Lesson 3 of 6
In Progress

Background of Acts

rev. by F. Scott Spencer (04/2023)

We do not know what sources went into the writing of this book, nor where, when, or exactly by whom it was written. The writer of Luke’s Gospel also wrote Acts, and so both books are often referred to as Luke-Acts, reflecting their relationship as a two-volume work. The common authorship of the two books suggests that Acts was written after Luke, probably between 75 and 95 C.E., during a period of increasing pressure for followers of Christ to define themselves in relation to their Jewish roots. Acts looks back, seeking to lay out how Jesus’ small group of first followers in Jerusalem spreads throughout the eastern Mediterranean world and becomes a largely Gentile community.

The story of Acts extends from the 40 days between the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension to the end of Paul’s two years in Rome, a relatively short period of around 30 years. Historical benchmarks alluded to in Acts include the edict of Emperor Claudius expelling Jews from the city of Rome (49‒54 C.E.; 18:2) and  the proconsulate of Gallio in Achaia, confirmed by an inscription at Delphi (51‒52 C.E.; 18:12).

In terms of geography and culture, Acts locates readers in the eastern Mediterranean world of the early Roman Empire. Christ-proclaiming missionaries visit major cities, such as Ephesus, Damascus, Antioch, Corinth, Philippi, and Rome. Acts reliably tracks travel routes between cities by land and sea as well as aspects of urban governance and forms of labor.History-writers of the Greco-Roman era commonly created speeches that could or should have been made by influential figures. Like other accounts of ancient history, Acts is selective. For instance, it provides scant information about the spread of the gospel into Egypt and other north African areas in the first century. Although a variety of secondary ministers and minor figures fill the narrative of Acts, its first half heavily focuses on the apostle Peter and the second half on the missionary Paul. While this selectivity can be frustrating for those who would like to know more and misleading for those who insist that Acts tells the definitive history of the earliest Christ-movement, the Book of Acts remains an invaluable account of the expanding Christ-centered mission from Jerusalem to Rome.