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Course: Studies in Acts

Content: Introduction, Structure, Theology, Historicity.

Professor: Dr. Zimmerman

Student: Mr. Philip Yim Kwok Hung

Program: M. Th. (Part-time)

Date: October 30, 1995






I. Mostly used Hints on the structure of Acts




A. The Beginning and Ending of Acts

B. Geographical Divisions

C. Reports on Church Growth

D. Parallels within Acts

II. Other less used Hints on the structure of Acts

A. Important Incidents

B. Missionary Trips

C. Divine Intervention

D. Important Characters

E. Literary Hints





The whole structure of Acts is not widely discussed among scholars. Discussion on it is almost ignored in many commentaries. The commentators usually write the outline without mentioning the basis of their division. I suggest that the structure of Acts can reveal the purpose and validate the so-called theology of Acts. Any suggestions on these two areas must be comply with the structure of Acts; or they may just the scholars’ guesswork imposed on Acts.

In this article, we will first examine the mostly used hints” among the scholars on the structure of Acts (in Part I.) By doing so, we will get a preliminary framework for further discussion. Then, we will go on review some other less used (or minor) hints on the structure (in Part II.) Upon this close investigation, we will find the over-lapping of these characteristics confusing. I propose that the structure of Acts is like a developmental building blocks closely connected together by many literary devices (in Part III.) Hence, it cannot be separated in clear-cut form.



I. Mostly used Hints on the structure of Acts




A. The Beginning and Ending of Acts


It is widely believed that the beginning and ending of a literary work reflects the historians faith. For example, When Gibbon began his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with the Antonines in the second century, he showed his belief that civilizations start to decline when they enjoy an enervating peace in which the manly spirit of freedom” is dissipated. Likewise, the theology of the author of Acts is shown in his beginning and his ending.

It ended in Pauls preaching in Rome, rather that Pauls martyrdom. Harnack proposed that the ending is due to the limitation on Lukes historical information. For example, the foreboding of Pauls death implied in his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:25,38 was proved wrong by his release from imprisonment in Rome. This proposal was attacked by two arguments: First, Acts was written after the fall of Jerusalem when Pauls martyrdom was well-known among Christians. For example, in 1 Clem. 5:7, Clement mentions about it. Second, the book unmistakably indicated that Paul would die in Rome.

Clearly, Luke intentionally arranged the imprisonment in Rome and a period of unhindered preaching to the Gentiles (with the third rejection of the Jews,) as the end of Acts. It might show that he desired to portray a picture of unstopped expansion as implied throughout the book. Besides, Acts 1:8 demanded a mission expanding even to the end of the world, and it depicted a progression of geographical expansion. It might show the structure of the book by means of geographical data. We will study it further in the next section, B. Geographical Divisions.”

B. Geographical Divisions

The phrase Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria,” is taken as geographic unit by some

scholars. A parallel to it is found in Acts 15:23"Antioch and Syria and Cilicia” and 9:31 Judea, Galilee, and Samaria.” In both passages the phrase refers to one geographic unit.

Based on this, some propose that Acts can be divided into two parts:

Part I Palestine: Jerusalem to Antioch 1-12

Part II Outside Palestine: Antioch to Rome 13-28

Another alternative is dividing it by the Apostles’ Conference in 15:35 which dealt with

the relationship between Jewish and gentile believers.

But the difficulty of these approaches lies in the dividing point. Do part 1 of Acts end either at 9:43 ,or at 11:18 (the story of Corneliuss conversion by Peter at Caesarea), or at 15:35? Krodel has proposed five arguments in favor of 9:43.

(1) Act 10:1-11:18 is the Pentecost of the gentiles” which can be functioned as a dramatic opening of the gentile mission.

(2) It parallels the dramatic opening of part 1, the Pentecost story in Jerusalem.

(3) The debate on eating with gentiles started in 10:10-16, 11:3, which caused the Apostles’ Conference and its decree (15:20.) In this meeting, Peter and James referred Corneliuss conversion as a proof (15:7-9. 15:14-18.)

