(As many lengthy sections are recommended here, these are better read from the Bible. Hyperlinks are used for shorter passages for convenience - PN)
The book of the Acts of the Apostles relates how the early Christian church began to spread from Jerusalem after the giving of the Holy Spirit - the "Whitsun" or "Pentecost" experience.
The outline of the history is retained in the portions selected from this book; certain passages, however, are omitted and only the more interesting and essential highlights of this remarkable story are included.
The book begins with the account of Jesus' Ascension into heaven.
Since Judas Iscariot had in remorse taken his own life, it was
decided that another should be appointed to complete the number
of the Twelve Apostles. Peter quite naturally became spokesman
and leader of the Apostles.
The amazing event of Pentecost is described in full.
Acts 2.vv.1-8, vv.12-24, vv.32-33, vv.36-47
The power of the Holy Spirit is seen at work in the healing of
a lame man by Peter and John.
The healing miracle resulted in the imprisonment of the two Apostles,
but after making a spirited defence of their action they were
Peter becomes pre-eminent in the Apostolic band and many converts
are made, so that the religious authorities again take action
against Peter and John; but they were released on the advice of
the wise Gamaliel.
As the influence of the Early Church began to increase, it was
found necessary to appoint helpers. This was done by laying on
of hands with prayer. Among these was Stephen, a most able and
God-fearing man, who in his zeal and condemnation of the religious
authorities brought down upon himself wrath and eventually martyrdom.
Acts 6.vv.1-15, and 7.vv.54-60
Present at the scene of Stephen's martyrdom was a certain Saul
who led a campaign of persecution against the infant Christian
community, but later became "St. Paul", one of the foremost
champions of the Church.
Nothing daunted by the persecution, Philip, the companion of Stephen,
went to the city of Samaria where his message and healing powers
met with great success.
The success of Philip in Samaria was so great that the Apostles
Peter and John were sent into Samaria to build upon his work.
Meanwhile Philip was divinely guided to travel south towards
Gaza where he met with and baptised an Ethiopian official of the
The well-known and well-attested story of Saul's conversion to
"the Way" (of Christ) is now recorded, and peace now
descends on the infant Church.
Again we return to accounts of Peter's travels and his healing
An event of great significance now takes place. Whereas up to
this time the Good News had been imparted solely or mainly to
Jews and "God-fearers" (Gentiles attracted to Israel's
God), Peter now learns that there is a place for Gentiles in God's
Not without setbacks, but slowly and surely, the Church accepted
Gentiles into their Christian community and Barnabas enlisted
the aid of Saul in this work of conversion.
Again the interest centres upon Peter who, arrested by King Herod,
had a second miraculous escape from prison.
Acts 12.vv.1-19, vv.24-25
Barnabas had enlisted the help of Saul in evangelising the Gentile
world and he and Saul (now Paul) visited Cyprus. Among
the Gentiles they had considerable success, but met with opposition
from the Jewish community. Paul, who was chief spokesman, so
angered the Jews of Iconium that he was stoned and left for dead
but survived the ordeal and returned to Antioch where he and Barnabas
had been commissioned.
A controversy over whether Gentile converts to Christianity should
be required to accept and observe all the ritual laws of Judaism
vexed the Early Church, but was resolved in favour of the Gentiles
and a letter sent to Antioch to confirm the decision reached.
While Paul (with Timothy and Silas as his companions) was spreading
the 'Good News' in Asia Minor, he received a vision in which he
was urged to cross from Asia Minor to Macedonia to bring the Gospel
to Europe. At this point in the narrative the writer (St. Luke?)
apparently joined in the mission.
There follows now the account of an incident which brought Paul
and Silas into great danger from the Gentiles.
After his escape from the hostility of the Gentiles, Paul faces
hostility from the Jews of Thessalonika, but, leaving Silas and
Timothy, Paul was despatched by his friends to Athens.
In Athens Paul addressed the Assembly with a defence of what he
believed and won some support.
Leaving Athens, Paul visited Corinth where Silas and Timothy rejoined
him. Here he had a mixed reception and encountered opposition
from some Jews but by God's grace escaped the danger and returned
via Jerusalem to Antioch, his starting point.
Nothing daunted by the trials and tribulations of his second expedition,
Paul set off again to revisit the infant Churches of Asia Minor.
His work in Greece (Achaia) was consolidated by a certain Apollos.
Acts 18.vv.23 to 19.v.8
After his prolonged stay in Asia Minor, Paul resolved to revisit
Greece and Jerusalem and to visit Rome. A serious disturbance
in Ephesus very nearly thwarted all Paul's plans. but having been
rescued from this new danger, Paul left for Macedonia.
Acts 19.v.23 to 20.v.1
After a three month stay in Greece strengthening the young Churches,
the news of a plot against him caused Paul to decide to return
to Jerusalem. His farewell speech to the Elders of Phesus on
his journey homeward is a very moving passage.
Despite warnings and pleas from his friends, Paul persisted in
his determination to visit Jerusalem, where he was warmly welcomed;
but within a week he was seized and nearly lynched by a crowd
stirred up by some Jews from Asia on the charge that he was subverting
the Jewish faith. Rescued from this peril by the Roman tribune,
and guarded from his Jewish adversaries by Roman soldiers, Paul
made a spirited defence of his beliefs and teaching. As soon,
however, as he mentioned his conversion and commission to the
Gentiles, rioting broke out again.
The tribune, learning that Paul was a Roman citizen and therefore
liable to bring trouble upon those who had unjustifiably arrested
him, released Paul and arranged for him to make a further defence
of his conduct before a Council of the Jews.
With great skill, Paul turned to his advantage a reference to
the "resurrection of the dead" in his sermon for his
defence. In the violent disturbance that followed between the
Pharisees and Sadducees, the tribune managed to save Paul from
the clutches of the Jews and protect him in the barracks.
Learning that some of Paul's enemies had sworn to hill him, the
tribune in his perplexity sent Paul under armed escort to Felix
the Governor in Caesarea.
Within a week the High Priest and several of his party arrived
from Jerusalem in Caesarea and before Felix laid serious charges
against Paul. In a masterly speech in his defence, Paul rebutted
the charges, declared his innocence and was for two more years
granted a limited degree of freedom, chiefly because of the perplexity
Felix was succeeded as Governor by a certain Festus who became
responsible for the fate of Paul, whose enemies hoped to have
him ambushed and killed on his way to Jerusalem. Festus asked
Paul whether he wished to be tried in Jerusalem, but Paul made
the momentous decision "I appeal to the Emperor".
This was the privilege and right of those who were full Roman
citizens and sealed his fate for better or worse. Henceforward
it was incumbent upon the authorities to ensure that decision
about Paul's future would be made in Rome.
Acts 24.v.27 and 25.vv.1-12
While Paul remained in Caesarea, Festus received a visit from
King Agrippa who said that he would gladly hear what the prisoner
Paul had to say in his defence of his belief and conduct. Arrangements
were made accordingly.
The defence of Paul before Agrippa is a wonderfully succinct summary
of Paul's career as a Christian and made a profound impression
on King Agrippa - but the die had been cast. Paul was destined
to go to Rome.
The journey to Rome, fraught with dangers and near disaster, is
a very exciting and moving story and since it illustrates so well
the faith of Paul we include it in its entirety.
Acts 27.v.1 to 28.v.16
Paul's reception in Malta, in Italy, and in Rome was cordial but
when he delivered his message in Rome there was, as might be expected,
scepticism shown by some of the orthodox Jews. Nevertheless,
he was able to spend there at least two years preaching the Good
News of Jesus Christ.