The book of Acts is a richly nuanced story of the spread of the Christian faith from Jerusalem to Rome. Along the way, the preachers of the gospel cross several cultures and subcultures. The fascinating part is viewing through Luke’s camera the way the proclaimers of the faith adapted the timeless message to different situations and ethnic groups. What the reader needs, then, is a guide through these cultures in order to understand both the events of the early church and how Luke presents those events to the reader.
The book I have selected that does this best is actually a book series of five volumes: The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting (Eerdmans, 1993-1996), with Bruce W. Winter as series editor. The volumes in this series try to cover most of the bases in providing background information that will help the interpreter do his or her job, but do not offer a verse-by-verse commentary on Acts.
Installments include, for example, Volume 2: Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting (David W.J. Gill and Conrad Gempt, eds., 1994), and Volume 4: Acts in Its Palestinian Setting (Richard Bauckham, ed., 1995). The aim is to help the reader understand the cultural context for the expansion of Christianity.
Of course, this sort of recommendation assumes a commitment to Scripture as story and not as a collection of propositions. Reading Acts with these volumes as your guide will help you understand the significance of most of the issues and put you in a better position to apply this narrative to your own story, but it will not provide you with proof texts for very many of your favorite doctrines.
David Fiensy serves as dean and professor of the Graduate School, Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.