In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Act 1:1-3)
So we come to Acts. Luke’s second book. A continuation of his gospel really. When Luke wrote the Gospel According to Luke. (Luke’s gospel doesn’t actually have a title, and to call it “his” gospel is a little misleading. There is one gospel, it is recorded from four different view points, hence “The Gospel” and “According to Luke.”) In any case, when Luke wrote his gospel, he was occupied with the earthly mission of Christ. Acts picks up where Luke left off, now he will talk about how Christ continues his work through the disciples.
As a history it is incomplete. I suppose all history is, because history is not finished. But you get the sense that this book was written while Paul was very much still alive, and never completed to tell of Paul’s death. Very early on this book will take as it’s focus the life and work of Paul. But it ends with Paul going to Rome and doesn’t talk about much after that. For this reason it is figured that the book was finished about 62 A.D. Thus the book would end in that phase of Nero’s reign when Nero was still somewhat sane, and indifferent to Christianity. That is, before he would burn the city of Rome and blame it on the Christians, and then start burning them as candles in his gardens. None of that is recorded. A person can get a more complete history from reading Eusebius’ Church History, I like the one edited and translated by Paul Maier for readability, and the pictures and explanations. Eusebius, in many ways, picks up even amidst all that is going on in Acts, and drawing on many sources, some lost to us except in his 4th century work, offers a more complete picture of what is happening in the book of Acts. That is, he talks about what happens to the other disciples, where they go and what they accomplish. It is from him that we can learn of Paul’s beheading, and Peters inverted crucifixion.
But Acts is far from a deficient piece of work, and is far more than a mere history. That is a mistake people often make with Acts. They view it as a history and seek to ignore many of the theological implications with a debate over whether it is descriptive of prescriptive. That is always a question, as Christians we are free, and just because Christians have done things one way in the past doesn’t mean we necessarily have to do them the same way today. But then Peter’s Pentecost sermon recorded in the second chapter is a theological masterpiece that preaches to the soul of any modern Christian, and it doesn’t do to say well that is just historical with no significance for us today. Hidden in this historical account are many theological gems, which if the history of it is taken in total wrests the book from the Baptists who would like to pit the 8th chapter against Peter’s sermon in the Second chapter and claim that the Spirit isn’t given in baptism. Of course in order to think like that, you would have to believe that the disciples didn’t have the Spirit before Pentecost even though Jesus very explicitly gave them the Spirit in the Twentieth Chapter of John just after his resurrection. But the Spirit can visit with many different manifestations and gifts. Those who believe in Jesus have the Spirit even if it is not accompanied with heart palpitations or gibberish, but the Spirit has many gifts which he gives according to his own will and the need of the church. I still pray for the gift of administration. Don’t kid yourself, if you have been blessed with that gift you have been given a gift indeed and one greatly needed in the church.
No, the book of Acts is far more than a mere history and to bog down in a debate over prescriptive or descriptive is really a shame. There is a lot that the Holy Spirit seeks to teach us in this book. I look forward to mining the gems with you as we proceed.