Chapter 1: Introduction

Our purpose is to study what Luke says about the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. These books describe the role on the Holy Spirit in connection with the life and ministry of Christ, His disciples, and the history of the early church. In this Introduction we will present a framework for a review of the data concerning the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts.

The Holy Spirit is active in all that God is doing in the universe. Each Biblical author describes the presence, role, and work of the Spirit in connection with the aspect of God’s work that he is discussing. Inevitably, this leads to a different emphasis from each writer within the overall unity of the Scriptures. We must observe both the unity and the diversity of what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we will include some passages from other Biblical authors as well as Luke.

The Author and His Purpose

It is important to know as much as possible about the author of Luke-Acts and to know his stated purposes. Other purposes and themes may be derived from his writings, but we are fortunate to have his stated purposes.

The Author

According to Green (p. 7), most scholars support the view that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written by the same author. The two books are parts of a whole, and Acts is regarded as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke.

Unfortunately, we do not know as much about Luke as we would like to know. We believe that Luke was a Gentile because Paul did not include him among those “who are from the circumcision” (Colossians 4:11). As for Luke’s vocation Paul calls him (Colossians 4:14) “the beloved physician.”

Luke does not include himself (Luke 1:2) as one of the “eyewitnesses” of the things that he writes about in the Gospel of Luke. However, as Bruce (p. 19) says, several passages in Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; and 27:1-28:16) are known as the “we” sections. In these passages Luke includes himself as a member of Paul’s traveling party. Thus, we know that Luke was familiar with the ministry of the apostle Paul.

In Philemon 24 and Colossians 4:14 Paul sends greetings from Luke. Then, in II Timothy 4:11, when Paul felt that his life was nearly (II Timothy 4:6-8) over, Paul says, “Only Luke is with me.” Obviously, Luke was a faithful co-worker and fellow-traveler with Paul.

The Stated Purpose

What was Luke’s purpose in writing Luke-Acts? The answers are many and much discussed. We will consider some of his central themes below, but it seems reasonable that we should underline what Luke himself says. As Guthrie (p. 93) states, “Where an author specifically states his own intention, that must always be given more weight than any scholarly conjectures.” Luke states his intentions in Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-2.

In the preface to his Gospel, Luke states his purpose for writing. He addresses his remarks in a very personal way to Theophilus, but his comments are addressed also to all men everywhere. In (1:1-4) Luke writes:

“1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us,
2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,
3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;
4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”

Two words in these verses stand out. First, Luke writes an account of the things “accomplished” (peplerophoremenon) among us. The Greek word can be translated “accomplished” (NAU) or “fulfilled” (NIV). Lenski’s translation (p. 24) is “brought to completion.” Green prefers the translation “fulfilled” over “accomplished.” He (p. 39) states, “Luke signals his understanding that the events he will narrate are related to God’s purpose, evident in the OT and the history of God’s people, as it culmination.” The events narrated in Luke and Acts fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament. Much already has been fulfilled, but there is more to come!

Second, the specific aim of Luke is to write a reliable account “so that you [Theophilus] may know the exact truth (asphaleian) about the things you have been taught.” The word asphelian refers to “undoubted truth” or “certainty of proof.” The truth presented is reliable. Theophilus can be confident that the faith rests on a strong historical foundation. Clearly, Luke stresses the reliability of his work.

Maddux focuses on the these two word, “fulfilled” and “reliable,” in his definition of Luke’s purpose. According to him (p. 186):

The subject of the work [Luke-Acts] is those things which ‘have been fulfilled among us’; its aim is to allow the readers to perceive the ‘reliability’ of the message they have heard. It is a work aimed at reassuring the Christian community about the significance of the tradition and faith in which it stands.

In Acts 1:1-2 Luke once again addresses Theophilus. In the Book of Acts Luke will continue the story he started in the Gospel of Luke. Luke makes this opening statement:

“1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach,
2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.” NAU

The Gospel of Luke was “about all that Jesus began to do and teach.” This phrase suggests that Acts would be the story of what Jesus continued to do and teach through the disciples. Jesus was taken up to heaven “after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles.” His orders are clear. As Maddux (p. 10) says, “the gospel-story is incomplete without the church-story.” The disciples are to be witnesses (Acts 1:8) to the entire world.

Central Themes

We turn now to the content of Luke’s history and theology. Because Luke wrote history, describing events that happened, we find that many theological subjects are involved. When you study the history of Jesus and the early church, almost every doctrine is involved in one way or another.

Any given event might involve several themes. We might regard these themes as aspects of Luke’s purpose or even as his purposes. The themes appear in the fabric of the events that happen. The theology connected with these themes is derived from history, to some degree, as well as from theological statements.


