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How Does The Conversion Of Samaria (acts 8:4–25) Contribute To Luke’s Purpose?

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Author
  3. Luke’s Purpose
  4. Why Samaria?
  5. Conclusion


The Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, the New Testament, the Old Testament. These all work together to weave a tapestry that tells the story of God’s relationship with mankind. Every part is as valuable as the other adding to the overall context of the story. Luke’s Gospel and the related Book of Acts are no exception. They play an integral part in helping to understand the character of God, the purposes of God, the workings of the Holy Spirit and the historical world context of the life of Christ.

The conversion of Gentiles, to become believers in Christ, in Samaria was a very historically and spiritually significant event in the New Testament church, of which modern Christianity was born. A full understanding of the purpose and significance of the conversion event that took place in Samaria (in Acts Chapter 8) requires a contextual understanding of: world historical events at the time; cultural nuances of the different people groups involved in the event (particularly the Gentile Samaritans and the Jews); the author’s purpose and cultural background; where the event fits into the overall Bible story; the target audience of the text; and how the text is relevant to Christians today.

The Author

It cannot be determined with certainty who the author of the Book of Acts was (reference here). Determining the cultural, educational and religious background of the author is important to understanding the purposes of the author. While there is no known information outside of the Bible relating to the authorship of either Luke or the Acts, there are clues within the Bible that suggest who the author is and what their background may have been.

There are clues in the Bible that suggest that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written by the same author and were intended to complement each other. The Gospel of Luke is addressed to Theophilus and the author expresses his desire to record an orderly account of the things fulfilled (fully completed) by the first Christian Church. The Book of Acts is also addressed to Theophilus and makes reference to a “former book” in which the author recounted the affairs of Jesus until He was taken up to Heaven. The Gospel of Luke is precisely this, an account of the works of Jesus which concludes with His ascension. This is the strongest evidence connecting these two books.

The person of Luke is mentioned three times in the Bible (in Philemon 1:24, Colossians 4 and 2 Timothy 4). In all three passages Paul describes Luke as one of his companions on his missionary journeys. In several sections of the Book of Acts the author uses first person perspective when recording certain events. The first instance of the use of first-person perspective is when Paul sails for Macedonia from Troas in Mysia. Perhaps this was the author’s place of origin and he joined Paul on his missionary journeys from here. This is not known. The writing perspective does switch several times between first-person and second-person perspective, suggesting that the author only accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, but the Book of Acts concludes with the author detailing the arrival of Paul in Rome from a first-person perspective, suggesting that he accompanied Paul to Rome. In 2 Timothy 4 Paul states that most of his followers had abandoned him and that only Luke remained with him, suggesting that the Luke mentioned in 2 Timothy and the author of Acts both accompanied Paul to Rome and may likely be the same person.

In Colossians Paul refers to Luke as “our beloved physician”, suggesting that Luke had a background in the medical profession. William Kirk Hobart[footnoteRef:1] undertakes a detailed study into the language used in both the Book of Acts and the four Gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). He compares the original Greek language used in all five books. Hobart finds that the general tone of Luke and Acts suggests that the author was a medical professional. There are two specific areas that Hobart investigates, specific medical terminology and the general language used in the texts. Hobart found that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts both describe the medical conditions of the people that Jesus or the apostles healed in greater detail than the other Gospel accounts and that the author uses quite technical medical terminology to describe the ailments. He compares the medical terminology used in Luke and Acts to terminology used in the works of Greek medical pioneers like Hippocrates and Galen. He also states that the language used in general by the author of Luke and Acts is consistent with language used in Greek Medical Schools of the time and that this style of language was unlikely to have been used by the general populace of the time. [1: Hobart, William Kirk. The medical language of St. Luke; a proof from internal evidence that ‘The Gospel according to St. Luke’ and ‘The acts of the apostles’ were written by the same person, and that the writer was a medical man. Ireland, Hodges, Figgis, 1882.]

While the narrative of the Book of Acts starts with the close followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, the sphere of influence of the Gospel of Christ expands geographically and in the number of key players who were actively spreading the Gospel, like ripples upon a lake. The author of the Book of Acts chooses to follow the journey of Paul rather than Barnabas or any of the other apostles, many of whom had a closer Jesus and had firsthand accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. He instead chooses to follow the missionary journeys of Paul. It could be an indication that the author of the Book of Act came to Christianity under Paul and became a ministry companion of Pauls making the latter segments of the Book of Acts first-hand accounts of the author rather than secondary accounts. As Luke was one of the people mentioned by name by Paul in his epistles and was one of the few companions who remained with him until his journey to Rome, he can be considered a strong candidate for the authorship of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

Although it cannot be concluded with any certainty that Luke, the physician that Paul references in his epistles is the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, cumulatively the writing style of both books, the content of both books and references to Luke in the Pauline Epistles all suggest that Luke is the author of these books. And from this information Luke appears to be a medical professional, of Greek-Gentile origin who was converted by, mentored by and a companion of Pauls. That Luke was a Gentile is an important factor in his purpose within Acts as the Book of Acts outlines the expansion of the Gospel and God’s relationship with mankind from primarily the Jewish people to the Gentiles and the entire world. And the conversion event in Samaria was a catalyst for the Gospel spreading to the non-Jewish world.

Luke’s Purpose

The Book of Acts is an incredibly important book in the Bible. It details the first manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament Church as well as telling the story of how God broadened his relationship with mankind from being primarily Judeocentric to a relationship available to all mankind. It is the example of how God intended His church to be, a unification of Jews and Gentiles serving God in harmony. The church has not exactly developed as God planned it in Acts, but modern Christians can garner wisdom and guidance from its chronicles.

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At the commencement of the Gospel of Luke, Luke clearly states that he intends to write and orderly and reliable account of the works of Jesus and the Apostles as a reaffirmation of other accounts of the same, for the benefit of Theophilus. Although his communication was initially only intended for Theophilus, the book of Acts hasave been included recognised as Biblical canon and now provides all Christians with an orderly and reliable recount of the expansion of the First Christian Church. Given Luke’s background as a Gentile and his Septuagint Greek writing style, the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke are two narratives which would be well suited to a Gentile audience. Luke’s background enables him to be sympathetic to a Gentile perspective. The Book of Acts certainly (even if unintentionally) opens the Gentile world to a following that until that point had been intrinsically Jewish. Following the same theme, the Book of Acts is full of instances of the Holy Spirit working in unexpected but powerful ways.

The persecution and subsequent scattering of believers detailed at the beginning of Acts 8, would have seemed a catastrophic situation to the Early Church followers. But this is the event that led Phillip to Samaria, which in turn led to a great number of Gentiles hearing the Gospel and becoming followers of Christ. Many of the major conversion events were a result of seemingly negative circumstance. The conversion at Antioch was a result of the persecution and scattering of Jews in Jerusalem. The Gospel reaching Rome was due to Paul being transported there as a Prisoner. This event was especially important as Rome was the centre of the modern world at that time. It is from Roman foundations that Christianity has become the largest religion in the world, with approximately 30% of the world’s population claiming to adhere to it (Hackett & McClendon, 2017). Luke’s accounts of the Holy Spirit in Acts allow modern Christians the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of how the Holy Spirit works and an appreciation of what God can do with a largely negative situations to achieve highly positive outcomes.

The conversion of Gentiles in Samaria is even more significant as this was the first time that the Gospel message had been preached to a largely non-Jewish audience. It was also the first time that the Holy Spirit had manifested outside of a mainly Jewish crowd. The details in the recount of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the people of Samaria are significant. Acts 8 specifies that the Holy Spirit did not come upon the people of Samaria until Peter and John, who were considered the highest authorities in the Christian movement, laid their hands on them. This act serves as an affirmation that this move of God had the authority and backing of the Church in Jerusalem. This was a significant sign to the Jewish people who had been the keepers of God’s law for thousands of years that the God was now extending his relationship to all men, regardless of their background.

The Jews and the Gentiles at the time, had a rancorous relationship. There was deep seeded division between the two nations. Dickin (2016) outlines why the relationship was so fraught with hostility and distrust. The fracture in the relationship can be traced back to the Kingdom of Israel just after the reign of Solomon. After the reign of Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel was split in two: the Southern Kingdom (Judea); and the Northern Kingdom (of which Samaria was the capital). The Northern Kingdom was viewed by the Jewish people as a perversion of God’s plan for the nation of Israel. While the Southern Kingdom was based around Jerusalem which was home to the Ark of the Covenant, the temple and the rightful hereditary line of David, the Northern Kingdom had a history of unstable dynasties, pagan practices and social decay. Samaria was seen by the Jewish people as a place of sin, immorally and a mockery of the sacred Jewish law. The pouring of the Holy Spirit and access of God’s grace through Christ would have been unexpected and shocking to the Jews. Luke’s account aims to bring some reconciliation to these two people groups.

Luke’s writings have a tone of empathy for the Samaritans right from the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. The parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10 starts to lay a foundation of understanding for the Jewish people. Luke sees this parable as an important element to the overarching narrative. The two people that passed the main protagonist of the story by without compassion are a priest and a Levite, both highly respected, educated, keepers of the Law. It is a Samaritan who is considered an unclean heretic who shows compassion to the man. Luke’s purposes of reconciliation between Jews and Samaritans and recognising a shift from legalism and rigidity to universal love and compassion are evident in this story. Luke makes it very clear that this action is not in contradiction of the Law, it is a fulfillment of the Law. He often refers back to scripture just as he does when quoting the parable of the good Samaritan (Jesus refers to Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbour as yourself”).

Luke’s Gospel and recount of the Acts of the Apostles is a marriage between old Jewish Law and the new covenant that the death of Christ brought to fruition, a culture of diversity, tolerance and forgiveness. Luke being a Gentile himself as able to construct a work that that is sympathetic to Gentiles but is also steeped in scripture so that it finds relevance with the Jews. It is a work that aims to start to diminish the barriers between Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles and all men and promote a culture of unity and love. Luke’s accounts also tell the story of the Holy Spirit and they introduce readers to a greater understanding of who the Holy Spirit is and how He operates. Luke’s writings serve to bring hope to its readers as it demonstrates how in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation the grand plan of God can be unfolding.

Why Samaria?

The conversion event in Samaria serves as an important catalyst in spreading the Gospel worldwide. It was the first time the Gospel message had been taken to a largely not Gentile audience and the first time the Holy Spirit had poured out to a largely Gentile crowd. Up until this time the apostolic ministry had been undertaken by Jewish men for Jewish people. Preaching the Gospel in Samaria was a step outside of the disciples’ scope of experience. It was foreign to them and probably somewhat unexpected. But there was some commonality with the Jews and the Samaritans. They had common roots. The success of the conversion at Samaria and solid establishment of a church there would have given the Apostles the courage and fortitude to venture to the next frontier, into the major cities of the Roman Empire. The distribution of the Gospel occurred just as Jesus has said in Acts 1:8: starting in Jerusalem; moving throughout Judea; expanding to Samaria; and eventually spreading to all the corners of the Earth by eventually coming to Rome. Samaria was a crucial step in this process.

That God chose the Samaritans to be the first major group of Gentile converts is also quite significant. It would have caused a great shift of mindset for the Jewish people. The Samaritans were a people group that they had despised, a people group that represented a corruption of their sacred laws. To accept them as religious equals would have taken compassion, humility and great strength of character. These are all embodiments of Christianity.


Luke’s primary purpose is clear from the commencement of the Gospel of Luke, to detail an orderly account of the life of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles. In accomplishing this he has made clear the purposes of God. The most important purpose can be summarised as this: to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire world. The conversion in Samaria played an important role in allowing this to happen. It represents a gateway to the proclamation of the Gospel to non-Jewish people groups. The conversion in Samaria also reveals a great deal about the character of God, characteristic that He wants his followers to adopt, characteristic of forgiveness, empathy and love. The narrative brings hope and comfort in how it details the workings of the Holy Spirit in seemingly hopeless situations. The Jewish people ultimately rejected their Messiah, but the power of Jesus Christ is more prevalent in the world today than ever before in History. The conversion event in Samaria played a vital role in making this happen.

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How Does The Conversion Of Samaria (acts 8:4–25) Contribute To Luke’s Purpose? (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
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