The Complementary Messages of Luke and Acts
Companion Books · The Theme of the Gospel According to Luke · The Theme of the Acts of the Apostles · Central Message of Luke's Bi-Volume Work · Conclusion
The Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles together make up 27% of the content of the entire New Testament. These two works were authored by Luke, a Gentile believer (Colossians 4:10-14). Seeing that he only authored these two books, and that his writings comprise over one-fourth of the New Testament writings (making Luke the largest contributor), the study of their content and message is very important to us. This paper will show the connection between these two works, will explore each book's general message and themes, and discover how Acts builds upon Luke as the second of the companion books.
That Luke and Acts are companion books can be seen in many ways. Both books are addressed to one named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). Although his identity is not known, some have speculated that he was the patron who sponsored the finances for the publication of Luke's work.
That Acts was a companion book to the Gospel of Luke is witnessed by Luke's words in Acts 1:1-2, "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen." It is in Luke's gospel where we find such material, and it was addressed to Theophilus.
If one examines the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, the correlation between the two can be seen. Luke leaves off with the resurrected Lord being raptured into heaven, after commissioning His disciples to preach the message of the kingdom, and commanding them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:47-51). The opening to Acts summarizes this ending (1:1-2), and also mentions Jesus' command to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father (1:4); a clear connection to Luke's summary in his gospel. The correlation is perfect. Then Luke reiterates Jesus' resurrection and speaks of certain statements Jesus' made to His disciples, followed by His ascension into heaven (Acts 1:4-11).
The Theme of the Gospel According to Luke
The theme of Luke's gospel is difficult to pinpoint. There are many underlying sub-themes such as an interest in those who were not notable. This would include Luke's mention and portrayal of women (7:11-12, 37-50; 8:2-3; 10:38-42; 13:11), children (7:31-35; 9:47), the disreputable (2:8-20; 5:30; 7:37-50), and the poor (4:18; 6:30;14:11-13, 21; 16:19-31). Luke was also interested in humbling the rich (1:53; 6:20, 24; 12:16-21; 16:1-12, 19-35; 19:1-10; 18:18-27), the Holy Spirit (1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27; 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18; 10:21; 11:13; 12:12; 24:49), and prayer.
The overall theme of the book, however, is how God's plan of salvation has been manifest in Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind regardless of their socio-economic background, and the spread of this message from among the Jewish people to include the Gentiles.
The structure of the gospel seems to be geographical. Luke begins with Jesus ministering in Galilee, but then the focus is turned toward Jerusalem. The arrival at Jerusalem is climactic, being anticipated several times in the text. The shift occurs in Luke 9:51 where Luke comments, "And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem...." The turn towards Jerusalem begins here, and other interjections keep reminding the reader that Jesus is Jerusalem-bound (Luke 13:22; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11, 28). Finally, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. After beholding the city, He entered the temple, thus completing Luke's Jerusalem-bent emphasis (19:41-45). It was here that the culmination of God's redemption plan took place.
The Theme of the Acts of the Apostles
The purpose of Acts is also difficult to identify. There have been many ideas purported for Luke's purpose in writing this history of the early church. As in Luke's gospel, Acts may have multiple sub-themes. It may be apologetic to the Roman government, demonstrating that the Christian religion should be tolerated along with the other religions of the Roman world. Luke demonstrated this by showing that the city officers of Philippi, Gallio, the towns clerk of Ephesus, Felix, Festus, and King Herod Agrippa II (all Roman officials) could not find anything wrong or dangerous with the Christian faith. It was not a threat to the Roman empire. Evidence supporting this view can be witnessed by the large amount of space given to Paul's trials and the response of various Roman officials. Almost one-fourth of the book is taken up with the subject (the bulk of which appears in chapters 22-28). Included in this number are the defenses of the Christian faith taking place in front of Jewish authorities (Acts 4:1-23; 5:17-40; 6:9-7:60).
