The Word of God in the Book of Acts
With the goal of this paper being to delve into what the Word of God is in the Book of Acts, we must first come to realize that the Word of God is represented in many different ways throughout the text. Luke often portrays the Word through quotations of the Old Testament, however, that does not exclude the Lord speaking to His people directly as well as through dreams and visions. And then, finally, we must also recognize the many times that the Word of God is recognized as the Good News of Jesus Christ, which in the time which all these events occurred, was still fresh on the minds of many people, more than just the apostles and first disciples.
Most of the Old Testament references in the Book of Acts come in the form of the discourses of Peter, Paul, and Stephen, thus leading us to realize that the Apostles and disciples of the time strongly believed that the words of the Old Testament were, in fact, the inspired Words of God. We can see this by one scripture in Acts 4:25-26 which reference to the words of David being inspired by the Holy Spirit. “who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
”. We also have to remember that, at this time, the New Testament did not exist yet, as it was still being lived out
and not even close to a point of being written down yet.
Also, many of the mentions of the Old Testament throughout the Book of Acts are a display of the redemptive nature of the Lord, as seen through the lens of the history of the nation of Israel. One of the most beautiful discourses on history and redemption can be found in Acts 7:1-53, when Stephen was on trial for being a Christian. In verses 1 through 8, Stephen talks of God’s promise to Abraham and His covenants with His people, all of which point to a God who has redemption on His mind for His people. He recounts the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, and how his brothers meant evil for him, but, God used it to redeem the people of Israel(Jacob) in the end. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
” (Genesis 50:20, ESV). And throughout the rest of the chapter, up until he was stoned, Stephen recounts the redemption of God’s people as He brought it through servants such as Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David and others. This theme of redemption in the Old Testament is continued by Stephen, eventually concluding with a scathing condemnation of how they, the religious leaders of the time, killed the Righteous One whom God had sent to redeem His people, and how they could not see it clearly displayed throughout their Scriptures, which at the time was the Old Testament.
Another use through which the Old Testament is used, though not as extensively as redemption, is wisdom. Probably the best example of this can be seen amongst the Pharisees in Acts 5:34-42 when a group of Pharisees wanted to kill the Apostles. To this, the Pharisee Gamaliel said, “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice,
” (Acts 5:38–39, ESV). Using sound judgment and wisdom, which he extracted from his knowledge of the Old Testament, specifically Proverbs 21:30, Isaiah 8:9 and Nahum 1:9, Gamaliel basically played the “What if these men really are of God?
” card at the meeting, which one can see sparked a proverbial light bulb in the minds of the rest of the group, and instead of killing the Apostles, they beat them and sent them away, telling them to no longer speak in the name of Jesus (Acts 5:40), an order which the Apostles promptly ignored as they continued to preach and teach Jesus Christ(vs.41-42).
Direct Speech from God through direct contact and visions
With Luke having picked up his narrative just prior to Jesus ascending to heaven, our first instance of “direct speech” in Acts comes in the form of Jesus’ instructions to His disciples. He tells them that they are going to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5) and instructs them to be His witness amongst all the people (Acts 1:7-8).
With this in mind, however, one of the most recognizable stories of the Lord speaking directly with a person in Acts would be the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Saul, the man who approved of Stephen’s execution and began a great persecution of Christians, causing a dispersion of the saints through the known world (Acts 8:1-3), was a man that God had planned to use greatly for the spreading of His kingdom. And, what Saul did not realize at the time. He was already doing that very work when he forced Christians to flee to different places around the world to hide. And, while he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Church even more, God spoke to him directly, blinding him, and bringing him to His subjection. A part of the interaction goes like this: “And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
” (Acts 9:5–6, ESV). And Saul, who was now unable to see, was obedient. Obedience is one of the first steps a man takes when it comes to being used by God. And then, through a vision, Jesus spoke to Ananias, another disciple, directing him to go to Saul and pray for him, telling him that God was going to use Saul for great things. One could argue the point that Ananias might not have even been there in Damascus had it not been for Saul’s earlier persecution of the Christians. As John Calvin wrote, “We have said before that this man was rather chosen than any of the apostles, that Paul, having laid away the swelling of his arrogancy, might learn to hear the least, and that he [might] come down from too great loftiness even unto the lowest degree.”
God used both Saul and Ananias for His glory in this direct contact. God humbled one and made the other realize that all of God’s children are important to him through this magnificent display of God’s awesomeness.
Another well known telling of God contacting His people through visions is in Acts 10. First Cornelius saw a vision of an Angel of the Lord(Acts 10:3) giving him instructions, and he was obedient. Then, far away, Peter also saw a vision, and the Lord spoke to him regarding food, the Gentiles, and Cornelius.
A major reference throughout the Book of Acts to the Word of God is the Word, the actual Word, of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Everywhere they went throughout Acts, they spoke of the Word. In Acts 8:12, Luke wrote, “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
” (Acts 8:12, ESV). They were able to recognize that they were speaking of the Good news of the kingdom of God, of Jesus Christ, and they were baptized as they believed. Not only is the Word of God the Good News of Jesus Christ, it is God’s method of salvation. They heard Philip preach, and they believed in the Good News, that is the Good News of Christ. Throughout the entire interaction here, in Samaria, Philip’s preaching covers many topics. “In v. 4 it is “the word”; in v. 5, “the Christ”; and in v. 12, “the kingdom of God” and “the name of Jesus Christ.” All refer to the same reality, the salvation that is in no other name
mine). The reality of salvation can be seen setting in amongst people and mentions of the Good News as the Word of God all throughout Acts. And, you can even see a brief mention of this by Luke in the opening of Acts, “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.
” (Acts 1:1–2, ESV). Luke refers to his first book, which we know as the Gospel of Luke, as talking about Jesus and what He did, and we all know that this is what is
the Good News of Jesus, the Word.
Contact Through the Holy Spirit
While much of the contact between God and His people in the Book of Acts occurs through some sort of direct contact, there is also quite a bit of contact and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, as well. While one can find mention of the Holy Spirit all throughout Acts, the most well known is the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they all began to speak of the Word in tongues, in all the languages of people who were present. And, then Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gave an eloquent sermon, using the Old Testament to point towards Jesus.
In Acts 11, Peter recounts how the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles, opening their eyes to the Good News of Christ, bringing them all the same benefits which the Jewish believers had received, as well as salvation. God often works through he Holy Spirit to change people’s hearts and open their eyes to the Good News of Christ, as he did with his Apostles, disciples, and now even the Gentiles whom God was beginning to graft into His family.
Also, when the Lord Jesus was speaking to Ananias concerning Saul(Paul), he said, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
” (Acts 9:16, ESV). And, then, much later on, when Saul, who had become known as Paul, spoke of how he hears from the Holy Spirit, “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
” (Acts 20:22–23, ESV). Paul takes comfort in knowing that what the Holy Spirit is telling him, or in this case warning him of, will all work out for the best because it is from the will of God.
The Word Being the Standard of Truth
One often overlooked use of God’s word for everyone is that the Word of God is the ultimate truth, and when people are proclaiming the “truth,” it needs to be checked against the Scripture itself. In Acts 17:1-9, many Jews were “persuaded” by the Word of God that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and they came to believe. However, unfortunately, others were not persuaded, and Paul and Silas were driven out of Thessalonica. They then traveled to Berea, where they were more warmly received. However, of much more importance than their warm reception is the attitude and actions of the Berean Jews. “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.
” (Acts 17:11–12, ESV). They listened to what Paul and Silas had to say, and then they went back to the Scriptures, which we must remember was the Old Testament, (as the new testament was happening at that very moment, O how amazing it must have been to be there!), to see and ensure the validity of what they were preaching. Day and night they were examining the truthfulness of what was being preached against the scriptures, not just one or two days of the week, but every day, all day and at night. And, because of that, they were received the Word of God as it was told to them by Paul and Silas, and “Many of them therefore believed,”(v.12). The Word of God is not only our source of salvation, but also of truth. When someone comes around speaking of God’s Word, we, just as the Bereans did, need to check it against the Scriptures ourselves. Why? Because if it sounds too good to be true, it very well might be just that, not true.
Throughout the Book of Acts, there are many signs and miracles that are done. God did many wonderful works through the Apostles (Acts 2:43), including Peter’s healing of the lame man at the temple in Acts 3:7-11. Also, there was the earthquake wrought by God to free Peter from prison (Acts 4:31). And, all throughout many cities, signs, wonders, and miracles were performed (Acts 5:12; 5:12-16; 5:19; 6:8; 8:6,7,13). Also, many things occurred that some would find strange. A prison gate opened on its own (Acts 12:10); Paul blinded a man (Acts 13:11-12). One could go on and on about how many miraculous things occurred throughout the Book of Acts, but in the end, along with everything else, it all points towards salvation.
The Word of God Brings Salvation
Ultimately, in the end, the Word of God becomes God’s agent for bringing salvation to His people on earth. All throughout Acts, you hear of people coming to salvation. After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
” (Acts 2:41, ESV). And a few verses later, in talking about the fellowship of believers, “And the Lord added to their numbers day by day those who were being saved.”
As the disciples were preaching the Word of God in Jerusalem, before the dispersion and Saul’s persecution of the church, there was much growth as well. “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
” (Acts 6:7, ESV). And, even amongst weird occurrences, such as the death of Herod, “But the word of God increased and multiplied.
