Major Issues in the Interpretation of Acts

There are a number of issues in the interpretations of the book of Acts. It is believed by many that the author of Acts is Luke, who was a physician and traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. One of the major issues is that Acts is actually a continuation of the book of Luke. They were both written by the same author and they are both addressed to Theophilus. Another issue of interpretation is that Acts is the first history of the early church, but it is told in a narrative style. It is a transitional link between Law and Grace. (McDonald, 1995, p. 1575)  

Acts is also an important link from the Gospels to the Epistles. The first issue in the interpretation of Acts deals with the authorship and the fact that it is separated from the book of Luke. The belief of many that Luke was the author of both Luke and Acts is derived from the fact that both books are addressed to Theophilus and that they are similar in language and style. (Holladay, 1988, p. 987)  The name Luke is not mentioned in either book, or anywhere else in the scriptures. This leaves deduction as the only viable means to identify the author.

The pronoun “we” is used throughout the book which informs the reader that the author is present during the events that are reported in Acts. The author mentions all of the companions of Paul except Luke leaving the reader to understand that he is the author since he is telling the narrative. Acts is neither a Gospel or an Epistle. It is told in narrative form like a Gospel and the subject matter is of the life and struggles of the early church. (O’Day, 1992, p. 305) The separation of Luke and Acts was due to the fact that Luke is a Gospel, so it was placed with the other three, Matthew, Mark and John.

Acts is obviously not a Gospel because it begins with the ascension of Jesus. The first twelve chapters of the book deal with the works of Peter as he courageously preaches and ministers to the Jews. Starting with chapter thirteen Acts focuses on the passionate Apostle Paul and his ministry to the gentiles. The next major issue of interpretation of Acts is fact that it is believed to be the first record of the early church history. The origin of the church begins with Peter in Jerusalem and from there the Apostle Paul takes it out to the rest of the world.

Acts is not written in the factual way that a history would be written, but is told as a narrative. Even though it begins with the ascension, Jesus is not absent from the narrative. He is seen by Stephen at the right hand of God, and by Paul in the blinding light. (Johnson, 1986, p. 222)  The book of Acts proclaims that Jesus, though absent in body, has his hand on the early church. Although it may contain historical facts, it is not an objective chronicle of the early church. Acts should be understood primarily as a story of the early church as told by Luke and colored by Luke’s interest and theological stance. (O’Day, 1992, p. 305)

The last issue in the interpretation of Acts is that it is a translational link between Law and Grace, and from the Gospels to the Epistles. (McDonald, 1995, p. 1575)  The Jews of Jerusalem lived by the Mosaic Laws which was ingrained into every part of their lives. Now that Jesus’ blood had become the ultimate sacrifice, the shift from Laws to Grace was essential. Acts records this transition by allowing an inside look of the work of Peter. Since Peter was a Jew, he knew the Law and still clung to it as he established the church in Jerusalem. Paul, however, preached Grace and the redemptive power of the blood of Jesus.

This became a volatile issue between the two men who were so important to the establishment of the church. This issue is what ties the Gospels to the Epistles. The Gospels were written about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus while the Epistles deal with the early churches and Paul’s devotion to the Great Commission. By beginning with the ascension of Jesus, moving to the establishment of the church, and then moving to the spreading of the Gospel by Paul, Acts is a bridge between them The writings of Johnson, O’Day, and Holladay, were insightful to the understanding of the book of Acts.

They were eye opening material that proved that the book of Acts does have a significant role in the New Testament. They provided information that was valuable to understanding the book of Acts. While Acts is a unique book of the New Testament, it has an important place in the Bible. It is a link and provides an inside look at the early church that no other book offers. Acts shows the tragedies and hardships as well as the spiritual elations of the early church leaders and their followers. Even though there are major issues in the interpretation, it is still worthy of its place between the Gospels and Epistles. Without the book of Acts, the New Testament would simply jump from the works of Jesus to the missions of Paul.


Holladay, C. (1988). Acts Introduction. Harper and Collins Bible Commentary (pp. 987-989). New York: HarperCollins Publishers. Johnson, L. T. (1986). The Writings of the New Testament (pp. 213-257). United States of America: Fortress Press McDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary (pp. 1575-1576). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers. O’Day, G. R. (1992). Acts Introduction. The Women’s Bible Commentary (pp. 305-306). Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press.ф