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An Introduction to the Gospel of Luke

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I. AUTHOR: LUKE
Strictly speaking, The Gospel of Luke is anonymous, but Luke the physician and companion of Paul is probably the author of the Gospel by his name. He was also the author of its companion work, The Book of Acts. Luke-Acts makes up 28% of the New Testament--more than that written by either Paul or John

A. External Evidence: Early attestation from the second century A.D. on uniformly identifies Luke as the author of this Gospel

1. Irenaeus (c. 130-202)

2. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215)

3. Tertullian (c. 150-220)

4. Origen (c. 185-254)

5. Muratorian Canon (c. 170)

6. The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke

B. Internal Evidence identifies Luke, a Gentile companion of the Apostle Paul, as the author of Luke-Acts

1. The Author was the Author of the Book of Acts:

a. This is implied in Acts 1:1, “In the first book ....”

b. “Theophilus” is probably the same person as in Luke 1:1-4, “most excellent Theophilus.”

c. There is close similarity in style and language between Luke and Acts

d. The tone of Luke and Acts is similar: worldwide outlook, interest in Gentiles, interest in woman, apologetic tendency

e. The end of Luke dovetails into the beginning of Acts

f. Jesus only appears to his disciples in Jerusalem in Luke and Acts

g. Themes left out of Luke as a synoptic are incorporated into Acts by design (e.g., destruction of the temple [Acts 6])

h. Luke is the only Gospel which refers to Jesus’ appearance before Herod Antipas in his trial (Luke 23:7-12), and this theme is alluded to in Acts 4:27)

2. The Author Was a Companion of Paul

This is a debated position, but there is good evidence for its support:

a. See Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11

b. There are movements in Acts from the 3rd person to the first person plural--the “We” sections (16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1--28:16). It is most natural to understand these to refer to the personal memoirs of one of Paul’s companions. There is no change in style which demonstrate these to be an external source.

c. The prologue to the double work of Luke-Acts allows for Luke to have participated in some of the events of Acts (“having followed all things closely for some time past ...” Luke 1:3)

d. Luke’s Paul is not necessarily different from Paul’s Paul. The differences can be accounted for in style, and context.

3. The Author was Probably a Gentile:

Luke is distinguished from Jews (the circumcised) in Colossians 4:10-14, and thus seems to have been placed along with the Gentiles (Epaphras, Luke and Demas)

4. The Author was Luke the Physician

a. The earliest traditions identify the author with the expression of Colossians 4:14, “Luke, the beloved physician”

b. He is distinct from those named in the “We” sections: Silas/Silvanus, Timothy, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius (of Derbe) Tychicus, or Trophimus

II. THE DATE OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE: A.D. 58/60

A. The Date of the Gospel of Luke is closely bound up with the dates of Mark and Acts, and an understanding of Luke’s references to the fall of Jerusalem

B. Acts may well be dated around A.D. 64 or 65 requiring that Luke, as the first of the double-work be written earlier:

1. The earliest date for the book of Acts is the two year imprisonment which is recorded in Acts 28:30-31 which would have been around A.D. 60 and 61.

2. The latest date for the book of Acts is in the second century writings of the church fathers

3. The abrupt ending of Acts allows for an early date (around the time of the events), but could also be understood theologically to emphasize the continuance of Paul’s mission through other believers. Acts 20:25 may hint at Paul’s death. Therefore, it is not determinative.

4. The Neronian persecution of c. A.D. 64/65 probably had not taken place by the time the book was written. There is no evidence of oppression by Rome, even if the Roman officials are less than scrupulous. There is also no indication of oppression in Rome (Acts 28). This is an argument from silence and is not determinative.

5. The Jewish revolt of A.D. 66 and / or the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is / are not indicated in the book of Acts. This leads many to date the book no later than A.D. 70. This is an argument from silence and is not determinative. There may also be indirect allusions to the fall of Jerusalem in Luke especially (Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24; 23:28-31). But these cannot be limited to the fall of A.D. 70. Rather, it is a part of a greater whole--the final judgment upon the nation (Luke 21:22,24).

6. Many subjects in Acts would have been prominent before A.D. 70: Gentile admission to church fellowship, coexistence of Jews and Gentiles in the church, food requirements of the apostolic decree

7. Many facts: “political, geographical, and social fields,” “nomenclature,” “titles of officials,” and “Roman citizenship” indicate that the work was written not long after the events occurred

8. There are many “primitive” expressions of theology: “the Christ,” “the Servant of God,” “the Son of Man”, Christians as “disciples,” use of “λαος“ for Jews, and the use of Sunday as the first day of the week.

C. The descriptions of the fall of Jerusalem in Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24; 23:28-31 need not be after the event in A.D. 70. They are a part of a greater whole--the final judgment upon the nation (Luke 21:22,24)--and 70 A.D. is a foretaste of that final judgment so, it is similar. 70 A.D. is topological of an end-time event for covenant unfaithfulness (Lk. 19:41-44). One event mirrors the other, therefore, it is difficult to tell what is being talked about (A.D. 70, future, both?). The Jerusalem destruction pictures and guarantees the end time cataclysm. Jesus, and thus Luke, can speak predicatively.