” (Acts 12:24, ESV).
There are many instances of God’s Word affecting salvation throughout the Acts, and it is something to never be overlooked. Jesus has ascended back into heaven, and the Word of God is what is left to be heard by a person to hear the saving message of the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord, and the ultimate end of God’s word is to bring about worship, worship of God by the Saints, those who have been saved by the power of God through His Word.
All throughout the Luke’s second book, Acts, one can see a rich and beautiful tapestry of the doctrine of God’s Word. And throughout this tapestry, one sees the radiant colors of the Old Testament, God’s Direct Speech, the Holy Spirit, Signs and Miracles, and Salvation. With all these beautiful interwoven colorful themes, one can see the formation and growth of the early church, something that all in the church would love to see once more.
The Word of God in the Book of 2 Timothy
In Paul’s second pastoral letter to Timothy, one of the major themes regarding the Word of God comes in the form of the power of the Gospel, and going right along with that, that the Gospel needs to be the foundation of everything in our lives.
First, looking in the opening chapter at 2 Timothy 1:8-10, the good news of Jesus Christ is expounded upon in a concise but accurate passage, and, in verse 8, is referred to as, “the testimony about our Lord.
” Here, the word for “testimony” is martyrion
, which means: “1. Witness to Facts in the Legal Sphere; 2. Witness to Facts generally, and also to Truths or Views” So, the word for “testimony” is a legal term, something that carries some level of weight, of power, understood that it would be able to stand up in court with the amount of witness there was.
In 2 Timothy 2:8, Paul writes,
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,
” (2 Timothy 2:8, ESV). (Jesus, risen from the dead, as could only be done by the power of God.) And, all of this is part of the Word of God, what we often call the Good News of Jesus, thus bringing a level of power, unbeknown to prophets and other lesser gods, both before and since this time. God’s word is all powerful and is an agent towards heart change in His people.
In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul writes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
” We need to understand that, to borrow a line from elsewhere, “With great power comes great responsibility.”(Uncle Ben, Spiderman
). We need to rightly handle God’s word and use it to bring glory to Him. It is something we need to do, because it is Wisdom incarnate, the way God brings salvation to His people now that Jesus has ascended into the heavens.
The Gospel as the Foundation of Everything In Our Lives
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
” (2 Timothy 2:8–10, ESV). Paul writes these words to help express the all importance of the Gospel in his life. Paul, in his life, endured so much, from stonings and beatings to shipwrecks and, eventually martyrdom. But, not before he was used by God in so many ways(both pre- and post-conversion) to spread the Gospel all over the known world.
In 2 Timothy 2:14-19, Paul writes that Timothy needs to make sure he does the following: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV). We are commanded to rightly handle the Word of truth. Why? Because it is powerful and it is our foundation for all that we are and all that we do. And, if we misuse the foundation, it will crumble, because if we change it, it is not longer the Word of God.
Paul also writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:10-17 of the sufficiency of the Word of God for Timothy’s life. Using his own life as an example, Paul encourages and exhorts Timothy to rely fully on God and His Word, letting him know that it will help prepare him for everything in life as a Christian, as a man, as a leader. If we focus and base ourselves on Christ and His Word, we will be well equipped.
The Word of God is a Tool(God’s tool)
One of the most well known passages about the what the Word of God is and what its purpose is comes from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
” God’s word is there to help prepare us for life, for ministry, for family, for everything. Any job that a person may have, whether it be in full time vocational ministry or a job out in the secular workplace, God’s word will equip them for that job, and, if they show obedience to God and His Word, God will be faithful and bring them success to some measure. Why? Because ultimately, it brings Him glory.
Paul continues on in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, in exhorting Timothy(and the rest of us!) to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
” (2 Timothy 4:2, ESV). This are all things that, in any area of our lives, we will do as Christians. We will teach our families, and often we will do much of this teaching through reproving and rebuking our children, following up with exhortation and encouragement of them. We will learn to show much patience as we teach our families, as well. These are all tools
with which we are equipped by God for use in our ministries, which are all around us.
In the end, Paul writes of the Word of God as the basis for anything and everything we, as Christian men and women do and will do and have done. For we must base everything we do on the Gospel, whether it be as parents, as teachers, students, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, pastors, elders, lay leaders, etc. It is central to all that we do, and it is a huge responsibility that we hold. A huge responsibility that we must rightly handle, or we may face the consequences and see ourselves, or worse, others hurt by our misgivings of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The Word of God in the Book of Hebrews
In the Book of Hebrews, there are several themes which are ascribed to the Word of God. The author consistently brings forth the preeminence of Christ, and through this, touches on the Word and it’s affecting salvation and our encouragement.
The Preeminence of Jesus Christ.