(4) The summary stated in 9:31 reads: So the church throughout all Judea and Samaria had peace and was built up; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied.” Together with the following two Paterine episodes it presents a good summary of work in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria in Lukes scheme.

(5) In Acts, the apostles reside in Jerusalem (8:1) and they supervise the work in Samaria. They never go outside Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Cornelius’ conversion serve as the beginning of worldwide mission to the gentiles.

A parallel structure is found in Gospel Luke where the life of Jesus is treated in two main parts, his ministry in Galilee and beginning with Luke 9:51, his journey to Jerusalem which culminated in his ascension (cf. 24:50.) In each main part there is a sending out (Luke 9:1f.; 10:1-3.)

Some scholars divided Acts into three stages:

1 - 8:3 Mission in Jerusalem

8:4 - 12:25 Mission in Judea and Samaria

13:1 - 28:31 Mission to the end of the Earth

The weakness of this approach is the most dramatic and longest narrative in Acts, Cornelius’ conversion (10:1-11:18), nor the Apostles’ Council (Acts 15), is highlighted. Modern missiology has proposed a four-fold structure as followed:

E0 Jerusalem (local mission)

E1 Judea (same culture)

E2 Samaria (similar or related culture)

E3 to the end of the Earth (totally different culture)

This proposal has shed lights on the meaning of Acts 1:8. Should it be understood in terms of geographical units, cultural setting, or ethological understanding (from Jewish perspective) ?

We will come back to this question in the last section (Part III.)

Some other scholars has made a further sub-divisions by means of the church growth reports in Acts. We will discuss it in the coming section C.

C. Reports on Church Growth

ONeill has proposed a fivefold structure: 1:9-8:3; 8:4-11:18; 11:19-15:35; 15:36-19:20; 19:21-28:31. While Turner has suggested a sixfold structure by six one-verse progress reports, three for Peter and three for Paul. The last verse of each section indicates the progress reports: 1:2-6:7; 6:8-9:31; 9:32-12:24; 12:25-16:5; 16:6-19:20;19:21-28:31.) But it ignores some important progress reports in Acts (e.g. 2:41; 4:4; 5:14.) Norman Perrin makes a more detailed ninefold division. In contrast to Matthews stereotype phrase, this regularity of form is not found in the summaries chosen by the scholars above. The theological significance of the story of Cornelius’ conversion and Apostles’ council is not highlighted. All these division methods down-play the literary and theological importance of Acts 1:8. ONeill pointed out that a variety of styles in summaries (besides growth reports) might imply Luke did not intend to divide his narrative by a single trick of style. The summaries play no fixed role in the book: For 9:31 seems to link two sections, while 12:24 a stage in the story. While 4:14 and 37, mark off one small but significant. The reports are usually untidy and incomplete (e.g. in 16:5.) Hence, the reports are some literary glues” to paste the blocks together, rather than simply dividing lines.

D. Parallels within Acts

Charles Talbert, based on loose parallelism, suggested that Acts could be divided into two parts: Acts 1-12 and Acts 13-28. For example, the following parallels are shown:

Special manifestation of the Spirit and preaching results from it 2:1-4,14-40 13:1-40

The healing of the lame and the speech it inspires in 3:1-26 14:8-17

The Stoning of Stephen and Paul 6:8-8:44 14:9-23

Peters mission to the Gentiles and subsequent imprisonment 10:1-11:18,12:1-19

Cf.. Pauls mission to the Gentiles and subsequent imprisonment 13-18

Talberts analysis, in contrast to ONEILLs linear scheme, brings us a concentric pattern. This feature causes the confusion on what is the original Lucan structure.

Others have suggested that the division of Gospel Luke is followed in Acts. Lukes Gospel is divided into three parts: 1) before or just after Jesus’ temptations (4:1 or 4:14) ; 2) Jesus sets his fact to go to Jerusalem ((:51); 3) Jesus prepares for his triumphant entry into the city (19:28.) The long central section , 9:51 to 19:28, is described in the form of a journey suggests that geographical factors may be significant for Acts too! The journey takes place between Samaria and Galilee (17:11); the only fixed point is the goal, Jerusalem (9:51; 13:22, 33f: 17:11; 18:31; 19:11). Conzelmann suggested that Jesus’ consciousness that he must suffer is expressed in the form of a journery.”

II. Other less used Hints on the structure of Acts

A. Important Incidents


B. Missionary Trips

An overview on Pauls mission will give us a picture of three missionary journeys: 1) 13-14; 2) 15:36-18:22; 3) 18:23-21:14 or 16.) Menoud rejects that scheme for division, because it starts from stereo-type that missionaries are sent from fixed headquarters; and it ignores explicit indications of other pattern in Acts. In 19:21, Luke sets a new stage. It says, After all this had happened , Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. After I have been there,” he said, I must visit Rome also.” (NIV version) ’ In 19:10, Luke tells us that Paul has worked in Ephesus for 2 years, the phrase all this had happened” may refer to the completion of missionary work in Asia. Besides, starting from here, a divine compulsion behind every step that is taken. In the phrase (in the Spirit), and Paul insists that it is necessary () for him to go to Rome after going to Jerusalem. This necessity is continually emphasized in the following sections: speech to the Ephesian elders about the Spirits repeated assurance (20:22f, 25); the disciples’ warning in Tyre (21:4); Agabus’ prophecy of arrest (21:10-14); the Lords reassurance of seeing Caesar in Rome (23:11 ); the Lords second reassurance during the great storm (27:24).

Menoud rightly pointed out the stress on divine compulsion in these passages, but other sections of Acts are also filled with divine guidance. He actually misses the continual divine interventions as signs of directions in Acts. For example, in 19:21, two other journeys are explicitly stated: Journey from Ephesus to Macedonia and finally to Jerusalem (20:1 - 21:17); and Journey from Jerusalem to Rome (27:1 - 31). It may be called the fourth and fifth journey of Paul. The main idea is that verse actually shows the directions of the later sections of Acts. Note that these two journey are both delayed due to the riot in the city and the trial following it.

Besides, the so-called missionary journeys” of other important characters in Acts are also important. The following is a list of these journeys and their significance or function in Acts:

1) Philip: (8:4-40) He is the first one to preach the gospel outside Jerusalem. He witnesses in Samaria (8:5f), and then to an Ethiopian eunuch (8:27f). He actually fulfills the words in Acts 1:8. Note in 8:26, he is said to be led by an angel.

2) Peter and John : (9:14-25) The visited and encouraged the new Samaritan converts.

3) Peter: (19:32-10:48) He saw a vision and brought Cornelius to Christ.

C. Divine Encounter: Intervention and Guidance

The importance of the Holy Spirit in Acts is well-known among scholars, but the visions and angels are also significant too. They can provide a continual guide for the readers to follow. A systematic treatment on these may reveal more in the patterns and structure of Acts.

I will list the visions and some spiritual interventions of Acts as follows:

1) Jesus’ Ascension and His command to wait in Jerusalem: with the indicator of places. His Great Commandment was stated clearly in Acts 1:8, which was believed by many scholars, revealed the development of the whole book. The gospel will be spread from Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria, and finally to the end of the World.

2) The Descendance of the Holy Spirit: (2:1-48) It attracted a large crowd and initiates the earliest Christian Church in Jerusalem. This broke the waiting and started the New Age under the power of the Holy Spirit, who was continually referred to in the rest of Acts. The Holy Spirit has replaced the role of Christ as a teacher to the disciples and also uncovered the secret of Gods plan: the Gentile Mission.

3) The Opening Heaven Vision to Stephen: (7:1-60) After this, he is stoned to death, and prosecution started. Stephen has made a prophetic witness to his audience. He had spoken of the God of glory” in his opening sentence and he was permitted to see the glory of God and Jesus at his right hand (7:55). He was vindicated and his martyrdom led to a general persecution. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”(8:1 NIV) The other important spatial theme, Samaria, was introduced and Philip acted as an important character for this expansion.

