A Pattern in Acts
“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b) “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
The beginning chapter of Acts has a verse in it that is thought to an outline of the book. Acts 1:8 promises that Jesus’ disciples will be empowered and become his witnesses in outward expanding circles. First, they will be witnesses in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), then in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8-15), and finally to the ends of the earth (Acts 16-28). This geographical rendering has long been considered a helpful structure to place the events of Acts.
There is another way also to identify a structure in the book of Acts—this one is a thematic one, with some recurring phrases. Below I point you to a short alternative structure.
Although the customary geographical outline of Acts (from 1:8) is helpful and makes some good points, it also may not touch all the bases. For all the high literary quality contained in Dr. Luke’s Second Volume, this geographical outline may fail to grasp other literary clues. One writer notes a clear example: “The end of Paul’s second ‘journey’ (Acts 18:22) and beginning of his third (Acts 18:23) has no literary fanfare whatsoever. No closure. No sense of climax and resolution. Nothing to signal the end of one unit of thought and the beginning of another. It’s as though Luke didn’t intend a break there, or a new section to begin at Acts 18:23.”
Quite a few academics and pastors have focused on an outline of Acts based on a recurring theme. This repeated theme, in fact, may provide a clue to sections in the development and spread of early Christianity. The seven refrains that may seek to mark the conclusion of an episode occur in Acts 2:47, 6:7, 9:31, 12:24, 16:5, 19:20, 28:30-31.
Could this phraseology not be a great example of scripture interpreting scripture? In each of these refrains, the church overcomes some opposition and the blessing of God is stated.
If so, the Kingdom of God marches on and clears every hurdle. The growth and progress of Christ’s church cannot be stopped by:
- The physical absence of Jesus – Acts 1:1-2:47
- The pressure of political suppression, whether sacred or secular – Acts 3:1-6:7
- The opposition and resulting scattering of the church (which only served to export the faith in far greater measure) – Acts 6:8-9:31
- The universal temptation of prejudice – Acts 9:32-12:24
- The imperfections of various leaders – Acts 12:25-16:5
- The opposition of the world – Acts 16:6-19:20
- The failure of empires and emperors – Acts 19:21-28:31
We’ve already passed one of those refrains in Acts 2:47: “. . . praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” As we continue our series, let your ears perk up at the next instance of this in Acts 6:7: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
As we come to Acts 9:31 and 12:24, etc., this drumbeat continues. As it continues, it encourages us to trust God to manage, nurture, and expand his church. After all, it is HIS church. And we are blessed to participate in this great work.