the weblog of Alan Knox

The Acts of Jesus Christ through his disciples

Posted by on Jun 1, 2011 in scripture | 14 comments

The Acts of Jesus Christ through his disciples

The Book of Acts, as with the other books and letters included in Scripture, does not officially have a name. (However, it was certainly named very soon after it was written.) (Also, however, it’s possible that Mark 1:1 was written as a title to that particular book.)

(By the way, the name “Acts” itself comes from the Greek term praxis, which means “activities”, a word that only shows up in Acts 19:18, and not in relation to the activities of Jesus Christ, the Twelve, or other disciples.)

In most English Bibles (perhaps all?) the Book of Acts is called “The Acts of the Apostles.” However, there are at least two problems with that title.

First, consider the opening of the book in which Luke writes to Theolphilus:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3 ESV)

Luke tells Theophilus that his first book (i.e., the Gospel of Luke) dealt with “all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” It follows, then, that this particular books (Acts) would deal with “all that Jesus continued to do and to teach.” The Gospel of Luke, according to its author, contains the beginning of a story. Luke second book, Acts, would then contain the continuation of that story.

Now, it’s true that Acts 1:1-3 mentions the apostles. However, Luke does not say that the book will contain what the apostles did (i.e., praxis or “acts”). Instead, Luke records that Jesus gave commands to his apostles. We know that Jesus gave commands to other disciples also (not just the Twelve), because Luke records that in Acts 1:8, which was apparently spoken to at least 120 disciples. Luke also records Jesus appearing to and teaching many disciples (other than the Twelve) in Luke 24. So, the mention of “[giving] commands… to the apostles” in Acts 1:3 does not appear to be exhaustive.

So, perhaps a better title for the Book of Acts would be “The Acts of Jesus Christ.” However, even that title doesn’t cover everything.

Second, apart from the first few verses of the book, and a few verses in Chapter 9, Jesus does not directly appear in the Book of Acts. Yes, he is mentioned or is the subject of many, many, many sentences, paragraphs, sections, chapters, etc.

So, who were the main characters in the Book of Acts? Certainly, the twelve play a huge role in Acts. The early parts of the Book follows the activities of the Twelve very closely. However, we can’t say that Luke focuses only on the Twelve. In fact, from chapter 6 through chapter 9, the focus is not on the activity of the Twelve, but on the activities of other disciples.

Also, it’s clear that in the last half of the Book of Acts, Luke focuses on the apostolic (traveling) work of Paul and those who traveled with him (including Luke). Now, while I agree that Paul is an apostle, he is never included in the Twelve. Also, there are some within this section that are named as apostles, while others who are not called apostles serve as well.

If we take all of this together, we can see that Luke is demonstrating how Jesus Christ was working through many of his disciples. Yes, he worked through the Twelve. He also worked through other apostles. He worked through some gifted as prophets and evangelists. He worked through some whose giftings were not named.

Many of the activities carried out and persecutions faced by the Twelve in the early part of Acts are later carried out and faced by others in the book who are not part of the Twelve. So, Luke focuses on the activities of Jesus Christ that he carries out through various disciples.

Thus, perhaps a better name of the Book of Acts (instead of “Acts of the Apostles”) would be “The Acts of Jesus Christ through his Disciples.”

What do you think? Can you think of another name that describes Luke’s second book to Theophilus?


14 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-1-2011

    As I’ve been praying, reading and meditating recently, that’s very much the title I’ve been finding myself drawn to for Acts. Based on the evidence you display about chps 6-9, it’s certainly not really right to call it Acts of the Apostles. I may well scribble out the translator’s title in my Bible and re-write this one ;)

    Looking at the book in this light, I’d say that this deals a bit of a death-blow to those who would say that the book of Acts is descriptive narrative of what happened then, but not normative (or even really possible) for today. Usually this is used by people trying to explain why we shouldn’t read Acts and expect to see the miraculous stuff, usually explaining that this is the story of the apostles, and since we’re not apostles, we shouldn’t expect any of that today.

    But if Acts is “Acts of Jesus Christ through His Disciples” and Jesus Christ really is the same yesterday, today and forever, then that stuff becomes gloriously possible. Maybe not normative (as in miracle round every corner), but as we learn to see how Jesus is working through us, we can expect some amazing wonderful stuff in our lives, churches and stories too!

  2. 6-1-2011

    Alan,

    Sounds good to me! “The Acts of Jesus Christ through his Disciples.”?

    When will the heresy trials start? :)

  3. 6-2-2011

    Jon,

    Yes, if I’m right about this, then I also think it will change the way I interpret Acts.

    Aussie John,

    Yeah, for some people, I’m sure they would want to bring back burnings or drownings.

    -Alan

  4. 6-13-2011

    This is really good, Alan. Great thoughts

  5. 8-5-2011

    The Acts of the Apostles was written in reverse of chronological order as compared with the works of Josephus. This has a bearing on the decision of Berenice and Agrippa to send Paul to see Nero. Paul never seems to meet Nero until it is recognised that Gallio is probably Nero who sends Paul back to Judaea with Vespasian and the Roman army. Paul’s task is to reassure the Jewish communities along the route.

  6. 8-5-2011

    Peter,

    That’s an interesting hypothesis. Do you have any evidence?

    -Alan

  7. 8-8-2011

    My evidence such as it is is contained on pages 179 and 189 of the Penguin edition of the Jewish War by Josephus. On page 189 Vespasian is described as crossing the Dardanelles which is quite close to some of the places on Paul’s itinerary.

  8. 8-8-2011

    Peter,

    I’m sorry but I don’t get the connection between Vespasian’s trip (using the same road that Paul used) and a hypothesis that Gallio was actually Vespaisan, that Nero had sent Paul back to Judea, and that Luke wrote Acts in reverse chronological order?

    -Alan

  9. 8-9-2011

    Nero was of course the Roman emperor, and both Paul (who is Josephus) and Vespasian had to do what Nero told them to do and both appear in Judaea much later. The New Testament was written by Berenice. She obtained most of her facts but emphatically not the dates from her distant cousin Josephus. Matthew Mark Luke and John are the titles not the authors of the Gospels which contain early references to Matthan, Mercury, Lucifer and Janus the Roman god of beginnings.

  10. 8-9-2011

    Peter,

    Wow.

    -Alan

  11. 9-12-2012

    I’ve always referred to it as “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”

  12. 2-3-2013

    I should also add that Barnabas is Vespasian in reverse of chronological order.

  13. 2-3-2013

    Peter,

    That makes for great fiction. Too bad it’s not based in history.

    -Alan

  14. 4-30-2013

    Alan, Alan, Alan…..
    Just between you and me I like the idea but changing the title positions you awfully close to that precipice of changing one jot or title Jesus warns about.
    I really hope you make it to heaven cuz your such a good christian otherwise. :-)