Acts really is a spiritual adventure! What Jesus began to do during his ministry on earth, he now continues to do as his Spirit empowers the church to take the gospel to the world. To grasp the message of Acts we must first respect that it is a story told for theological purposes (i.e., theological history). This means we will interpret Acts in much the same way we learned to interpret the Gospels. The most difficult problem when reading Acts is knowing how to deal with the river of differences and identify what is normative for today’s church. We suggest the following guidelines:
- Look for what Luke intended to communicate to his readers.
- Look for positive and negative examples in the characters.
- Read individual passages in light of the overall story.
- Look to other parts of Acts for clarification.
- Look for repeated patterns and themes.
The challenge of determining what is normative and what is merely descriptive is complex. As believers we want to grasp the full message of Acts, but we do not want to misrepresent what God intends. Striking the balance is not always easy. If you discover something from Acts that is not governed by one of these five guidelines, think carefully before you declare it normative. We admit that our guidelines are not handed down from heaven, and there are probably guidelines besides these five that may help you distinguish between the normative and the descriptive. Our prayer is that what we have said will encourage you to be a more faithful interpreter of this powerful story of the birth and growth of the early church.