4) Philip is led by an angel to met an Ethiopian: (8:26-39) The starting of witnessing to a Gentile, but the eunuch was a God-fearer who is reading Isaiah 53! He was the first Gentile Philip witnessed to. He was an eunuch who was believed to be incomplete and unclean by the Jews. Note that Philip was not led by the Spirit to Samaria which caused a mass conversion, but led by an angel to witness to an individual in the desert road” (8:26 NIV). The implication demanded more research.This story ended in his baptism and finally Philip was taken by the Spirit of the Lord. He was found in Azotus, and finally in Caesarea (8:40).

5) The Lords appearing to Paul: (9:1-9) and The Lords commands to Ananias: (9:10-19) These two vision had a very close relationship.The approval of Paul was mediated through Ananias. Gods plan for Pauls mission was told to Ananias (9:15-16), but not mentioned in Ananias’ words to Paul (9:17). Pauls mission was retold by him in later part of Acts. It showed a slight different emphasis which may reflect the flow of thought in Acts. Besides, the acceptance process of Paul by Ananias could be compared to Peters acceptance of Cornelius. Both parties involved had a Spiritual Encounter to initiate the contact of the two parties.

6) The Unclean Foods Vision to Peter (10:9-20) and the Vision to Cornelius (10:22, 30-32).

Corneliusreception of the Holy Spirit: (10:44-46). The two visions initiated the contact, But Peter still had some doubts, when he said, You are well aware that is is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him.” (8:28 NIV). This doubt was broken down when he saw Holy Spirits descendance on Cornelius! Peter baptized Cornelius after seeing this (10:47-48). It was the re-affirmation of the previous vision, and the inception of the Gentile Mission was implied, but it was after the Apostolic Council, the new” way (i.e. Pauline) of doing the Gentile Mission was tolerated.’ It implied the Gentile Mission was Gods imperative. Peters action was immediatedly challenged by other apostles and Christians” (11:1). But the meeting resulted in no further objections and praising God” (11:18). After this, the Church in Antioch which started the mission to the Greeks (11:20) was described and Saul and Barnabas were introduced (11:22, 25).

7) Peters Miraculous Escape from prison (12:1-19): This was the prosecution (from Herod) in Jerusalem even extended to the apostles. An angel released Peter from prison. God had saved from the hand of Herod, who had killed James (12:2). Gods mighty control was seen in the later spiritual act, the killing of Herod by worms (12:23).

8) Herod was killed by worms (12:19b-23): This was a vindication for James’ death and the punishment from God who was in control. After that, But the word of God continued to increase and spread.” (12:24 NIV). The theme, God is in control’, was clearly stated. Then in 12:25, Barnabas and Saul were re-introduced. Hereafter, it was the Acts of Paul and Barnabas’.

9) The Lords Commission on Antioch church (13:1-3): It was the Starting of Mission outside Judea, but the commission was unclear. It stated, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (13:2).

10) The Vision of the Man of Macedonia (16:6-10): It was the Starting of Mission in Europe, not Asia; and on a target group with less or even no understanding on the Jewish laws. It may a great change for Paul too! For the readers of Acts who embraces the Judaism, it is a very great change. Prior to this, Paul used to witness in synagogues, but in Philippi and Athen, he was forced to use other methods.

11) The Vision on Paul in a ship.





D. Important Characters



E. Literary Hints

III. A New Proposal : Developmental Blocks




Johnson, L. T. Luke-Acts, Book of,” Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 4.

(New York: Doubleday, 1992.) pp.403-420.

Bruce, F. F. Acts of the Apostles,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 1.

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.) pp. 33-47.



Levinsohn, Stephen H. Textual Connections in Acts. SBL Monograph Series No.31.

226.6048 L578t 1987 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1987.)

Krodel, Gerhard. Acts. Proclamation Commentaries. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981.)

226.6 K913a c.1

ONeill, J. C. The Theology of Acts. 2nd ed. (London: S.P.C.K., 1970.)

226.6 On3t

Powell, Mark A. What are they saying about Acts?. (New York: Paulist, 1991.)

226.6060904 P871w 1991