Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Closer Look at Acts: Part 2, A Geographically Ordered Pattern

As we continue to explore the Book of Acts and all (well, at least some) of its intricacies, we look at the organization of the book today. Remember that much of this information comes from the Commentary from my friend and professor Dr. W. E. Nunnally, which is not available yet, but should be soon (I will be sure to post when it is). It is a must buy for every serious student of the Bible.

We move onto the issue at hand: the Geographical Organization of Acts. To quote Nunnally, "The Book of Acts is dominated by the organizational patter of geographical movement." This pattern is first shown in an "outline" of sorts in Acts 1:8 where Jesus says "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts then follows this general outline of geography in its story. We see the Church being born in Jerusalem (Acts 2). It begins to grow at an alarming rate as people are healed and the simple Gospel of the resurrection is preached. Then, with the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7), the Church begins to scatter because of the intense persecution. We then see Phillip in Samaria in Acts 8 where we read that he "proclaimed the Messiah there." Thus, we have moved from the first point in the outline to the second (i.e. Jerusalem and the surrounding area of Judea to Samaria). With chapter 9 comes Saul's conversion, who will be the man who takes the Gospel to the ends of the earth. In chapter 10 we see another transition as Peter has his vision and visits Cornelius in Caesarea. The rest of the Book of Acts focuses on part of what Jesus referred to lastly in Acts 1:8, "the ends of the earth."

Why is this important? Is this merely an aesthetic observation? No. There seem to be several reasons that this is significant. I will list three of them here:

1. "[Luke] held a rather ironic view of history." (Nunnally pg 26)
The Roman Empire was expanding in this day in age from west to east, a fact that every person who lived within its control would be aware of. In contrast, the Kingdom of God was expanding as well, but in reverse order. We see "the Gospel march from the spiritual capital of the world (Jerusalem) to the political capital of the world (Rome) and the conquerors became the conquered" (Nunnally pg 26).

2. In another bit of irony, Acts works in reverse fashion from the Book of Luke, its previous volume. In Luke, the focus seems to be on Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, which reaches its climax in Luke 19. A large portion of the Gospel up to that point is focused on Jesus' journey to this spiritual capital. As lake's former book culminates in Jerusalem, his second book starts there and spreads outward.

3. Lastly, the Book of Acts "provides the only early record of the history behind the Gospel jumping over Palestinian Jewish boundaries and out into and throughout the Gentile world" (pg 26). Luke illustrates how the Gospel is not limited by geography, and infers that it is also not limited by time, nationality, ethnicity, previous religious orientation, etc. This is an important idea to grasp from the writings of Luke.

I find joy in noticing the mega-themes in scripture. Luke has plenty in his writings, and I will continue to expound upon them here.


Michael Pendleton said...

Hello! I found my way here from Gordons site.

I found point number two very interesting. I have never thought of it being the reverse of Luke.

Joel Maners said...

One thing that interests me about the book of Acts is the whole idea behind why it was written. To me, the writer seems to want to create a sense of unity among the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch and the churches of Asia. I'm sure that these early Christian communities felt isolated, especially during time of persecution. At the time, the Gnostic church in Egypt as a growing influence and it looked like Gnosticism could take over Pauline theology.

Imagine the comfort you would have felt knowing that you are a part of a world wide community of believers, connected to both the past (Jerusalem) and the future (Antioch). It's also comforting knowing that all of those people in your spiritual family care for you (Paul sending a collection to the Jerusalem church). Acts to me is the story of God forming 1 people out of 2 (Geniles and Jews). For too long we have missed this broad theme, trying instead to just jump to the patternistic proof texts that we want to pull out.