Acts 1:1

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Note: You can listen to today’s verse and commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

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The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, Acts 1:1

To open the book of Acts, Luke immediately refers to his first work concerning the ministry of the Lord, saying, “The former account, I made.” The word translated as “former” (prótos) is literally “first,” and it should be translated as such. It was the beginning of his writings concerning the work of the Lord Jesus.

This is not being nitpicky. Rather, Luke is being precise because someone could – ostensibly – claim that another book, a forgery, was written by Luke to detail the interim years of Jesus’ life from His youth (see Luke 2:42) until the time He began His ministry (see Luke 3:23). There is another such false writing known as the “Infancy of the Gospel of Thomas.” Such a writing could not be ascribed to Luke because of Luke’s careful wording.

In stating that the gospel of Luke is his first such writing, it then sets the sequence from that point on. In the next verses, he will show that the ending of the gospel leads directly into this writing. As such, this is his second writing concerning what has occurred.

The word translated as “account” (logos) is literally “word.” It signifies the expression of a thought. It is a discourse. Various translations say “account,” “treatise,” “book,” “narrative,” and so on.

Next, the word “made” signifies “to do.” A good paraphrase, because of the content, would be “composed.” Luke wrote his gospel, and now he is composing another work to build upon what he previously put forth. And this is addressed as, “O Theophilus.”

The Greek word ó is used much as our “oh!” today. It is an expression of deep emotion. One can almost feel Luke’s intensity and sense the joy of his beginning this second composition as the blood pulses through him as he considers the enormity of all of the things he had come to know, and that he – at times – had personally participated in.

The name Theophilus is found only here and in Luke 1:3. It is a compound name, coming from theos (God) and philos (friendly). Thus, his name means “Friend of God.” In Luke 1:3, the honorific “most excellent” was affixed to the stating of his name –

“it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus.”

As such, he may have been a person of note or rank. Not including that title now may indicate that the two had become more intimate friends since the penning of the first letter. Or, it may simply be that having used the honorific in the first composition, and because this composition can be considered a continuation of what occurred, Luke didn’t feel the honorific was necessary again. With the recipient established, Luke explains what the first composition detailed, saying, “of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”

The words “of all” do not necessarily mean “everything.” Rather, the Greek word can be used in a superlative sense, such as in Matthew 2:3. Or, it can simply refer to everything that Luke chose to include in his gospel narrative. This is obvious. Luke doesn’t record what Jesus ate for breakfast on any given day. Thus, this is referring to the works of the Lord that were pertinent to conveying the message intended by Luke to convince his reader that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah given by God.

The word translated as “began” can be either a historical statement which encompasses the words “to do and teach,” or it can be a note of ongoing activity. In other words, in Genesis 9:20, it says, “And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard.” It is a Hebraism where the statement encompasses everything about his actions in farming. Or, the words could be conveying the idea of “My first letter began the story of what Jesus said and did, and this letter continues those things.”

The first option may be correct, but it is also true that Acts is a continuation of the works of Jesus. He is spoken of directly in Chapter 1, and He appears at several key points in the book as well (such as in Acts 9:5). Of this word, Charles Ellicott states the following –

“The verb ‘begin’ is specially characteristic of St. Luke’s Gospel, in which it occurs not less than thirty-one times. Its occurrence at the beginning of the Acts is, accordingly, as far as it goes, an indication of identity of authorship. He sought his materials from those who had been ‘from the beginning’ eye-witnesses and ministers of the word (Luke 1:2).”

The word “do” signifies the acts accomplished by the Lord, such as healings, miracles, signs, and wonders. His actions demonstrated that He was appointed by God to do the works of God.

The word “teach” signifies those things that either corrected the people’s thinking about the law, or which established doctrines that needed to be set forth for the people to properly live before God. The word certainly also includes the giving of His parables to enlighten both the state of man in many ways (morally, for example) and in what would come upon Israel in the future (such as the parable of the ten minas as detailed in Luke 19:11-27).

A note concerning translations: It is the intent of this Acts commentary to teach what is right, correct that which is deficient, and to highlight that which is wrong. One error found in the church, and which has – unfortunately – turned into a cult, is that of King James Onlyism. When someone is in a cult, there is little chance of training them out of it.

However, others can be made aware of the cult, and they can be instructed on what is proper. This commentary will not highlight all of the errors in the KJV in relation to the book of Acts. If it did, the commentary would be many pages longer, and for little reason. But it is worth highlighting that the KJV has a knack of mistranslating the first sentence of many books in the Bible, such as Acts 1:1 –

The word “former” is the “first,” and it should be translated as such. (see Matthew 10:2). Also, the words “have I made” should be “I made.” Of this, Cambridge states, “The time is indefinite, and we have no warrant in the text for that closer union of the two books, in point of date, which is made by the language of the A. V.”

So common is this, that their translation of the first sentence of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, is in error –

The KJV translates ha’shemayim (literally, the heavens) in the singular (the heaven). They then translate the exact same phrase in the plural in Genesis 2:1, 2:4, etc. There is an annoying lack of consistency in this. This is not a great way to start a Bible translation, with such an obvious error, and it does not bode well for the reader who desires to know what is being conveyed in the original texts.

Although these are minor deficiencies, the KJV is – literally – riddled with error. If you would like to read an ongoing list of errors in this translation, please go to the Superior Word website, then go to WRITINGS, and there will be a list of them there. This is updated from time to time. Enough said of that. Just be sure to read many translations to get a better sense of what is being said.

Life application: In the book of Acts, Luke will put forth one of the most detailed writings found in the entire Bible. It is a beautiful follow up to the gospel that bears his name, and it is important that the book be studied carefully, contemplated intensely, and not rushed through. It is a foundational book to understanding what God has done in order to continue the redemptive narrative of man, as it transitions from the time of the law to the age of the church.

Let us slowly and methodically pursue each detail. It has been given by God to us, and therefore we should be willing to spend the time necessary to say we have done our best to understand what He is conveying to us. To His glory!

Lord God, help us to be methodical, patient, and studious in our pursuit of Your word. Give us the time and desire to do so, and may we not cut corners in our search of it. Your word is a reflection of who You are, and so let us tend to it with that in mind. To Your glory, we pray. Amen.