Why Does the Book of Acts End So Abruptly?
What Acts Teaches Us
Acts is not only a transitional book but also a programmatic one. It has something to teach every generation. We must follow its model. It is not a book locked up in the past but bursting with meaning for the present. As Erasmus says, Acts provides “the foundations of the newborn church . . . through [which] we hope that the church in ruins will be reborn.”1
The last words of Acts indicate the narrative is incomplete:
[Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:30–31)
Most stories enjoy tying all the loose ends together, while others leave things unfinished for readers to consider their own responsibility.2 Luke closes his narrative with abruptness: a two-verse summary of Paul’s prison ministry in Rome.
What Luke does not recount is almost as notable as what he does. He does not relate Paul’s audience with Caesar, Paul’s release, or the response to Paul’s message. Rather, he communicates the time Paul spent in the rented house (two years), his hospitality (he welcomed all—most likely Jews and Gentiles), and the success of his message (proclaiming the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance).
This shows Luke’s account is not about Paul or Peter primarily, but about God’s work in the world. Acts is about resurrection life, the expansion of the temple, and the advance of the word. While Paul is in prison, the testimony of Jesus and the kingdom go forth unhindered.
The Mission of the Triune God
Follow Luke’s ordered narrative of events in the book of Acts to see how the early church grew “under the plan of God, centered on King Jesus, and empowered by the Spirit.”
The Unhindered Gospel
The last word of the book, akōlytōs (“unhindered”), confirms there were no restraints on Paul’s preaching. Luke has already employed a form of this word (kōlyō) at key junctures three times in his narrative. It occurs in the story of the eunuch (Acts 8:36) and twice in the Cornelius narrative (Acts 10:47; Acts 11:17). The gospel of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus has overcome all geographic boundaries, social differences, ethnic diversities, human prejudices, gender biases, legal obstacles, and theological barriers.3
This abrupt but victorious ending compels readers to ask about their own role in this narrative. Acts offers a word of encouragement. Yet, encouragement for what? The last two sentences indicate it is an encouragement to press on in the mission. The triune God is doing a work in the world that the powers of darkness marvel at, and the world will both oppose and be astonished at it. Though there will be setbacks, though all might seem dark, though it might seem as if God’s people are always in the valley, a light shines through the gloom. God’s purposes will not be stopped. They will not be stopped because God has pledged himself to this work. He has put his name behind it.
The triune God is doing a work in the world that the powers of darkness marvel at, and the world will both oppose and be astonished at it.
Acts is therefore a programmatic book because it encourages the church to press on in its own agency as it is compelled by divine agency. God is building his church. Therefore, the church must welcome all, speak of salvation in Jesus’s name, and witness to the ends of the earth.
Though Luke’s narrative is finished, the opportunities for his hearers are endless. The church narrative and God’s mission continue. They expand toward the horizon. A retrieval of the theology of Acts provides the groundwork for the rebirth of the modern church. Since Luke wrote an ordered narrative, readers must follow this order to mine the theological rebirth that Luke offers.
- Desiderius Erasmus, Paraphrase on Acts, trans. Robert D. Sider, vol. 50 of Collected Works of Erasmus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995), 4.
- Joshua Jipp, Divine Visitations and Hospitality to Strangers in Luke-Acts: An Interpretation of the Malta Episode in Acts 28:1–10 (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 284–87, argues this entire last section and not just the last few verses of Acts has an open-endedness to it. This explains why Luke resorts to symbols in this last section rather than being more explicit. By excluding information (e.g., explicit preaching of the gospel, explicit Eucharist meal), Luke displaces his reader, leaves the narrative open, and calls his readers to participate in the narrative.
- Richard Pervo, Acts: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 688, notes in Greek literature and the philosophical tradition the term akōlytōs is related to virtue.
This article is adapted from The Mission of the Triune God: A Theology of Acts by Patrick Schreiner.
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