Acts: A Sequel to Luke

Most scholars believe that the author of the gospel of Luke also wrote Acts and that he intended to produce a single work in two parts: Luke-Acts. Originally these two volumes even circulated among the churches as a single work, but in the second century the gospel of Luke joined the other three gospels and Acts began to circulate on its own. There are some strong indications that Luke intended to link these two books closely together in telling the story.

1. Compare the opening verses of both books:

1Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1–4)

1In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. (Acts 1:1–2)

Luke’s reference in Acts 1:1 to his “former book” obviously refers to the gospel of Luke, where he “wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” In the sequel (Acts), Luke continues the story by showing how Jesus acted by his Spirit through his church. In addition, you will notice that Luke dedicates both volumes to Theophilus (more on him later).

2. There are thematic and structural parallels between the two books. Some of the prominent themes of Luke’s gospel reoccur in Acts (e.g., prayer, the work of the Spirit, the gospel for all people). There are miracles in Acts that closely resemble miracles in Luke (compare the healing of Aeneas in Acts 9:32–35 with the healing of the paralytic in Luke 5:17–26; the raising of Tabitha from the dead in Acts 9:36–43 with the raising of Jairus’s daughter in Luke 8:40–42, 49–56). Both Luke and Acts feature a journey motif. In the gospel Jesus journeys to Jerusalem and the cross (Luke 9:51; 13:22, 33; 17:11; 18:31; 19:41). In Acts Paul makes a number of journeys, the climactic one being his journey from Judea to Rome for a trial before Caesar (Acts 27–28).

3. There is a definite overlap between the ending of Luke and the beginning of Acts. Jesus’ words to his disciples in Luke 24:49—“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high”—are certainly fulfilled in Acts 1–2. When Jesus speaks about repentance and forgiveness of sins being preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47), we automatically think of Acts 1:8. Perhaps the most noticeable overlap is the record of the ascension of Jesus in both Luke (24:51) and Acts (1:9–11), the only two places in the New Testament where this event is described.

Luke links his gospel and Acts closely together as two parts of a single story. The God who acted in mighty ways in the Old Testament and revealed himself supremely in Jesus Christ is now at work by his Spirit. Luke presents to us the grand story of God’s salvation. We should always remember, therefore, to read Acts as a continuation of the story that started in Luke’s gospel. What Jesus began to do during his ministry on earth he now continues to do through his Spirit-empowered followers. As a practical matter, before you study Acts, you might take time to read through the gospel of Luke.

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