The Book of Acts; an Introduction – Part II

Friday, 24 September 2021

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

You can also read this commentary, with music, at this link on YouTube. (Click Here to listen).

As noted in the first introductory segment, this segment will reveal some of the patterns of Acts, and how Acts fits into the overall structure of how the Bible is laid out.

Main Purposes:

There are several purposes concerning the need for the book of Acts as well as its placement in the Bible.

1) The Spreading of the Gospel:
Acts is a historical narrative that develops the theme set forth by Jesus before His ascension. In Acts 1:8, He will say –

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Both a purpose for the book and one main structure of the book are found in this statement. Acts begins in Jerusalem. It then extends out to Judea and then to Samaria. Eventually, it extends out into the Gentile world. From that point, the implication is that the narrative then continues throughout the whole world, exactly as Jesus proclaims. Paul and Barnabas use this terminology when speaking to the Jews at a synagogue in Acts 13:47 (a quote from Isaiah 49:6).

The pattern is set forth by sections of chapters –

  • Chapters 1 through 7 largely deal with the area of Jerusalem and focus on the Jews.
  • Chapters 8 through 12 largely deal with the areas of Judea and Samaria. As the Samaritans are a mixed-race, this is a key transition that leads into…
  • Chapters 13 through 28 largely deal with the evangelization of the Gentiles as the message spreads to the uttermost parts of the earth.

2) The Transfer of Authority from Jew to Gentile:
This transition from predominantly a focus on the Jews to that of the Gentiles is clearly seen in the fact that the Apostle Peter (aka Simon), who is the “apostle to the circumcision” (as noted in Galatians 2:7), is mentioned over 60 times in Chapters 1-12. At the same time, Paul (aka Saul) is seen more than 20 times in those chapters, but he is always mentioned by his Jewish name Saul.

However, in chapters 13-28, Peter (Simon) is mentioned only twice. Both times are in Acts 15. In these same chapters, Paul (Saul), who is the “apostle to the Gentiles” (as noted in Romans 11:13, etc.), is mentioned over 130 times. The only time he is called by his Jewish name Saul in these chapters is when referring to accounts already mentioned in the first 12 chapters of the book.

To highlight these underlying patterns, between Peter and Paul which reveals the transfer of church authority from Jew to Gentile, a comparison of events that are detailed between Peter and Paul is provided by Luke –

Act of the Apostle/Chapter Act Occurs ** (see footnote)

1.Peter’s work began by the Holy Spirit (2)
1. Paul’s work began by the Holy Spirit (13)

2 Peter was thought to be drunk and & then explains himself (2)
2. Paul was thought to be mad and then explains himself (26)

3. Peter’s first sermon begins a new section of book (2)
3. Paul’s first sermon begins a new section of book (13)

4. Peter has a time of work, preaching, and then persecution (2-11)
4. Paul has a time of work, preaching, and then persecution (13-19)

5. Peter has trouble after healing a man lame from birth (3)
5. Paul has trouble after healing a man lame from birth (14)

6. Peter says, “Silver and gold have I none” (3)
6. Paul says, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold” (20)

7. Peter’s shadow heals (5)
7. Paul’s handkerchief heals (19)

8. Peter is arrested in the temple and taken to Sanhedrin (4, 5)
8. Paul is arrested in the temple and taken to Sanhedrin (21-23)

9. Peter confronts Simon the sorcerer (8)
9. Paul confronts Elymas the sorcerer (13)

10. Peter performs an exorcism (5)
10. Paul performs an exorcism (16)

11. Peter raises Tabitha from the dead (9)
11. Paul raises Eutychus from the dead (20)

12. Peter lays hands for the reception of Spirit (8)
12. Paul lays hands for the reception of Spirit (19)

13. Peter worshipped (10)
13. Paul worshipped (14)

14. Peter imprisoned with miraculous escape (12)
14. Paul imprisoned with miraculous escape (16)

15. Angel stood by Peter (12)
15. Angel stood by Paul (27)

16. Peter called by vision to preach in Caesarea (10)
16. Paul called by vision to preach in Macedonia (16)

17. Peter’s success brings Jewish jealousy (5)
17. Paul’s success brings Jewish jealousy (13)

18. Peter heals the bedridden Aeneas (9)
18. Paul heals the bedridden father of Publius (28)

19. Peter ordains deacons (6)
19. Paul ordains elders (14)

20. Peter is “filled with the Spirit” (4)
20. Paul is “filled with the Spirit” (13)

21. Peter is bound with two chains (12:6)
21. Paul is bound with two chains (21:33)

22. Peter (twice) the Apostle to the Jews
22. Paul (four times) the Apostle to the Gentiles

3) The Fulfillment of the Blessing of Noah:
In Genesis 9, a key to the entire redemptive scenario, from that time on, is given in Noah’s blessing upon his sons –

 And he said:
“Blessed be the Lord,
The God of Shem,
And may Canaan be his servant.
27 May God enlarge Japheth,
And may he dwell in the tents of Shem;
And may Canaan be his servant.” Genesis 9:26-27

The primary blessing was given to Shem. It is he (his descendants) that would carry the spiritual blessing of the Lord from that time forward. However, a secondary blessing was laid upon Japheth saying, “And may he dwell in the tents of Shem.” Though cryptic, it reveals what would occur in the possession of this spiritual banner.

The “tents of Shem” speaks of Shem’s possession of this banner more than once. Japheth dwelling in those tents is a way of saying that he would also possess this banner at some point. It is evident from the structure of Acts that this spiritual banner transfers from Jerusalem to Rome, from Shem to Japheth, from Jew to Gentile (as expressed in the highlight of the apostles who ministered to these groups – Peter and Paul). All of the epistles are written to people groups descended from Japheth.

