Advances in Literary Study
2013. Vol.1, No.3, 19-24
Published Online July 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/als) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/als.2013.13006
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 19
Revealing the Footsteps of Apostles in the Book of Acts in the
New Testament of the Bible*
Department of Computer Science, Houghton College, New York, USA
Email: wei.hu@houg hton.edu
Received May 8th, 2013; revised June 7th, 2013; accepted July 3rd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Wei Hu. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
The book of Acts documents the apostles of Christ Jesus being empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit
to bear witnesses for Him from Jews to Gentiles first in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and finally
throughout the Roman Empire. It records the establishment and growth of the early church and the spread
of the good news of salvation through Jesus in spite of strong oppositions. Acts serves as a critical link
that connects the gospel of Christ as seen in the four Gospels with its applications as presented in the let-
ters of the New Testament, thereby providing a historical framework for the epistles. In this study a se-
quence of social networks was constructed from the interactions between the characters including Peter,
James, John, Paul, Stephen, Philip, and Barnabas and their locations in Acts. A computational approach
was applied to discover the community structures in these networks, which sequentially revealed the roles
of chief apostles and their locations in each important period of Acts.
Keywords: Acts; Bible; Apostle; Jesus; Christ; Gospel; Church
The book of Acts is authored by Luke, a coworker of Apostle
Paul, and he also is the writer of the Gospel of Luke, suggesting
that these two books form the two parts of a single work (Mar-
shall 1980). Located between the four Gospels and the apostolic
letters in the New Testament, this book serves as an indispen-
sable bridge that connects the ministry of Jesus with the minis-
try of His apostles. The life and ministry of Paul presented in
this book can enhance our learning of his letters in the New
Testament. Furthermore, the conversion of Paul, which changed
him from a zealous persecutor of the followers of Jesus to a
fervent preacher of the gospel, exemplifies the saving power of
God’s love and grace. He was selected and called by God to
spread the gospel to Gentiles and establish the church. Paul
himself quoted his conversion and called frequently in his min-
istry as a living testimony of the life transformation that only
the gospel can generate.
With a unique literary style, Acts records the beginning, de-
velopment, and expansion of the early church from Jerusalem
to Rome in the first century, as the result of the continuing
work of the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit through the apos-
tles (Dibelius & Hanson 2004). Jesus commanded to His fol-
lowers: you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea
and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It is inter-
esting to observe that the ministry of Jesus moved in a kind of
opposite direction: from Galilee, through Samaria and Judea, to
Jerusalem where he was crucified, raised and ascended into
heaven. The message of the gospel is that the forgivingness of
sins is offered to men through Jesus, marking a clear transition
from the Old Covenant of law as seen in the Old Testament to
the New Covenant of grace as seen in the New Testament. Sev-
eral public sermons and speeches on this message are scattered
throughout this book, which demonstrate the primitive gospel
that was proclaimed by early Christians and how it was
preached to different groups of people.
As a companion of Paul, Luke explains in great detail how
the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
Christ was preached by the apostles and other disciples, in par-
ticular by Peter and Paul (Wagner 2008). He traces the foot-
steps of the apostles from Jerusale m, to Judea and Sa maria, and
then to Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece, and finally to
Rome. Following his call to bring the gospel to Gentiles, Paul
and his team went on three missionary journeys, each several
years in length. The first two journeys started and ended in
Antioch and the third started in Antioch and ended in Jerusalem.
Luke is the only Gentile writer of the whole Bible, since others
are all Jews. Because of his Gentile background, he is able to
address the cultural difference between Jews and Gentiles more
deeply than other writers of the New Testament, especially
when dealing with the issue of accepting Gentiles as members
of the church.
Acts highlights the expansion of the church through the min-
istry of Peter and Paul under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, this book could be divided into three parts: chapters
1 - 12 chronicling the start and extension of the church among
the Jews by Peter, chapters 13 - 21 describing the church plant-
ing among Gentiles by Paul, and chapters 22 - 28 presenting the
journey of Paul to Rome. We can also summarize this book into
three periods according to the spreading the gospel and estab-
lishing the church geographically: in Jerusalem (Acts 1 - 7), in
*We thank Houghton College for its financ ial support.
Judea and Samaria (Acts 8 - 12), and to the ends of the earth
(Acts 13 - 28).
In the present study, we created a sequence of social net-
works based on the interactions of the people such as Peter,
Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, James and Paul and their locations
in Acts. A computational method first proposed in (Hu 2013)
was employed to identify the communities in these networks to
uncover the roles played by key apostles and their locations in
each critical period of Acts.
Materials and Methods
The text of the Bible used in this study was from the King
James version (1611 authorized version), downloaded from
http://printkjv.ifbweb.com. The book of Acts was used as data
in our study.
Compared to random networks, real social networks exhibit
several characteristic features such as small world, power law
degree distribution, and community structures (Newman 2010).
A community in a network is a group of vertices that are
densely connected inside the group but sparsely outside. In this
study, we made use of Walktrap, a community detection algo-
rithm, which uses a similarity based on random walks and ap-
plies a hierarchical agglomerative clustering approach to merge
the vertices iteratively into communities. The intuition of this
approach is that: short random walks on a graph tend to stay in
the same densely connected components corresponding to com-
munities (Pons & Latapy 2006).
We present the communities found in a sequence of social
networks from Acts. Although this book could be divided into
three parts as mentioned in the introduction section, for the sake
of clear presentation of the community structure in each net-
work, we chose to divide the book into five parts: chapters 1 - 7,
8 - 12, 13 - 18, 19 - 21, and 22 -28. With different colors these
communities visualized the interactions of different characters
and their locations, thereby rendering the footsteps of the apos-
tles in Acts with a sequence of networks of communities in
time (Figures 1-5). Additionally, to give a quick summery of
the chapters in each network, the word clouds of top 50 most
frequently occurred words in these chapters are displayed next
to the network of the same chapters (Figures 1-5).
Communities in Chap ters 1 - 7
These chapters depict the ascension of Jesus, end of the
earthly ministry of Jesus, Matthias chosen to replace Judas, the
holy spirit comes at Pentecost, Peter, along with John, preached
to many in Jerusalem, Peter performed miracles, fellowship and
community of believers, arrest of Peter and John for preaching
the resurrection of the dead, arrest of the 12 Apostles, the sin of
Ananias and Sapphira, the appointment of the seven, Stephen
arrested, his speech to Sanhedrin, and his death by stoning.
These chapters summarize the early days of the church. Just
as receiving the Law at Sinai singled the birth of the nation
Israel, the Pentecost story indicated the birth of the church,
Communities in the network of chapters 1 - 7 (top) and word clouds of
top 50 most freque n t l y occurred words in thes e c h a p t ers (bottom).
whose purpose is to bear witness for Jesus and to advance of
the gospel into the entire world. The disciples were equipped
with the gift of Holy Spirit for their work to preach the gospel.
This small group of the faithful became witness to Christ, and
they grew in number, revealing the continuing work of Jesus in
His disciples. The persecution of Christians in Jerusalem cau-
sed them to scatter to other places in Judea so did the message
of the gospel. Peter, John, and James were the initial leaders of
this movement and became the most prominent men of the
The names of Moses, Jacob, Israel, and Egypt appeared in
the word clouds in Figure 1, suggesting the history of Israel
was quoted frequently to explain the gospel and how Jesus
fulfilled the Old Testament scriptures during the speeches de-
livered by the disciples.
The network in Figure 1 showed the central figures were
Jesus, Peter, John, and David, and the central locations were
Jerusalem and Judaea. Stephen in yellow was a key figure in
these chapters so he was a connector to a purple group.
Jesus commanded his disciples to spread the good news in
Jerusalem, in Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth
in chapter 1. Peter, John, David, Israel, Jerusalem, and Judaea
colored red were in one group at the center of the network, and
Samaria colored light green was in another group.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
The sermon of Stephen in chapter 7 addressed the well
known heroes and their stories in the history of Israel using
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Israel in Egypt, Pharaoh, Moses,
Aaron, Israel in the wilderness, Joshua, the Tabernacle of Tes-
timony, David, and Solomon. Most of these names appeared in
one community colored yellow. At the end of chapter 7, Saul of
Tarsus appeared for the first time as he witnessed Stephen be-
ing stoned to death as the first Christian martyr. Stephen and
Saul were in the yellow group too. In chapter 3, Peter quoted
the prophets from Samuel on who foretold the coming of Christ.
As a result, Samuel was in the yellow group.
In chapter 5, Ananias and his wife Sapphira died because
they had lied to Peter about the money they received from sell-
ing their possessions. This couple’s names were next to each
other in red. Paul was educated by Gamaliel who was a promi-
nent teacher of the Jewish law. Gamaliel was in the red group
since he was cautioning his colleagues in the Sanhedrin not to
make a hasty decision against the followers of Jesus in chapter
Communities in Chap ter s 8 - 12
These chapters document the Jerusalem church persecuted
and its believers scattered, Philip preached the gospel in
Samaria, he converted Simon the Sorcerer, he then converted
the Ethiopian, conversion and call of Paul, Saul in Damascus
and Jerusalem, Peter healed Aeneas and Dorcas, Cornelius calls
for Peter, Peter’s vision to preach the gospel to Gentiles, Peter
preached the risen Christ at Cornelius’s house, Peter explained
his actions using his vision because Jews objected his associa-
tion with Gentiles, the new Gentile church in Antioch, Peter’s
miraculous escape from prison, Herod’s persecution of the
church, his killing James brother of John, and he was struck by
an angel and eaten by worms because he did not give praise to
God. The disciples were called Christians rather than Jews for
the first time at Antioch in chapter 11:25. Chapter 12 shifts the
focus of this book from Peter’s ministry to Paul’s.
The message of gospel was taken by Phillip to Samaria,
where the Samaritans began to believe in Christ. Phillip in
green and Samaria in red were close to each other in the net-
work, and Samaria appeared 5 times in these chapters so it
functioned as a local connector to two other communities. Phil-
lip was also connected to Stephen that was a local hub for the
vertices in green and red.
In chapter 9, Saul went to the high priest and asked him for
letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus. On his
way from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus,
suddenly a light from heaven flashed around Paul so he fell to
the ground and the risen Jesus conversed with him. For three
days, he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything (Acts 9:9).
Jesus then explained in a vision to Ananias, a believer in Da-
mascus, that Saul was His chosen instrument to deliver the
gospel to the Gentiles, their kings, and the people of Israel. Paul
realized that his persecuting the church had made himself an
enemy of God, so he became the most determined of the apos-
tles of Jesus.
Barnabas was the person who introduced Paul to the apostles
in the Jerusalem church when they treated Paul like the vicious
persecutor of the believers and an enemy of the church he was
(Acts 9:27). As a result, a good friendship between Paul and
Barnabas was formed and they departed on a missionary jour-
ney together later.
The central figures in the network in Figure 2 were Peter,
Saul, John, and Barnabas, and the central locations were Jeru-
salem, Judaea, and Caesarea. Samaria, served as a local hub,
connected to Philip in the light blue community and to a blue
Saul of Tarsus was connected to many important vertices
such as Christ, Jesus, Jerusalem, Stephen, John, Peter, Jew, so
Saul, along with Peter, John, Barnabas and Jerusalem and Judea,
was in the center of this network although his prime time was
in subsequent chapters.
Cornelius was a Gentile and a Roman officer in Caesarea,
who was a devout man, feared God, and prayed to God con-
tinually. While he was praying, an angel appeared to him and
urged him to send to Joppa for Simon called Peter. So Peter
brought the gospel to Cornelius and his family, since in a vision
God revealed to Peter of His plan to bring the gospel to Gen
tiles. Peter was the first who welcomed the Gentiles to the
church and faith in Christ. Cornelius was connected to Peter,
Joppa, Simon, Jesus, Christ, Israel, and Galilee in the network.
Communities in Chapters 13 - 18
These chapters present the call for evangelism, Barnabas and
Communities in the network of chapters 8 - 12 (top) and word clouds of
top 50 most freque n t l y occurred words in thes e c h a p t ers (bottom).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 21
Saul, accompanied by John Mark, departed on a mission trip,
Saul and his coworkers in Cyprus, Saul now called Paul, in
Pisidian Antioch, in Iconium, in Lystra and Derbe, and return to
Antioch in Syria, end of their first mission trip, the council at
Jerusalem and its letter to Gentile believers in Antioch, dis-
agreement over Mark between Paul and Barnabas, Timothy
(spelled as Timotheus in King James) joined Paul and Silas,
Paul received vision to go to Macedonia, conversion of Lydia
in Philippi, Paul and Silas in prison for delivering a girl from
her demonic possession, Paul and his team in Thessalonica, in
Berca, in Athens, in Corinth, return to Antioch, end of their
second mission trip, Aquila and Priscilla instructed Apollos
about Christ (part of their third mission trip).
