The Acts Of The Apostles
St. Luke is the author of the Acts of the Apostles, which continues the story of his Gospel.
That the two books had the same writer is clear from their introductions and from their continuity.
They are, in essence, a single narrative, yet they were rarely found as a single combined work in manuscript form.
As in the Gospel, Acts is addressed to Theophilus (“beloved of God”), who is either a person or a symbol of the Christian faithful in general.
The Acts of the Apostles, like Luke, offers no acknowledgement of the destruction of Jerusalem AD 70 or of persecutions of Christians in Rome beginning AD 64.
Furthermore, it ends with St. Paul still under house arrest awaiting trial in Rome around AD 62.
Therefore, it is likely that Acts was written around AD 62 or 63.
As with his Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles is directed to a broad audience that includes both Gentiles and Jews of the Diaspora as well as probably even the people of Samaria.
His purpose was to describe the growth and strength of the fledgling Church to the broader community of believers.
The Acts of the Apostles describes the activities of the Apostles immediately following the Ascension of Christ as they received the Holy Spirit and boldly preached the Gospel.
It shows their transformation from timid men into articulate and assertive witnesses for Christ as they endured persecution and hardship while achieving great success in winning converts.
St. Luke’s narrative displays the authority of St. Peter deftly, established by Christ as the head of the Apostles, and his role in guiding the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, particularly in dealing with the issues of Apostolic Succession and of welcoming Gentiles into the Church.
The latter half of Acts details the missionary journeys of St. Paul, of which St. Luke was at least an occasional eyewitness.
His message is that the Gospel message is meant for both Jews and Gentiles and that St. Paul’s extraordinary call by Christ renders him an Apostle.
His treatment of St. Paul is almost apologetic as he affirms his apostolic status through a series of parallels with the ministry of St. Peter, including the content of their preaching, their ability to heal the crippled and raise the dead, their being filled with the Holy Spirit and their ability to confer the same, and their miraculous deliverances from imprisonment.
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Acts 1:1-5 The Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke as a continuation of his Gospel and was addressed to an audience already familiar with his previous book. The author offers a very brief summary of the Gospel before continuing into the story of the early Church.
Theophilus: A Greek word meaning “loved by God.” It could have been referring to an individual, but more likely it is a personification of the entire Christian community. (CCC 512-513)
Ch 1:3-4 Many proofs: The empty tomb and the many appearances of the risen Christ attest to the truth of his Resurrection.
Forty days: The number forty represents a period of preparation, such as the forty days and nights of the great Flood (cf. Gn 7:4), the number of days Moses was on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments (cf. Ex 34:28), and the period Christ fasted in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry (cf. Mt 4:1-2).
Speaking of the kingdom of God: Christ spent these forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension providing his Apostles with further instruction for their coming mission. The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated forty days after Easter. (CCC 639, 659)
Ch 1:6-11 Despite all they had witnessed and all they had been taught, the Apostles still expected Christ would reestablish an earthly kingdom for his people such as existed in the time of David. Their ignorance or lack of insight remained because the Holy Spirit had not yet descended upon them, which would happen only after his Ascension into Heaven. Christ pushed aside the question to remind them of the coming gift of the Holy Spirit and their divine mission to take the Gospel to all corners of the world. It was not Christ’s role to reveal whether the Father had any such plans for an earthly kingdom but to bring salvation to every person. (CC 474, 672-673, 1287)
Ch 1:8 The language used here (“come upon you”) to describe the descent of the Holy Spirit is similar to that expressed by Gabriel in describing how Mary would conceive the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35), indicating that it is one and the same Spirit.
Witnesses: The Greek is martys, from which “martyr” is derived; a martyr bears witness to the Faith even unto death. The Apostles would bear witness to Christ not only with their words but also by laying down their lives.
Jerusalem...end of the earth: Sometimes referred to as the theology of geography, a blueprint for the spread of the Gospel, beginning in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria and from there to the entire Gentile world. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the mission of Christ had been entrusted to the Apostles. (CCC 686, 730, 735, 857, 942)
Ch 1:9-11 In Christ’s last post-Resurrection appearance on earth, he ascended into Heaven. Only he who had descended from Heaven could ascend into Heaven. By his return to the Father, Christ took on his role of Advocate on our behalf.
