This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narratives
The Book of Acts is unique in the Bible. It is the story of the early church; its birth, conflicts, and expansions. The Book of Acts is a very readable book and seemingly easy to understand. While this is true for most of the book, there are still principles you must keep in mind.
First, the guidelines I shared on reading the Old Testament Narratives also hold true for the book of Acts:
1. You are not the hero of the story, God is.
2. The narratives to not explicitly teach moral truth.
3. The narratives to do not directly teach doctrine.
Keeping those three guidelines in mind, let’s see how they uniquely apply to the book of Acts.
1. Keep in mind Luke’s purpose for writing Acts.
Luke, the author of the book of Acts, was a highly educated Gentile who had a keen interest in recording history. For those specifically interested in history, the book of Acts is an excellent Hellenistic historiography. For those of you who are terrified of words with more than three syllables, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Luke wrote the book of Acts in order to
– encourage Christians in their faith
– be entertaining
– inform readers about the early church
– offer an apologetic for this new ‘sect’ of Judaism
In other words, Acts is not a theological treatise that addresses baptism, tongues, or other theological disputes that tend to divide Christians today. Although Luke speaks into these issues through narrative, they are not the main goal of his book.
2. Understand the ‘movement’ of the Book of Acts.
Through Acts, Luke shows the abundant power of the Holy Spirit in the early church. Specifically, he shows the expansion of Christianity from a religious sect to a movement that encompasses multiple continents and people groups.
One of the best ways to understand specific passages in Acts is to note where it is in the overall movement of the book. There are six different parts to this movement contained in Acts:
1. The primitive church in Jerusalem: Acts 1:1-6:7
2. Movement carried out by Greek speaking Jews: Acts 6:8-9:31
3. Movement that includes the Gentile people: Acts 9:32-12:24
4. Movement into the Gentile world led by Paul: Acts 12:24-16:5
5. Movement into Europe led by Paul: Acts 16:6-19:20
6. Movement into Rome via trials in Paul’s life: Acts 19:21-28:30
3. The narratives in Acts do not bind us to a certain form of ‘doing’ church.
Many people have read about the “house churches” in the book of Acts and wrongly concluded that house churches should be the norm of the 21st century. Many zealous Christians have built entire organizations on a restoration mentality based on the book of Acts (oddly enough, these same people use microphones and sound systems in their gatherings..).
The principles illustrated, rather than the specific church models, are normative for us.
- Today the Church is to be a movement that cannot be crushed by persecution, racism, death, or martyrdom.
- The Church is to encompass multiple people groups by tearing down the dividing wall of hostility between them.
- The Church is to be a fellowship of people devoted to the teachings of the Bible and to one another.
Rather than trying to restore specific models from the early church (such as house churches and feeding programs), we need to keep in mind the timeless principles of Scripture. The narratives written in Acts are to encourage and inform God’s people; not lay unrealistic burdens on us from the 1st century.
I am only able to cover these principles very briefly in a blog post. For further reading and greater explanation, I highly recommend purchasing the book!