Questions On Interpreting the Book of Acts

Written by Josiah Nichols

June 21, 2022

Jerusalem, Israel, City, Holy City

Questions on Interpreting the Book of Acts

The following was written as a discussion post for a grade for Liberty University’s John R. Rowling’s School of Divinity in Hermeneutics. It tries to answer the following questions: Give an explanation of the genre of the book of Acts as theological history.  What are the implications for this particular genre on the interpretation of the book?  How does the reader differentiate between the theology and the history in the book?  What kinds of things should an interpreter look for in Acts so as to understand properly the message of the book?  In your opinion, should Acts be read for doctrinal purposes?  Why or why not?  Please give examples from the book of Acts.

Give an explanation of the genre of the book of Acts as theological history.

In giving a definition of a “theological history” Klein et. al. says it best, “a narrative of interrelated events from a given place and time, chosen to communicate theological truths.”[1] As many scholars point out, Acts is the second volume of Luke’s history of an orderly account of Jesus Christ to teach Theophilus (Acts 1: 1 – 4). This second volume teaches Jesus’ building of the church starting in Jerusalem, then Samaria, and the ends of the earth (1: 8).

What are the implications for this particular genre on the interpretation of the book?

This theological history presents real history as presented by eyewitnesses, told in narrative form, and teaches theological truths as recorded in the sermons and actions of the apostles. One of the types of history Luke maybe modeling after is historical monograph. One scholar says, “A particular hallmark of true history for the Greeks was ‘personal observation (autopsia) and participation in events, travel inquiry, the consultation of eyewitnesses’”[2] Luke intended for his work to be considered real history to be held alongside real historical works.

How does the reader differentiate between the theology and the history in the book?

The theological truths are presented in the preaching and teaching of the apostles.  There are also times in which supernatural events occur in history which Luke explains in the texts theologically. The apostles teach several times throughout the letter about the gospel, God, repentance, faith, and baptism. The best way to differentiate the theological truths from the historical events is to look at the context of the passage. If a person is preaching, then one can be sure they will be learning theological truth. If an event is happening, then one can be sure the reader is learning history.

What kinds of things should an interpreter look for in Acts so as to understand properly the message of the book?

The reader needs to keep in mind what Acts was written to prove in order to understand the message correctly. Luke states in the beginning of the book that Jesus wanted to have his apostles to make disciples in Jerusalem, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (v. 8). When one sees the history played out, they see the apostles start in Jerusalem, then make disciples in Samaria, and ends at Rome, which for them would be the ends of the earth. One scholar also points out that Luke also wanted to make Theophilus certain about what he had been taught regarding the gospel.[3] The reader should pay careful attention to the introductory sections of Luke and Acts, as well as major repeated themes throughout the books, to understand the message of Acts.

In your opinion, should Acts be read for doctrinal purposes?  Why or why not?  Please give examples from the book of Acts.

If Acts has theology, and it does, then it can be read for doctrinal purposes. The trick is to not take the historical events and read doctrine into them. The reader has to let the narrator speak for himself what each event means doctrinally. The theological events were meant to be taken doctrinally to the original hearers and readers of that time. These theologically packed sermons present timeless truths which apply to believers today.

Conclusion

The book of Acts is where one can learn real history in light of the gospel. Yet, it presents supernatural events; however, it is recorded by eyewitnesses. God intended it to give certainty of the things that have been taught believers in the gospel.

If you want more information on studying the Bible and how to interpret it correctly, check out the store section at strivingforeternity.org/store. There are tons of resources to help you get started on your journey to interpreting the Bible better. Also invite Andrew Rappaport and Anthony Silvestro to come to your church and teach you biblical interpretation with their Biblical Interpretation Made Easy Seminar. Andrew Rappaport, Anthony Silvestro, Justin Pierce, and other guests on Apologetics live would also enjoy answering your questions on the live show on Thursdays from 7pm – 9pm CST with the link to the stream yard at strivingforeternity.org/apologeticslive. Lord bless you and strive to make today and eternal day for Christ Jesus.

[1] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Third Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 532.

[2] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 9.

[3] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 56.

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