Two men: Angels who announced that Christ would return.
In the same way: Christ will return just as he departed, coming down from Heaven on a cloud on the last day to act as judge of every individual both living and dead.
A cloud: In Scripture, a cloud is often a symbol of God in veiled glory. (CCC 333, 659, 661, 665, 678-679, 697)
Ch 1:12-26 Luke reveals much about the hierarchy and teaching authority of the early Church. Christ instituted the Apostles as a college or assembly with Peter at its head. Peter was clearly recognized as the spiritual leader of the Church and the Vicar of Christ on earth. He is mentioned fifty-six times in this book and is always presented in a position of authority. It was Peter who called for an election of the Apostle to replace Judas, who betrayed Christ and had since died. The number twelve symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel, and it was important for there to be twelve Apostles for the establishment of the Church at Pentecost. (CCC 85, 880, 881)
Ch 1:14 Mary, Mother of the Church, prayed with the Apostles as they awaited the promised Holy Spirit, who would teach, guide, and strengthen them. Likewise, prayerful preparation for the reception of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, puts us in a better disposition, increasing our capacity to profit from the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is through prayer that the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and at the same time transforms our life into the life of Christ. (CCC 721, 726, 963, 965, 1310, 2617, 2623, 2373)
Ch 1:20 Office: The Greek episkope connotes a position of lawful authority. The early Church used this to describe the office of bishop (cf. 1 Tm 3:1). The election of Matthias is the first example of Apostolic Succession. The Pope and bishops trace their office in an unbroken line to the Apostles and, thus, are their true successors. (CCC 77, 1087, 1555, 1576)
Ch 1:21-22 The criterion for choosing Judas’s successor was that the candidate had to have been a witness to Christ’s entire public ministry and to his Resurrection. The Apostles were eyewitnesses to the ministry of Christ and his Resurrection. (CCC 642, 995)
Ch 1:26 Cast lots: A manner of selection similar to drawing straws. The Apostles believed that God had already made the decision and would reveal his choice for the new Apostle in this manner.
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
The Letter of Paul to the Romans
St. Paul, the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” who was called personally by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, is the undisputed author of Romans.
Born a Jew of the Diaspora, he was a Roman citizen by birth and a rabbinical Pharisee and a rhetorician by education.
Because his mission was primarily to the Gentile Christians outside Palestine, St. Paul wrote his Epistles in Greek, which required the expression of the truths of the Faith in a different language and to a new culture, resulting in the assimilation of the concepts that have influenced the development of Christian thought greatly.
Considering the evidence from both Romans and the Acts of the Apostles regarding St. Paul’s efforts to raise funds for the Christian community of Jerusalem (cf. Rom 15:25-29; Acts 20:1-3), scholars agree that St. Paul wrote this Epistle AD 57 or 58, toward the end of his third missionary journey while he was in Corinth.
Although not his first Epistle chronologically, it is placed first among his writings in the canon perhaps because it is arguably his most important Epistle and lays the foundation for his preaching and theology.
As the title indicates, this Epistle was written to the Christian community in Rome, which was thriving in a predominantly pagan environment.
There were few Jewish synagogues in Rome at the time, and Christianity first arrived probably by way of pilgrims returning from Jerusalem.
It took root soon among the Gentiles of Rome.
St. Paul wrote this Epistle before his first visit to Rome, when the Christian community probably was still attached to the synagogues.
He arrived in Rome eventually, spending his first years there under house arrest until his execution around AD 64 to 67)
The encompassing theme of Romans is that sinful people are incapable of redeeming themselves.
We find redemption not by the observance of the Law but through the gratuitous gift of grace obtained through faith in Christ, made possible by his Death and Resurrection (cf. 5:1-21).
