A Courthouse Document
As we start into the book of Acts here are some thoughts as to why it was written, which I found both interesting and helpful. They give insight into the mind of the writer and help us understand the impact of the message amongst the gentile churches.
- " In my former book Theophilus..." Acts 1:1
Who was Theophilus? His name means “God Friendly”, so some think it is a symbolic name for those readers who would be considered friends of God. However in his Gospel, Luke refers to him as Most Excellent Theophilus, suggesting he is an actual person, and perhaps a wealthy sponsor who commissioned Luke to write his accounts. David Pawson is of the opinion that Theophilus was probably a defence Lawyer for Paul during his trial in Rome, or perhaps even one of the judges. He suggests Luke’s intention in writing his Gospel and Acts, was to give a full and accurate account of how the Christian faith had developed, so that those present would have a thorough understanding of Christianity and see that the Apostle Paul was unjustly accused of wrongdoing by the Jews. Some of his reasons for thinking this include;
- In Acts ch 24 & 25 Festus and Felix were both Roman Governors who Paul encountered during his journey to Rome. They too were each referred to as “Most Excellent”, in a similar way to Theophilus.
- Both Luke and Acts portray the Romans very sympathetically towards the new faith. In Luke Pilate says 3 times that Jesus was innocent, and in Acts the Roman authorities state 3 times that Paul could have been released had he not appealed to Cesar. Paul is regularly depicted as a Roman Citizen, innocent by Roman Law. Hence the Jews are portrayed as the trouble makers, not the Romans.
- Luke includes a lot of detail when recounting the time Paul was shipwrecked on Malta (ch27), but barely mentions his other 3 shipwrecks. This could be because Luke not only wanted to highlight Paul's exemplary behaviour in not attempting to escape, but also his commitment to saving the lives of all on board, including his Roman captors, who were responsible for delivering him safely to the Roman court.
- If the primary purpose of writing Acts was to give an account of the early church, we would expect to hear more about the other Apostles and what church life was like. As it is, after Paul's conversion in ch 9, the story is very Paul oriented, to the extent that it includes his testimony 3 times.
- The form in which the book is written is very factual and detailed – perfect for a legal argument. It has been praised by historians as one of the most accurate and precise documents of the Roman Empire at the time, telling a story which covers 10,000 miles, 30 years, 32 leaders, 54 cities, 9 islands, and naming 95 people with their title, position and the authority they held.
- Finally, this theory would also help explain why Acts finishes so abruptly. It doesn't include the outcome of Paul's trial or details of his death. Since Luke outlived Paul, had his purpose in writing been to give an account of Paul's life, you would expect this information to be included.
Of course this is only a theory, but it might help explain why some things have been included and other things left out. Luke would have been very aware that his writings would be widely spread, so likely wrote with the dual purpose of defending Paul and declaring the wonder of God through this new faith.
Whatever Luke's motivations were in writing his accounts, it is important to remember that Acts is not just a letter to Theophilus, but it is a God inspired message to the church for all time. It gives context and backbone to the rest of the New Testament, without it we wouldn’t have a clue who Paul was, where the Gentile churches came from or how Paul came to write to them. We wouldn’t even know what happened after Jesus’ ascension.
So for anyone wanting to understand the Bible and the history of the church, the book of Acts is not only exciting and inspiring, it is essential reading!
If you were a judge at Paul's trial, what would you make of the things you read in this book?