The Outline of Acts

by | Faith Church BlogJul 14, 2011

In the previous post, Reading Acts for All It’s Worth, I encouraged us to read Acts as a historical narrative.  Acts tells a story.  Of course, it is part of the larger story line of Scripture, but Acts has a wonderful story in and of itself.  I also explained that, when reading Acts, the narrative moves quickly in some places (where years are covered in the span of a chapter or two) and, in other chapters, the narrative moves very slowly (where a speech or sermon is given).  Now, let’s look at some outlines that will help us read Acts.

#1:  Outline based on Acts 1:8

In this case, the reader looks at Acts for how the Word expands from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  This is a geographical outline of the book based largely on what appears to be the organizing verse in Acts.  This kind of organizing verse is not uncommon in the Bible; for example, see Revelation 1:19, Philippians 1:27-30, John 20:30-31, and 1 John 5:13.

In the geographical context, one could read Acts merely looking for the changes in where the gospel is being preached [i.e. in Jerusalem up to the persecution in Acts 8:1, to Judea and Samaria through Acts 12:25, and then to the ends of the earth through Acts 28].

#2:  Outline based on a key structural marker:  The Word increased!

Whenever we try to outline a book of the Bible, we look for markers that the writer included in order to denote a section ending or section beginning.  In the book of Acts, there is a key structural marker about the increase of the Word of God.  Notice the following locations:

  • Acts 6:7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
  • Acts 12:24 But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.
  • Acts 19:20 So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.

These three markers then divide the book of Acts into 4 sections:

  • Acts 1:1-6-7: The development of the church in Jerusalem under the leadership of the Twelve
  • Acts 6:8-12:24: Expansion to Judea, Samaria, and some Gentile regions through the seven, and the scattering due to persecution.
  • Acts 12:25-19:20: Expansion into far off Gentile regions through the leadership of Paul
  • Acts 19:21-28:31: The Word of the Lord continues to grow through the rank and file as leaders, such as Paul, are arrested.

#3:  Outline based on the editorial summaries given in Acts

In addition to the Acts 1:8 passage, and the structural marker regarding the word increasing, there are also summary remarks that seem to end certain sections of the narrative.  They give us reports on what has just happened.  They are:

  • Acts 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; … 14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
  • Acts 2:42-47 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.  44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; …
  • Acts 4:32-35 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.  33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.  34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales  35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
  • Acts 6:7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
  • Acts 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.
  • Acts 12:24 But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.
  • Acts 16:5 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
  • Acts 19:20 So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.
  • Acts 28:30-31 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him,  31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.

It should be clear that these outlines are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, the markers in #2 are also included in #3.  The geography is also remarkably similar, except we have no summary statement after the persecution begins in Acts 8.  Therefore, I would suggest you start with #3 while seeing the purpose of Acts wrapped up in #1.  Acts is about the development of the church numerically and geographically.  Luke shows how it developed by placing key summary statements to help us.

So now what?

Let me make 2 final suggestions to you:

  1. Write a one sentence description of the content of each section of Acts.  Thus, you would have one sentence for Acts 1:1-14.  You would have another sentence for Acts 1:15-2:47; one for 2:48-4:34; one for 4:36-6:7, and so on.  When you are done you will have an 8 sentence summary of Acts.
  2. Go back and read Acts one more time – the whole book – and this time write a summary for each chapter.

If you take these two little steps you will be amazed at (1) how much better you know the book of Acts, and (2) how much better you will be prepared to hear the Word more carefully explained on Sunday morning.

Have an awesome week reading and studying Acts and we will plan to see you Sunday!

Rob GreenRob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.
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