Acts: Atonement MIA?

A question was posed to me by a pastor in Indonesia: If the atonement of Christ is so important to understand, why don’t the Apostles preach about it in the book of Acts? See here:

@Doulos2Christou I don’t know Christus Victor, but the gospel according to Acts never included atonement. If so crucial why not? Thoughts?


Implied (consciously or not) is the idea that the detailed meaning of the atonement is not a necessary part of the preaching of the gospel – or rather people don’t need to get those details nailed down before they can be saved.*

First of all, I disagree with the premise, i.e. that the atonement was not included in the preaching/teaching in the book of Acts. Perhaps it is not discussed explicitly and in detail, but the assumption of the Apostles was that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – their preaching and teaching was based on the completed work of Christ.

Chapter 2:22-24 is a glimpse into the meaning of the cross, but then see verse 40 where Luke summarizes by saying “with many other words he testified and exhorted them…” all that Peter said is not written in vss. 14-39; beyond that Peter was preaching and exhorting them according to the whole truth about Jesus and His work. We can safely assume that in speaking with Jews as a Jew, Peter took time to explain the greater passover, the greater sacrifice, and the propitiation of the Father’s wrath – all heavily foreshadowed in the Old Covenant and Old Testament writings on which the Israelites of Peter’s day were raised.

But that aside, we also must not assume that for something to be a core part of the gospel that it has to be explicitly written about in the book of Acts.

Think of it this way: Acts is the “video tape” of the first generation of Christians. We see

1) The Holy Spirit fall on them at Pentecost and enliven the mission they have been given by Christ. They go instantly from being a scared little huddle to a powerful cadre of preachers willing to be imprisoned, mocked, and killed.

2) The church of Jerusalem is formed, grows in number, and gets persecuted.

3) Saul is converted and becomes Paul – and his ministry as an Apostle begins,

4) The persecutions intensify and as a result, the Christians begin scattering, which in God’s plan has the effect of spreading the word to the Gentiles.

5) All of these circumstances give rise to the worldwide proclamation of the gospel, to both Jew and Gentile. Many churches are established throughout the Roman empire.

In watching this video tape, we get snippets and summaries of the preaching and teaching of the gospel. The goal Luke has in mind is not to lay down a systematic theology of the cross, but rather to record how the Holy Spirit moved in the first generation of believers. This is done by, among other themes, the record of the general preaching and teaching of the Apostles. In other words, Acts is descriptive rather than prescriptive; demonstrative rather than normative.

In contrast, the epistles are like the commentary and “behind the scenes footage” for the video. Herein the Apostles take the time to detail the Person and work of Jesus Christ. In the epistles, the gospel is examined  in detail from the Old Testament, the life and work of Jesus, and the direct revelations received as God revealed the mysteries kept secret in ages past.

In the epistles, (especially Hebrews which I bet was written by Luke), we get the fuller picture of the cross work of Christ, and therein we derive our doctrines of the atonement. The epistles are surely no less authoritative than Acts in demonstrating the theology of the early church, right?

Thanks for thinking,


*I would agree that of course God can save someone by the hearing of a summary of the gospel – of course. The full, infinite, glorious details of penal substitutionary atonement are not even fully explainable – it is well beyond the reach of even the greatest minds; we are all of us little children in our earthly understanding of what He has done for us. I would not, however, say that the doctrines of the atonement are unnecessary for a Christian to be a good disciple/learner. Once a Christian has begun to read the Scriptures, the truth will filter in, and error ought to filter out. I believe the mark of antichrist is to be confronted with Scripture concerning who Jesus is and what He has done, and to yet persistently, obstinately remain in error long-term.
Categories: The Message of the Bible | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Post navigation

4 thoughts on “Acts: Atonement MIA?

  1. just to clarify, i do believe in the atonement. but i still question “consciously” the importance of it in the gospel proclaimation. in ur post u said that the messages in acts are “snippets and summaries” of the gospel. i tend to view these “summaries” as the core of the gospel message.the atonement is a way for believers to understand the work of christ,but it is not so fumdamental that it must be included in gospel is a way of explaining the gospel, not necessarily proclaiming itluke didnt think it significant enough to include in the messages to unbelievers, but he does mention in the message to the elders in acts 20:28.

  2. I’m not sure we are all that far off from each other in POV here. It seems there is a minimal amount of information which when heard can be believed unto salvation, and surely the details of the atonement are not a part of that minimum – however, I would die on the hill of teaching and believing that once someone is being discipled and learning the Scriptures, if the Holy Spirit is in them they will not permanently remain in heretical errors about Christ and His Word.

    Christus Victor is one example of a heretical error, I believe. It affirms that in the death of Christ He defeated the powers of Satan who held the earth under his sway. This is biblical, and makes CV harder to pin down – yet with the other hand CV denies that Christ paid the sin debt of believers by saying He did not suffer under the direct, penal, actual wrath of the Father due to believers. One wonders how Romans 3:24-26 could be written if the justice of God is not satisfied in the sacrifice of Christ… Pulling on this string unravels the whole sweater, and begins to question the entire OT concept of propitiatory sacrifices, the holiness and justice of God, and the nature of sin.

    I suppose someone could be holding to CV and still be a Christian, but they probably haven’t thought it out entirely if so… but I am in the beginning years of trying to discern the relationship of regeneration with biblical orthodoxy, and I’m sure I have much to learn.

  3. Todd Smucker

    Its worth noting that in Acts 8v32 the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading from Isaiah 53 and Phillip began explaining Jesus to him beginning there.

  4. Jesse Lusko

    This is a fantastic post! I’ve been studying Acts in my personal devotions and also been preparing a series on the purpose of the cross for the youth group I teach, I have found myself a bit puzzled. Your post was extremely clarifying and helpful! I like the “descriptive rather than prescriptive line.”

So what are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: