Introduction to the New Testament (1915) [Chapter 6]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

Acts of the Apostles


A) About the author of the chapter:

Louis Berkhof “graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1900 …

In 1902 he went to Princeton University for two years earning a B.D. degree …

In 1906 he was appointed to the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary. He assumed the presidency of the seminary in 1931 …” [1]


B) Chapter Summary:

I) Content

“The contents of this book is naturally divided into two parts; in each of which the main topic is the establishment of the Church from a certain center:

 I. The establishment of the Church from Jerusalem, 1:1—12:25 …

 II. The Establishment of the Church from Antioch. 13:1—28:31.”1 

II) Characteristics

 “1. The great outstanding feature of this book is that it acquaints us with the establishment of Christian churches, and indicates their primary organization. According to it churches are founded at Jerusalem, 2: 41-47; Judea, Galilee and Samaria, 9: 31; Antioch, 11: 26; Asia Minor, 14: 23; 16: 5; Philippi, 16: 40; Thessaalonica, 17:10; Berea, 17:14; Corinth, 18:18, and Ephesus, 20:17-38.”2 

“2. The narrative which it contains centers about two persons, viz. Peter and Paul, the first establishing the Jewish, the second the Gentile churches. Consequently it contains several discourses of these apostles …”3

“3. The many miracles recorded in this writing constitute one of its characteristic features.”4

“4. The style of this book is very similar to that of the third Gospel, though it contains less Hebraisms. Simcox says that “the Acts is of all the books included in the New Testament the nearest to contemporary, if not to classical literary usage,—the only one, except perhaps the Epistle to the Hebrews, where conformity to a standard of classical correctness is consciously aimed at.” The Writers of the New Testament, p. 16. The tone is most Hebraic in the first part of the book, especially in the sermons in chs. 2 and 13 and in the defense of Stephen ch. 7, in all of which the Old Testament element is very large ;—and it is most Hellenic in the last part of the book, as in the epistle of the church at Jerusalem, the letter of Lysias, the speech of Tertullus, and the defense of Paul before Agrippa. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that the first part of the book deals primarily with Jewish, and last part especially with Gentile Christianity.”5

III) Title

 “The Greek title of the book is πράξεις ἀποστόλων, Acts of Apostles. There is no entire uniformity in the MSS. in this respect. The Sinaiticus has simplyπράξειςalthough it has the regular title at the close of the book. Codex D is peculiar in havingπράξις ἀποστόλων, Way of acting of the Apostles.We do not regard the title as proceeding from the author, but from one of the transcribers; nor do we consider it a very happy choice.”6

IV) Authorship

“The voice of the ancient Church is unanimous in ascribing this book to Luke, the author of the third Gospel. Irenaeus in quoting passages from it repeatedly uses the following formula: “Luke the disciple and follower of Paul says thus.” Clement of Alexandria, quoting Paul’s speech at Athens, introduces it by, “So Luke in the Acts of the Apostles relates.” Eusebius says: “Luke has left us two inspired volumes, the Gospel and the Acts.””7

“Our Scriptural evidence for the authorship is of an inferential character. It seems to us that the Lukan authorship is supported by the following considerations:

1. The we-sections.These are the following sections, 16-10-17; 20: 5-15; and 27:1—28:16, in which the pronoun of the first person plural is found, implying that the author was a companion of Paul in part of the apostles travels. Since Paul had several associates, different names have been suggested for the author of this book, as Timothy, Silas, Titus and Luke, who according to Col. 4:14; Philemon 24; and II Tim. 4:11, was also one of the apostles companions and best friends. The first two persons named are excluded, however, by the way in which they are spoken of in 16:19 and 20:4, 5. And so little can be said in favor of Titus that it is now quite generally agreed that Luke was the author of the we-sections …

2. The medical language. Dr. Hobart has clearly pointed out this feature in both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles … We find instances of this medical language in ἀχλύς13:11;παραλελυμένος;, 8:7; 9:33;πυρετοῖς καὶ δυσεντερία συνερξόμενον, 25 :8 …

3. Assuming that Luke wrote the third Gospel, a comparison of Acts with that work also decidedly favors the Lukan authorship,for: (1) The style of these two books is similar, the only difference being that the second book is less Hebraistic than the first,—a difference that finds a ready explanation in the sources used and in the authors method of composition. (2) Both books are addressed to the same person, viz. Theophilus, who was, so it seems, a special friend of the author. (3) In the opening verse of Acts the author refers to a first book that he had written. Taking the points just mentioned in consideration, this can be no other than our third Gospel, though Baljon, following Scholten, denies this. Geschiedenis v/d Boeken des N. V.p. 421.

4. The book contains clear evidence of having been written by a companion of Paul.This follows not only from the we-sections, but also from the fact that, as even unfriendly critics admit, the author shows himself well acquainted with the Pauline diction.” 8

“The authorship of Luke has not found general acceptance among New Testament scholars. The main objections to it appear to be the following: (1) The book is said to show traces of dependence on the Antiquities of Josephus,a work that was written about A. D. 93 or 94. The reference to Theudas and Judas in 5: 36, 37 is supposed to rest on a mistaken reading of Josephus, Ant. XX, V, 1, 2. (2) The standpoint of the author is claimed to be that of a second century writer, whose Christianity is marked by universality, and who aims at reconciling the opposing tendencies of his time. (3) The work is held by some to be historically so inaccurate, and to reveal such a wholesale acceptance of the miraculous, that it cannot have been written by a contemporary. There is supposedly a great conflict especially between Acts 15and Galatians 2.”9

V) Composition

“1. Readers and Purpose … like the Gospel of Luke it is addressed to Theophilus, and like it too it was undoubtedly destined for the same wider circle of readers, i. e. the Greeks …

The book of Acts is really a continuation of the third gospel and was therefore, in all probability, also written to give Theophilus the certainty of the things narrated. We notice that in this second book, just as in the first, the author names many even of the less important actors in the events, and brings out on several occasions the relation of these events to secular history. Cf. 12:1; 18:2; 23:26; 25:1. Of what did Luke want to give Theophilus certainty? From the fact that he himself says that he wrote the first book to give his friend the certainty of the things that Jesus beganto do and to teach, we infer that in the second book he intended to give him positive instruction regarding the things that Jesus continuedto do and to teach through his apostles.” 10

“2. Time and Place.As to the time, when the book was composed little can be said with certainty. It must have been written after A. D. 63, since the author knows that Paul staid in Rome two years. But how long after that date was it written? Among conservative scholars, such as Alford, Salmon, Barde e. a. the opinion is generally held that Luke wrote his second book before the death of Paul and the destruction of Jerusalem, because no mention whatever is made of either one of these important facts. Zahn and Weiss naturally date it about A. D. 80, since they regard this date as the terminus ad quem for the composition of the third gospel. Many of the later rationalistic critics too are of the opinion that the book was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, some even placing it as late as A. D. 110 (Baljon) and 120 (Davidson). Their reasons for doing this are: (1) the supposed dependence of Luke on Josephus; (2) the assumption, based on Lk. 21:20; Acts 8:26ff. that Jerusalem was already destroyed; and (3) the supposed fact that the state of affairs in the book points to a time, when the state had begun to persecute Christians on political grounds. None of these reasons are conclusive, and we see no reasons to place the book later than A. D. 63. The place of composition was in all probability Rome.”11

“3. Method.The problem of the sources used by Luke in the composition of this book has given rise to several theories, that we cannot discuss here. And it is not necessary that we should do this, because, as Zahn maintains, none of these repeated attempts has attained any measure of probability … For a good discussion of the various theories of Van Manen, Sorof, Spitta and Clemen cf. Knowlings Introduction to Acts in the Expositors Greek Testament.”12 

VI) Inspiration

 “The book of Acts is a part of the inspired Word of God …

 And in the composition of his book Luke was guided by the Holy Spirit, so that the whole work must be regarded as a product of graphical inspiration. This follows from the fact that this book is a necessary complement of the Gospels, which are, as we have seen, inspired records. It is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, that is quoted as Scripture in I Tim. 5:18(cf. Luke 10: 7). If the Gospel is inspired, then,. assuredly, the work that continues its narrative is also written by inspiration. Moreover we find that the Church fathers from the earliest time appeal to this book as of divine authority,—as an inspired work.”13

VII) Canonical Significance

 “The place of Acts in the canon of Holy Scripture has never been disputed by the early Church, except by such heretical sects as the Marcionites, the Ebionites and the Manichaeans, and then only on dogmatical grounds. Traces of acquaintance with it are found in the apostolic fathers, as also in Justin and Tatian. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian frequently quote from this book. It is named in the Muratorian canon, and is also contained in the Syriac and old Latin Versions. These testimonies are quite sufficient to show that it was generally accepted.” 14 

 “As an integral part of Scripture it is inseparably connected with the Gospels, and reveals to us, how the Gospel was embodied in the life and institution of the Church …

 The Gospels contain a revelation of what Jesus began to do and to teach; the book of Acts shows us what he continued to do and to teach through the ministry of men. There is an evident advance in the teaching of the apostles; they have learnt to understand much that was once a mystery to them. In the Gospels we find that they are forbidden to tell anyone that Jesus is the Messiah; here we read repeatedly that they preach Christ and the resurrection.”15

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