Handling the Evangelistic Accounts in Acts More Accurately: Part I

April 19, 2011

Scripture provides us with numerous evangelistic accounts, especially in the book of Acts. Because such material comprises a sizeable portion of one key book of the NT, we should be all the more diligent to handle it as accurately as possible.

Over the years, however, I have observed recurrent problems in the handling of the evangelistic accounts in Acts. One of the most problematic aspects has been the widespread unwarranted assumption that what the evangelist(s) testified in a given evangelistic encounter was limited to what Luke records. In his very first account, Luke provides us with explicit indications that such was not the case.

Acts 2 records Peter’s message at Pentecost. Luke provides us with a lengthy record of the witness that Peter gave, including 23 verses about his actual message (2:14-36). He, however, also provides us with two explicit statements that show that we do not know the entirety of the witness given on this occasion.

First, prior to Peter’s message, Luke records that the crowd were “all amazed and marvelled” because of what they were hearing (2:7). They said, “We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (2:11). Luke does not tell us anything more about what this testimony included, and we have no definitive way of accounting for what information the crowd received at this time that prepared them for Peter’s message. Because the filling of the Holy Spirit supernaturally produced this testimony (2:4), we must hold that this was information that played a divinely ordained part in the ultimate salvation of the approximately 3,000 people that were saved that day (2:41).

Because we do not know exactly what testimony the crowd received immediately prior to Peter’s message, we cannot say with certainty that Peter did not testify a particular truth to them. Thus, this aspect of the record of Peter’s evangelism at Pentecost teaches us that it is not legitimate to use this passage as evidence for arguing against other teaching about what we should testify in our evangelism (for example, 10:42).

Second, Luke records that the crowd responded to Peter’s message by saying, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (2:37). Peter responded with authoritative direction (2:38) and an explanation of that direction (2:39). Luke then adds, “And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this untoward generation'” (2:40).

Luke specifies that Peter gave them “many other words” of testimony and exhortation and summarizes that ministry with a six-word statement that plainly does not record all that Peter gave them at this time. Saying this, Luke provides us with a second explicit indicator that he has not given us a record of all the testimony that these people received on this occasion. We thus do not and cannot know exhaustively what these people did hear to be saved.

Because the Pentecost account is the first evangelistic encounter that Luke records, we are justified in approaching it with special regard from that literary standpoint. Given that fact, Luke’s giving us two explicit indications that he has not given us an exhaustive record of the testimony given on that occasion is noteworthy and implicitly instructs us that we should not regard any of the following accounts in the book as an exhaustive record.

Furthermore, because the Pentecost account records both the first instance of apostolic evangelism after the Ascension and the beginning of the Church, it is one of the most important evangelistic accounts in Scripture. It is also one of the longest recorded evangelistic accounts. In addition to its being the first recorded evangelistic account in Acts, these facts make Luke’s not giving us an exhaustive record of it even more significant.

Based, therefore, on the two explicit indicators from the Pentecost account about its not being an exhaustive record (2:11, 40), we should learn to handle the evangelistic accounts in Acts more accurately by not viewing them as exhaustive records of what was testified on those occasions. The lack of mention of a particular truth in any of the accounts in Acts does not definitively tell us that there was no testimony given to that truth in that evangelistic encounter.

Rajesh

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