Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

Religious Sites in Atlanta

Emory Department of Religion

Emory Graduate Division of Religion



Multi-Discourse Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation of Acts 1:1-11

Socio-Rhetorical Examples

For Citation Purposes: HCSB=Harper Collins Study Bible

Acts 1:1-11 serves as a concluding summary for Luke as well as an opening or introduction for Acts. Analysis of the "wisdom," "miracles," "apocalyptic," and "suffering-death-resurrection" discourse (Robbins, 1996c) in Acts 1:1-11 makes it apparent that these four discourses are present in the Gospel of Luke. I will first identify the four discourses as they are visible in Acts 1:1-11. Then, when applicable, I will use Luke to show the intertexture between these two Christian sources. This will establish how Acts 1:1-11 is a concluding summary of Luke. Next, I will analyze the innertexture of Acts 1:1-11 using the innertexture subtextures of repetition, opening-middle-closing, and sensory-aesthetic texture (Robbins, 1996b). Through this activity, we will see that "wisdom," "miracles," "apocalyptic," and "suffering-death-resurrection" discourses are interwoven into an introduction for Acts that serves as a way for the Christian message to be spread to the "ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Acts 1:1-11 contains wisdom, miracle, apocalyptic, and suffering-death-resurrection discourses that are foundational discourses for Christianity. To begin, I will explore the wisdom discourse found within Acts 1:1-11. Wisdom discourse's main goal is to encourage "good" and discourage "bad". This was often achieved in the New Testament through use of sayings of Jesus. Jesus was God's transmitter of wisdom while he was here on the earth. Wisdom discourse is found in two places in Acts 1:1, "In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning". What Jesus "taught" was wisdom from God concerning how to be good and avoid evil. Also, the "beginning" symbolizes wisdom discourse since we know that Jesus was in the beginning (John 1:1) during creation, and that he has/is all of God's wisdom that was first expressed during creation. Acts 1:2 also presents a portrayal of Jesus transmitting wisdom, "until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen". The instructions Jesus gave his disciples and others around him were filled with wisdom, since Jesus was the embodiment of God's divine wisdom. Next, Acts 1:3 shows Jesus teaching the disciples about spreading the Christian message Jesus was "speaking about the kingdom of God". While the reference to kingdom of God is apocalyptic discourse later in Acts, in this reference it is discussing "the content of Christian preaching about Jesus" (footnote, HCSB pp. 2058). Acts 1:4-5 presents a saying of Jesus in which he instructs the disciples further on what to do, " 'This,' he said, 'is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.'" Jesus is telling the disciples to be patient and be prepared to receive the Holy Spirit. The last example of wisdom discourse is in Acts 1:8, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses." Wisdom was transmitted from God to Jesus at the beginning of creation, and when Jesus left the earth, he left wisdom with the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit becomes wisdom and instructs the people on how to live and act. Here, the Holy Spirit will enable the disciples to go and be witnesses to all people.

The next form of discourse found in Acts 1:1-11 is miracle discourse. Miracles were an important part of Jesus' ministry when he was on the earth. His miracles served as a living testimony of God's divine powers. The first example is Acts 1:1, "I...wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning..." The author of Acts is referring to Jesus' miracles when he speaks of all that Jesus "did". In the gospels, Jesus performs many miracles that helped many believe in his powers. In Acts 1:3 Jesus is described as presenting himself "by many convincing proofs" to the disciples. Such "convincing proofs" are the many miracles Jesus performed that showed how God could heal. Such healings in the gospels were appealing and beneficial to those healed and those around them.

Apocalyptic discourse is present in numerous places in Acts 1:1-11. This type of discourse seeks to explain the origin of evil while presenting God as impatient, recreative, and destructive in nature. The "kingdom of God" is apocalyptic because it refers to the future return of Jesus Christ as seen in Acts 1:6, "So, when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of God?'" When Jesus returns, all evil will be destroyed and Jesus will preserve the good, the chosen elect. Apocalyptic discourse also deals with "time" in the past, present, and future. In Acts 1:7, the time of the future restoration of the world is to be kept hidden from all, " 'It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority'". The future time of destruction of evil and return of Jesus is not to be known by anyone. The next apocalyptic example is visible in Acts 1:8 and calls for extreme action by those who are followers of Christ, "�and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth". Witnessing is important because it creates urgency about the present and future times. Since this was Jesus' last command for his people, it shows the importance for telling people about Jesus in hopes that their lives will be preserved when evil is destroyed. In Acts 1:11, Jesus' future return and reign on earth "will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven". This is apocalyptic because it explains that Jesus will return and restore the world. "Note that Luke makes the peaceful ascension a prophetic model of Jesus' quiet return" (Harris 217). Luke seems to think that Jesus' return will be a time of peaceful restoration.