A key to this is found in the trade in which Paul was employed, a tentmaker (see Acts 18:3). It is a subtle note confirming the entire concept as he works with his hands, building up the “tent of Japheth.”

This tent will, according to the dispensational model, end at the rapture of the church – a doctrine revealed by Paul. From there, the spiritual banner will transfer back to Shem, meaning the Jews of the tribulation and following into the millennial reign of Christ. This pattern is then actually seen in the structure of the Bible itself as is seen next.

4) The Pivotal Placement of Acts:
The layout of the Bible forms innumerable patterns. One is seen in the order of how the books are placed, with Acts providing a key turning point anticipated by John’s gospel –

a. Tent of Shem:

Genesis – Malachi (Law)

Synoptic Gospels according to naming of Noah’s sons (OT Law Fulfillment)
* Matthew – Directed predominantly to Shem
* Mark – Directed predominantly to Ham
* Luke – Directed predominantly to Japheth

b. Mixture/Transition

John (mixture of OT Law and NT concepts/theology)

Acts – Transition / Jerusalem to Rome / Peter to Paul / Jew to Gentile / Shem to Japheth

c. Tent of Japheth (dwelling in, meaning between, tents of Shem)

Romans-Philemon – to Gentile-led church

d. Tent of Shem

Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter to Jews (Shem)

e. Mixture

John (mixture)

Jude (mixture, final letter of warning)

f. Summary from John’s time until the end

Revelation – 1:1 – 4:1 (church – Japheth)
4:2 – 19:21 (tribulation upon the whole world)
21 – (millennial reign and final battle – Shem)
22 – (restoration of all things good for all of mankind)

* In the sons of Noah, a secondary pattern is found in Acts as well. The three sons are mentioned together six times in the Old Testament (Genesis 5:32, 6:10, 7:13, 9:18, 10:1; and 1 Chronicles 1:4). In all instances, they are listed as Shem, Ham, and Japheth – regardless of their actual birth order. Significantly, this is the order in which the gospel is received by descendants of these three sons –

  • Sons of Shem – Acts 2 (the men of Israel)
  • Son of Ham – Acts 8:27 (the Ethiopian eunuch)
  • Sons of Japheth – Acts 10 (the house of Cornelius, the Italian)

5) Doctrinal Themes:

Historical – This reveals the development of Acts 1:8 (Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, ends of the earth)
Spiritual – This reveals the transfer of the spiritual banner from Jew to Gentile
Apostolic – This reveals the united message, but distinct audience, of Peter and Paul
Political – This reveals the truth that Christianity a legitimate religion (Religio Licita) stemming from the Jewish faith
Prophetic – This reveals the fulfillment of Noah’s blessing in the stream of redemptive history

6) A Very Brief Outline:

The Book of Acts – Fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission


Book Superstructure/

Jewish-Gentile contrast

Book Structure/

Church Growth

Book Outline
Structure given by the Lord – v.8 1.  The Ascension and awaiting the Promise.
Jewish witness with harvest. Witness in Jerusalem. 2.  The Omer is counted, the time has come!  The birth of the Church – Pentecost.
3.  Apostolic signs of healing.
4.  Organized opposition begins.
Jewish resistance. Witness to cities surrounding Jerusalem – v16. 5.  The Spirit cleans house within; the Sanhedrin debates without.
6.  Resolution of internal conflicts.
Jewish leadership rejection of the message. 7.  Stephan’s trial and martyrdom.
Jewish active persecution of the church. Persecution resulting in witness to Judea and Samaria – v1. 8.  Reception of the message by Samarians and proselytes.
Conversion of the Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13) 9.  Saul’s conversion.
First witness to the Gentiles. 10.  Divine message to Cornelius and Peter – Gentile conversion.
Jewish believers confusion at Gentile acceptance. Witness spreading out rapidly. 11.  The message spreads as far as Antioch where the term “Christian” is established.
12.  The Apostle James is martyred; Peter is imprisoned and escapes; Herod dies.
Continued Jewish rejection – Paul and Barnabas turn to the Gentiles (v.46) Official missions work established. 13.  Saul and Barnabas set aside for missions.
14.  Effective missions with great Jewish resistance.
Witness guidelines for Gentiles. 15.  The council at Jerusalem.
Witness carried forth with full church sanction. 16.  Encounters in Macedonia.
17.  Encounters in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens (Paul at the Areopagus).
Book Superstructure Book Structure Book Outline
18.  Encounters in Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch, Caesarea, Galatia, and Phrygia.
19.  Church growth and uproar in Ephesus!
20.  Paul’s encounters on the way to Jerusalem.
21.  Paul’s arrival and arrest in Jerusalem.
Total Jewish rejection of Paul’s testimony to the Gentiles 22.  Paul’s testimony before the people of Jerusalem.
23.  Paul’s hectic path to Caesarea.
24.  Paul’s trial before Felix.
25.  Paul’s trial before Festus and King Agrippa.
26.  Paul’s trial before Festus and King Agrippa (2).
27.   Sailing to Rome; lost at sea; shipwrecked on Malta.
Salvation of God has gone to the Gentiles – and they will hear it! (v.28) Witness arrives in the Seat of Power – Rome. 28.  Paul arrives in Rome.

**I did not discover most of these Peter/Paul patterns. Many came in a college course conducted by Dr. W. Gary Phillips of Southern Evangelical Seminary. Credit is to him, if discovered by him.

Lord God, thank You for allowing us to see wonderful treasures in Your word. They give us every confidence that it truly is from You, and it is revealing Your heart and mind to us. Yes, Lord God, thank You for Your precious word. Amen!