Acts of the
Apostles (Ancient Greek: Πράξεις τῶν
Ἀποστόλων, Práxeis tôn Apostólōn; Latin: Actūs
Apostolōrum), often referred to simply as Acts, is the fifth book of
the New Testament; it tells of the founding of the
and the spread of its message to the Roman Empire.
Acts and the
Gospel of Luke make up a two-part work, Luke–Acts, by
the same anonymous author, usually dated to around 80–90 AD.
The first part, the
Gospel of Luke, tells how God fulfilled his plan
for the world's salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of
Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah. Acts continues the story of
Christianity in the 1st century, beginning with Jesus's Ascension to
Heaven. The early chapters, set in Jerusalem, describe the Day of
Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit) and the growth of the church
in Jerusalem. Initially, the Jews are receptive to the Christian
message, but soon they turn against the followers of Jesus. Rejected
by the Jews, under the guidance of the
Apostle Peter the message is
taken to the Gentiles. The later chapters tell of Paul's conversion,
his mission in Asia Minor and the Aegean, and finally his imprisonment
in Rome, where, as the book ends, he awaits trial.
Luke–Acts is an attempt to answer a theological problem, namely how
Messiah of the Jews came to have an overwhelmingly non-Jewish
church; the answer it provides, and its central theme, is that the
message of Christ was sent to the
Gentiles because the Jews rejected
Luke–Acts can be also seen as a defense of (or "apology" for)
Jesus movement addressed to the Jews: the bulk of the speeches and
sermons in Acts are addressed to Jewish audiences, with the Romans
serving as external arbiters on disputes concerning Jewish customs and
law. On the one hand Luke portrays the Christians as a sect of the
Jews, and therefore entitled to legal protection as a recognised
religion; on the other, Luke seems unclear as to the future God
intends for Jews and Christians, celebrating the Jewishness of Jesus
and his immediate followers while also stressing how the Jews had
rejected God's promised Messiah.
1 Composition and setting
1.1 Title, unity of Luke–Acts, authorship and date
1.2 Genre, sources and historicity of Acts
1.3 Audience and authorial intent
2 Structure and content
4 Comparison with other writings
Gospel of Luke
4.2 Pauline epistles
5 See also
8 External links
Composition and setting
Main article: Authorship of Luke–Acts
Ministry of the Apostles: Russian icon by Fyodor Zubov, 1660
Title, unity of Luke–Acts, authorship and date
The title "Acts of the Apostles" (Greek Πράξεις
ἀποστόλων Praxeis Apostolon) was first used by
the late 2nd century. It is not known whether this was an existing
title or one invented by Irenaeus; it does seem clear, however, that
it was not given by the author.
Gospel of Luke and Acts make up a two-volume work which scholars
call Luke–Acts. Together they account for 27.5% of the New
Testament, the largest contribution attributed to a single author,
providing the framework for both the Church's liturgical calendar and
the historical outline into which later generations have fitted their
idea of the story of
Jesus and the early church.
The author is not named in either volume. According to Church
tradition dating from the 2nd century, he was the "Luke" named as a
companion of the apostle Paul in three of the letters attributed to
Paul himself; this view is still sometimes advanced, but "a critical
consensus emphasizes the countless contradictions between the account
in Acts and the authentic Pauline letters.") (An example can be
seen by comparing Acts's accounts of Paul's conversion (Acts 9:1–31,
22:6–21, and 26:9–23) with Paul's own statement that he remained
unknown to Christians in Judea after that event (Galatians
1:17–24).) According to Eugene Boring, the author "is an admirer
of Paul, but does not share Paul's own view of himself as an apostle;
his own theology is considerably different from Paul's on key points
and does not represent Paul's own views accurately." He was
educated, a man of means, probably urban, and someone who respected
manual work, although not a worker himself; this is significant,
because more high-brow writers of the time looked down on the artisans
and small business people who made up the early church of Paul and
were presumably Luke's audience.
The earliest possible date for the composition of Acts is set by the
events with which it ends, Paul's imprisonment in
Rome c.63 AD, but an
early date is now rarely put forward. The last possible date
would be set by its first definite citation by another author, but
there is no unanimity on this; some scholars find echoes of Acts in a
work from c. 95 AD called I Clement, while others see no indisputable
citation until the middle of the 2nd century. The majority of
Luke–Acts to 80–90 AD, on the grounds that it uses
Mark as a source and looks back on the destruction of Jerusalem, and
does not show any awareness of the letters of Paul (which began
circulating late in the century); if, however, it does show awareness
of Paul and also of Josephus, then a date early in the 2nd century is
more likely. In either case, there is evidence that it was still
being substantially revised well into the 2nd century.
Genre, sources and historicity of Acts
Luke (or more accurately the anonymous author of Luke–Acts) aligned
his work, Luke–Acts, to the "narratives" (διήγησις,
diēgēsis) which many others had written, and described his own work
as an "orderly account" (ἀκριβῶς καθεξῆς). Acts,
the second part, is widely thought of as a history, but it lacks exact
analogies in Hellenistic or Jewish literature. The title "Acts of
the Apostles" (Praxeis Apostolon) would seem to identify it with the
genre telling of the deeds and achievements of great men (praxeis),
but it was not the title given by the author.
Luke seems to have taken as his model the works of two respected
Classical authors, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who wrote a well-known
history of Rome, and the Jewish historian Josephus, author of a
history of the Jews. Like them, he anchors his history by dating
the birth of the founder (Romulus for Dionysius, Moses for Josephus,
Jesus for Luke) and like them he tells how the founder is born from
God, taught authoritatively, and appeared to witnesses after death
before ascending to heaven. By and large the sources for Acts can
only be guessed at, but Luke would have had access to the
Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures), the Gospel
of Mark and the collection of "sayings of Jesus" called the Q
source. He transposed a few incidents from Mark's gospel to the
time of the Apostles—for example, the material about "clean" and
"unclean" foods in Mark 7 is used in Acts 10, and Mark's account of
the accusation that
Jesus has attacked the Temple (Mark 14:58) is used
in a story about Stephen (Acts 6:14).) There are also points of
contacts (meaning suggestive parallels but something less than clear
evidence) with 1 Peter, the Letter to the Hebrews, and 1 Clement.
Other sources can only be inferred from internal evidence—the
traditional explanation of the three "we" passages, for example, is
that they represent eye-witness accounts. The search for such
inferred sources was popular in the 19th century, but by the mid-20th
it had largely been abandoned.
Acts was read as a reliable history of the early church well into the
post-Reformation era. By the 17th century, however, biblical scholars
began to notice that it was incomplete and tendentious—its picture
of a harmonious church is quite at odds with that given by Paul's
letters, and it omits important events such as the deaths of both
Peter and Paul. The mid-19th-century scholar Ferdinand Baur suggested
that Luke had re-written history to present a united Peter and Paul
and advance a single orthodoxy against the Marcionites. (
Marcion was a
2nd-century heretic who wished to cut Christianity off entirely from
the Jews). Baur continues to have enormous influence, but today there
is less interest in determining Luke's historical accuracy (although
this has never died out) than in understanding his theological
program. The late archaeologist
William Mitchell Ramsay concluded,
after about 30 years of investigation, that: “Luke’s history is
unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness. . . . Luke is a
historian of the first rank . . . [Luke] should be placed along with
the very greatest of historians.” 
Audience and authorial intent
Luke was written to be read aloud to a group of Jesus-followers
gathered in a house to share the Lord's supper. The author assumes
an educated Greek-speaking audience, but directs his attention to
Christian concerns rather than to the Greco-Roman world
at large. He begins his gospel with a preface addressed to
Theophilus, informing him of his intention to provide an "ordered
account" of events which will lead his reader to "certainty". He
did not write in order to provide Theophilus with historical
justification—"did it happen?"—but to encourage faith—"what
happened, and what does it all mean?"
Acts (or Luke–Acts) is intended as a work of "edification."
Edification means "the empirical demonstration that virtue is superior
to vice," but is not all of Luke's purpose. He also engages with
the question of a Christian's proper relationship with the Roman
Empire, the civil power of the day: could a
Christian obey God and
also Caesar? The answer is ambiguous. The Romans never move against
Jesus or his followers unless provoked by the Jews, in the trial
Christian missionaries are always cleared of charges of
violating Roman laws, and Acts ends with Paul in
Rome proclaiming the
Christian message under Roman protection; at the same time, Luke makes
clear that the Romans, like all earthly rulers, receive their
authority from Satan, while Christ is ruler of the kingdom of God.
There are two major textual variants of Acts, the Western text-type
and the Alexandrian. The oldest complete Alexandrian manuscripts date
from the 4th century and the oldest Western ones from the 6th, with
fragments and citations going back to the 3rd. Western texts of Acts
are 6.2–8.4% longer than Alexandrian texts, the additions tending to
enhance the Jewish rejection of the
Messiah and the role of the Holy
Spirit, in ways that are stylistically different from the rest of
Acts. These conflicts suggest that Acts was still being
substantially revised well into the 2nd century. The majority of
scholars prefer the Alexandrian (shorter) text-type over the Western
as the more authentic, but this same argument would favour the Western
over the Alexandrian for the
Gospel of Luke, as in that case the,
Western version is the shorter. The debate therefore continues.
Structure and content
Acts 1:1–2a from the 14th century Minuscule 223
Acts has two key structural principles. The first is the geographic
movement from Jerusalem, centre of God's Covenantal people, the Jews,
to Rome, centre of the Gentile world. This structure reaches back to
the author's preceding work, the
Gospel of Luke, and is signaled by
parallel scenes such as Paul's utterance in Acts 19:21, which echoes
Jesus's words 9:51 (Paul has
Rome as his destination, as
Jerusalem). The second key element is the roles of Peter and Paul, the
first representing the
Jewish Christian church, the second the mission
to the Gentiles.
Transition: reprise of the preface addressed to Theophilus and the
closing events of the gospel (Acts 1–1:26)
Petrine Christianity: the Jewish church from
Jerusalem to Antioch
2:1–8:1 – beginnings in Jerusalem
8:2–40 – the church expands to Samaria and beyond
9:1–31 – conversion of Paul
9:32–12:25 – the conversion of Cornelius, and the formation of the
Pauline Christianity: the Gentile mission from
13:1–14:28 – the Gentile mission is promoted from Antioch
15:1–35 – the Gentile mission is confirmed in Jerusalem
15:36–28:31 – the Gentile mission, climaxing in Paul's passion
Dedication to Theophilus (1:1–2)
Resurrection appearances (1:3)
Great Commission (1:4–8)
Second Coming Prophecy (1:10–11)
Matthias replaced Judas (1:12–26)
the Upper Room (1:13)
Holy Spirit came at
Pentecost (2), see also Paraclete
Peter healed a crippled beggar (3:1–10)
Peter's speech at the Temple (3:11–26)
Peter and John before the
Resurrection of the dead
Resurrection of the dead (4:2)
Believers' Prayer (4:23–31)
Everything is shared (4:32–37)
Ananias and Sapphira
Ananias and Sapphira (5:1–11)
Signs and Wonders (5:12–16)
Apostles before the
Seven Deacons appointed (6:1–7)
Stephen before the
The "Cave of the Patriarchs" was located in
"Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (7:22)
First mentioning of Saul (Paul the Apostle) in the
Paul the Apostle
Paul the Apostle confesses his part in the martyrdom of Stephen
Saul persecuted the Church of
Philip the Evangelist
Philip the Evangelist (8:4–40)
Simon Magus (8:9–24)
Ethiopian eunuch (8:26–39)
Conversion of Paul the Apostle
Conversion of Paul the Apostle (9:1–31, 22:1–22, 26:9–24)
Paul the Apostle
Paul the Apostle confesses his active part in the martyrdom of Stephen
Peter healed Aeneas and raised Tabitha from the dead (9:32–43)
Conversion of Cornelius (10:1–8, 24–48)
Peter's vision of a sheet with animals
Peter's vision of a sheet with animals (10:9–23, 11:1–18)
Antioch founded (11:19–30)
term "Christian" first used (11:26)
James the Great
James the Great executed (12:1–2)
Peter's rescue from prison (12:3–19)
Death of Herod
Agrippa I [in 44] (12:20–25)
"the voice of a god" (12:22)
Barnabas and Saul (13–14)
"Saul, who was also known as Paul" (13:9)
called "gods ... in human form" (14:11)
Council of Jerusalem
Council of Jerusalem (15:1–35)
Paul separated from
2nd and 3rd missions (16–20)
Areopagus sermon (17:16–34)
"God...has set a day" (17:30–31)
Gallio c. 51–52 (18:12–17)
Before the people and the
Herod Agrippa II
Herod Agrippa II (24–26)
called a god on
Early Christianity and Jewish Christians
Gospel of Luke began with a prologue addressed to Theophilus; Acts
likewise opens with an address to Theophilus and refers to "my earlier
book", almost certainly the gospel.
The apostles and other followers of
Jesus meet and elect Matthias to
replace Judas as a member of The Twelve. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit
descends and confers God's power on them, and Peter, along with John,
preaches to many in Jerusalem, and performs Christ-like healings,
casting out of evil spirits, and raising of the dead. The first
believers share all property in common, ate in each other's homes, and
worshipped together. At first many Jews follow Christ and are
baptized, but the Christians begin to be increasingly persecuted by
the Jews. Stephen is arrested for blasphemy, and after a trial, is
found guilty and stoned by the Jews. Stephen's death marks a major
turning point: the Jews have rejected the message, and henceforth it
will be taken to the Gentiles.
The message is taken to the Samaritans, a people rejected by Jews, and
to the Gentiles. Saul of Tarsus, one of the Jews who persecuted the
Christians, is converted by a vision to become a follower of Christ
(an event which Luke regards as so important that he relates it three
times). Peter, directed by a series of visions, preaches to Cornelius
the Centurion, a Gentile God-fearer, who becomes a follower of Christ.
Holy Spirit descends on Peter and Cornelius, thus confirming that
the message of eternal life in Christ is for all mankind. The Gentile
church is established in
Antioch (north-western Syria, the
third-largest city of the empire), and here Christ's followers are
first called Christians.
The mission to the
Gentiles is promoted from
Antioch and confirmed at
Jerusalem between Paul and the leadership of the Jerusalem
church. Paul spends the next few years traveling through western Asia
Minor and the Aegean, preaching, converting Gentiles, and founding new
churches. On a visit to
Jerusalem he is set on by a Jewish mob. Saved
by the Roman commander, he is accused by the Jews of being a
revolutionary, the "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes", and
imprisoned. Paul asserts his right as a Roman citizen, to be tried in
Rome and is sent by sea to Rome, where he spends another two years
under house arrest, proclaiming the
Kingdom of God
Kingdom of God and teaching the
Jesus Christ". Acts ends abruptly without recording the outcome
of Paul's legal troubles.
Paul's conversion, from Livre d'Heures d'Étienne Chevalier
(c. 1450–1460), Jean Fouquet, in the Château de Chantilly.
Prior to the 1950s,
Luke–Acts was seen as a historical work, written
to defend Christianity before the Romans or Paul against his
detractors; since then, however, the tendency has been to see the work
as primarily theological. Luke's theology is expressed primarily
through his overarching plot, the way scenes, themes and characters
combine to construct his specific worldview. His "salvation
history" stretches from the Creation to the present time of his
readers, in three ages: first, the time of "the Law and the Prophets"
(Luke 16:16), the period beginning with Genesis and ending with the
John the Baptist
John the Baptist (Luke 1:5–3:1); second, the epoch of
Jesus, in which the
Kingdom of God
Kingdom of God was preached (Luke 3:2–24:51);
and finally the period of the Church, which began when the risen
Christ was taken into Heaven, and would end with his second
Luke–Acts is an attempt to answer a theological problem, namely how
Messiah promised to the Jews came to have an overwhelmingly
non-Jewish church; the answer it provides, and its central theme, is
that the message of Christ was sent to the
Gentiles because the Jews
rejected it. This theme is introduced at the opening of the Gospel
of Luke, when Jesus, rejected in Nazareth, recalls that the prophets
were rejected by Israel and accepted by Gentiles; at the end of the
gospel he commands his disciples to preach his message to all nations,
"beginning from Jerusalem." He repeats the command in Acts, telling
them to preach "in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end
of the Earth." They then proceed to do so, in the order outlined:
first Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the entire (Roman)
For Luke, the
Holy Spirit is the driving force behind the spread of
Christian message, and he places more emphasis on it than do any
of the other evangelists. The Spirit is "poured out" at Pentecost, on
the first Samaritan and Gentile believers, and on disciples who had
been baptised only by John the Baptist, each time as a sign of God's
Holy Spirit represents God's power (At his ascension,
Jesus tells his followers, "You shall receive power when the Holy
Spirit has come upon you"): through it the disciples are given speech
to convert thousands in Jerusalem, forming the first church (the term
is used for the first time in Acts 5).
