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Is Acts a History, or an Instruction Manual?

One of the most controversial aspects of this book is here in this chapter, where I look at the book of Acts not as a set of stories from which we derive principles that we are to implement, but simply seeing what our early brothers and sisters did, not all of which had positive fruit. So rather than copying the disciples in Acts, we need to ask if whether or not their decisions were blessed by the Spirit, or caused unforeseen problems. Does your view of Scripture give you the freedom to do that? Why or why not?

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My view of Scripture does allow me the freedom to consider this option. However, this has been a recent change. Starting with The Shack and The Jesus Lens, I find myself much more open to this kind of interpretation. I am grateful that expanding my ways of thinking does not contradict my essential faith in Jesus as our Savior. In fact, having a more open mind allows me to contemplate more readily those parts of scripture that have not made much sense to me, esp. portions of the Old Testament. I am grateful for honest questioning coupled with focus on the essentials—living day to day with our gracious God.


I used to think it was instructional, but these days I am more open to seeing it differently, and that perhaps it really is history.

I think I can see a little bit of this in the way they went to replace Judas by merely drawing straws, and in the way they invented deacons.

Many problems could be solved if we would love one another, and be our brothers keeper, and I think that the more we understand God’s love for us, the easier it will be for us to love others.

Bailey, NC

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My view of Scripture gives me the freedom to question the disciples’ decisions, because they were humans just like us. Yes, the Bible is useful for instruction, but also useful for learning life’s lessons through the problems many of its characters faced by not making wise decisions.

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And isn’t that the story of the Old Testament as well?

Wayne from Thousand Oaks


Only more recently though I am still struggling how to approach Scripture. It has always been presented as the instruction manual. My relationship is to the Bible and God is sprinkled in somewhere. I was always told God only speaks through Scripture so if you want to hear from him get your nose in the book. I hold the Bible in a very high place but there has been a lengthy period here where I could not read it without falling into despair. I didn’t see any love in regards to God. So many verses that had been twisted up in a particular theological slant ruined the whole thing. So I closed the Bible and just asked God to show me who He is. I pray that all the time. Only recently did I read through Ephesians and saw verses fly off the page that I never saw before. Verses that mention love.
Knowing that I can read about what the disciples did but also see that I don’t want to repeat this or that a bit revolutionary. There has always been this idea that to question what they did or to suggest what they did wasn’t God’s best would be to say that the Bible has mistakes. Everything they did seems to be held as inerrant. If the Bible was made up of people never making mistakes it wouldn’t be real because people have much error. I have read Acts before and never picked up on any of this. I now need to ask that question of where is the Spirit and where is it just man doing his thing.


I have been stuck in the first 3 chapters of Ephesians recently and am amazed at how often I read of God’s love, grace, and mercy in these passages and the adjectives that go with these words, like rich in mercy and grace lavished on us (apparently God is not stingy with grace). And then there is Paul’s prayer that the believers would know by God’s Spirit that which surpasses knowledge, the width and length and height and depth of the love of God. A lot of good stuff to see flying off the page.

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In First John it starts out that the Word is God. So the Bible contains the words of God, but ultimately, God is the Word. The Bible is finite, but God is infinite. It helps me to tap into God’s source through prayer and meditation, along with the Bible.

Yes! Even wise old Solomon said that everything he gained and accomplished, which was everything the world had to offer, was meaningless.


I had some issues with this part of the chapter, but I’m not sure if your question is quite fair. It’s not whether I found it descriptive or prescriptive, but rather I feel some huge assumptions were made that didn’t have much scripture or historical record to back them.

To begin with, I’m not sure if Ananias and Sapphira really prove your point about laying money at the apostles’ feet being a mistake. Their hearts were obviously in the wrong place. I don’t think that them giving directly to those in need would have changed anything. As Peter said, “You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:4). Lying to the Holy Spirit was their sin, not laying down money at the apostles’ feet.

What I’m most bothered by in this section, however, is your descriptions of Peter and John. I’m not saying what they did is necessarily prescriptive. As apostles, I feel that they had a very different role than many of us today. So it’s very possible that if a pastor did something similar to what they did here, shutting himself off from the problem to “study the Word”, it could very wrong.
To be honest, though, your criticism of them being in “their prayer closets” made me a bit uneasy. All throughout scripture we see that we should be in constant prayer. Jesus himself would go off to pray for long periods of time. And it was John who later wrote Revelation. Perhaps he was chosen to do so because he was in constant prayer…
The same applies to the ministry of the Word. In Acts 2, it was Peter who preached (and quoted quite a bit of the Old Testament, which means he must have been doing some studying…) that stirred up 3000 people to repentance.

Anyway, my point is that I’m not completely sure if laying money at the apostles’ feet was good or not. I feel like we don’t have enough evidence to back up the claim that it was wrong, but I also found your question “What if instead of creating a widow’s fund that needed administration, they would have asked the bigger question: Why are we neglecting to care for the neediest among us?” to be a good one.

While reading the Old Testament, we often make judgments on the actions people made based on the fruit or other scriptures. So I have no problem with approaching Acts in a similar manner. But I don’t see what bad fruit came out of what happened in Act 6. On the contrary, Acts 6:7 says “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith”, which looks pretty positive to me.

Thanks again for taking for taking the time to answer our questions. I really appreciate it.


Hi Annika. This is the dialog I hoped for. I know this way of looking at Scripture is a stretch for some, which is why I posed it in the book as a possibility. It is a conclusion I am increasingly coming to, but that may not be true for every one. I don’t know if you want a point-by-point commentary on each of your questions or comments, but here is some feedback. I wasn’t saying laying the money at the disciples’ feet was wrong only that it was a change, and that change opened the door to some problems later on. Were the problems just part of the process? Quite possibly. But they may also indicate that centralizing authority and building a hierarchy was not a foolproof way to go.

The larger question you mentioned is the important one. Were there more relational ways to address these needs that they didn’t see. And what’s telling to me is that the rest of the time through Acts the disciples seem to move away from centralized systems. That’s what convinces me there was a lesson to be learned here. The early church were people just like us, grabbing onto something that was so new and counterintuitive that of course they would first try the normal human systems we’d all use to manage such things. Could it have been a mistake? Sure. They made lots of mistakes in the early church, even Peter needed to rebuked by Paul for his racist response to the Gentiles in Galatians 2.

I’m only suggesting in this chapter that a bigger lesson is unfolding in Acts if we are careful to see it. Others may disagree and I’m fine with that. We don’t have to see it the same way to ask the larger question.

But I don’t think Peter prepared for his sermon at Pentecost. He didn’t even know it was coming. He spoke out of the fullness of what he knew from his own training or learned from Jesus. But I think Acts is clear that it was a spontaneous event that no one was prepared for, except the Spirit who filled them.

It’s helpful if we see that just because a follower of Jesus does something in Scripture that it is the best option. We have to see how their choices worked out. Sometimes they were helpful to the kingdom, and other times they weren’t. That’s how we all learn.


I recall years ago hearing someone talking about the book of Acts with reference to the people having all things in common… bringing their physical possessions to the community chest, and how that didn’t really play out well in the long run. Not that sharing and giving generously were negatives. What was pointed out was that later on there were rebukes towards some that translated the trend to mean they didn’t need to apply themselves to personal responsibilities, and for lack of a better word right now, became ‘freeloaders.’ I know that the concept of giving of all your substance was/is preached from the pulpit based on that situation recorded in Acts. It is also used by some to promote the welfare state or applaud the communist social view as being generous and perfect. Unfortunately, man has not been able to create a perfect system as we live in a world which has difficulty discerning the parameters of function and dysfunction.
Reading the history of the early New Covenant times from a wider perspective of recorded actions and consequences provides the readers with an opportunity to learn perspective and balance, keeping in mind the pitfalls we humans are subject / prone to. These things can serve as counsel when considering long-range effects of incorporating blanket doctrines / protocols. Yet another reason to walk in consideration of the leading / counsel of the Holy Spirit throughout the processes we face living in the community of the earth.
I see the Old Covenant and the New Covenant times more from a historical perspective than a doctrinal one over the past decade or so, from which we can glean deeper understanding in considering how we choose to conduct ourselves, and not so much of an ‘instructional manual’ of do this and don’t do that.