An Introduction to My Study and Exposition of Acts of the Apostles
Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I recently completed a series of Sunday Bible lessons on Acts of the Apostles. It was begun in October 2019, and the concluding lesson was taught in mid-June 2022. Even accounting for the hiatus in class from mid-March to early October in 2020 due to government-imposed public meeting restrictions, this proved to be the longest single series I have ever taught (Acts being the second longest book in the New Testament—Luke beating it by a slight margin—was no doubt a major contributing factor!). I did previously teach through Acts almost two decades ago, but at much less length and detail. A total of 80 lesson outlines with notes—each usually two to three pages long—were prepared and distributed, all of my own original creation.
Perhaps some small account of resources that I found useful in preparing and teaching this series will be of interest. First, the English text used was the English Standard Version, a formal equivalence translation in (mostly) modern English. I also carefully worked through the Greek text from start to finish (Luke’s vocabulary is simply immense, with lots of rare words). I also read through the Latin Vulgate translation, as well as the revised Cornilescu Romanian translation and the Reina-Valera 1960 Spanish version.
Having read for my previous study F. F. Bruce’s excellent commentary on the English text of Acts in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series, I only consulted it sparingly for this study. Likewise with his separate commentary on the Greek text—absolutely essential on technical points regarding the Greek text, but not consulted with the frequency of 20 years ago.
For assistance on the Greek text, I read through A. T. Robertson’s 490-page commentary (which I had previously used extensively 20 years ago)—volume 3 in his valuable Word Pictures in the New Testament.
For a more expositional view, I read through Everett F. Harrison’s Acts: the Expanding Church (419 pp.). Harrison was a capable and thoroughly conservative scholar (this, with Bruce in the NICNT series, I recommend as the two first commentaries to acquire on Acts).
I also began reading Horatio B. Hackett’s 19th century commentary on Acts in the American Commentary—Hackett was perhaps the leading Baptist New Testament scholar of the mid-19th century—but soon set it aside as adding little that was not already gleaned by Robertson and Harrison. (I have found that I do best in an expository series when I limit myself to the careful reading of no more than three commentaries as I work through the text).
I also preliminarily decided to use the recently-published The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary by J. B. Lightfoot, but it is really just scattered notes, often terse and obscure, and it was making scarcely any contribution to my understanding of the text (proving thereby to be a rather expensive disappointment), so it, too, was set aside early on.
Of the 25-plus additional commentaries I have on Acts, I checked a few on particular texts or points, without systematic consultation (Henry Alford, Adam Clarke, John Gill, and maybe one or two others).
As the first part of Acts (chapters 1-8, 10-12) has Peter as the major personality, for that portion I read A. T. Robertson’s excellent volume, Epochs in the Life of Simon Peter (1933; 342 pp.) which covers all of Peter’s life as recorded in the Gospels, Acts, and his epistles. A book worth hunting up and buying.
For those portions of Acts focused on Paul (chapters 9, 13-28), I read through W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson’s ponderous 19th century classic, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, all 838 pages of it. (My then-new bride purchased my copy at a garage sale in July 1973, and I am just now getting it read through!). It is at times technical and detailed, but thorough and very informative, and sheds most of the light that classical Greek and Roman history, culture and geography can shed on the life of Paul. They also provide their own translations of all of Paul’s epistles and Hebrews, with notes (their translations sometimes cast light on the meaning of the text, but sometimes clearly not). Adequate documentation, lots of engravings and maps and a good index add to this volume’s merits. It was a chore to read, but rewarded the effort.
And I would be remiss if I failed to mention Frank J. Goodwin’s A Harmony of the Life of St. Paul (240 pp.) which has, inter alia, some excellent appendices (17 in all) on various points regarding Paul.
(In past studies over the years, I had gone through A. T. Robertson’s excellent volumes on Paul, Epochs in the Life of Paul (1909; 337 pp.) and Paul the Interpreter of Christ (1925; 155 pp.)—both outstanding—as well as William Mitchell Ramsay’s St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen and so rarely consulted them again for this study).
Of course, several Bible dictionaries were kept ready to hand to consult (and they were regularly, almost systematically, consulted) on the multitude of persons, places, and things that find mention in Acts and Paul’s letters. Chief among these: The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary edited by R. K. Harrison; and The Illustrated Bible Dictionary in 3 volumes, edited by J. D. Douglas. Also worthwhile on points of geography and historic figures was the old Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible in four volumes (American edition edited by H. B. Hackett). And, of course, Bible atlases with detailed maps were indispensable in tracing Paul’s travels.
Should I have occasion and live long enough to go through Acts again with a class, I have more than enough additional works on Paul and Peter, besides the aforementioned commentaries on Acts, to enlighten that journey.
Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash.
Douglas K. Kutilek Bio
Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.
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I’m wrapping up a 35-part sermon series on Acts this coming Sunday. My personal favorite resources have been:
- F.F. Bruce’s NICNT commentary
- Lexham Bible Dictionary
- H. Hackett’s old American Commentary entry (available free in PDF online)
- Bede’s commentary
- Chrysostom’s homilies
- Eckhard Schnabel’s entry in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series
The first three are indispensible resources; the other three were helpful but I could do without them. I have enjoyed it very much. The past few years, I’ve adopted a more sweeping approach to expository preaching, and choose larger sections of text to work through per sermon. This is why I managed to do Acts in 35 sermons. Still, I think I covered it pretty well.
I have Ramsey’s St. Paul the Traveller, but often forgot to look at it because it’s in PDF.
Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.
Thank you for this. I would love to preach through Acts at some point but it does seem pretty daunting.
Thank you Tyler as well for posting favorite resources.
This is my list of resources I use when preaching through a book:
- NA28 or UBS5 + apparatus (If preaching NT)
- BHS and LXX (if preaching OT)
- Preferred English translation + 4 more (I use ESV, NKJV, NET, NIV, NLT)
- Beale, G. K. and D. A. Carson, eds. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.
- NT or OT Introduction Text (I only use these at the beginning)
- 3 exegetical commentaries
- 2 or 3 Bible dictionaries / encyclopedias (e.g. ISBE Rev., Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, etc). (I use these mostly at the beginning)
- BDAG and NIDNTTE (for Greek)
- HALOT and BDB (for Hebrew)
- Various Greek or Hebrew grammars (for Greek exegesis, I usually consult Porter, Wallace, Black, or Köstenberger/Merkle/Plummer when they address a passage I’m preaching on).
Many of the reference books (grammars, dictionaries, lexicons, and introductions) are consulted at the beginning or on an as needed basis. I spend most of my regular “reading time” in the commentaries after I do my exegetical work and create my exegetical outline of the passage.
Regularly reading through more than 3 exegetical commentaries is, IMHO, a waste of time. If you’ve done the exegetical spade work yourself up front, you already know what most of the textual / exegetical / syntactical issues are in the text. A good introduction, dictionary, or commentary also provides the needed cultural, historical, canonical, and theological context. No need to read additional monographs.
Acts was an intense focus of my studies at various points from about the mid 90s to 2010. Although I consulted numerous commentaries, I never read through any of them.
Reading repeatedly through the text in English was the foundation for my studies. I also studied it intensely in Greek.
Acts 10 and 17 were among the key passages for my dissertation. I researched Acts 10 in just about every resource that I could access.
A vast amount of truth in Acts has not been appreciated and profited from as widely as it should be.
Douglas and all,
Appreciate you sharing this. Recommendations can make a big difference. Many of us use sets or standard works (apart from commentaries) that make a big difference, such as Riencker and Rodgers, ISBE, Beale/Carson (NT Use of OT), etc. I really enjoy The Jewish New Testament Commentary (Stern) becasue I am a Jewish Roots finatic.
But when it comes to individual commentaries, I really enjoy Ben Witherington III’s works, and his commentary on Acts is, in my view, his best. Although Witherhington has Arminian tendencies, this is my favorite by far. Really gets into the culture and literary style.
John Stott’s is straightforward and helpful, too.
"The Midrash Detective"
I have found the following commentaries on Acts to be helpful: