“The End Of The Earth” (Acts 1:8) -- By: E. Earle Ellis

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 01:1 (NA 1991)
Article: “The End Of The Earth” (Acts 1:8)
Author: E. Earle Ellis

“The End Of The Earth” (Acts 1:8)*

E. Earle Ellis

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

*The German text of this article appears in Der Treue Gottes trauen. Beiträge ... für Gerhard Schneider . . , eds. C. Bussmann and W. Radl (Freiburg: Herder, 1991).


As has long been recognized, the book of Acts was organized to depict, among other things, the geographical progress of the Christian message from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria to the lands of Syria, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome.1 In this respect it presents the expansion of the Christian witness from the center of Judaism to the center of the Roman Empire, from the mission to Palestinian Jews to the mission to Jews and Gentiles of the diaspora.

Luke, the author of Acts and sometime companion and co-worker of Paul,2 devotes almost all of the latter part of his work to the Pauline mission. But he pictures Paul’s ministry as arising from his teachings in the synagogue and, consequently, as directed to Jews as well as to Gentiles. Even in the last chapter of Acts Luke represents the Apostle’s

initial preaching at Rome as primarily devoted to his appeal to the Jews, some of whom “were persuaded . . . and some disbelieved.”3

The book of Acts, then, does not describe a transition of the Christian mission from the Jews to the Gentiles since Jews are recipients of the message throughout the book. If Acts, like Paul’s letter to the Romans, underscores the rejection of the gospel message by the majority of the Jewish religious leaders and by the nation, it does not omit the continuing positive response of many individual Jews.4 This fact is important for a proper interpretation of Acts 1:8:

You shall be my witnesses
In Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria
And to the end of the earth (ἐχάτου τῆς γῆς).

The Isaian wording of the concluding phrase may reflect a summary of the risen Jesus’ commission to his disciples in terms of the Servant of the Lord in Isa 49:6 or it may be Luke’s interpretive rendering.5 In either case it is a conscious allusion by Luke to the verse in Isaiah where the phrase has a geographical connotation:

I will give you as a light to the Gentiles
That my ...

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