One issue debated by scholars is Luke’s political vision regarding
the relationship between the early church and the Roman Empire. On the
one hand, Luke generally does not portray this interaction as one of
direct conflict. Rather, there are ways in which each may have
considered having a relationship with the other rather advantageous to
its own cause. For example, early Christians may have appreciated
hearing about the protection Paul received from Roman officials
against Gentile rioters in
Philippi (Acts 16:16-40) and
19:23-41), and against Jewish rioters on two occasions (Acts 17:1-17;
Acts 18:12-17). Meanwhile, Roman readers may have approved of Paul’s
censure of the illegal practice of magic (Acts 19:17-19) as well as
the amicability of his rapport with Roman officials such as Sergius
Paulus (Acts 13:6-12) and Festus (Acts 26:30-32). Furthermore, Acts
does not include any account of a struggle between Christians and the
Roman government as a result of the latter’s imperial cult. Thus
Paul is depicted as a moderating presence between the church and the
On the other hand, events such as the imprisonment of Paul at the
hands of the empire (Acts 22-28) as well as several encounters that
reflect negatively on Roman officials (for instance, Felix’s desire
for a bribe from Paul in Acts 24:26) function as concrete points of
Rome and the early church. Perhaps the most
significant point of tension between Roman imperial ideology and
Luke’s political vision is reflected in Peter’s speech to the
Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10:36). Peter states that “this
one” [οὗτος], i.e. Jesus, “is lord [κύριος] of all.”
The title, κύριος, was often ascribed to the Roman emperor in
antiquity, rendering its use by Luke as an appellation for
unsubtle challenge to the emperor’s authority. Thus, while the
overt relationship between Christianity and empire in the book of Acts
can generally be characterized as irenic, Luke insinuates the
inevitability of conflict between the two over the issue of ultimate
Comparison with other writings
Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, ascribed to Valentin de Boulogne,
Gospel of Luke
As the second part of the two-part work Luke–Acts, Acts has
significant links to the
Gospel of Luke. Major turning points in the
structure of Acts, for example, find parallels in Luke: the
presentation of the child
Jesus in the Temple parallels the opening of
Acts in the Temple, Jesus's forty days of testing in the wilderness
prior to his mission parallel the forty days prior to his Ascension in
Acts, the mission of
Jesus in Samaria and the Decapolis (the lands of
Samaritans and Gentiles) parallels the missions of the
Samaria and the Gentile lands, and so on (see
Gospel of Luke). These
parallels continue through both books. There are also differences
between Luke and Acts, amounting at times to outright contradiction.
For example, the gospel seems to place the Ascension on Easter Sunday,
immediately after the Resurrection, while
Acts 1 puts it forty days
later. There are similar conflicts over the theology. While not
seriously questioning the single authorship of Luke–Acts, these
differences do suggest the need for caution in seeking too much
consistency in books written in essence as popular literature.
Acts agrees with Paul's letters on the major outline of Paul's career:
as Saul he is converted and becomes Paul the
Christian missionary and
apostle, establishing new churches in Asia Minor and the Aegean and
struggling to free Gentile Christians from the Jewish Law. There are
also agreements on many incidents, such as Paul's escape from
Damascus, where he is lowered down the walls in a basket. But details
of these same incidents are frequently seen as contradictory: for
example, according to Paul it was a pagan king who was trying to
arrest him in Damascus, but according to Luke it was the Jews (2
Corinthians 11:33 and Acts 9:24). Acts speaks of "Christians" and
"disciples", but Paul never uses either term, and it is striking that
Acts never brings Paul into conflict with the
Jerusalem church and
places Paul under the authority of the
Jerusalem church and its
leaders, especially James and Peter (
Acts 15 vs. Galatians 2).
