Conversion in the Book of Acts – Part One

Posted on October 3, 2010 by


The Book of Acts

Introduction to Acts

One of the most faithful co-laborers the Apostle Paul had with him was “Luke the beloved physician” (Col. 4.14). Luke was with the Apostle in his initial Roman imprisonment (Acts 28); moreover, Luke “alone” was with him during many of his last days leading up to his martyrdom (2 Tim. 4.11).

He made contact with Paul most likely in Troas (cf. Acts 16.8-10). There Paul received the Macedonian call, and for the first time, the Acts narrative shifts from the “they”-perspective (16.6) to the “we”-perspective (16.10).

In fact, several instances in the Book of Acts are often labeled “we sections”, narratives where Luke as author writes about his involvement with Paul (16.10-17; 20.5-21.18; 27.1-28.16). Luke has left little space for doubt that the events he writes about are historical events. He seals his authorship at the beginning of each book with an introduction, and this is consistent with other known ancient multi-volume historical works (Luke 1.1-4; Acts 1.1-3).

Luke was part of the mission work going into Macedonia, he witnessed the conversion of Lydia (vv. 13-15), the exorcism of a spirit possessed woman (vv. 16-18), the mistreatment of Paul and Silas at the hands of the Romans (vv. 19-24, 35-40), and the conversion of the Philippian jailor’s household (vv. 25-34).

It appears, however, that Paul and Silas went on without Luke and Timothy, because Acts 16.17 is the last mention of these “we sections” until 20.5. It is conceivable that Luke and Timothy remained and ministered in Philippi for a few years, but Acts does not explicitly say (cf. Phil. 2.19-24). Nevertheless, Luke reunites with Paul at Troas (20.5). From there, Luke apparently stays at Paul’s side all the way to Rome (Acts 20.6-28.16).

In light of this background, it is understandable that Luke would provide “an orderly” account of the origin and movements of Christianity (Luke 1.1-4; Acts 1.1-3). For those events Luke was not present for, he had access to “eyewitnesses” and “ministers” which provided genuine information for the earliest historical events of Christianity (cf. 1 Cor. 15.1-11).

What, therefore, we have in Luke-Acts is an inspired narrative grounded in eyewitness testimony about the establishment and expansion of Christianity. It is a history of how the Gospel was preached, and how those who received the Gospel message responded to its demands. The book of Acts is therefore a book of conversions, where people turned to their Creator because of the demonstration of His grace by sending His Son to rescue humanity from the wrath of God (Acts 17.30-31). This is the major point of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, of this there should be no doubt.

Acts: A Book of Conversions

The actual term for “conversion” (Gr. epistrephei) and its more common verb “to turn” (Gr. epistrepho) appears a total of twelve times in the Book of Acts (3.19, 9.35, 40, 11.21, 14.15, 15.3 [noun], 19, 36, 16.18, 26.18, 20, 28.27). Except for three instances (9.40, 15.36, and 16.18), the terms are exclusively used with reference to people turning to God in response to the Gospel.

What is involved in the idea of turning to God? Although we will later examine several examples of conversion throughout the Book of Acts, at the present we will consider the substance of these nine passages to better understand conversion. If we should fail to understand conversion, then we will also fail to understand the salvation process in the Book of Acts and the New Testament.

[1] In 3.19, the Apostle Peter sets out the case of the messianic hope and affirms that Jesus is the fulfillment of this hope. Since Jesus fits this prophetic mold, Peter presses his case, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out”. Jesus’ mission was designed to be a blessing, “by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (3.26).

[2] Miraculous powers endowed upon God’s prophets were employed to demonstrate that the spokesperson was from God (Mark 16.19-20). In 9.35, “the residents of Lydda and Sharon” saw Peter heal Aeneas, a man paralyzed for eight years, and Luke abbreviates that they “turned to the Lord”.

[3] As Luke summarizes the expansion of Christianity among the Jews which had embraced Greek language and culture (i.e. Hellenists, 11.20), and explains that the missionaries were accompanied by the Lord; moreover, “a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (11.21).

[4] In Lystra, Paul and Barnabas were preaching the Gospel, when Paul heals a cripple man. They are confused for Zeus and Hermes, and the people of Lystra begin to offer sacrifices. Paul and Barnabas try to stop them, saying that they “should turn from these vain things to a living God” (14.15).

[5] When Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem to discuss the relationship between Gentile converts and the Mosaic Law, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, “describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles” (15.3). Only here does the behavior of the penitent become a noun, a technical term for the reception of salvation offered in the Gospel message.

[6] Furthermore, conversion is paralleled with people who “hear the word of the gospel and believe” (15.7); this is a reference to Peter’s baptism of the Gentile Cornelius and his household (10.1-11.18). Against certain Judaizers’ convictions (15.1), James concludes that no excessive burdens from the Law of Moses should be given to the Gentiles “who turn to God” – converts (15.19).

[7-8] Paul stated his case for his appointment to the Gentile mission (26.15-18). He was “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith” in Christ (26.18). And he clearly affirms his faithfulness to this mission, saying that he declared to the Gentiles “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (26.20).

[9] Finally, when Paul spoke to the Roman Jews, he quotes Isaiah 6.9-10 affirming that if they “turn” to God, He would “heal them” (28.27). There is no doubt that all the factors noted above are involved in turning to God. We will consider these factors in following articles.


We will be giving substantial attention to the Book of Acts in its description of conversion, allowing the biblical information to inform our knowledge of the salvation process. The book of Acts is our primary source in this series of articles, an inspired work which sets forth the establishment and expansion of Christianity in the first century AD. How individuals were made Christians then, are how individuals are made Christians today. This is the importance of this study on conversions.