…. what Jesus continued to do and teach (See ACTS 1:1)
In a Nutshell
The second half of Acts includes Luke’s participation in the events he describes.
We receive The Acts of the Apostles as God’s Word. Why is it important for us, now, to have an account of these developments?
So farewell to Barnabas and Mark! And from this point on The Acts of the Apostles gives no mention of Peter. The Acts of the Apostles now moves on and is the story of Paul, how he continued the work begun by the Apostles and how the Christian mission reached Rome and beyond. I guess it is also the story of how the Holy Spirit led the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem to receive the work of Paul as their own.
So what can we say? Were these letters of Paul already written during Paul’s previous imprisonments? We can’t be sure. The mention of Mark in Paul’s second letter to Timothy indicates that he was not always outside Paul’s orbit after Barnabas took him off to Cyprus. Paul mentions Mark as he concludes his letters from prison. And Mark also seems to have maintained a loyalty to Paul which is not readily evident from Luke’s all too brief account of his travels with Paul and Barnabas and the split.
Paul asks Timothy to visit him in prison, to bring his papers and his books and to bring Mark, too. So, it seems likely that the writers of two gospels, Mark and Luke, met in Paul’s prison cell.
We also hear of Mark in Peter’s First Letter 5:13. Peter refers to my son Mark. And of course we also have Mark’s Gospel, which, since early times, has been interpreted as an account from Peter’s point of view.
There is thus a change of tack by Luke in the way his second book tells its story. Peter, Mark and Barnabas no longer figure in it. Of course, Chapters 1-15 have been important in their own right, and Luke knew that what he was writing would be helpful, not only to his friend Theophilus, but also for teaching in various places. The people who read this book would be assisted to understand their own local church history and the story of how those churches came about because of what Jesus continued to do and teach. They could see how their local situation fits into the story of the entire movement. And the same applies for us today. Our Christian life today is built on what the Apostles did, on what Jesus continued to do and teach through them. And The Acts of the Apostles includes the contribution of Paul who, though not one of the Twelve, made a telling contribution to the apostolic foundations of the Christian church.
We hear of Mark again in Paul’s letters. For instance in Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark the nephew of Barnabas, about whom you have received instructions, and if he comes be sure to welcome him; Philemon 23-24 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke my fellow workers; 2 Timothy 4:11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me.Chapters 1-15 prepare us for the next stage of Luke’s narrative in which Luke enters into his own story. It tells of the continuation of Paul’s journeying, his preaching in many locations around the Roman Empire with many collaborators. James, the brother of Jesus, was not one of the Twelve, but after James the brother of John was assassinated when Peter was imprisoned (Acts 12:1-5), he became its leader. We have noted how this James and Peter had earlier commended the work of Paul and Barnabas earlier (Acts 15:6-21). But then it was a later visit to James in Jerusalem (Acts 21) that led to Paul’s arrest, imprisonment and finally after a strange and difficult journey he arrived at Rome.
So now we come to a point where we can be somewhat more specific about Theophilus and ask what it was he wanted Luke to tell him. Luke’s Gospel began like this:
Yes, just as many have worked to compile a narrative of those things accomplished among us, just as they have been told to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, so also it has seemed the right thing that I, now having followed all these matters closely for some time, should write an orderly account for you Theophilus, my good friend, so that the truth of these things, about which you have already been instructed, may be confirmed.
This was how Luke began The Acts of the Apostles:
My first book, O Theophilus, covered all that Jesus began to do and teach, until He was taken up, after He had issued instructions to the Apostles chosen through the Holy
Spirit. He presented Himself to them after His passion, giving proofs by His appearances over a forty-day period, speaking to them about God’s Kingdom. He stayed as long as He needed to make His charge clear: they were not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, “you heard me talk about when I said that John baptised with water, but before many days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”
Chapters 16-28 are therefore Luke’s own eyewitness account from his travels with Paul becoming part of the diaconal ministry that they performed among the churches (2 Corinthians 6:3). So now we begin to see how Luke was able to write the two books. We can imagine Luke meeting Theophilus, a fellow Christian, sometime before A.D. 72. Scholars usually agree that The Gospel of Luke and Acts were composed prior to that date – the sacking of Jerusalem. Maybe Luke and Theophilus met while visiting Paul’s house or maybe it was later. But it seems Paul was still active in Rome when he wrote.
We imagine Theo’s questions:
“So having travelled with Paul, you’ll know how the church got started in Rome. Please tell me its story?”
And so, he would have to ask a follow-up question like:
“So how did it happen that you met him. I mean what do you know about what happened before you met up with him and Silas and Timothy?”
which meant he would have to ask another follow-up question like:
“So what do you know about the travels of Paul and Barnabas? How did they meet? Do you know? Why did they split? What did Mark think of that?”
And Luke saying,
“Well, thanks for those probing questions my friend. You have now given me the task of collecting eye-witness accounts so I can tell you the story in full. It may take a few years of research. I will have to go back and probe for the full history of this movement since the birth of Jesus Himself.”