The speeches in Acts are an important part of Luke’s historical account. They make up nearly a third of the book. Ten of these are extended speeches: three by Peter, one by Stephen, and six by Paul.
The Ethiopian mentioned in Acts 8:26–40 was an official in the royal court of Ethiopia, located in what is now Sudan and Ethiopia. Philip found him reading the OT Scriptures, which means he was probably a “God-fearer,” that is, a non-Jew who was seeking to know about the God of Israel. His journey to Jerusalem would have taken him three months—a true sign of his sincerity in seeking the Lord.
A famous hometown. Paul said that his hometown of Tarsus (Acts 9:11) was “no obscure city” (Acts 21:39). It had been known for years as a center of learning and in Paul’s day was the capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia. One of its claims to fame was as the site of the first meeting between Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
There are three different men named Ananias in the book of Acts (see 5:1; 9:10; 24:1). The Ananias who was apparently the first believer to welcome Paul after his conversion is a positive example of obedience to the Lord (Acts 9:10–19).
Antioch in Syria was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, after Alexandria and mighty Rome. With a population of over a half million, it was the capital of the Syrian province and a major hub for the spread of Christianity throughout the Gentile world.
The death of James. In Mark 10:39, Jesus implies that the brothers James and John would suffer a similar death to his. For James, this was fulfilled when Herod Agrippa I, Roman ruler over Palestine, ordered his execution (Acts 12:2).
Antioch in Pisidia was one of 16 cities that the Syrian king Seleucus named after his father Antiochus. The city had a large Jewish population and the high status of being a Roman colony, probably Asia Minor’s most important. Designed to be a smaller version of Rome, it was organized into seven districts and possessed all the amenities that Rome afforded. These included an aqueduct, bathhouse, and most notably its large sanctuary devoted to emperor worship.
Why did they try to worship Paul and Barnabas?
When Paul performed a miracle in Lystra, the people treated him and Barnabas as gods (John 14:8–18). They did this because of a local myth about the gods Hermes and Zeus visiting their region in human form, seeking hospitality. Only one couple gave them shelter, and as a result they were spared when the gods drowned everyone else as punishment.
The Jerusalem Council settled some crucial practical issues to enable Jewish and Gentile Christians to worship and minister together (John 15:1–35).
Philippi was founded by the Greek king Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, in 356 b.c. Some 300 years later, in 42 b.c., it was in Philippi that Augustus Caesar defeated Brutus and Cassius after they had assassinated Julius Caesar. But the most significant event to occur in Philippi is recorded in Acts 16:6–15, when Paul came to Philippi, making it the first European city to hear the Good News from this great ambassador of Christ.
The Court of the Areopagus had authority over the civil and religious life of Athens. In Paul’s day, it had a special interest in religion and morality. Paul preached at the Areopagus to a crowd that included philosophers (Acts 17:16–34).
Gallio was proconsul of Achaia from a.d. 51–52, when Paul was in Corinth, the major city of that province. He was the brother of Seneca, the famous Roman philosopher. The dates of his time in office, known from extrabiblical sources, have given Bible scholars a valuable tool for determining the dates of Paul’s missionary journeys.
In the Greco-Roman world, many used magic to heal, to curse, or to control evil spirits. Paul encountered such magicians on his missionary journeys (John 8:9–24; 13:6–12). He showed how Jesus’ power greatly surpasses any magical spells, and many former magicians became believers (John 19:17–20).
Elders and overseers (Acts 20:17, 28) are probably two different terms for the same kind of church leader. In first-century Israel, an elder would have been an older, more mature person to whom people looked for leadership. An overseer would have been someone who was responsible for people or property. Both words describe a person who takes good care of someone or something.
The island of Rhodes, which Paul visited toward the end of his third missionary journey (John 21:1), was famous for the Colossus of Rhodes, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This statue, standing nearly 110 feet (34 m) high, was built in about 300 b.c. to commemorate Rhodes’s victory over the neighboring island of Cyprus. It stood for only 56 years before being toppled by an earthquake.
Paul says that he was born in Tarsus but was brought up in this city, referring to Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). In Tarsus, Paul would have spoken Greek. As a Jew, he was also fluent in Aramaic. Growing up in Jerusalem, Paul learned from Gamaliel, the greatest Jewish scholar of his day. The Lord used Paul’s unique background to reach the Gentiles of the Roman Empire with the good news about the Jewish Messiah who was also the Savior of all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.
Felix, the Roman governor of Judea, was the first freed slave to ever hold the position of governor (Acts 23:26). Coming from the house of Antonia, the mother of Emperor Claudius, Felix and his brother Pallas each attained high positions within the Roman government.
What is “the Way?” In Acts, “the Way” appears six times (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). People who belonged to the Way were followers of Christ. It means the way of salvation (Acts 16:17) and/or the true way of life in relation to God (see Acts 18:25–26).
Kicking against the goads. Goads were long, sharpened sticks used to prod oxen when they were hitched to yokes. Not wanting to be jabbed again with the stick, the ox would kick against it. It would soon learn that it was better to accept the direction of the farmer than to “kick against the goad.” In this context of Acts 26:14, the expression means that it is foolish and futile to resist God’s will.
Running aground on the Syrtis (Acts 27:17) was a real fear for mariners on the Mediterranean Sea in NT times. The Syrtis was an extensive sandbar off the coast of North Africa. During a storm, if a ship was not properly anchored it could be carried for miles off course and into dangerous shallow waters such as the Syrtis.