Acts omits much from the letters, notably Paul's problems with his
congregations (internal difficulties are said to be the fault of the
Jews instead), and his apparent final rejection by the church leaders
Jerusalem (Acts has Paul and
Barnabas deliver an offering that is
accepted, a trip that has no mention in the letters). There are also
alleged major differences between Acts and Paul on
understanding of Christ's nature), eschatology (understanding of the
"last things"), and apostleship.
Book: Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the
List of Gospels
List of omitted
The Lost Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, also known as the
Textual variants in the Acts of the Apostles
Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles
^ a b c Burkett 2002, p. 263.
^ Charlesworth 2008, p. no page numbers.
^ a b Burkett 2002, p. 195.
^ a b Pickett 2011, pp. 6–7.
^ Boring 2012, p. 563.
^ a b Matthews 2011, p. 12.
^ Boring 2012, p. 556.
^ Burkett 2002, p. 196.
^ a b Theissen & Merz 1998, p. 32.
^ Perkins 1998, p. 253.
^ Boring 2012, p. 590.
^ a b Green 1997, p. 35.
^ a b c Boring 2012, p. 587.
^ a b Perkins 2009, pp. 250–53.
^ Luke 1:1,3
^ Aune 1988, p. 77.
^ a b c Balch 2003, p. 1104.
^ Bruce 1990, p. 40.
^ Boring 2012, p. 577.
^ Witherington 1998, p. 8.
^ Boring 2012, p. 578.
^ Bruce 1990, pp. 40–41.
^ Boring 2012, p. 579.
^ Holladay 2011, p. no page numbers.
^ Ramsay, William Mitchell (1915). The Bearing of Recent Discovery on
the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. London: Hodder and
Stoughton. pp. 81, 222.
^ Green 1995, pp. 16–17.
^ Green 1997, p. 36.
^ Fitzmyer 1998, pp. 55–65.
^ Aune 1988, p. 80.
^ Boring 2012, p. 562.
^ a b Thompson 2010, p. 332.
^ Boring 2012, pp. 569–70.
^ "Bruderhof - Fellowship for Intentional Community". Fellowship for
Intentional Community. Retrieved 2017-12-28.
^ Burkett 2002, p. 265.
^ Burkett 2002, p. 266.
^ Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible. Freedman, David Noel, 1922-2008.,
Myers, Allen C., 1945-, Beck, Astrid B. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B.
Eerdmans. 2000. ISBN 0802824005. OCLC 44454699.
^ Buckwalter 1996, p. 6.
^ Allen 2009, p. 326.
^ Evans 2011, p. no page numbers.
^ Burkett 2002, p. 264.
^ Burkett 2002, pp. 268–70.
^ Phillips 2009, pp. 119.
^ Phillips 2009, pp. 119-21.
^ Rowe 2005, pp. 291-8.
^ Zwiep 2010, p. 39.
^ Parsons 1993, pp. 17–18.
^ Phillips, Thomas E. (January 1, 2010). Paul, His Letters, and Acts.
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic. p. 196.
^ Boring 2012, pp. 581, 588–90.
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A Brief Introduction to Luke–Acts
Book of Acts at
Bible Gateway (NIV & KJV)
Tertullian.org: The Western Text of the Acts of the
Apostles (1923) J.
M. WILSON, D.D.
Texts on Wikisource:
Breen, Andrew Edward (1913). "Acts of the Apostles". Catholic
Aherene, C. (1913). "
Gospel of Saint Luke". Catholic
Encyclopedia. See Section VI: Saint Luke's Accuracy
"Acts of the Apostles". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
"Acts of the Apostles". The American Cyclopædia. 1879.
Bible: Acts public domain audiobook at
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Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles
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Acts of the Apostles
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