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New Testament – Acts

Authors J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays break up this particular chapter into 5 subsections, all in an effort to showcase the proper method of interpreting Acts. In focus, for this post, are the last two subsections: How Is Acts Organized? and Grasping the Message of Acts.

How Is Acts Organized? According to Duvall and Hays, the key to understanding how Acts unfolds is in the very beginning: “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Chapters 1-6 chronicle the expansion of the gospel in Jerusalem, Chapters 6-12 follow the expansion to Judea and Samaria, and the rest focus on the remotest parts of the earth.[1] While the focus seems to, first, center on Peter and the apostles and then Paul and his ministry, the true main character of this book is the Holy Spirit as He moves powerfully through the hearts of many.

Grasping the Message of Acts: For this particular venture we must still look to the two interpretive questions/principles from Chapter 15: “(1) What is the central message of each episode? (2) What is Luke telling his readers by the way he puts the individual stories and speeches together to form the larger narrative?”[2] Apart from these two questions as interpretive guides, there is still a bigger interpretive challenge to face: Should we understand Acts to be normative (that is, establishing a standard for us to follow) or descriptive (that is, simply describing a situation in history)?

Duvall and Hays believe that a both/and approach to this question works best; that is, we are to take some parts as descriptive and some as normative. To distinguish which ones are normative for all Christians, we must be aware of what Luke intended to communicate to his readers in a given passage. Noticing repeated themes and patterns helps us in this regard, as well as paying close attention to the text, as it will clarify itself on occasion. For example, when the apostles chose Matthias to replace Judas in Acts 1:23-26, they cast lots. So are we supposed to cast lots today when we choose leaders in the church or ministry? Well, if we pay attention to the overall theme of God’s guiding His people in Acts, we find a number of different methods: angels (8:26; 12:7), His Spirit (8:39; 10:19; 16:6-7), visions (9:10-12; 16:9-10), the Scriptures (1:20; 8:30-35; 18:24-26), circumstances (3:1-10; 8:1), etc.[3] “What is normative is not so much how God guides his people, but that God guides his people. The one constant is that God directs our paths in a variety of ways – of this we can be confident!”[4]

Distinguishing between what is normative and descriptive can certainly be challenging in Acts but, if you approach the interpretive endeavor in much the same way you do the Gospels, you will be in a better position to make those distinctions.

Check back next week for Chapter 17: New Testament – Revelation.

We’ve barely scratched the surface with Grasping God’s Word! We highly recommend you purchase this excellent book here.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 297.

[2] Ibid, 299.

[3] Ibid, 304.

[4] Ibid.