From the introduction to a new book in the Vision Collections series:
The account of the life of Jesus by the first-century doctor-biographer Luke has its parallel in the continuing history of His early followers. Luke wrote not only the extensive Gospel that carries his name but also the second-longest book in the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles.
This sequel begins with mention of the previous account, indicating that the history now continues, and is addressed to a man named Theophilus. Luke had written his Gospel to the same person, whose name means “lover of God.” This is either a general term indicating later followers of Jesus, or the name of a specific convert and perhaps the author’s benefactor. Luke acknowledged that others who were “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” had produced similar accounts. But, he says, “it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account . . . that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:3–4).
It seems the second part of the history had no title but was simply treated as a continuation of Luke’s earlier account. The first record of it having a name comes around the middle of the second century, when the Greek word Praxeis (Acts) was applied to it. Only later was this expanded to Praxeis Apostolon (Acts of the Apostles). The Greeks, whose language was the lingua franca of the Roman world, used praxeis to describe the achievements of leading figures.
If the book’s first title was simply Acts, whose acts was Luke talking about? From the name by which we now know it, you might think the account celebrates only the apostles’ achievements. Some have gone as far as to say that the focus is really on the accomplishments of only Peter and Paul. But as we will see, many other individuals achieved a great deal.
Asking the question “Whose acts?” allows us to focus on the central point that Luke is making—that men and women empowered by God accomplish more than they could ever imagine. In reality, it is God’s acts through human beings that are demonstrated throughout the book. Because it is about people and not primarily a statement of beliefs, the book is a rich tapestry of human endeavor in the fascinating multicultural world of the first-century Roman Empire. Here we see belief in action, faith in practice. Luke speaks about the followers of Jesus as people who practice “the Way.” They are not known as Christians but as followers of the way of life that Jesus represented. In this book, we can expect to find practical examples to guide us if we want to emulate those first followers.