Lesson 2 of 6
In Progress

Outline of Acts

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

1. The Community Gathers in Jerusalem (Acts 1:1-8:3)

Jesus promises his followers that they will bear witness to him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and “to the ends of the earth” (1:8). This witness in Jerusalem begins at Pentecost, and the community of believers organizes itself around prayer, teaching, the sharing of meals, and care for all who are in need.

A. A Mission Command (Acts 1:1-9)

Jesus spends 40 days with his followers, helping them understand that the Holy Spirit will lead them to spread the message of God’s gracious promise of God’s reign inaugurated in Jesus.

B. A Foretaste of God’s Reign (Acts 1:10-2:47)

After Matthias is chosen by God to take the place of Judas among the Twelve, the Holy Spirit comes upon the Jerusalem gathering on the day of Pentecost. The coming of the Spirit leads to new believers and an ideal way of living together in community.

C. God’s Word Is Boldly Preached in Word and Deed (Acts 3:1-4:37)

In the name of Jesus, Peter and John heal a man born lame and preach the good news of God’s universal restoration. After they are questioned, warned, and released by religious authorities, they and their own community experience anew the power of the Holy Spirit that will enable them to continue to speak the word of God confidently.

D. Internal and External Struggles in the Young Community of Believers (Acts 5:1-42)

Ananias and Sapphira conspire to lie to the community and to the Holy Spirit. As a result, both die. The disciples’ public witness again provokes  the religious authorities, whose warnings are met with this famous reply from Peter: “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (5:29b). 

E. Stephen’s Call as Deacon, Brave Speech, and Death (Acts 6:1-8:3)

Stephen, one of those chosen to assist in the community’s feeding ministry, enrages the religious leaders with his speech at a trial motivated by jealousy and corrupted by false witnesses. He is martyred and dies with a vision of Christ, just as readers are introduced to Saul (later known as Paul), who approves of Stephen’s stoning.

2. Witness to the Gospel Extends into Samaria (Acts 8:4-40)

In the stories of Simon the magician and the Ethiopian eunuch, the Spirit empowers Philip and Peter to preach and do miracles in Samaria and beyond. Simon reveals how the news of Jesus can be welcomed and yet misperceived, while the baptism of the Ethiopian shows a thoughtful and humble joy.

3. Saul, Soon to Be Known as Paul, Is Called to Witness (Acts 9:1-31)

With the help of Ananias, Barnabas, and other believers who dare to trust God’s surprising choices, Saul is launched on a mission to proclaim Jesus.

4. Witness to the Gentiles and Calling to the Larger World (Acts 9:32-15:35)

After Peter raises a widow from the dead, he takes the good news of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ to “unclean” Gentiles, as Peter perceives them. The community’s decision to baptize Gentiles without expecting them to keep purity laws or practice circumcision is a source of tension throughout the rest of the Book of Acts.

A. Creating a New Community of Jewish and Gentile Believers (Acts 9:32-11:18)

Peter is called to raise Tabitha/Dorcas from death; then, through a series of providential encounters and the work of the Holy Spirit, he is summoned to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a Gentile. After Cornelius and his household are baptized, Peter and other Jewish believers remain with Cornelius and eat in his home, acts that Peter must defend when he returns to Jerusalem, where his story is accepted and generates praise of God.

B. The Church Grows in Antioch (Acts 11:19-30)

Because of the flight of the persecuted believers from Jerusalem, the word about Jesus spreads into new territory, taking root in Syrian Antioch to the joy of Barnabas and the Jerusalem church.

C. King Herod: Persecutor and Blasphemer (Acts 12:1-25)

Herod Agrippa I persecutes the church by rounding up its leaders, including James and Peter. While James is killed, Peter escapes custody and flees. At the end of this chapter, Herod dies in his arrogance as an act of poetic justice.

D. Barnabas and Paul Travel to New Places (Acts 13:1-14:28)

Barnabas and Paul visit a number of Mediterranean cities from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium, then Lystra, and back again. Paul’s preaching in synagogues and among Jews leads some to believe and others to resist the message about Jesus.

E. The First Great Council (Acts 15:1-35)

Believers gather in Jerusalem to address the question of whether Gentile baptized believers in Christ must also be circumcised (if male) and keep the Jewish law in order to be saved. Based on its understanding of the Holy Spirit and Scripture, the council decides not to demand circumcision from the Gentiles; but it does ask them to keep some basic food laws and to abstain from idolatry and immorality.This critical decision creates both flexibility and difficulties for new communities of believers.

5. Paul’s Witness in Cities around the Aegean Sea (Acts 15:36-21:16)

Paul travels to the major urban centers of Asia Minor and the eastern areas of Greece, preaching the gospel wherever he goes. Reception varies, yet small communities of believers are established in many places.

A. Paul Visits Syria and Cilicia with Silas (Acts 15:36-41)

After a disagreement, Paul travels without Barnabas or John Mark.

B. Paul and Silas in Philippi (Acts 16:1-40)

Through a vision, Paul, Silas, and others are called to Macedonia, where they convert a number of people to belief in Jesus, including Lydia, a seller of purple goods, and her household, as well as a jailer and his household in Philippi. Paul insists on his rights as a Roman citizen to decent treatment and is sent speedily on his way by the Philippians.

C. Paul and Silas in Thessalonica and Athens (Acts 17:1-33)

While preaching in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas meet opposition from some Jews and move on to Athens. In Athens, although many scoff at him, Paul persuades some people of the good news about Jesus’ resurrection and promised return.

D. Paul in Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 18:1-19:41)

Trouble develops when some of the Jews in Corinth bring Paul before a Roman proconsul named Gallio, but Gallio dismisses the attacks on Paul as a matter of religious distinctions with no relevance to civil issues. Paul leaves for Ephesus, where he and the Holy Spirit make clear that miracles can be done only by those who sincerely believe in Jesus’ name.

E. Paul Sets Sail for Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-21:16)

Paul raises Eutychus from death in Troas, then has a final conversation with the elders of the church in Ephesus, who meet him in Miletus and are brought to tears by his words. Paul sails on toward Jerusalem and is warned by the prophet Agabus in Caesarea that he will be in danger.

6. Paul’s Witness in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-23:30)

Although he knows the danger of his work among the Gentiles, Paul returns to Jerusalem to report on his mission and bring offerings he had collected to aid the Jerusalem congregation. While generally welcomed by the believers in Jerusalem, Paul must still prove his commitment to Jewish law and defend himself before the people and the Jewish council of elders.

7. Paul’s Witness to Gentiles and Kings (Acts 23:31-26:32)

Before the Roman officials Felix, Festus, and finally King Agrippa (Herod Agrippa II), Paul defends himself against charges brought by Jewish leaders. The officials perceive his case as a dispute among the Jews about their religious beliefs and therefore determine that Paul does not deserve punishment, even though he must be sent on to Rome because of his appeal to Caesar.

8. Paul’s Journey to Rome (Acts 27:1-28:31)

A dangerous storm at sea, shipwreck, sojourn on the island of Malta where Paul heals many ills, and welcome outside Rome precede his two-year stay there. Acts ends with Paul preaching in Rome, and the book’s final word is a Greek term meaning “without hindrance” (akōlytōs), which describes the way that God’s story presses forward in spite of difficulties.