Preaching from the Acts of the Apostles -- By: John B. Polhill

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 12:1 (Fall 1994)
Article: Preaching from the Acts of the Apostles
Author: John B. Polhill

Preaching from the Acts of the Apostles

John B. Polhill

Professor of New Testament Interpretation
Dean for the School of Theology
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, KY 40280

Acts is unique among the writings of the New Testament. It is unique in content-the only canonical book which deals with the history of the apostolic period. For the story of the church’s formative years, for the history of its early mission, one turns to the Book of Acts.

Acts is also unique in form. Scholars carry on a continuing debate about how to categorize the book. What is its genre? Is it more like ancient Greek biographies or books of history, or is it a Hellenistic romance? Actually Acts seems to have characteristics of them all. But when Luke set out to relate the story of the formative years of Christianity, he developed a new type of writing. In form, he drew widely from his Greek literary predecessors but came up with a distinctly Christian form of writing. Unlike his Gospel, where Luke had predecessors (Luke 1:1), no one seems to have undertaken anything like Acts before him. Also, unlike his Gospel, which is one of four in the New Testament, Acts has no canonical parallel. There would later come many apocryphal imitations of Acts, but Luke’s account remains the only canonical writing of its type.

Because of these unique qualities, Acts obviously presents some unique opportunities for preaching. It can be approached according to its content, preaching on the pivotal events of the apostolic age or on the characteristics which marked the life and mission of the early church. Or, it can be preached according to its form, noting the distinctive types of material which comprise Acts and expounding them according to their characteristics. Obviously, the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. They are two ways of looking at the same material and can be effectively combined in a single sermon. The following suggestions for preaching from Acts will, however, follow this dichotomy in the hope that the different approaches will stimulate the preacher’s creativity in presenting the many messages of this unique New Testament writing.

Approaching Acts by Content

No one needs to be reminded of the unique content of the Acts of the apostles. It is the only canonical writing which tells the story of such central events in the

life of the early church as the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the growth of the Jewish-Christian congregation in Jerusalem, the martyrdom of Stephen and the mission of his fellow Hellenist Philip among the Samaritans and to the Ethiopian eunuch. Only Act...

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