Literature: Acts of the Apostles

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20a

The last historical work of the New Testament and The Bible, Acts tells the story of the early church spreading out of Judea and the challenges it encounters.

While it was getting pretty good reception in the south and east, a convert named Paul goes on a mission to take the Good News west through Asia Minor, Greece and eventually, Rome.


Tropes

  • Ascending to a Higher Plane of Existence: The book opens with Jesus giving a few parting instructions, then ascending to heaven.
  • Ancient Grome
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The issue of how Jewish a new convert to The Way needs to be is something that the early Church struggled with.
  • Appropriated Appellation: The followers of The Way start getting called "Christians" by outsiders, but they like it so much they start using it among themselves eventually.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Why, hello there, Saul, (Saul,) on your way to persecute the followers of Jesus, are you? Not any more!
  • Call to Adventure: Peter has a vision before being asked to preach at a Gentile's home; Paul has a dream of a man from Macedonia asking him to preach the gospel there.
  • Cliffhanger: Ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, his fate uncertain.
  • Commune: Verses indicate that members of the early Christian church lived in communes. Acts 2:44-45 says of the early Christians: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." Acts 4:32-37 goes into further detail, describing how all possessions were held in common, and the rich believers who owned houses and land sold the proceeds and gave them to the apostles. The first ten verses of Acts 5 describe Ananias and Sapphira, two believers who sold their land but kept some of the proceeds for themselves, then lied about how much they gave. After Peter confronts them about the lie (which was what upset him more than holding back on the giving), they fall over dead.
  • Comically Missing the Point: In Athens, some people receive a garbled account of Paul's preaching and mistakenly gather he is talking about two foreign gods: "Jesus" and "Resurrection"!
  • Decoy Protagonist: Acts initially focuses on Peter and the early church in general before becoming an almost exclusive biography of Paul.
  • Deus ex Machina: God shows up for some pretty spectacular miracles, starting with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
  • Easy Evangelism: Several cases:
    • Peter's sermon on Pentecost results in several thousand conversions at once. Justified, as the Holy Spirit had a big hand in it.
    • Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch who just so happens to have been studying The Bible at the moment and wondering who this "Messiah" might be. Philip explains about Jesus, and within a few minutes the Ethiopian says, "Look! There's some water! What prevents me from being baptized?"
    • Averted several times with Paul, who has more mixed results preaching to the Gentiles. For instance, his preaching to various intellectuals in Athens is described as pretty much an abject failure, with most of them being dismissive of the Resurrection and the most favorable results being a few people who said they were interested in hearing more about it some other time. And of course, good luck getting any of the Pharisees or Sadducees to look kindly on the message of Jesus.
    • Deliberately invoked when a dispute arises of whether non-Jewish Christian converts should then follow the Torah, including circumcision and the Kosher dietary laws. In a meeting of the Apostles, it was agreed that Gentile converts should be exempted from the Torah in order to ease conversions.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Inverted by the Ethiopian eunuch.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: In several places, Luke offhandedly remarks, "So then we went to this place...", indicating that he was actually present for at least some of the events.
  • A God Am I: Herod refuses to deny this when people deify him for his oratory. The real one doesn't take very kindly to that.
  • A God I Am Not:
    • When Paul and Barnabas perform a miracle in one Greek city, it backfires when the locals conclude they are incarnations of Zeus and Hermes and prepare to offer sacrifices to them. The apostles protest that they are just men, but then that backfires by causing the crowd to get angry and stone them.
    • Also, Cornelius meets Peter and bows down at his feet to worship him, but Peter immediately responds, "Stand up; I'm just a man!"
  • Guile Hero: On trial before a Jewish tribunal, Paul recognizes that the group is split between two rival sects, one that believes in the resurrection and one that doesn't. He yells out that he's on trial because he believes in the resurrection, which causes a fight to break out and turns the tribunal against itself.
  • Happily Ever Before: Church tradition states that eleven of the twelve disciples (plus Paul) were eventually martyred, but the book ends with Paul just in house arrest.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Stephen gets stoned. That's actually a pretty cruel way to die, but may have evoked snickers from more recent generations of Sunday School kids.
  • Heel-Face Turn and Heel-Faith Turn: Saul of Tarsus, the approving coat-bearer at the stoning of early martyr Saint Stephen, becomes the chief Knight Templar on "witch hunts" to destroy all Christians until he encounters Jesus on the way to Damascus. Saul becomes known as Paul after he has (quite literally) seen the light.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Stephen, the first martyr.