It also seems that Luke may have been attempting to vindicate Paul from charges by Judaizing Christians that he was against the Law and the Jewish people. He demonstrated that this was not true by repeatedly showing how Paul offered the gospel first to the Jew, and then to the Gentile once it was rejected by the Jews. The fact that Luke points out Paul's acceptance of the Jerusalem council's decision (Acts 15:22-35), the circumcision of Timothy (16:3), the performance of Jewish vows according to the Law (18:18; 21:17-26), and his claim to be a Pharisee (23:6), would allow his Jewish brethren to see that the things they had heard about Paul were not true.
There are countless other suggestions pertaining to the purposes for the book. One such suggestion is that the book was intended for evangelism. This does not seem to be the case. The book is addressed to Theophilus who, apparently, was already a believer (Luke 1:1-4).1 The very substance of the book was edification for a believer, not a case for the unbeliever. Although the book could be used to lead someone to Christ, it is not likely that this was Luke's purpose in writing it.
As the Gospel of Luke had geographical importance attached to Jesus' movement toward Jerusalem, Acts has geographical importance attached to Rome. Acts shows the movement of the gospel from Jerusalem (the capital of the Jewish people) to Rome (the capital of the Gentile people). This theme is foreshadowed in Acts 1:8 when Jesus told His disciples that they would be witnesses of His resurrection in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. As Luke's turning point was in 9:51 where we read that Jesus "stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem," the turning point of Acts is found in 19:21 where Paul says, "I must also see Rome." As Jesus was determined to make it to Jerusalem, Paul was determined to make it to Rome. From Acts 19:21 onward Paul's life is leading him to Rome, where he arrives in 28:16 and is able to preach the gospel. Luke has shown Jesus' words concerning the spread of the gospel (1:8) to be true. The gospel had reached the ends of the earth despite insurmountable obstacles. God's plan could not be thwarted.
Central Message of Luke's Bi-Volume Work
Having examined the purpose and themes of the two books, we will now examine the way in which the two companion books work together to communicate one central message. Containing an accurate report, the Gospel According to Luke and the Book of Acts together describe the historical foundation of the Christian faith through the acts and teachings of Jesus Christ, culminating in His Passion; and the continuance of His ministry and teachings through His Holy Ghost filled apostles and believers, who delivered the message of salvation, accomplished through Jesus Christ (the ultimate fulfillment of God's revelation to man), and the kingdom of God, to the ends of the earth. Luke shows how God's plan, as foretold and foreshadowed in the Old Testament, was fulfilled in Jesus, and had continued to unfold in the history of the early church.
Just as Luke's gospel shows Jesus' shift toward Gentiles when rejected by His own people, the Jews, Acts also shows the church's shift from being predominantly Jewish to predominantly Gentile and the changes that occurred as a result. From the beginning of the church in Acts 2 the church had been composed strictly of those born Jewish or proselytized to Judaism. The major turning point in Acts is Cornelius' salvation, along with the two subsequent meetings concerning the salvation of Gentiles (Acts 10:1-11:18; 15:1-29). After this, the church becomes predominantly Gentile with Paul's missions to the Gentile world, and the rejection of the gospel by the majority of the Jews living in Palestine and throughout the Diaspora (Acts 13-28).
Though Luke's gospel and the Book of Acts are commonly viewed as two unrelated books, it has been demonstrated textually that they were intended to be connected together as companion books by the author, and that the major themes of each work, along with the geographical-anticipatory movement, each coincide with one another to sing a beautiful harmony of the surety of all that Jesus began to do and teach, and the continuance of His ministry through His Holy Ghost filled church to the ends of the earth.
1. Luke said that one of the purposes for his writing was to give Theophilus a sense of certainty concerning the things in which he had been instructed (Luke 1:4). He was not being instructed for the first time, but was having confirmed that which he had already been instructed in. This shows that Luke's slant was toward confirmation and edification of a believer, not the salvation of an unbeliever. That is not to say, however, that an unbeliever could not be led to salvation through these works. Since Acts was written to the same individual, it would follow that this book too was intended for confirmation and edification, not the salvation of the unsaved. <back>
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