Acts of the Apostles: The Birth of the Catholic Church

by Steve Ray on June 21, 2017

Being seasick is terrible. I experienced it earlier this year while fishing all night on the Sea of Galilee. Fishermen and travelers in the first century were often nauseated while bobbing up and down on the seas of the Roman Empire.

St. Paul’s most faithful of friends was writing the life of Christ and the first history of the Church and we can imagine him keeping notes and recording memories as he sat on the bow of the ship as it cut through the water with Paul on his later journeys. Writing quills and parchment were primitive means of writing by our modern standards, yet Luke wrote one of the most important and well-written documents known to the modern world. His writings have certainly proven seaworthy.

Luke’s history, written mostly from acquired tradition and only briefly from first hand experience with the Apostle Paul (cp. “we” sections in Acts 16:10?17; 20:5-15; 21:1?18, and 27:1—28:16), has come down to us as the Acts of the Apostles. Somewhat of an unusual title considering it tells us nothing of the apostolates of Thomas, Andrew, Philip, Matthew or the others. In fact, it only relays bits and pieces from the lives of Peter, John, and Paul.

Alternate titles have been proposed such as Acts of the Holy Spirit, but the accepted title is from the earliest centuries, quoted in the Fathers and recognized early as an inspired text. It is not a complete history of the early Church, just bare facts, but rather an outline of crucial events and turning points in the early Christian community. This is theology, history, and eternal truth woven by a master into a beautiful tapestry.

As we begin reading Acts, full of anticipation to see what happened after Christ ascended into the clouds of heaven, we find that this is not Luke’s first document. The opening words begin, “The first account I composed, Theophilus”. Luke had written an earlier history, again told like a master weaver full of eternal truths and a deep understanding of the life and gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This of course is the Gospel of St. Luke written about AD 62 or thereabouts, just before Acts. The recipient of both, Theophilus, was probably a Roman dignitary interested in the full story of this new “religion”.

Luke alone provides the account of Jesus’ ascension of Jesus into heaven (Lk 24:51; Acts 1:2, 9?11). He also gives us the outline not only for the Acts of the Apostles but the expansion of the whole Church from the first century until today. Before disappearing into the clouds, Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8, emphasis mine). This is exactly what happened, as we shall see.

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