From the context of Romans, it appears that both the Jewish and Gentile Christians suffered from excessive pride, with the Jews claiming superiority as the Chosen People and the Gentiles believing that they had replaced Israel as the New People of God.
St. Paul assured both groups of their equal guilt for sin as well as their equal standing in the Church.
God has remained true to his covenant to Israel but has expanded his embrace to include “all Israel,” he wrote, because Gentiles who respond to his grace become part of Israel in the way that a branch is grafted onto a living tree.
Israel, in the restoration, not unites Jews and Gentiles alike (cf. Chapter 11).
During the Protestant Reformation some misinterpreted St. Paul’s words to teach that salvation is derived from “faith alone.”
The Catholic and patristic views, however, has always understood the necessity of both faith and works in God’s plan of salvation.
As St. Paul asserted, the gift of grace is a prerequisite for fulfilling the moral law and in fact demands that we do so.
Good works and the keeping of the moral law comprise our proper response to this grace and our living out the New Commandment of Love.
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition 2006)
Romans 1:1-15 At the time he wrote this letter, Paul had not yet visited the Christian community in Rome. Writing from Corinth, he introduced himself as “an apostle” and declared his wish to help strengthen the faithful and win new converts by preaching the Gospel. He called himself “a servant of Jesus Christ,” because he had dedicated himself to carrying out the mission that Christ had entrusted to him. The phrase could also be translated “a slave of Christ,” which mirrors the life of Christ who, as Paul would later write, chose to take the “form of a servant” (cf. Phil 2:7) to bring about our salvation. The vocation to Holy Orders is a call to serve Christ and his Church in persona Christi capitis (“in the Person of Christ the Head). (CCC 876)
Ch 1:2-4 Designated Son of God...from the dead: Christ in his divine nature is the co-eternal Son of God. With his Resurrection and the glorification of his Body, his redemptive work and his divine Sonship would be fully recognized.
Descended from David: Scripture had foretold that the Messiah would come from the ancestral line of King David. (CCC 445, 437, 496, 516-518, 648)
Ch 1:5 Obedience of faith: This refers to the full and wholehearted acceptance of the Gospel, the “good news” of salvation won for us by Christ. We correspond to the gift of faith, which is a light to the intellect and impulse to the will, by freely assenting to both this light and impulse. Our model for this obedience of faith is Mary, whose humble and trusting response to the angel made possible the Incarnation (cf. Lk 1:38). (CCC 26, 50-53, 142-144, 154, 494, 2087)
Ch 1:7 Saints: Paul often referred to the Christian faithful in this way. In common usage, we usually reserve this word for those who have died and have been canonized by a formal process. However, the Church recognizes the “Communion of Saints,” which includes the Pilgrim Church on earth (those faithful still living), the Church Suffering (those who are in Purgatory), and the rest of the Church who enjoy the direct vision of God (those who are in Heaven). This use of the word “saints” emphasizes the universal call to holiness, which was understood by the early Church. (CCC 946-948, 954-962, 2813)
Ch 1:8 Your faith is proclaimed in all the world: There was much travel and commerce between Palestine and Rome in the first century. No doubt Christianity was introduced and flourished at least in part through the witness of Christian travelers. Later in the letter, we will learn that Prisca and Aquila-the couple who had left Rome when the Jews were expelled by the Emperor Claudius several years earlier and with whom Paul worked in Corinth and Ephesus-were back in Rome by this time. In the same way, word spread that the Christian community in Rome was thriving. Even though he had never visited Rome, Paul would also have been known to the Roman Christians at least by reputation for the same reason. (CCC 674)
Ch 1:14-17 Greeks and to barbarians: At the time of Christ, those who spoke languages other than Greek were called barbarians. Salvation is available to both Jews and non-Jews whose faith makes them righteous, that is, accepting of God’s mercy and forgiveness that brings the promise of eternal life.
To the Jew first: Christ’s instructions were to preach the Gospel first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and lastly to the Gentiles who populated the rest of the world (cf. Acts 1:8). (CCC 1310, 2623, 2673)
Ch 1:17 Faith for faith: The life of Jesus Christ and his teaching form the nucleus of our faith, clarified by tradition and taught by the Church. These truths are meant to be fully lived and practiced.
Righteousness: The term refers both to God’s fulfillment of his promises to Israel and to the gift of grace that allows persons to enter into a loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. (CCC 1814)
Ch 1:18-32 To exemplify the opposite of righteousness, Paul described the immoral lifestyles of the ancient world. The existence of God is readily knowable through natural means because God reveals himself through his creation. Nevertheless, they mainly ignored the Revelation of God in creation and, thus, rejected God and made themselves idols to worship. It followed that they ignored any semblance of objective morality. Perverse sexual practices, hateful dispositions, and violent behavior characterized the lives of a significant portion of the population. Those who have faith in God bear some responsibility for the spread of ignorance of God and a lack of objective morality due to their failure to more perfectly reflect the sanctity of Jesus Christ. (CCC 398, 404-406, 2087, 2125)
Ch 1:19-23 God wants to reveal his truth to every individual. A preamble to the fullness of the truth contained in the Gospel is implicit Revelation of the existence of God through creation. Moreover, God inscribes the heart of every human person with a knowledge of the natural law, which grants us a natural ability, within the reach of human reason, to differentiate good from evil.
Minds were darkened: Habitually consenting to and continuing in sin has a deleterious effect upon our free will and our ability to discern right and wrong. The intellect and heart can become so corrupted that we become enslaved to sin. (CCC 32-34, 287, 1147, 1776, 1954)
Ch 1:24-25 God gave them up: God does not force his grace and mercy upon any person out of respect for our free will. When sinners persist in sin by rejecting the objective moral law written on their hearts, God allows them to remain in the state they have chosen.
Exchanged the truth about God for a lie: The Catholic Church was established by Christ, and it is the will of God that all people be united in this communion. The Church is the Sacrament of Salvation, the conduit of God’s grace through which all-even those who are not formally members of the Church-receive redemption. While divisions between theological and doctrinal differences exist between the Catholic Church and other Christian churches and communities, the Church recognizes a strong commonality in many beliefs. Even among non-Christians, the Church shares solidarity in certain shared beliefs and in our common origin and destination as fellow members of the human race. (CCC 841-845)
Ch 1:26-27 Dishonorable passions: Included are all sexual relations outside of marriage. The descriptions in these verses may cover more than one type of perverse sexual behavior, but stated explicitly among these are homosexual acts. The Church does not profess to know the cause of homosexual inclination, but the moral issue remains the same regardless of its origin. Homosexual, or same-sex, attraction-though not sinful-is objectively disordered in that these inclinations do not tend toward sexual complementarity, which is ordered to the unity of the spouses and the procreation of new life. Homosexual acts, on the other hand, are always intrinsically disordered and gravely sinful. The Church recognizes that persons who suffer same-sex attraction often endure it as a heavy cross to carry. She invites persons with homosexual inclinations to live self-denial, pray, stay close to the Sacraments, and remain active in the Church as they seek a life of chastity. (CCC 1768-1775, 2357)
Ch 1:28-32 Approve those who practice them: Lacking a sound moral conscience, the pagans would find such sinful behaviors quite acceptable. This attitude tacitly encourages sin. (CCC 1777, 1852)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
If the cross is the coronation of Jesus as the messianic king, and if Jesus’ resurrection marks the momentous beginnings of a new creation, then the story of Jesus’ kingship needs a kingdom, and the first day of the new creation can only mean more work lies ahead.
Who becomes a king without intending to rule and build a kingdom?
What does the first day of a new creation mean if not the tilling of creation’s garden so that it bears much fruit?
This is precisely the story that the Acts of the Apostles intends to tell.
Through his Church, Jesus extends his kingdom to the end of the earth, and all who are baptized into Christ are made new creations bearing the abundant fruit of life in the Holy Spirit.
St. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, sets out the three sections of this period when he recalls Jesus’ words to the apostles, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Act one of this period will focus on Jesus’ sending of his Spirit and the apostles’ witness to those in Jerusalem.