  • Honor Before Reason: Several Jews made an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul, who was under Roman arrest at this point. They organized an ambush to take place while Paul was being transferred to another city, but the Romans got word of it and sent about 400 soldiers to guard Paul on the journey. It is unknown whether the conspirators broke their vow or starved to death.
  • Hope Spot: The ending, again. Paul may be in house arrest, but the gospel message is still going forward with no signs of stopping.
  • Invisible Wall: Paul wanted to keep preaching eastward, but the Holy Spirit wouldn't allow him to go past Asia Minor.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: So cool, in fact, that even after He goes back to heaven, the apostles are able to convert thousands of people to His message just by telling them what He said.
  • Jews Love to Argue: The Apostles clash incessantly with the Pharisees about whether it's permissible to preach in the name of Jesus. Also, the Apostles argue amongst themselves whether Gentile converts should be required to keep the Laws of Moses.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: For claiming A God Am I, Herod was struck down during his birthday party with a seizure, then eaten by intestinal worms.
  • Living Lie Detector: A guy named Ananias attempts to commit fraud, but Peter sees right through the con. Ananias dies on the spot. A few hours later, Ananias's wife, Sapphira, tries to do the same and suffers the same fate.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Pentecost for the original disciples; it happens again twice in the book of Acts to specifically mark the inclusion of the Samaritans and the Gentiles as part of God's family.
  • Mistaken for Junkie: The gift of tongues on the Pentecost is dismissed by some of those who witness it as nothing but drunken rambling, but Peter preaches a sermon that proves otherwise. Peter starts off the sermon with something like, "Seriously, guys. It's only nine o'clock in the morning."
  • Multinational Team: Beginning with Pentecost, the book of Acts describes the Christian message spreading "to the uttermost ends of the earth."
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The reaction of many Jews to realizing that they had murdered the Messiah. Unlike Judas, however, they beg for mercy and join the fledgling Church.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: When seven sons of a Jewish priest attempted to exorcise a demon in Jesus' name, but had not been give the authority to do so, the demon-possessed man jumped on them and "gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding".
  • The Philosopher: Paul gets to preach to a whole stadium full of them in Athens.
  • Police Brutality: In Philippi, Paul was beaten with rods, a punishment for criminals, and gets thrown into jail without a trial. He's a Roman citizen so that's not supposed to happen to him. Paul proceeds to lay a What the Hell, Hero? on the magistrates the next day, who are horrified when they realize what happened.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Peter chews out someone who tries to buy his way into Christianity. As rendered by The Message: "To hell with your money! And you along with it."
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Apostles still have elements of this, though they've matured a lot since the Gospels.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The original New American Bible rendering of the start of Peter's aforementioned tirade: "May you and your money rot — thinking that God's gift can be bought!"
  • Sequel: To the Gospel of Luke directly and the Gospels as a whole.
  • Shaming the Mob: In Ephesus, a silversmith named Demetrius (worried about the loss of his business if Artemis-worshipers convert to Christianity) instigates a riot, which is defused when the city clerk shows up and says, in essence, "Seriously, guys? You're going to riot about this instead of just taking it to court?"
  • The Sixth Ranger:
    • Paul (Saul) of Tarsus, complete starting as an antagonist and getting more development then many of the 12 Apostles.
    • Matthias is voted to replace Judas Iscariot after the latter's death; however, he doesn't figure much in the book after that.
  • Spell Book: In Ephesus, some former occultists burn their spell books after converting to Christianity. The books' value is estimated at about 50,000 pieces of silver, or over four million dollars today.
  • Spiritual Predecessor: To the Epistles, since Acts is the only historical book of the New Testament where Paul (who wrote the majority of the epistles) is introduced.
  • Suspiciously Specific Sermon: Many times.
  • Tagalong Kid: Mark, first to Paul, and then to Barnabas.
  • Translator Microbes: The Holy Spirit grants the apostles the ability to communicate in any tongue.
  • Unwanted False Faith: Paul and Barnabas get mistaken as gods when they work miracles; when they dissuade the locals from sacrificing to them, their enemies come in to sow seeds of discord and they're kicked out as a result.
  • Wham Episode: While James wasn't the first to be martyred in the Book of Acts (Stephen has that honor), he's the first of the Twelve to be killed for his faith.
  • What the Hell, Israel?: On Pentecost, Peter berates his fellow Israelites for killing the Messiah. 3,000 were converted that day as a result, and many more in the following days.