Study Guide

Acts of the Apostles

Acts of the Apostles Introduction

The Empire Strikes Back. Dark Knight. The Wrath of Khan. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Aliens. Acts of the Apostles. What do all these stories have in common? Well, besides the fact that they all rock our socks off, they're also all pretty amazing sequels.

Acts of the Apostles is the blockbuster follow-up to the Gospel of Luke. Don't worry: this one is no Weekend at Bernie's II. Even though the whole dying and rising again thing is a tough act to follow, Acts brings the goods... and the disciples never even have to resort to carrying Jesus's dead body around while dressing him in Hawaiian shirts. Thank umm… God.

The story begins a long time ago in a desert far, far away. Jesus is back from the dead and he wants his disciples to know that they need to keep on keeping on. They're gonna need to start spreading his message all around. To the ends of the world, if possible. Do they do it? Well, how many churches did you drive past today? We'd say they were pretty successful.

But even though Christianity is a powerhouse today, the years after Jesus died were kind of dark days. Like the Blues Brothers will tell you, being on a mission from God ain't easy. Most people weren't too psyched to start following the teachings of a poor, crucified Jewish peasant. Go figure. The first Christians were arrested, beaten, attacked, run out of town, and yes, even put to death. It kind of stunk.

Acts isn't all stonings and beheadings, though. That would be a huge bummer. There's tons of awesome stories in there, too. People rising from the dead. People talking about penises (uh-huh). People getting attacked by snakes. Oh, and sermons. Tons and tons of sermons. We'd say they make the story kind of preachy, but, well, that's the whole point.

So whether you want to know what happened to the disciples after the resurrection or you just love a good sequel, crack open your Bible to Acts of the Apostles. And just be thankful that George Lucas wasn't around 2,000 years ago to convince Luke to write a whole bunch of totally lame prequels.

What is Acts of the Apostles About and Why Should I Care?

So you've read all the gospel stories and you think you've got this whole New Testament thing down? Shmoop hates to break it to you, but… you are wrong. So very, very wrong.

Sure Jesus was a pretty important guy. (Um, duh.) That's probably why the Bible tells his story not once, but four—count 'em—four times. His disciples on the other hand… not so much. They usually get the short end of the stick. In the gospels they're kind of bumbling idiots, and they're barely even mentioned in the epistles. What's a follower of Jesus got to do to get in on this Bible action?

Enter Acts of the Apostles. It's the only book in the entire Bible that tells the story of the early church in the years after Jesus died. Building Christianity into the most popular religion in the world wasn't easy. Yes, Jesus spent 30 years trying to do it, but his followers racked up nearly 2,000 years of evangelizing… and 2.1 billion believers. We'd say they've earned their time in the limelight.

While a good story in its own right, Acts is also the only place where you'll find all kinds of stories that are referenced in art, literature, and pop culture. That one Pentecost where the tongues of fire came down from the sky. The day when Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus and heard the voice of Jesus. Miss these stories and you're missing a lot.

Plus, if you plan on reading any of the biblical epistles, you're gonna need to stop by Acts. The Apostle Paul—the guy who wrote the majority of the letters in the Bible—gets a fully fleshed out backstory. Sure, you could just head over to our handy dandy character guide to Paul, but we promise Acts tells it way better. Shmoop is good, but we're no Luke.

So, you may know Jesus, but that doesn't mean you know the whole story. Why not cozy up to his disciples and find out what you're missing?

Acts of the Apostles Resources

Websites

Acts 29 Network
This nice group of people helps Christians start up churches all over the world. Their group is named for a non-existent chapter of Acts because their work picks off where the disciples left off. Deep, we know.

The Brick Testament
Of course everyone loves Bible scenes acted out by little Lego men, but their take on Acts of the Apostles is particularly worth a scroll.

Movie or TV Productions

Peter and Paul
A 1981 movie starring Anthony Hopkins as Paul, in conflict with fellow apostle, Peter, played by Robert Foxworth. Typical.

Saint Paul
This mini-series follows the story of Paul throughout his entire life. We promise it's still "mini."

Paul
This 2005 play portrays Paul as being tricked by Peter and Mary Magdalene into seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus. Hilarity does not ensue.

The Bible
Just in case you wanted to skip the whole reading part of reading the Bible, the last episode of this popular History Channel TV series retells events from Acts of the Apostles.

A.D.
This TV mini-series is based is based on a novel by Anthony Burgess who in turn based that on Acts of the Apostles. It's the follow-up to Jesus of Nazareth you've been dying to see.

I, Claudius
This mini-series features James Faulkner as Herod Agrippa (the one who had James killed and Peter arrested). He and Claudius are tight. He and Jesus, though? Not so much.

Historical Documents

Acts Of The Apostles
The New Revised Standard translation of Acts. Click it. Read it. Love it.

The Digby Conversion of Saint Paul
A 15th-century play telling the story of the event that changed Paul's life on the road to Damascus.

Video

Jesus Confronts Paul
In the movie The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus imagines that he survives the crucifixion and then runs into Paul preaching about him years later. It's kind of awkward.

Puppets Explain The Bible
The creator of Veggie Tales has an awesome (and super adorable) web series called What's in the Bible, which includes a whole slew of über cute videos on Acts. Explaining Pentecost, Gentiles, the Holy Spirit, and Paul's conversion to kids is no easy task, but grown-ups will probably dig them, too. We know we did.

Audio

If They Had A Savior
New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman discusses the lives of three major followers of Christ—Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.

Act of the Apostle By Belle & Sebastian
This tune by this Scottish indie pop band has a couple shout outs to Acts of the Apostles (hence the title). "The lesson today was Acts of Apostles/ The crazy hippies, they're running scared/ She shut her eyes and imagined the desert/ No cars, no mobiles, just sun and bread." It's pretty cool picturing the disciples as hippies.

The Apostle Paul On NPR
James Cannon, author of Apostle Paul: A Novel of the Man Who Brought Christianity to the Western World discusses his fictionalized biography of the man himself.

And Can It Be By Charles Wesley
This 18th-century hymn makes reference to Peter's angel-fueled release from prison: "Long my imprisoned spirit lay,/ Fast bound in sin and nature's night;/ Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;/ I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;/ My chains fell off, my heart was free,/ I rose, went forth, and followed thee."

Cornelius By Newsboys
This Christian rock song is all about Cornelius the Centurion, who—after one talk with Peter—would become the first Gentile-Christian. We'd say that merits a little tune.

Images

Map Of Paul's Missionary Journeys
A handy dandy map of Paul's travels around the Roman Empire.

Sealed With Acts
The first seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It features a Native American saying the words "Come over and help us." It's a slight reworking of the words in Paul's dream in Acts 16:9, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Yeah, we're sure that's how it all went down.