Act two will see the scattering of the early Christians due to persecution with the result that the gospel reaches into Judea and Samaria.
Finally, act three will highlight the Church’s mission to the Gentiles and the expansion of the gospel to the end of the earth.
Act 1: Witnesses in Jerusalem
The “Acts” of the Apostles
In the same way that the title “gospel” evoked the biography of a king to its first-century readers, the title “Acts” in Acts of the Apostles likewise evoked a royal literary genre.
The importance of “acts” (in Greek, praxis) goes back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who observed that history cannot teach us universals because what happens is by chance and accident.
However, Aristotle noted that there is practical value to be gained from the study of history.
By observing the virtuous deeds and actions (praxis) of great men, one can learn the habits necessary for building up the polis (city-state).
The most famous and important “Acts” in the first century were the “Acts (praxis) of Caesar Augustus” recorded in A.D. 14.
The deeds (praxis) of Augustus were published not only to give him honor but to provide an example for imitation.
In other words, the deeds of Augustus provided the example for how the city and kingdom of Rome was to be built up.
By evoking this literary genre, Luke is saying that the deeds (praxis) of the apostles illustrate the kind of virtuous life necessary for building a new civilization—and not just any civilization, but the Kingdom of God.
Just as the deeds (praxis) of Augustus established the great Roman Imperium, the deeds of the apostles build up the new universal Imperium, the Kingdom of God (or, as St. Augustine will later describe it, the “City of God”).
Luke begins Acts by reminding Theophilus that in his earlier book (i.e., the gospel of Luke), he related “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1; emphasis added).
This short statement highlights Luke’s understanding that the story of Jesus in the gospels continues in the life of the Church.
Indeed, a careful reading of Acts reveals that the stories of Peter and Paul contain many important parallels to the story of Jesus.
In writing his two works, Luke communicated what he learned from Paul—namely, that the life of Jesus is embodied and continued in the Church, his Body.
As Acts opens, Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the “promise of the Father,” which is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4).
Forty days after his resurrection, the apostles “see Jesus lifted up” as he ascends into heaven, a seemingly small point but one pregnant with meaning.
Just before Elijah was taken up to heaven, his disciple Elisha asked if he could receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kgs 2:9).
Elijah responded that if Elisha saw him as he ascended to heaven that would be a sign that Elisha would receive his request.
Elisha saw Elijah ascend and went forth outdoing Elijah in mighty deeds and miracles.
Now the disciples see Jesus ascend to heaven, and, like Elisha, they will soon receive the gift of God’s Spirit at Pentecost and go forth performing mighty deeds.
Peter takes the role of apostolic leader. He quotes two psalms that speak of a righteous sufferer betrayed by a friend and applies these to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.
Quoting from Psalm 69:25, Peter says, “His office let another take” (Acts 1:20).
The twelve apostles function not only as witnesses of Jesus but also as office holders in his Kingdom.
When one dies, another must take the apostolic office, indicating the importance of organization and leadership in the Church at its very outset.
This organization takes the shape of a new Israel, with twelve overseers who recall the twelve sons of Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel.
The fact that the apostles cast lots to choose Matthias, a faithful disciple and witness to Jesus, to fill the vacant apostolic office has importance in light of Israel’s story.
In the Davidic kingdom, the priestly duties of the sons of Aaron, who were “officers of the sanctuary and officers of God,” were assigned according to lot (1 Chr 24:5).
By casting lots to choose Judas’ replacement, who will take up the duties of the apostolic office in Jesus’ kingdom, Peter and the disciples indicate their understanding that the apostolic office is a priestly office.
The casting of lots for priestly service also recalls the opening story of Luke’s gospel, in which the priest Zachariah was chosen by lot to serve at the altar of incense.
Thus, the story of Jesus (in the gospel of Luke) opened with a priest chosen by lot in the Temple at Jerusalem, and now the story of the Church (in the Acts of the Apostles) begins in Jerusalem with the casting of lots and a new priestly order.
The Temple sets the stage for God’s actions in both stories.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)