How to Read Acts

Part 1: Acts 1–12


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

The book of Acts tells the story of Jesus continuing to work among His followers after His death, resurrection, and ascension. In this sequel to the Gospel of Luke, God creates a new multi-ethnic, international community, the Church. Membership in the church is not based on cultural adherence or Torah observance, but on belief in Jesus. It is through the Church that God advances His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the book of Acts, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this first video about Acts 1–12. 




Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the book at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Saul, who was murderous toward Christians, met Jesus on the road to Damascus and went blind.


Observe: As you watched the video, what observations did you make about Acts 1–12? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters.)
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Where an observation determines what the book says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the book means. We’ve asked what the book says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Saul, who was murderous toward Christians, met Jesus on the road to Damascus and went blind. (Interpretation) Saul is an enemy of God. Yet Jesus confronts him and changes his life.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Acts 1–12? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes.)
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Contextualization looks at how the book fits into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: Adam and Eve put themselves at enmity with God, yet God moved toward them with provision to cover their nakedness. God promises a Savior. Throughout the Old Testament, God continually initiates covenant with Israel, moving toward His people, though they are at enmity with Him. Jesus is born as Savior, tearing the curtain in the temple, and giving people free access to God. Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection has changed believers’ position from enemies to children. Though Saul persecutes Christians, Jesus meets Him and initiates relationship, changing his life and his name to Paul. Paul preaches the gospel in many parts of the world and the Kingdom spreads. Countless generations enjoy friendship and nearness to God, no longer enemies. Jesus’s sacrifice enables us to be reconciled to God and to each other.


Contextualize: What themes does Acts 1–12 seem to establish? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to Genesis?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this book applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Just as Saul was an enemy of God, persecuting His Church, I was an enemy of God, an object of wrath. But God initiated and moved toward me in love, destroying the enmity between us and making a way for us to enjoy relationship together. This week, I can enjoy the unhindered fellowship and access I have to God’s presence. I can also ask God to continue to bring His Kingdom through His Church, and to make His gospel known in such a way that many who are now His enemies will come to be His children. I can pray for those I know who don’t yet know Christ, and confidently ask God to reveal Himself to them, like He did with Paul.


Apply: How does the truth from this section of Acts affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in chapters 1–12 this week?
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As you finish this first section on Acts, thank God for how He’s speaking to you so far. Ask Him to continue to teach you as you dive into the next part of Acts.


 
Part 2: Acts 13–28


The previous section of this post focused on Acts 1–12. This final session covers the second half of Acts, chapters 13–28. As with the last section, the goal of this post is to help you navigate Acts, see what it teaches us and how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and, finally, to apply it to our lives. 




Now that you have an overview of the second half of Acts in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Acts. Read Acts 26:12–32. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Acts 26:12–32. 


Acts 26:12-32 (ESV)

Paul Tells of His Conversion

12“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.13At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me.14And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’15And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.16But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,20but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.21For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass:23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

24And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”25But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.26For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.27King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”28And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”29And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

30Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them.31And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.”32And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Remember that observation asks the basic who, what, where, and when questions. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. 

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Acts 26:12–32? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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We've asked what these verses say about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What do they mean? What is the main message of Acts 26:12–32? How does it connect with the main message of Acts? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 


Contextualize: What themes does Acts 26:12–32 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Acts? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible?
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Application considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.


Apply: How does the truth from this passage affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some practical ways you can live out the truths found in these verses this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 


Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Acts, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Acts this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.