Is Acts a Function of Fiction, History, or Theology?


The Preaching of Saint Paul at Ephesus by Eustache Le Sueur (1649),

By Grant Osborne

Most ancient books trace the “acts” of heroes like Odysseus, Alexander the Fantastic, or Julius Caesar. Luke’s is special since these are the “acts” of a movement. As the second portion of a two-volume function, it is a historical narrative tracing how the Christ followers constructed on their founder and became a worldwide force. They started as a pretty narrowly conceived Jewish “sect” and by the finish of the book had expanded to “the ends of the earth” (1:eight). This function tells how that came to pass in just a tiny more than thirty years, from the ascension of Jesus (AD 30) to the imprisonment of Paul in Rome (AD 60–62).

Practically an whole nation turned against and sought to eradicate a single smaller religious movement and ended up empowering a globe-altering force.

Amazingly, all this is achieved in the midst of remarkable adversity and opposition. Practically an whole nation turned against and sought to eradicate a single smaller religious movement and ended up empowering a globe-altering force. As a result the book really should be labeled not “the Acts of the Apostles” but “the Acts of the Holy Spirit via the Apostles.” It is the Triune Godhead who is the central figure in this book. The progression of these acts is each geographical (from Jerusalem to Judea and Galilee, to Samaria, to Antioch, to Asia Minor, to Macedonia and Achaia, to “the ends of the earth,” 1:eight) and private (from the Twelve to Stephen to Peter to Paul), as God orchestrates all the particulars.

Even although Luke is known as the key historian of the early Church, it has been practically a fad in scholarly circles to doubt the historical trustworthiness of Luke-Acts and to argue that they are largely fictional stories that have been developed as the early Church attempted to defend itself in the Greco-Roman globe. This scholarly view assumes a function will have to be either history or theology, and that the theological core of these writings diminishes their historical worth.

Alternatively, we could see Luke–Acts as each history and theology, with a blend of the two functioning equally in the production of the function. Ancient Judaism strongly stressed history, and Christianity was a lot more Jewish than gentile in outlook and point of view. If God is involved in history, as Christians strongly think he is, then it is false to separate history and theology, due to the fact theological explanations basically highlight the significance of historical events. Miracles, for instance, do not occur outdoors history but basically clarify the supernatural acting inside history.

As a test case, let’s look at the speeches in Acts due to the fact almost a third of the book (300 of the 1,000 verses) happens in speeches. It is typical for essential scholars to assume Luke developed these speeches, pondering they have been what would probably be mentioned on each and every occasion. Even so, it is probably that Luke assimilated what was mentioned in speeches and summarized material he received in notes taken throughout these speeches. There is rather a bit of proof that the apostles have been note-takers (particularly Matthew), and Luke as a historian would have taken care to speak to people today who had been present at the events. There is no proof he created up accounts and developed speeches wholesale. Moreover, there is proof that ancient historians like Thucydides attempted to be as correct as achievable when re-developing speeches. Although they undoubtedly made use of paraphrase and summary, they nevertheless sought accuracy. Truth had absolute priority more than the fabrication of particulars for the sake of the narrative. In Luke 1:1–4, Luke stresses how cautiously he sought eyewitness sources behind anything he wrote.

Luke’s purposes are closely tied to his theological emphases, but they are not identical. I uncover 5 key purposes for this function:

  1. To preach the gospel. Luke wanted to proclaim the great news of Christ by relating its history in the early Church. It is primarily a historical function displaying how the presence of the Holy Spirit moved the people today of God from a smaller Jewish sect in Jerusalem to a worldwide force bringing the gospel of salvation to a lost globe.
  2. To trace the Spirit’s activity and show the divine impetus behind the Church’s mission. Right here Luke is a theologian of salvation history as nicely as the “father of Church history.” The target of this book is to forge a new movement whose mission is to bring God’s truths to all the globe.
  3. To defend the faith. This is an apologetic function with two audiences: to defend Christianity against Jewish antipathy and the demands of the Judaizers, and to show the tolerant attitude of Roman officials, proving that Christianity was no political danger to Rome and really should be tolerated.
  4. To bring with each other the Jewish and gentile components of the Church into a single united new Israel. Each sides want to recognize that God’s will is for them to come with each other and type the new messianic neighborhood with each other.
  5. To teach the historical beginnings of the Church for the advantage of new converts and to inform these in Jerusalem about the spread of the Church into gentile lands.


Grant R. Osborne (1942–2018) was professor emeritus of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity College. He authored a lot of books, which includes The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Complete Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, and commentaries on Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), Romans (IVP New Testament Commentary), Matthew (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), and John, James, 1-two Peter, and Jude (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary). He also taught at Winnipeg Theological Seminary and the University of Aberdeen, and pastored churches in Ohio and Illinois.

This post is adapted from Acts Verse by Verse by Grant Osborne (Lexham Press, 2019).


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