Jesus announced his mission in Luke 4:18-19. In the Gospel of Luke we have the record of how Jesus fulfilled that mission while on earth. At one point he commissioned his disciples (Luke 9:1) to go out and proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. Later, he sent out (Luke 10:1) seventy disciples. In Luke 24:48 the coming mission of the disciples is made clear. They are to be “witnesses.”

The disciples will be empowered for the mission. In Acts 1:8 Luke proclaims the theme of the Book of Acts. Jesus tells the disciples that they will be empowered to witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the remotest part of the earth. The Book of Acts tells the story of how this took place. The disciples presented Jesus and salvation to the world. Thus, the entire Book may be organized around this verse.


According to Marshall (Historian, p. 84), “Luke’s purpose in writing was to present the gospel of salvation to his readers in order to lead them to faith or (as in the case of Theophilus) to confirm their faith.” Going further, Marshall (Historian, p. 94) holds that “Luke’s interest is not so much in a theological idea as in a person, namely Jesus Himself.” Jesus is the giver of salvation and is the central figure in the theology of Luke.

Similarly, Green (p. 21) maintains that God’s purpose to bring salvation to all is central to his narrative theology. Green (p. 22) states that “Recent scholarship has repeatedly identified ‘salvation’ as the primary theme of Luke-Acts, theme being understood as that which unifies other textual elements within the narrative.” He mentions other textual elements such as an emphasis on God and on Jesus the Savior, and the call to discipleship.

According to Green (p. 24), “Salvation is neither ethereal nor merely future, but embraces life in the present, restoring the integrity of human life, realizing human communities, setting the cosmos in order, and commissioning the community of God’s people to put God’s grace into practice among themselves and toward ever-widening circles of others.”

As Marshall points out, Luke’s concept of salvation has both present and future applications. He (Historian, p. 95) writes:

The word salvation had a wide range of meaning, and it is not surprising that it came to be used in a rather general sense to denote the sum of the blessing which God bestows upon men in rescuing them from every human distress and from divine judgment itself. The word took on a more positive significance than might have been expected. In particular it was used to refer to the bliss which God would confer on His people at the end of the age.

Salvation is for both Jews and Gentiles. Moreover, salvation for both comes through faith in Christ. According to Peter, God (Acts 15:9) “made no distinction between us [Jews] and them [Gentiles], cleansing their hearts by faith.” The apostle Paul, on all his missionary journeys, preached to both Jews and Gentiles. His message was one of repentance and faith in Christ.

The Kingdom of God

In his Gospel, Luke writes about what Jesus began (Acts 1:2) to do and to teach. We know that Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God (Luke 4:49:11). When He sent out the twelve disciples, He (Luke 9:2) told them “to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to perform healing.” When He sent the seventy disciples (Acts 10:9), He instructed them to say, “‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” Jesus regarded the kingdom of God as both present (Luke 17:21) and future.

The theme of the kingdom of God carries over into Acts. After His resurrection, Christ presented Himself to the disciples, appeared to them over forty days, and was “speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” The disciples were still concerned (Acts 1:6) about when the kingdom would be restored to Israel. Christ turned their attention to the mission at hand, which was to bear witness to the entire world.

The apostles preached about the kingdom. In Acts 2:34-35, Peter cites David who says that Jesus is to sit at the Father’s right hand “‘until I make thine enemies a footstool for thy feet.'” Phillip preached (Acts 8:12) to the Samaritans about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Paul preached (Acts 19:8) to the Ephesians concerning the kingdom of God. Then, in Rome he preached (Acts 28:2328:31) to the Jews and the Gentiles about the kingdom of God.

Conzelman (p. 218) regards the phrase “the kingdom of God” as a “summary description of the missionary message.” He says, “When a more detailed definition is given, then it is the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ that appear as the main elements ([Acts] viii,12).”


The Gospel of Luke focuses on the ministry of Christ to Israel. Although many believed in Christ, the overall situation was that that Israel rejected Him as the Messiah. This led to His death, burial, and resurrection. When Christ poured out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the church was inaugurated. At that time, the church was Jewish. It was not until Peter preached in Caesarea at the house of Cornelius that the gospel broke through decisively among the Gentiles. The apostle Paul spoke in the synagogues to the Jews wherever he went and became a powerful witness to the Gentiles.

