The book of Acts starts with the phrase, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” It is common knowledge that the former book Luke mentions is what we call the Gospel of Luke and uncommon knowledge exactly who Theophilus was. The Gospel of Luke is anonymous as is the book of Acts. Luke has been pegged as the author based on several things including the “we” passages (Acts 16:11; 20:6, 13, 15; 21:1-3) that indicate the author of Acts was a traveling companion of Paul on the 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys. That has traditionally pointed people to Luke as the author of both books.
In the Gospel of Luke, Luke tells us that he gathered the information to write his Gospel from witnesses. Acts, however, was written at least in part from first hand/eyewitness experience (again, the “we” passages.)
We don’t know who Theophilus was. He was either a real person or a symbolic name. The name means “friend of God” or “Loved by God” and if intended to be symbolic by Luke would then by intended by Luke to address all who are friends of God rather than for a particular individual named Theophilus. I believe he was a real individual but the books were certainly written for a broader audience than just one person.
The books of Luke and Acts are a 2 volume set and Luke wants to make sure we (at least all friends of God) remember that. I enjoy studying Luke-Acts with seekers and new Christians because it gives the whole story from start to finish without having to jump to another author. There is continuity as you go from one to the other that is helpful in understanding the broader story.
In Jesus and the Gospels (p.162), Craig Blomberg points to one detail of Luke’s arrangement of these two books that I find compelling. It is a technique used many times in scripture called chiastic structure where an author works makes several points toward a central/main point and then makes similar points in his initial points in reverse order to conclude the thought. Sometimes you will see commentaries label this with letters like
In case you were wondering, this is where the term chiastic comes from, the form of the letter chi χ. Here is Blomberg’s chart on the structure of Luke-Acts as a whole.
The key verse in pulling this together is Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That is the backwards order of the Gospel of Luke which ends in Jerusalem backing out through Judea, Samaria into Galilee and starting with Luke’s giving details about the larger Gentile world in the circumstances of the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-3 for instance).
The problem with “verse of the day” theology is that you miss the big picture. You don’t see the flow of the story or the connecting pieces. There is much that is missed by atomizing the scriptures down to chunks that might make for an inspiring plaque or t-shirt but don’t necessarily inform you theologically or make the point that the writers of scripture were making.
Luke and Acts are very purposefully connected and it is clear that Luke himself wants those who read Acts to understand that. Luke reminds us that Acts will be tough to follow unless we remember all that happened in the Luke’s Gospel. Luke’s Gospel and Acts are both more difficult to comprehend well if you don’t know your Old Testament. My next post will address Israel’s scriptural story being played out in the pages of Luke-Acts.