How Is Acts Organized?

Acts 1:8 holds the key to understanding how the entire book unfolds: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (italics added). The good news of Jesus is first preached to the Jews in and around Jerusalem (chs. 1–12) before spreading to the Gentiles (chs. 13–28). The outline below illustrates Luke’s account of the triumphant expansion of the gospel from Jerusalem (the heart of Israel) to Rome (the heart of the empire).

1–12 The Christian Missions to Jews
1 Preparation for Pentecost in Jerusalem
2 Pentecost: The Coming of the Holy Spirit
3–4 The Spirit Works through the Apostles
5–6 Threats to the Church
6–8 Stephen the First Martyr in Judea and Samaria
8 Philip the Evangelist
9 The Conversion of Paul
9–11 The Ministry of Peter beyond Jerusalem
11 Christianity Comes to Antioch
12 The Gospel Spreads in Spite of Obstacles
13–28 The Christian Mission to Gentiles
13–14 Paul’s First Missionary Journey to the ends of the earth
15 The Jerusalem Council
15–18 Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
18–21 Paul’s Third Missionary Journey
21–23 Paul’s Witness in Jerusalem
24–26 Paul’s Witness in Caesarea
27–28 Paul’s Witness in Rome

While Peter is the leading figure in the mission to the Jews in Acts 1–12, the attention shifts to Paul in Acts 13–28 as the gospel moves to “the ends of the earth” (1:8). Actually the leading figure in all of Acts is the Spirit of God, who works in both Peter and Paul in similar ways. We see this when we compare some of the parallels between Peter and Paul in the book of Acts. (Here we have another example of how a biblical author uses the technique of comparison to move a story forward.)

Peter Paul
Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (2:22–29) Paul’s sermon at Pisidian Antioch (13:26–41)
Healing of a lame man (3:1–10) Healing of a lame man (14:8–11)
Shaking of a building by prayer (4:31) Shaking of a building by praise (16:25–26)
Rebuke of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1–11) Rebuke of Elymas (13:8–12)
Healing by the shadow of Peter (5:15–16) Healing by the handkerchiefs of Paul (19:11–12)
Laying on of hands (8:17) Laying on of hands (19:6)
Rebuke of Simon the sorcerer (8:18–24) Rebuke of Jewish sorcerer (13:6–11)
Resuscitation of Tabitha (9:36–42) Resuscitation of Eutychus (20:7–12)
Removal of chains in prison (12:5–7) Removal of chains in prison (16:25–28)

In addition, Luke pauses throughout his story to summarize the progress of the gospel and the growth of the Christian community. There are five such summaries:

  • 6:7: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
  • 9:31: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.”
  • 12:24: “But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.”
  • 16:5: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”
  • 19:20: “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”

In the very last verses of Acts (28:30–31), with Paul now in Rome, Luke writes:

30For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!

In the Greek text (and the NIV 2011) the word we translate “without hindrance” is actually the last word in the Greek version of this book. What a way to finish! Paul may be in prison, but the gospel of Jesus Christ marches on . . . “without hindrance”!

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