The last form of Christian discourse visible in Acts 1:1-11 is suffering-death-resurrection. Acts 1:2 shows Jesus' ascension into heaven, "until the days he was taken up to heaven" which took place "After his suffering" (Acts 1:3). Jesus suffered and resurrected, but his disciples did not believe that he resurrected until they saw him "� he presented himself alive to them". When Jesus appeared to his disciples, he proved his resurrection from the dead, which is an important part of death-resurrection discourse. After Jesus appeared and the disciples believed, "...he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). Jesus, "who has been taken up from you into heaven", completed his word on earth and returned to his Father in heaven (Acts 1:11). He left his believers with the knowledge that he had resurrected and will "come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).

As stated earlier, these four forms of Christian discourse are all found in Luke. Acts 1:1-11 contains many similarities to Luke but makes no explicit recitation of the Gospel of Luke. Analyzing the intertextures of these two sources helps show the importance of these forms of discourse. Acts 1:1 speaks of Theophilus as does Luke 1:3, "I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus". Theophilus may have been a close friend to Luke as he was writing Luke and Acts or may refer to someone who loves God (footnote, HCSB pp. 2058). The kingdom of God in Acts 1:3, 6 is also depicted in Luke 19:11 as an important topic that Jesus discusses, "As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately". It seems that the kingdom of God was a topic that many in Jesus' day were concerned and anxious about. Acts 1:4-5 discussed the Holy Spirit as a comforter that Jesus left behind after his ascension into heaven. Acts 1:5 says that the disciples will receive the Holy Spirit, "but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now". Luke 24:49 also refers to the Holy Spirit, "And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised" [the Holy Spirit]. In both accounts, Jesus is shown to leave with his followers the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:5 makes a brief reference to baptism with water (John the Baptist) and the Holy Spirit (Jesus) that is elaborated upon in Luke 3:1-20. "John answered all of them by saying, 'I baptize you with water, but one more powerful than I is coming.' He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:16). The main instruction that Jesus gives his disciples is to go and be "witnesses" to the world as seen in Acts 1:6-8. The apostles are called to be witnesses also in Luke 24:47-48, "...and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these". Jesus' instruction to the disciples to be witnesses to the nations as seen in both Luke and Acts is a critical part of the Christian message. Next, Acts 1:8 depicts Jesus ascending into the clouds and is also found in Luke 24:51, "While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven." Both Acts and Luke present Jesus leaving earth in the clouds and also returning, "Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory'" (Luke 21:27). Jesus' ascension and return in the clouds is symbolic of divine presence as seen in 1 Kings 8:10, "And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord". After Jesus ascended, Acts 1:10 explains that "suddenly two men in white robes stood by them". Luke 24:4 also speaks of these angels, "While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them". These angels are shown as comforters to the disciples in Luke and Acts. Through analyzing the intertexture between Luke and Acts 1:1-11, it is apparent that Acts 1:1-11 serves as a summary of Luke.

Acts 1:1-11 also serves as an introduction or opening to the book of Acts, which is an important, foundational book for the early Christian church. Using the innertexture subtextures of repetition, open-middle-closing, and sensory-aesthetic, an interpreter can see how Acts 1:1-11 becomes a foundational passage for spreading the message of Christianity. Wisdom, miracle, apocalyptic, and suffering-death-resurrection discourses are all vital components to the Christian message, as can be seen in Acts 1:1-11 which contains numerous examples of each.

