The Unified Book of Acts
During a recent study of the book of Acts, I was struck with the recurring emphasis on the irrepressibility of the gospel. Several commentators pointed out that Luke weaves in several “summary statements” that help the reader step back from the drama and see an overarching theme.
Consider these six key announcements:
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.
Acts 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
Acts 12:24 But the word of God continued to increase and spread.
Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
Acts 19:20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
Acts 28:31 Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I discussed the book with others throughout a two-year-long study, we kept sensing that Luke’s agenda for writing the book was not only to inform Theophilus of all that had transpired (see Acts 1:1) but also to encourage all of us who “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on [us] and…be…witnesses” throughout the world (see Acts 1:8).
When we face setbacks, as Peter and Paul and others (e.g. Stephen!) certainly did, we should not lose heart. When obstacles seem to slow things down (e.g. complaints, divisions, storms, snakes), we should remember that God’s word will go forth. When people threaten to persecute us (or vow never to eat or drink until they kill us – see Acts 23:14), we should not be surprised nor shrink back. The gospel is irrepressible.
Thus, while it almost always is disappointing to anyone who reads the book of Acts, it should not seem odd that the book ends without answering the question, “So whatever happened to Paul?” We know that Paul was beheaded…but we have to turn to sources outside the Bible for such information. Why is that?
The best answer I found both satisfies and unsettles: For Luke and all those who grasp his reason for writing, it is far more important to know what happens to the gospel than to know what happens to Paul. More pointedly, it is more helpful to know that the gospel will not be stopped than it is to hear what our future may be. God wants us to be more committed to His kingdom than to our wellbeing, to His glory than our comfort, to the eternal kingdom than to earthly ease.
The “lack of closure” at the end of the book of Acts is no mere editorial oversight. It adds emphasis to the unifying theme in no uncertain terms.