Whenever Israel and the church are discussed, the issue of the role of national Israel in the future always arises. Some would agree with Turner when he (p. 419) says, “Israel’s restoration or salvation is a cardinal theme of Luke-Acts.” Not all would agree with Turner, however, when he says (p. 48) that “Luke considers Israel’s promised restoration/salvation to be largely complete in the church.” It is beyond the scope of our study to discuss the issues involved.

The Church

The church is a visible expression of the kingdom of God. As Ladd indicates (p. 113), “the kingdom creates the church. The dynamic rule of God, present in the mission of Jesus, challenged men to response, bringing them into a new fellowship.” According the Matthew 16:18, Jesus had said, “‘I will build my church.'” In his Gospel Luke does not mention the church, but he does make a strong emphasis on the church in Acts.

Jesus, the apostles, and the disciples preached the kingdom of God. Unlike the kingdom, Luke does not say that the apostles and disciples “preached the church.” Instead, he reports that Philip (Acts 8:35) “preached Jesus.” The apostle Paul told his audience at Pisidian Antioch that (Acts 13:32) “‘we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers.'” Several times Luke uses the phrase “preach the gospel” (Acts 14:714:15; and 16:10).

As a result of the preaching of the gospel, the church was planted. The entire Book of Acts is a report on the church. Among other things, the church grows (Acts 2:47); prays (Acts 4:31); suffers persecution (Acts 8:3); is strengthened (Acts 16:5); and expands geographically. Throughout the report, Jesus Christ is central. In addition the Holy Spirit leads, guides, and empowers.

The Word of God also was important. In Acts 6:7 Luke says, “And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase.” Then, in Acts 12:24, he says, “But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.” Similarly, in Acts 19:20, Luke reports: “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” The growth of the Word and the church go together.

The Holy Spirit

The person, presence, and work of the Holy Spirit stand out in Luke-Acts. According to Guthrie (p. 350), Luke-Acts can be regarded as “a Gospel of the Spirit.” He states (p. 350), “For the author the important thing is the recognition of a divine activity behind the events, hence his great emphasis on the work of the Hoy Spirit.” Our entire study is devoted to the study of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts.

The Nature of Luke-Acts

According to Ryken (Words, p. 12), there are three types of writing in the Bible: (1) theology, (2) history, and (3) literature. One of the main forms of literature used is the narrative or story. As Ryken indicates the line between history and narrative is not hard and fast. He (How to Read, p. 44) states:

The task of the historian is to record what happened: the task of the literary storyteller is to tell us what happens. The two ways of recording events can get combined: in the Bible they have been combined, and biblical stories can therefore be approached as history as well as literature. The literary approach is one that explores the story as an experience with enduring relevance.

As Ryken (Words, p. 14) points out, the three types of writing represent corresponding approaches to interpretation. Summarizing Ryken, these three approachs are as follows (Words, p. 12, 20):

Theological interpretation is concerned with moral and theological ideas contained in a passage. The historical approach focuses on the characters and events in the Bible. However, historical writing in the Bible obviously put the historical facts into an interpretive moral and spiritual framework. The literary approach is more concerned with the experiential concreteness of the text, literary genres, and the artistry of the text. Ryken holds ) that the same passage can be approached from all three perspectives. Moreover, the results are best when an approach is applied to the type of text to which it corresponds.

Many have asked whether Luke was an historian or a theologian. In addition we must ask whether or not he was a storyteller. The answer has to be that he was all three. He clearly set out to write history. His history includes many narratives and some theological propositions. We want to know how it all applies to our lives.


Luke indisputably is an historian. One cannot read Luke-Acts without knowing that it is history. All that Jesus did Himself and then through the disciples resulted in the planting and development of the church. Luke wanted to write an accurate history of that activity. According to Marshall (Gospel, p. 35):

He [Luke] was concerned to write a Gospel, i.e. a presentation of the ministry of Jesus in its saving significance, but to do so in the context of a two-part work which would go on to present the story of the early church, thus demonstrating how the message o the gospel spread, in accordance with prophecy and God’s command, to the ends of the earth.

Luke writes his history because he believes he can provide reliable information. As Bruce (p. 19) says, “For the latter part of his narrative he could draw largely on his own experiences: for the earlier part he could depend on reliable first-hand informants.”

His motive, however, was not history for history’s sake. It was to write history with a purpose. Marshal avers (Historian, p. 52) that “Luke was a historian because he was first and foremost an Evangelist: he knew that the faith which he wished to proclaim stands or falls with the history of Jesus and the early church.”


Many scholars also recognize that Luke was a theologian; that is, he had a theological purpose. According to Guthrie (p. 94), some scholars maintain that Luke’s history was dominated by a theological purpose. Some go so far as to hold that Luke altered history to suit his theological purpose. Along with Guthrie, our view is that Luke maintained the integrity of his history while presenting his theological views. As Guthrie states (p. 94) “It is truer to say that Luke brings out the theological significance of the history.”