The author of Hebrews alludes to the Old Testament, and how it points forward to Christ, to show Christ’s preeminence. Looking at Hebrews 1:5-14, the author quotes from Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 104:4, Psalm 45:6-7, Psalm 102:25-27, and Psalm 110:1. Here, the author extensively uses the Old Testament to show Jesus’ preeminence over all creation, even the Angels. And, his quotation of Psalm 110:1, just as Jesus quoted, is used to show is superiority over those who came before Him.
In Hebrews 3:1-6, the author tells us that, while Moses was worth of honor and glory for being a servant over the house of God so many years ago, that Jesus, the Son of God, is worthy of more honor and glory because He is the Son, and over even the head servants of the household, thus displaying further preeminence of God.
In Hebrews 5:5-6, the author again looks back to the Old Testament when he wrote the following, “So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
” This is a further display of the superiority of Christ, as placing Him with the order of Melchizedek, who has no recorded beginning or end in the Bible, just as Jesus has no beginning nor end, as He has been there from eternity past and will be there for eternity future. This is also seen again in a comparison in Hebrews 7:11-22, and also as compared to being the ultimate High Priest in Hebrews 7:26-28.
Jesus was(and is) considered the ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-28) which brought an end to the sacrificial system because a perfect human sacrifice was offered as the propitiation for our sins. “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
” (Hebrews 9:13–14, ESV).
And, ultimately, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
” (Hebrews 13:8, ESV). Jesus will never change. We, as humans, constantly are changing. We change our minds, our jobs, our thoughts, our views. Jesus, on the other hand, will never change. He will always be the same, obedient to God, following forever the Word of God.
The theme of salvation can be seen in the use of the Word of God in Hebrews as well. In Hebrews 2, the author calls it “such a great salvation,” and asks the question how can we neglect it? And, in the fourth chapter, the author continues on, referring to the Old Testament and the history of the nations of Israel when discussing the period after they left Egypt and how some will enter God’s rest and some will not. God is our great redeemer, having redeemed His people from Egypt.
In a twist of things, in Hebrews 6:4-6, it talks of how people who have neglected salvation, having heard and seen the wonders of God and turned away from them and scorned them, will not taste salvation. “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
” (Hebrews 6:4–6, ESV). This is such a great warning to people, as well as an encouragement to us. It not only tells us that there are some who are going to experience this, but it’s a reminder that when they do reject what we tell them about the Good News of Jesus, they are rejecting Jesus, not us. And I believe that rejection is one of the biggest fears of all when it comes to evangelizing amongst the lost and unregenerate of this world.
In Hebrews 10:15-18, the author is quoting from Jeremiah 31:33, telling us that our God is a forgiving God who cares for His people, being genuinely concerned. God made a covenant with His people, telling them how to live and that, if they live in such a way, they will be successful and fruitful in their labors. And, later in the chapter, in Hebrews 10:23, the author refers to the Word of God as the “confession of our hope,” which is what it is, our hope, our faith in what is to come in the future for us. Our future glory of having a perfect, glorified body when we are present with the Lord. And, it is the Word of God that helps give
us this hope (Hebrews 11:1-3), even though we may not see it, we know it is there.
Encouragement and Sanctification
One can see many themes of encouragement within Hebrews as they read through the book, and alongside this, sanctification. In Hebrews 3:7-19, the author warns us against hardening our hearts and encourages us to encourage
other people, which can help with the process of sanctification not only in their lives, but in our lives as well.
While some see Hebrews 5:11-6:1 as more of a scolding rebuke(which it is), one can also see that it is an encouragement to stay true to God’s Word and seek after the meat of God’s Word, rather than staying at the elementary, basic doctrines and statutes. One must remember when we are told not to do something, we are also being told to
do something. The author does this same thing again in Hebrews 12:18-29, in warning his readers to not turn away from Jesus, but to see Him for whom He really is, the Christ.
We are also sanctified, which is such a great process of encouragement, through the body of Jesus. “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
” (Hebrews 10:10, ESV). The author also refers to Jesus as the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), which also permeates sanctification here, as well as encouragement because on our own, we would never be able to do it, and thankfully, we have Jesus here to do it for us, because without Him, we would be nowhere. Without Him, we would be nothing.
Finally, in this area, we are encouraged to be content with what we have and how God provides for us. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
” (Hebrews 13:5–6, ESV).
In the end, there is so much we can see permeating throughout the Book of Hebrews, and it is something that is of great encouragement to me. The fact that Word of God is truly on display through the preeminence of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is such a blessing, leading to the salvation of God’s chosen people. And, as we walk with Christ throughout our lives, it brings such encouragement, sanctification, and edification, that it can only be seen as a blessing, even if we can’t see it at a specific time.
John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles
, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 377.
John B. Polhill, Acts
, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 216–217.
Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 474.