D. Luke clearly used sources in his compilation of material (Luke 1:1-4), but this does not necessitate that he used the Gospel of Mark as one of his sources:

1. If Acts has a 64/65 date, and Luke used Mark as a source, Mark would have had to have been written very early (c. A.D. 50)

2. However, it is possible that Luke used similar sources as Mark (ur-Mark) as well as sources in common with Matthew (if “Q” is a stream of oral and written tradition), or Matthew itself

3. Therefore, a date of A.D. 58/60 for Luke does not pose a serious problem for either Marcan or non-Marcan priority

E. It is not possible to pin-point a date for Luke once Luke 21:20 is not required to be post A.D. 70.1 However, if Acts is dated around A.D. 64/65, then it does seem reasonable that The Gospel of Luke could have been written a few years before Acts (A.D. 58/60)

III. PLACE OF ORIGIN AND DESTINATION:

A. The place of origin is not revealed in Luke’s Gospel

B. Some have suggested that Luke collected his material while he was with Paul during his two-year, Caesarean imprisonment (“We” in Acts 27:1), and then wrote Luke shortly afterward (in Caesarea or Rome or even both); while this is possible, it is difficult to substantiate

C. The destination is unknown except for the named recipient of Luke-Acts known as Theophilus (Lk. 1:3; Acts 1:1) who may well have been Luke’s literary patron assisting in the publication of Luke-Acts. It is also possible that he was a Gentile (from his name and title, “most excellent” [ κράτιστε ] referring to a Roman provincial governor), but this is also uncertain

IV. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BOOK OF LUKE

A. Prayer (proseuxomai) is central to Luke (19 times) and Acts (16 times)--especially around revelatory moments2

B. Luke has a universal emphasis for the Gospel:

1. Samaritans

2. Gentiles

3. Sinners

4. Poor

5. Outcasts

6. Women

7. Children

C. Luke emphasizes individuals:

1. In his parables: the good Samaritan; the lost sheep, coin, son, etc.

2. Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, Anna, Martha, Mary, Simon, Levi, the centurion, the widow of Nain, John the Baptist, Zacchaeus, Cleopas, Simon the Cyrenian, Joseph of Arimathea, etc.

D. Luke emphasizes the fulfillment of God’s word--what God says, God does

E. Luke has a Gentile emphasis in his work hinting that his primary audience may have been Gentile:

1. Jewish localities are explained (4:31; 8:26; 21:37; 23:51; 24:13)

2. The Genealogy goes back to Adam 3:23-38

3. Roman emperors are used to date Jesus’ birth and John’s preaching 2:1-2; 3:1

4. Luke does not use some Hebrew or Aramaic words used by the other gospels

5. Luke uses the LXX almost exclusively as he cites the Old Testament

V. PURPOSES OF LUKE

A. The prologue overtly states the purposes of Luke:

1. To write about the life of Christ (the things accomplished among us [1:1], in an orderly sequence [1:3]

a. The term for orderly ( κατηχέω ) does not necessarily refer to chronological order

b. It can mean “orderly and lucid”; there is continuity within a logical whole3

c. Luke’s order is probably theological rather than chronological as he develops salvation-history (cf. John’s imprisonment 3:19-21; The temptation 4:1-13; Nazareth 4:16-30)

2. To write to Theophilus so that he might know ( ἐπιγνώσκω ) the exact truth about the things he had been taught 1:4

a. Luke wants to display before Theophilus reliable information which was in accounts which he had already heard

b. In view of the “exact truth” Luke may have been writing to deal with a polemical issue which false teachers were proclaiming; this may become clearer by dealing with Luke-Acts as a single unit

B. The purpose of Luke should not really be dealt with apart from the purpose for Luke-Acts since they do form one double-work

C. Suggested purpose: Perhaps the question which is being asked by Theophilus (a Gentile-Christian) and those with him is, “How is it that Christianity is primarily Gentile in nature if it came from Judaism?” Therefore, Luke writes Luke-Acts to argue that the Christian Gospel is not anti-semitic, but is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures’ promise of salvation to both the Jews and the Gentiles. “The Way” shares in the initiation of the spiritual promises to Israel. They are the stewards of the promises to Israel. The reason it is primarily Gentile in nature is because the Jews rejected the message of Jesus as Messiah, and pushed the church out. Nevertheless, the Jews as a people are not rejected by God or his servant Paul. The promises will yet be consummated for the nation through the resurrected Jesus--the hope of Israel.

D. For a more direct discussion of purpose, see Robert Maddox4


1 Guthrie, NTI, p. 115.

2 See the following passages Lk. 1:10; 3:21; 9:28; cf. 22:43; Acts 9:40; 10:9f.,30f; 13:2; 22:17.

3 Marshall, Luke, p. 43.

4 The Purpose of Luke-Acts, edited by John Riches, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1982.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines