Acts 8–12

“Lesson 31: Acts 8–12,” New Testament Teacher Manual (2018)

Introduction and Timeline

After His Resurrection, Jesus Christ commanded His Apostles to teach and baptize people in every nation (see Matthew 28:19–20; Mark 16:15–16). He also foretold that the Apostles’ ministry would begin in Jerusalem, spread throughout Judea and Samaria, and finally go “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Acts 8–12 describes the beginning of this worldwide expansion of the early Christian Church. Up to this point, the book of Acts recounts the Church’s growth among Jews in Jerusalem and Judea. In Acts 8 we read about Philip, one of the seven leaders called to assist the Twelve (see Acts 6:5), who taught and baptized many Samaritans and a man from Ethiopia (see Acts 8:5–7, 12, 26–40). Acts 9 recounts the conversion of Saul, who would become an Apostle and a powerful missionary to the Gentiles. The Lord also gave Peter, as leader of the Church, a vision directing him to accept Gentiles into the Church (see Acts 10–11). Despite growing opposition, Church leaders pressed forward to take the gospel “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

lesson 31 timeline

Chapter Overviews

Acts 8

Saul persecuted the Church. In Samaria, Philip preached, baptized, and performed many miracles. Peter and John gave the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. Peter rebuked Simon, a sorcerer, who sought to purchase the priesthood. The Lord directed Philip to Gaza, where he baptized a man from Ethiopia.

Acts 9

Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. At the Lord’s direction, Ananias sought out Saul, restored his eyesight, and baptized him. Saul preached of Christ and fled when Jews in Damascus sought to kill him. Peter healed Aeneas and raised Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead.

Acts 10

At Caesarea, an angel instructed Cornelius to send for Peter. At Joppa, Peter received a revelation instructing him to accept Gentiles into the Church. Peter taught Cornelius and his household about Jesus Christ; they experienced the power of the Holy Ghost and were baptized.

Acts 11

At Jerusalem, Peter recounted his vision to Jewish members of the Church. Barnabas and Saul labored in Antioch (in Syria), where Church members were first called Christians.

Acts 12

Herod (Agrippa I) killed James the brother of John and placed Peter in prison. An angel released Peter from prison. The Lord slew Herod by disease. The Church continued to prosper.

Suggestions for Teaching

Acts 8:5–40

Philip, Peter, and John Ministered in Samaria

To help students understand the context and content of what they are going to study, ask them to think back to Acts 1 and recall the Savior’s charge to His Apostles to be witnesses of Him (see Acts 1:8). Ask students if they can remember where the Apostles were to bear witness of Jesus Christ. Then ask:

  • In what geographical area did the Apostles first share the gospel? (Jerusalem; see Acts 1–7.)

Have a student read Acts 8:1, 4–5, while the class looks for where Church members were scattered and what the scattered members did. After a few students have responded, point out that the account in Acts 8 is significant because it signaled a change in Church growth—the gospel would begin to be preached beyond Jerusalem and into Samaria. You might summarize Acts 8 by reading aloud the overview for Acts 8, found at the beginning of this lesson, or by simply telling students that the chapter details Philip’s ministry in Samaria. Philip was one of the seven leaders called to assist the Twelve (see Acts 6:5). Write the following verses on the board and have students take a few minutes to search them, looking for evidence that Philip’s ministry in Samaria was successful: Acts 8:6–8, 12, 14, 26–27, 37–40. Then ask:

  • What do you find significant about the baptism of the Ethiopian man? (You might want to ask students to read the student manual commentary for Acts 8:27.)

  • What influence do you think Philip’s ministry had on future preaching of the gospel in Samaria?

  • What influence do you think our actions have on future preaching of the gospel where we live?

Acts 8:1–4; 9:1–31

The Conversion of Saul

Prepare students to learn about the conversion of Saul by asking them if they know a person who is not a member of the Church whose conversion would surprise them. Ask students to explain, without mentioning names, why they would be surprised.

To help students understand the relevance of the scriptures they will study, tell them that Acts 8 records the conversion of Saul, later known as Paul, who was such a person. Saul was first mentioned in Acts 7:58, which records that he was present at the stoning of Stephen. Write the following scripture references on the board, and invite students to read the verses quietly: Acts 8:1–3; 9:1–2. When students complete the reading, ask:

  • In your own words, how would you describe Saul at this time?

Have a student read aloud Acts 9:3–6, while the class follows along. If your students need help understanding the phrase “kick against the pricks,” see the student manual commentary for Acts 9:5. To deepen student understanding of these verses, ask:

  • Why do you think the Savior could say that Saul had been persecuting Him? (When Saul persecuted the Saints, it was like he was persecuting the Savior; see also Matthew 25:41–45.)

  • What does the question “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” teach you about Saul? (Saul was humble and submissive; he recognized that he needed to change.)

  • How might your life change if you regularly asked the Lord this same question?

Point out to students that after Saul’s vision, he was physically blind for three days (see Acts 9:9). Invite two students to alternate reading the verses of Acts 9:10–17. As the verses are read, have the class consider what Ananias’s words and actions reveal about him.

  • Why did it require submissiveness to the Lord for Ananias to seek out Saul? (Ananias was reluctant to go to Saul because he was aware that Saul had persecuted Church members. Ananias may have been one of the Christians Saul was searching for.)

  • How would you feel if someone who had once persecuted you now desired your friendship and later became your Church leader?

  • What does it mean that Saul was “a chosen vessel” unto the Lord? (For help explaining this term, see the student manual commentary for Acts 9:10–15.)

Remind students that one of the central themes in the book of Acts is that individuals who are filled with the Holy Ghost receive power. Give students several minutes to read Acts 9:18–22 and write an answer to this question: What power came into Saul’s life when he humbled himself and was “filled with the Holy Ghost”? Allow several students to share what they wrote with the class. (Answers may include the following: Saul began to fulfill his foreordained role as a “chosen vessel.” Saul’s physical sight was restored, but more important, his spiritual blindness was changed into spiritual sight. The Holy Ghost helped him to preach about Christ in the synagogues with great power. His previous zeal and energy in pursuing and arresting Christians was changed into a zeal and energy to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost took Saul’s previous character traits and refocused them so they could be used to build the kingdom of God.)

To help students state a principle taught in Acts 9:1–22, ask:

  • Using Saul as an example, how would you summarize what can happen to a person when he or she submits to the Lord? (As students share their answers, write this principle on the board: When we are submissive to the Lord, the Holy Ghost can fill us with power to change.)

Consider asking students to write an answer to the following:

  • How has the Holy Ghost helped you to make changes in your life or deepened your love for the Savior?

Invite a few students to share their responses with the class. Then summarize Acts 9:23–31 by telling the students that because of Saul’s preaching about Jesus Christ, Jews in Damascus sought to kill him, but he escaped and traveled to Jerusalem, where he joined the disciples there in teaching about Jesus. Conclude this teaching idea by reading Acts 9:31 to your students and pointing out the continuing influence of the Holy Ghost on the Church.

Acts 10:1–11:18

Peter Received Revelation Authorizing Gentiles to Be Baptized into the Church

Ask students for a few examples of events that have the power to change the course of history (the discovery of electricity, the sudden death of a political leader, or a natural disaster). Tell students that the events recorded in Acts 10 altered the course of Christian history. Encourage them as they study Acts 10 to consider how these events changed the history of Christianity. Have students study Acts 10:1–4 and identify and perhaps mark key phrases that describe Cornelius. After students have finished reading and marking, invite a few of them to tell what they marked and why they feel it is significant. Then ask:

  • Why was it significant that Cornelius was an Italian centurion? (He was not a Jew, and prior to this time the gospel was not being taught to Gentiles. He was also a man of power and influence.)

Tell students that an angel instructed Cornelius to send for the Apostle Peter, who was in the nearby city of Joppa (see Acts 10:5–8). Read Acts 10:9–14 aloud, while the class members try to visualize Peter’s vision in their minds. Help students analyze Peter’s vision by asking:

  • What does it mean that Peter had “never eaten anything that is common or unclean”? (As a Jew, Peter had strictly adhered to the Lord’s dietary code prescribed in the law of Moses; see Leviticus 11. The law designated certain animals as “clean,” or appropriate to eat, and others as “unclean,” meaning they should not be eaten.)

Have students silently read Acts 10:15–18, looking for how well Peter understood the vision at first.

  • How well did Peter understand the meaning of the vision at that time? (He had doubts about what it meant.)

Display the following chart on the board or with a projector. (Because of the length of the chart, you could save time in class by copying it onto the board before class.) When the chart is first displayed, all the scripture references should be included, but the words in parentheses should not be shown. The words are provided here for your convenience and information.

Explain to the students that this chart will help them understand (1) how the Holy Ghost directed Peter in coming to understand his vision and (2) how Peter’s willingness to act in faith was important in this understanding.

How Peter Learned the Meaning of His Vision

Acts 10:9–16. Through the power of the Spirit, Peter received a vision commanding him to eat unclean animals.

Acts 10:17, 19. (Peter thought about the vision but did not understand its meaning.)

Acts 10:18–20. The Spirit told Peter to go with the three men.

Acts 10:21–27. (Peter went with the men to Cornelius’s house and talked with Cornelius and others.)

Acts 10:28. Peter understood from God that these men were not “unclean.”

Acts 10:29–33. (Peter listened to Cornelius’s story and learned that Cornelius had been guided by the Spirit.)

Acts 10:34–35. Peter perceived that God is no respecter of persons.

Acts 10:34–43. (Peter taught Cornelius and others about Jesus Christ.)

Acts 10:44–46. Peter saw that the Holy Ghost fell on this group of Gentiles.

Acts 10:47–48. (Peter commanded that this group of Gentiles be baptized.)

Begin this discussion by referring to the chart and explaining what Acts 10:9–16 teaches about how the Holy Ghost directed Peter (see the summary written on the chart beside the scripture reference). Then ask students to read Acts 10:17, 19, looking for what Peter did. Call on a student to summarize what Peter did and then write on the board, Peter thought about the vision but did not understand its meaning. Refer again to the board and point out what Acts 10:18–20 teaches about the Spirit directing Peter. Students should then read Acts 10:21–27, once again looking for what Peter did. Write the response on the board. Continue this pattern until the chart is completed.

The following questions are designed to help students analyze Peter’s experience in coming to understand his vision. They will also help students to identify doctrines and principles found in this account:

  • What words or phrases do you see on this chart that show how the Holy Ghost played a role in helping Peter understand the meaning of his vision? (“The Spirit told Peter,” “Peter understood,” “Peter perceived,” “Peter saw.”)

  • What happened as Peter moved forward in faith and acted upon what the Spirit taught him? (He came to understand the meaning of his vision and knew that the Gentiles should be baptized.)

  • What gospel truth can we learn from the way Peter came to understand the meaning of his vision? (As students share their answers, help them understand this truth: Revelation from the Lord often comes incrementally as we act in accordance with what we know to be true. For further explanation of revelation coming incrementally, see the student manual commentary for Acts 10:17–34, 44–48.)

  • Why did this revelation come to Peter, rather than to another Church leader? (This revelation affected the entire Church, and Peter was the chief Apostle at that time. Peter’s experience teaches this doctrine: Revelation for the Church always comes through proper channels. To further explain this important doctrine, see the student manual commentary for Acts 10:9–33.)

  • How did Peter’s experiences recorded in Acts 10 change the course of Christian history?

You might explain that before this time, nearly all members of the Church were Jewish, either by birth or by conversion. Those who converted to Judaism were called proselytes (see Acts 2:10; 13:43), and they were required to undergo the rite of circumcision and commit to live all the requirements of the law of Moses. This revelation now made clear that Gentiles were to be accepted into the Church by baptism, without having to undergo circumcision and commit to living the Mosaic law. The gospel could now be preached at an accelerated rate.

Write the above bold principles about revelation on the board (or write them when they arise as part of the class discussion). You can help students to feel the importance of these truths and consider personal application by asking the following:

  • In your life, how have you seen or experienced the truthfulness of one of these truths about revelation?

  • Why do you think these truths are important for you to know? How could these truths help you as you make important decisions in the future?

You might mention that, as recorded in Acts 11:1–17, Peter recounted his experience with his vision to Jewish members of the Church in Jerusalem. They came to realize, as Peter had, that God had extended gospel blessings to the Gentiles (see Acts 11:18).

Acts 9:32–43; 11:19–3012

The Church Continued to Grow Despite Opposition

Write the following gospel truth on the board: The work of God will grow despite opposition.

Divide your class into groups of three students each. Ask one student in each group to study one of the following scripture passages, referring to the accompanying student manual commentary if desired: Acts 9:32–43 (see also the student manual commentary for Acts 9:32–43); Acts 11:19–30 (see also the student manual commentary for Acts 9:26–31; 11:22–30); Acts 12:1–19, 24 (see also the student manual commentaries for Acts 12:1–2; for Acts 12:1–19; and for Acts 12:12). Ask every student to prepare to do the following (you may want to write these instructions on the board):

  1. Summarize the account in the scriptures and describe any opposition the Church faced (the first scripture passage does not describe opposition faced by the Church).

  2. Point out any verses that describe the growth of the early Church.

  3. Share an example of a time when you have seen your family, ward, or branch grow despite opposition.

After several minutes, have students discuss within their groups what each person has learned. If time permits, you might have several students share with the class their answers to the third question. Consider concluding the lesson by asking:

  • How do the events recorded in these scripture passages support the statement in Acts 12:24 that “the word of God grew and multiplied”?

Conclude by sharing your testimony of the truths taught in the lesson today.