The “both-and” position is sound. Maddux states (p. 16) “Luke is an historian, but he is at the same time a theologian: he uses history to express his theology. Perhaps we might designate the genre of Luke-Acts as ‘theological history.'” Similarly, Fernando (p. 24) defines theological history as “a narrative of interrelated events from a given place and time, chosen to communicate theological truths.”

Marshall (Historian, p. 18) writes: “Part of our thesis is that Luke is both historian and theologian, and the best term to describe him is ‘evangelist,’ a term which, we believe, includes both of the others.” The important point is that Luke-Acts does have teaching that bears on our faith and conduct.


In Luke 1:1 the author says that he is writing a diegesin. The Greek word diegesin means narrative. In Acts 1:1 Luke refers to his Gospel as his first logon. Among other things, the term logos can mean historical narrative. Clearly, the Gospel of Luke is an historical story.

With regard to Acts, Ryken maintains (Words, p. 422) that it is not only a story, but also is an adventure story. He says (Words, p. 432) “There can be little doubt that the writer of Acts chose events that are representative. As Ryken points out (p. 422), “Storytellers cannot include everything that happened, but they can select the significant particular that suggests the bigger picture.”


Theology, history, and narrative interact to present truth to us. According to Stronstad (p. 42), “On the one hand Luke uses narrative to introduce key theological themes. On the other hand, once having established those themes, he uses narrative to establish, illustrate and reinforce those themes through specific historical episodes.”

If we are to derive theology from history and narrative, it depends in part on our inductive interpretation of the events. We have to determine from the events that took place whether or not there is a norm for us. Also, it is important to determine the author’s intent in telling a story. Of course, Luke does make theological statements also. These statements are tested, to a degree, by historical unfolding.


Hermeneutics is the science and art of interpretation. When we interpret Scriptures, we must determine what the authors meant when they wrote and what the meaning is for us today. Another term for today’s meaning is “application.” According to Fee and Stuart (p. 13), the term “hermeneutics” in classical usage refers to both tasks. However, they use the term exegesis for the first task and hermeneutics for the second. We will use the term hermeneutics in its classical sense to include both exegesis and the meaning for today.

Exegetical Theology

When we hear a sermon, we want to know what it means for us today. It’s wonderful to know the history, the meaning it had for people when it was written, and all the background material. But in the end we need help for our lives. We feel the same way when we study a doctrine.

According to Kaiser (p. 8), there is a gap in the preparation for students for ministry. He says, “It is the gap that exists between the study of the Biblical text . . . and the actual delivery of messages to God’s people.” In an attempt to overcome this problem, he produced his book entitled Toward An Exegetical Theology. With regard to narrative passages, Kaiser (p. 209) holds that the preacher must stress the theology which the author implicitly or explicitly had in mind.


According to Erickson (pp. 79-80), our theology will consist of various types of theological statements which can be classified on the basis of their derivation. He lists: (1) direct statements, (2) direct implications, (3) probable implications, (4) inductive conclusions, (5) conclusions from general revelation, and (6) outright speculations. These are listed, in his estimation, form the highest to the lowest level of authority.

  1. Direct statements of Scripture are to be accorded the greatest weight. To the degree that they accurately represent what the Bible teaches, they have the status of a direct word from God. Great care must of course be exercised to make certain that we are dealing here with the teaching of Scripture, and not an interpretation imposed upon it.
  2. Direct implications of Scripture must also be given high priority. They are to be regarded as slightly less authoritative than direct statements, however, because the introduction of an additional step (logical inference) carries with it the possibility of interpretational error.
  3. Probable implications of Scripture, that is, inferences that are drawn in cases where one of the assumptions or premises is only probable, are somewhat less authoritative than direct implications. While deserving respect, such statements should be held with a certain amount of tentativeness.
  4. Inductive conclusions from Scripture vary in their degree of authority. Inductive investigations, of course, give only probabilities. The certainty of its conclusions increases as the proportion between the number of references actually considered and the total number of pertinent references which could conceivably be considered increases.
  5. Conclusions inferred from the general revelation, which is less particularized and less explicit than the special revelation, must, accordingly, always be subject to the clearer and more explicit statements of the Bible.
  6. Outright speculations, which frequently include hypotheses based upon a single statement or hint in Scripture, or derived from somewhat obscure or unclear parts of the Bible, may also be stated and utilized by the theologians. There is no harm in this as long as the theologian is aware and warns the reader or hearer of what he is dong. A serious problem enters if these speculations are presented with the same degree of authoritativeness attributed to statements of the first category listed above.

The theologian will want to employ all of the legitimate material available, giving it in each case neither more nor less credence than is appropriate in view of the nature of its sources.

Any reader of Biblical expositions, whether sermons, articles, or commentaries, will recognize that all of these approaches are used in Biblical interpretation. Much preaching, for example, applies the point of a story or narrative to the congregation. Indeed in some cultures the most powerful way to make a point may be by a story. We must keep in mind that Acts, in one sense, is the “story” of the early church.

The Central Issue

The key issue is, How does the passage apply to us? There are many principles of interpretation. It is a vast subject in itself. Here, we will speak briefly only about four principles. These principles will be important as we summarize the teachings of Luke-Acts concerning the Holy Spirit.

First, we recognize that Luke is an historian and a theologian. He expresses his history and theology in the form of a story. Our main concerns are, What does he tell us in this story about the Holy Spirit? And, What does he say about the Holy Spirit that applies to us? Does the story make a point or points that have meaning for our lives?

Second, the use of precedent in Scripture is very common. Precedent is usually based on an inductive examination of historical data, including narratives, and arriving at a conclusion that applies to all. This is a procedure used both by science and in law as well as theology.

As an example of the use of precedent in theology, scholars customarily examine how a word is used in Scriptures. When a specific usage is under study, they examine how the word is used in other cases. Then, they sometimes claim that if the word means one thing on all previous occasions, it must mean the same thing now. They have arrived at their conclusion by inductive reasoning and precedent.

Third, Many times, a truth is not explicitly taught in a story, historical event, or proposition, but it may be implied. The implication may be so clear that it has the force of an explicit statement. Our theology would be greatly impoverished if we were to ignore this type of evidence.

Fourth, the Bible makes many direct statements or propositions about truth. Using deductive reasoning, the statements are said to apply to everyone. For example, the Bible says (Romans 3:23) that all men have sinned and need salvation. Then, we say, I am a man; therefore I need salvation. Without doubt, a direct proposition carries with it a high degree of authority.

However, there are times when the meaning of direct statements relies on inductive reasoning. The proposition consists of word meanings inductively derived. Moreover, many direct statements are made to a specific audience on a given occasion and are then made to apply universally. This is done either through inference or inductive reasoning.

The Ephesians jailer asked Paul and Silas (Acts 16:30), “‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'” They answered (Acts 16:31), “‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.'” By word study and usage, we determine what the word “saved” means. In addition we conclude that we can apply this to all men.

A study of interpretation is vital. Students of hermeneutics find some principles of interpretation in the Bible itself. For example, the New Testament authors cite and interpret the Old Testament. However, many of the principles are admittedly made by man. We must approach the subject with humility. There always will be differences of viewpoint with regard to the principles themselves.


Luke is the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. In these books he tells the historical story of the incarnation, life, and ministry of Christ and of the planting, growth, and development of the early church. The mission of Christ is paramount in Luke’s writings. Moreover, the Holy is portrayed as the One who empowers, leads, and guides the mission.

As we study the Holy Spirit, we must employ all the principles of interpretation. When you look at the story as a whole, a major point with regard to the Spirit stands out. The early church expected believers to have a rich experience in the Spirit. Thus, the thrust of the spiritual message was always to enrich their experience and to know the reality of the Spirit in greater ways. All of this will unfold as we study the story in greater detail.

For Further Study

  • Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
  • Conzelmann, Hans. The Theology of St Luke.London: SCM Press, 1957.
  • Fee, Gordon D. and Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1982.
  • Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985.
  • Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
  • Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997.
  • Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. London: The Tyndale Press, 1970.
  • Kaiser, Walter. Toward an Exegetical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981.
  • Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974.
  • Maddux, Robert. The Purpose of Luke-Acts. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1982.
  • Marshall, I. Howard. Luke: Historian and Theologian. Downer’s Grover: InterVarsity Press, Third Edition, 1988. The Paternoster Press, 1970.
  • Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke. Exeter, The Paternoster Press, 1978.
  • Menzies, Willliam W. and Menzies, Robert P. Spirit and Power. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publsihing House, 2000.
  • Ryken, Leland. How to Read the Bible as Literature. Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1984.
  • Ryken, Leland. Word of Delight. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992.
  • Stronstad, Roger. Spirit, Scripture, and Theology. Baguio City: Asia Pacific Theological Seminary Press, 1995.
  • Turner, Max. Power from On High. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1996.

Copyright © 2003 By George M. Flattery

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