Evangelism in the Acts of the Apostles -- By: John B. Polhill

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 05:1 (Spring 2001)
Article: Evangelism in the Acts of the Apostles
Author: John B. Polhill


Evangelism in the Acts of the Apostles

John B. Polhill

John B. Polhill is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Polhill has taught at Southern since 1969. He has written numerous articles and a widely acclaimed commentary on Acts in the New American Commentary. His most recent book is entitled Paul: The Man and His Let ters (Broadman).

To cover the subject of evangelism in the book of Acts is a tall order for a brief article. In a discussion of early-Christian evangelism, David Lim gives the following definition: “[Evangelism] is the verbal proclamation of the good news of salvation with a view of leading people to a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.”1 Measured by this definition, all of Acts would qualify as dealing with evangelism.

Acts begins with a command to the disciples to evangelize the nations (1:8). Even earlier, the theme of preaching the word of salvation appears—when Jesus teaches his disciples concerning the Kingdom of God (1:3). In Jesus’ teaching, the message of the Kingdom is the message of salvation. With this reference to the Kingdom, Acts 1:3 forms a bracket with the last verse of the book (28:31), which also refers to preaching the Kingdom. Everything in between these two verses deals with the spread of the message of salvation, the good news of God’s Kingdom, into which all who commit themselves to Jesus Christ enter.

Almost every aspect of the church’s outreach is addressed in Acts. In this article, I will not attempt a complete treatment of evangelism in Acts but will focus only on selected examples illustrative of the primary principles that are particularly relevant today.2 These will be grouped under the following headings: (1) the mandate to be witnesses, (2) the power for witness: the Holy Spirit, (3) the audience targeted to receive the witness, (4) the message, i.e., the content of the witness, and (5) the methods, i.e., the strategy of witness.

The Mandate

Acts 1:8 serves as the thematic verse for all of Acts. It consists of Jesus’ mandate to his disciples to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and as far as the end of the earth.”3 Usually the phrase “end of the earth” has been interpreted as the utter extent of the world’s boundaries. Some have questioned this, however. One viewpoint would limit Jesus’ mandate to Palestine, noting that the circle of apostles to whom th...

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