Luke's extensive travels in
Paul's company, Luke himself was a personal
eyewitness to the events he recorded in Acts. In addition to his
European travels, Luke
also spent two unintentional years living in Israel (21:8-27:1). Upon
their return from the
third missionary journey, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and imprisoned
in Caesarea for
approximately two years, from the spring of 57 AD through the summer of
59 AD. Luke
remained at liberty in Israel throughout this period.
While Paul was enjoying the Roman procurator's "hospitality," it is
impossible not to
envisage Luke traveling among the churches strewn throughout Israel,
two books. Luke would have had ample time and opportunity to gather
accounts and personal stories from many of Jesus' original followers and
members of the
early church. In addition to what he had already learned of the early
days of the church
from Paul's unique perspective during their travels together, Luke's
list of additional
possible interviews staggers the imagination.
Certainly, Luke would have spent time with James, the brother of Jesus
and leader of
the Jerusalem church (21:18-19). There were many members of Jesus'
family who would
still have been available with whom to speak. Mary was, perhaps, still
living, and Jesus'
siblings, including Jude, may also have been available.
Some of the twelve apostles may still have been serving in Israel, and
most of those
who were elsewhere, including Peter and John, would have likely returned
over the course of two years for at least one pilgrim festival.
Furthermore, the apostles'
wives and families may not have always accompanied them on their
journeys and may
have been available.
Some of the original Hellenistic Jewish deacons (6:5) may have still
been in Israel.
Luke certainly spent time with Philip, who lived in Caesarea (21:8-10).
In addition, whether they first met during this time in Israel or later
as coworkers in
Rome (Col. 4:14; Philem. 24), Luke and Mark were well acquainted. There
is no question
that in writing both Luke's gospel and Acts, he was reliant on Mark's
(the gospel of Mark) as well as oral reminiscence of his early Christian
The gospels and Acts are strewn with the names of additional individuals
Luke may have had opportunity to speak and get their personal accounts:
Magdalene (Luke 24:10), Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42), the
beggar (Acts 3:2), Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50), Tabitha
Aeneas (Acts 9:33), Rhoda (Acts 12:13), Agabus (Acts 21:10), the priests
who came to
faith (Acts 6:7); Cleopas and his Emmaus companion (Luke 24:18);
18:35); Zaccheus (Luke 19:2) and additional dozens.
Indeed, one may only speculate on how many of the five hundred witnesses
resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6), or of the seventy emissaries Jesus had
appointed (Luke 10:1),
or the "Pentecost three thousand" (Acts 2:41) were subject to Luke's
investigation. Both of Luke's volumes teem with concern for the
"personal touch." In
Acts alone, Luke references over one hundred people by name!
minor characters and bystanders all are recorded for posterity by this
In short, there was no scarcity of potential sources Luke may have
tapped to compile
his two-volume work.
Luke's time in Israel also accounts for his tremendous attention to
detail. As Paul's missionary companion, Luke's ability to conjure up the
details that characterize his European travelogues is not at all
surprising. Yet it is his
strikingly vivid rendering of Galilee, Jerusalem, the Temple, Samaria
and Israel's coastal
cities that reveal Luke's first hand knowledge of Israel.
As becomes obvious on first reading,
a vast portion of Acts (roughly one third) is
composed of various sermons and speeches, primarily those of Peter, Paul
Indeed, based on the percentage of narrative content dedicated to the
Acts should have been assigned the more precise title, Selected Acts of
a Few Apostles
and an Extra-Large Assortment of their Sermons (see Table 1).
It is in the record of these speeches that Luke's qualitative
faithfulness to his
historical sources shines through. Luke's usual method is to quote a
portion of the
original speech and then summarize the remainder using his own words.
There is every
reason to attribute the quoted text of these speeches to either some
sort of written record
(although the presence of an on-scene "stenographer" is unlikely) or the
reminiscence of the speaker himself or a member of his original
audience. Most of these
speeches were delivered on what, admittedly, must be described as
occasions," which likely burned the content into the consciousness of
listeners alike. This would have been particularly true in a culture
like Israel's, which so
highly valued the memorization and oral transmission of the instruction
of valued and
beloved teachers. (5) In addition, the Holy Spirit must have been
influential in the
preservation and recall of these messages.
Each speaker in Acts has his own distinctive voice: Peter, Paul, Stephen
and James all
qualitatively read very differently from one another, even when
addressing the same
broad themes or making reference to identical Old Testament prophecies.
each speech is tailor-made for the particular audience to which it is
addressing the Sanhedrin is not identical to his addressing Cornelius.
Paul addressing the
synagogue reads very differently than when addressing the Athenians.
While it is doubtful that it would have been possible for Luke, decades
after the fact, to
accurately reflect the exact word-for-word text of every speech, it is
not at all improbable
that he accurately reflected the substance of each speech as originally
delivered. In other
words, we can be confident that what was eventually recorded was the
substantial gist of
what was originally spoken. It must be reiterated that Luke claimed to
be a conscientious
reporter of history and not a creative writer of fiction.
1. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove:
InterVarsity Press, 1970), 354.
2. Ibid., 354.
3. Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles
(Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999), 369.
4. Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles (Grand
Rapids: Kregel, 1999), 369.
5. The entire complex corpus of Jewish oral law is built on this
memorization and oral transmission
from one generation of rabbis to the next. This corpus of oral customs,
traditions, edicts and verdicts
was not committed to writing until the second century AD, following the
destruction of Jerusalem and
the Temple, and the majority of the Jewish people’s exile from the land
1. What is the evidence that Luke is
the author of Acts?
2. What is the evidence for the pre 64 AD composition of Acts?