By DAVID GIBSON, Catholic News Service | Published April 16, 2015
WASHINGTON (CNS)—Here is a look at some of the themes and events described in the Acts of the Apostles:
The Spirit’s coming: The Holy Spirit’s role in the early Christian mission is a theme in the Acts. Benedictine Father Dale Launderville, a Scripture scholar, says that Acts shows “remarkable growth in the church due to the Spirit-guided proclamation” of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Rapid growth: In Acts the Christian community grows amazingly. Acts repeatedly reminds readers that “the number of disciples continued to grow” (6:1), that one day some 3,000 “were added” (2:41) or that “many of those who heard the word came to believe” (4:4).
Persecution: Its presence is sensed throughout Acts. St. Stephen’s stoning death is followed immediately by “severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem” (8:1). Signs of persecution appear in the arrests and imprisonments of Peter and Paul. Acts 16:23-24 describes Paul and Silas getting flogged and thrown into prison.
Council of Jerusalem: This central event of Acts took place when some Jewish Christians urged that gentile Christians be circumcised and keep the law of Moses’ dietary precepts. But the council decided that “we ought to stop troubling the gentiles who turn to God,” only telling them “to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals and blood” (15:19-20).
Paul is baptized: Acts tells three times how Paul became Jesus’ follower. In the second telling, as he traveled to Damascus “a great light” appeared. He was blinded temporarily. A voice said, “I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.” Later in Damascus “a certain Ananias” told Paul that God “designated you” to “be his witness before all. … Get up and have yourself baptized” (22:6-16).
Silversmiths’ riot: “A serious disturbance” erupted in Ephesus, in today’s Turkey, when silversmiths making “miniature silver shrines” of the goddess Artemis protested Paul’s statement “that gods made by hands are not gods at all.” Chaos prevailed after the silversmiths predicted respect for the goddess’ temple would diminish due to Paul. But finally the “town clerk” calmed the disturbance (19:23-40).
Preaching: Acts casts light on the preaching of Peter and Paul, who testified to Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. In the Roman centurion Cornelius’ home, Peter said: “They put (Jesus) to death by hanging him on a tree,” but God raised him. Jesus commissioned those “who ate and drank with him after he rose” to make known that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins” (10:34-42).