The commission given by Jesus to his disciples was that the
gospel be preached to all nations. At the beginning, the church
was composed of only Jews, and the gospel then reached the
Samaritans (mixed Jew and Gentile) and finally the Gentiles. It
was at Antioch church organized mission started. Peter helped
the church to recognize that the gospel was for both Jews and
Gentiles. He accepted the Gentiles as members of God’s people
and ate with them.
Paul changed his name from Saul a Jewish name to Paul a
Greek name in chapter 13:9, implying his ministry focus was
on Gentiles. John left Paul’s team and returned to Jerusalem in
chapter 13. Hence from this chapter on, Paul remained the sin-
gle essential figure of this book.
These chapters cover the first two missionary journeys of
Paul. At first, their focus was on preaching in the Jewish syna-
gogues. But many of the Jews rejected their message, so they
turned their eyes to the Gentiles. He stayed at several places for
considerable periods of time to build churches. During a ser-
mon in the synagogue in Antioch, Paul recalled the history of
Israel, stressed Jesus’ Davidic lineage, and preached the risen
Christ. He converted Jews in Thessalonica, and some envious
Jews instigated a riot. The disagreement between Paul and
Barnabas caused them to go in two different directions for their
trip. As a result, there was on team during the first trip, but now
there were two in the second trip. Also a young man named
Timothy joined Paul’s team, who became a faithful coworker of
The network in Figure 3 displayed that the central figures
were Jesus, Paul, John, and Jew, and the central locations were
Jerusalem and Antioch with Iconium in the same group con-
necting to three other groups as well. Judea and Samaria were
no longer at the center of the network, but they were at the
boundary of the network in light blue. The word clouds and
network in Figure 3 both highlighted the major role of Paul and
Barnabas in thes e chapters.
The names in Paul’s first mission trip were in the green
group. During his speech in Pisidian Antioch, Paul mentioned
the Israel history using names in yellow like David, Saul, Cis,
Jesse, Benjamin, Abra ham, Egypt, and Moses. The names such
as Silas, Timothy, Athens, and Corinth in his second mission
trip were in the red group.
The Jews from Judaea claimed that circumcision is necessary
for Christians. Between his first and second mission trips, Paul
participated in a conference in Jerusalem, which determined
that Gentiles who converted to Christianity needed not to fol-
low the Jewish practice of circumcision (Chapter 15). The fre-
quent discussions on the topic of Jew in these chapters made
Jew being at the center of this network.
Communities in the network of chapters 13 - 18 (top) and word clouds
of top 50 most fr equently occ urred words in these chapters (bottom).
Communities in Chapters 19 - 21
These chapters detail Paul in Ephesus, the riot in Ephesus,
Paul in Macedonia and Greece, Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian
elders, Paul and his team went to Jerusalem, end of their third
mission trip, in Jerusalem Paul met with James and the elders,
Jews stirred a mob against Paul, Roman soldiers rescued him,
Paul spoke to the crowd.
Luke says in Acts 19:10, this went on for two years, so that
all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard
the word of the Lord. In the Roman Empire at that time there
were three major cultures, Romans, Greeks, and Jews. During
his stay in Ephesus, Paul baptized 12 disciples, ministered in
synagogue, and sent out his coworkers to plant churches in
different cities of Asia.
The network in Figure 4 showed the central figures were
Jesus, Paul, Trophimus, and Jew, and the central locations were
Jerusalem and Asia with Syria being a connector to other
communities. Also the word clouds in Figure 4 revealed the
importance of Asia in Paul’s third trip. The vertex Asia ap-
peared in the network of chapters 13 - 18 as a non-central mem-
ber. The vertex Jew was still close to the center, but not as cen-
tral as it was in the previous network in Figure 3.
Several disciples accompanied Paul during this missionary
trip: Sopater of Beroea, the son of Pyrrhus; and of the Thessa-
lonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Communities in the network of chapters 19 - 21 (top) and word clouds
of top 50 most frequently occurred words in these chapters (bottom)
Timothy; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus (Acts 20:4).
Most of these names appeared in one cluster in red whereas
Trophimus served as a connector to other communities.
Communities in Chapters 22 - 28
These chapters capture Paul spoke to the crowd (continued
from the end of chapter 21), Paul’s Roman citizenship protected
him, trial of Paul before Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, Paul escorted
to Caesarea, plot to kill Paul, Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea,
trial of Paul before Felix the Roman governor of Judea and then
before Festus the successor of Felix, Festus consulted Agrippa
king of Judea, trial of Paul before Agrippa, Paul decided to
appeal his case to Caesar the Roman emperor, Paul sailed for
Rome, his ship encountered a storm, his ship was wrecked, Paul
and his coworkers landed on Malta, their arrival in Rome, fi-
nally for two years Paul preached at Rome under house arrest,
which symbolized the presence of the gospel in the capital of
the world at that time.
Paul’s witness in these chapters was exactly what the Lord
had commanded in (Acts 9:15), Go! This man is my chosen
instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings
and before the people of Israel. In chapter 23, the Lord ap-
peared to Paul and said, Take courage! As you have testified
about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome (Acts
23:11). When he appeared in court scenes, Paul, like Peter and
Stephen, seized the occasion to preach the gospel fearlessly
Communities in the network of chapters 22 - 28 (top) and word clouds
of top 50 most fr equently occ urred words in these chapters (bottom).
before the Jews and Roman officials. Although a prisoner, Paul
evangelized on his way to Rome and in Rome, a city he had
dreamed to visit for so long. It was Paul’s custom to preach the
good news of salvation through Jesus in every situation, every
moment, and everywhere.
The network in Figure 5 showed the central figures were
Paul, Caesar, and Jesus, and the central locations were Jerusa
lem and Rome. Vertex Rome was present as a non central
member in the network of chapters 19 - 21 in Figure 4. Further,
Felix and Caesar were in green and Agrippa and Festus in blue.
The red vertex Asia connects its community with a green as
well as a blue community, even though it was no longer cen-
tralto the network. The name Augustus was referring to Roman
Discussion and Conclusion
The book of Acts documents the birth and growth of the
early church from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and then to
the rest of the Roman Empire by the followers of Jesus directed
by the Holy Spirit. It traces the spread of the gospel of salvation
through Jesus to all nations, from Jews to Gentiles and from
ordinary people to kings, thus making the transition of Christi-
anity from its root in Judaism to a worldwide ministry. There
are several verses in Acts that report the advance of the early
church (Acts 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30, 31).
Acts does not exhaustively record all events, but selects cer-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 23
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
tain events to illustrate the formation of Christian faith and
church. It begins with the ministry of Peter and other disciples
with Jews in Jerusalem and then shifts its focus to the work of
Paul with Gentiles in Antioch, Ephesus, Rome, and other parts
of the Roman Empire. Amazingly, God used the persecution of
the church and the rejection of the gospel to cause the efficient
spread of the gospel throughout the world. It was a common
pattern of Paul’s ministry: he always went to the Jews first,
when the gospel was rejected by them, Paul went to the Gen-
tiles. Paul claimed when he was in Rome, this salvation of God
has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen (Acts 28:28).
However, God has a timing when all Israel will be saved (Ro-
In this study a computational approach to study of Acts was
proposed. The community structures identified from a sequence
of social networks made from this book revealed the roles
played by the apostles in time. Our analysis of each network
demonstrated that Jesus and Jerusalem remained at the center
while other central figures and their locations changed over
time: from Peter and John in Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 1 - 7),
to Peter, Saul, John, and Barnabas in Jerusalem, Judea,
Caesarea, and Samaria (Acts 8 - 12), to Paul, Barnabas, and
John in Antioch and at the council in Jerusalem (Acts 13 - 18),
to Paul in Jerusalem and Asia (Acts 19 - 21), finally to Paul and
Caesar in Jerusalem and Rome (Acts 22 - 28).
Many important issues encountered by Paul in Acts such as
adherence to Jewish law and the relationship between Jews and
Gentiles within the church were addressed in his letters to the
churches. Our learning of the book of Acts can aid our under-
standing of these letters, which comprise almost half of the
books in the New Testament.
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and theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Wagner, C. P. (2008). The book of Acts: A commentary (3rd ed.). Ven-
tura, CA: Regal.
Hu, W. (2013). Communities inferred from the books of Samuel in the
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Newman, M. (2010). Networks: An introduction. USA: Oxford Univer-
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