The repetitive innertexture of Acts 1:1-11 shows that eight important words are repeated. The repetitive nature of the words "Jesus," Holy Spirit," "heaven," "kingdom," "Jerusalem," "Father," "baptized," and "time(s)" are a critical way in which wisdom, miracle, apocalyptic, and suffering-death-resurrection discourses are interwoven together in Acts 1:1-11. The name "Jesus" is only repeated in 1:1 and 1:11. In 1:1 it refers to "all that Jesus did" which are his miracles. Acts 1:11 refers to Jesus as the resurrected Jesus who went up to heaven in the clouds. The "Holy Spirit" is repeated in 1:2, 1:5, and 1:8. In Acts 1:2 the Holy Spirit is the transmitter of Godly wisdom to the disciples. In the wisdom statement in Acts 1:5, Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit is a critical part of baptism. In Acts 1:8 the Holy Spirit is important because it enables the disciples to spread the gospel of Jesus. This verse is apocalyptic in nature because it calls for extreme action, which will be enabled by the Holy Spirit. "Heaven" is repeated in Acts 1:2, 1:10, and three times in 1:11. Both in 1:2 and 1:10 the reference to heaven is suffering-death-resurrection, because they both are referring to the resurrection of Jesus. The first and second references to heaven in Acts 1:1-11, "why do you stand looking toward heaven" and "taken up from you into heaven," are both suffering-death-resurrection discourse, because they refer to Jesus being taken up to the heavens after his resurrection to earth. The third reference in Acts 1:11 explains that Jesus will return, "in the same way as you saw him go into heaven". This is an example of heaven being used for apocalyptic discourse since it is referring to Jesus' future return to earth. Reference to "kingdom" is present in Acts 1:3 and 1:6. In 1:3, "kingdom" refers to the transmission of the gospel of Jesus, which is passed down to the disciples from the wisdom of Jesus. In the second, the kingdom is apocalyptic because it refers to the future restoration of the world by Jesus Christ. "Jerusalem" is repeated in 1:4 and 1:8. In the first reference, Jesus was instructing his disciples with wisdom, to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. The second instance in Acts 1:8 is when Jesus calls the disciples to be "witnesses in Jerusalem". In this example, Jerusalem is used for apocalyptic discourse. The term "Father" is found in Acts 1:4 and 1:7. In 1:4 the disciples are to wait for "the promise of the Father". "Father" in 1:7 is apocalyptic because it is referring to the Father as the only one who knows about the end return of Christ and restoration of the world. The Holy Spirit will be transmitted to those who are baptized, as one sees in Acts 1:5. "Baptized" is repeated twice in 1:5, the first referring to John baptizing with water and the second referring to baptism with the Holy Spirit. The last term that is repeated is "time(s)" which is found in Acts 1:6 and 1:7. Both contexts are referring to the future, and are thus apocalyptic in nature.

Another way in which the four forms of Christian discourse are interwoven in Acts 1:1-11 is through opening-middle-closing innertexture. The opening is Acts 1:1-2, which presents a brief overview of the Gospel of Luke and of Jesus' life. This opening contains it's own opening-middle-closing pattern with wisdom, miracle, and suffering-death-resurrection discourses all present. The opening is found in verse 1 where Jesus "did and taught" things. This is a demonstration of Jesus' miracles he performed and his wisdom teachings. The middle is where Jesus was "giving instructions" to his disciples through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2). The middle of Acts 1:1-11 is verses 3-8 in which Jesus is shown instructing the disciples. This middle is probably the most important part of the passage because it teaches the early (and present) Christian church why it is important to preach the Christian message to all people. Acts 1:8 is the climax of the passage, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Here Jesus is calling both his disciples and all who follow him to the most extreme form of action, which is witnessing. This is apocalyptic because it creates urgency in the hearts of those that hear or read this to go and spread the good-news of Jesus to all. The end or closing to this introduction to the program and purpose of Christianity is found in Acts 1:9-11. This is not only the closing of Jesus' life here on earth, but it is also the beginning of the hope and anticipation of his return in the future. "This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). The conclusion shows Jesus' ascension into heaven and also gives hope to all people that he will return just as he left the world. This conclusion is a critical part of this passage because it leaves the disciples and all who believe with a hope that should create a sense of urgency to go and tell all about Jesus. The opening-middle-closing innertexture of Acts 1:1-11 presents a program for the Christian church that discussed the life, teachings, miracles, death, and future return of Jesus Christ.

The third form in innertexture that helps connect wisdom, miracle, apocalyptic, and suffering-death-resurrection discourses through Acts 1:1-11 is sensory-aesthetic texture. The zones of emotion-fused thought, self-expressive speech, and purposeful action are present in many places through out Acts 1:1-11. Sensory-aesthetic texture within Acts evokes a wide array of senses and this is important for wisdom, miracle, apocalyptic, and suffering-death-resurrection discourses. To begin, I will explore the zone of self-expressive speech in Acts 1:1-11. This zone is present as many speak words (e.g., "taught," "said," and "ordered") that are important for the narrational dialogue between Jesus and his disciples. In Acts 1:1-2, Jesus "taught" and was described as "giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the disciples". Through teaching and giving the disciples instructions, Jesus was transmitting his wisdom in hopes that the disciples would obey him. Jesus was also "speaking about the kingdom of God" to the disciples and he "ordered them not to leave Jerusalem" (Acts 1:3-4). Jesus was preparing the disciples through his words for the descent of the Holy Spirit, which would empower them to go and tell others about the kingdom of God. Jesus "said...you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:4). After Jesus said this, his disciples "asked him" when the restoration of the kingdom (apocalyptic) would take place (Acts 1:6). "He replied" by explaining that the time of the restoration is not to be known by them. "When he said this" he was taken up into the clouds (Acts 1:9). While this was happening, "two men in white robes stood by them. They said�" that Jesus will return just as he was taken into the heavens (Acts 1:11). The zone of self-expressive speech throughout Acts 1:1-11 is valuable for allowing wisdom and apocalyptic discourses to be persuasive to the senses through speech and dialogue. Acts 1:4 presents Jesus saying, "this�is what you have heard from me". "Hearing" is the other side of "speaking." "Hearing" is critical, because when Jesus spoke to the disciples, they needed to hear so they could understand Jesus' wisdom and then obey. This brings us to the second zone I will explore, emotion-fused thought. This zone is important, because it is where action and speech are interpreted in one's mind and heart. Once Jesus spoke to the disciples, they wanted to "know" when Jesus would restore his kingdom. Jesus replied that "it is not for you to know the times or periods" (Acts 1:7). The disciples were instructed by Jesus not to focus on when the end would come (apocalyptic) but instead spread the gospel to all people. Then in closing, "as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing�" (Acts 1:9-10). "Watching," "sight," and "gazing" were valuable for the disciples to see and then begin to understand that Jesus has been resurrected and ascended into heaven (suffering-death-resurrection). Once Jesus was ascended, two men said to the disciples, "'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus�will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven'" (Acts 1:11). The disciples seemed to be very focused on looking up towards the ascended Jesus (suffering-death-resurrection), and the two angels comforted the disciples by explaining that Jesus would return again (apocalyptic). Jesus' instructions (Acts 1:4, 7), his ascension (Acts 1:9, 10), and his future return (Acts 1:11) were all important things for the disciples to hear about and see, and they helped them begin to understand Jesus' suffering, death, resurrection, and future return (apocalyptic).

The last zone of sensory-aesthetic texture is the zone of purposeful action. This zone helps miracle, apocalyptic, and suffering-death-resurrection discourses attain their goals. Opening in Acts 1:1, "I wrote about all that Jesus did" which were his many miracles that can be found in the Gospel of Luke. "Wrote" is an action word that explains Acts' connection with the Gospel of Luke. We see here that the author of Acts also wrote the Gospel of Luke, which elaborated more upon Jesus' miracles, or "all that he did". After Jesus suffered, "he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them" and giving them instructions (Acts 1:3). Jesus, with his body, "presented" himself with miracles, "convincing proofs," and "appeared" to his disciples. This helped them see and believe that Jesus had resurrected from the dead. Next, the zone of purposeful action turns apocalyptic in nature. In Acts 1:6 it explains that the disciples had "come together" to ask Jesus about the future restoration. Jesus answered by saying "the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses" to all people (Acts 1:8). When the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples, they will then be able to move in action and be witnesses, which is an extreme form of apocalyptic action. This is because witnessing entails discussing the future return of Jesus. After Jesus ascended, the two angels came and "stood by them. They said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus�will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:10-11). The action of "standing" shows that the disciples were in such amazement that they could not move. The two angels encouraged them by explaining that just as Jesus resurrected and ascended into heaven (suffering-death-resurrection) he will also return (apocalyptic). The purposeful actions of the disciples, Jesus, and the two angels helped the disciples and the readers of Acts to better understand in their minds and hearts Jesus' miracles, future return, and his suffering-death-resurrection.

Through analysis of the innertextural subtextures of repetition, opening-middle-closing, and sensory-aesthetic, it becomes clear that the modes of Christian discourse (wisdom, miracle, apocalyptic, suffering-death-resurrection) all help to relay the Christian message. In Acts 1:1-11 this is executed through telling about the life (wisdom, miracles), death (suffering-death-resurrection), and future return (apocalyptic) of Jesus Christ. If one of these discourses were not present, the Christian message would not be as powerful and would not have the ability to promote understanding in the hearts and minds of all that hear and read this story. Acts 1:1-11 serves as an important opening to Acts which is a critical book for the message and establishment of the Christian church. Through apocalyptic discourse in Acts 1:1-11, a sense of urgency is established for the Christian church to go and spread the good news of Jesus to all people. This was important for the church of Luke's days, but is also important for the Christian church today.


Written by Rebecca A. Messerli, Emory College

Edited by Vernon K. Robbins

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