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Introduction to Luke

I. OPENING STATEMENTS

 

A. Luke is the longest Gospel. Luke-Acts contain the largest number of verses by any author in the New Testament (if one rejects Hebrews as Pauline). He is a Gentile and a second-generation Christian (someone who did not see or know Jesus during His earthly life).

B. Luke writes the most grammatically correct and polished Koine Greek of all the New Testament writers, with the possible exception of the author of Hebrews. Greek apparently was his mother tongue. He was also highly educated and a physician (cf. Col. 4:14).

C. Luke's Gospel emphasizes Jesus' love and care for those whom the Jewish leaders never even noticed

1. women (e.g. Mary, Elizabeth, Anna, Mary and Martha, etc.)

2. the poor (cf. Luke's Beatitudes, Luke 6:20-23 and teachings on wealth, cf. Luke 12:13-21; 16:9-13,19-31)

3. the socially, racially, and religiously ostracized

a. immoral women (cf. Luke 7:36-50)

b. Samaritans (cf. Luke 9:51-56; 10:29-37; 17:11-16)

c. lepers (cf. Luke 17:11-19)

d. tax collectors (cf. Luke 3:12-13; 15:1-2; 18:9-14;19:1-10)

e. criminals (cf. Luke 23:35-43)

f. rebellious family members (cf. Luke 15:11-32)

g. the poor (cf. Luke 6:20; 16:19-31)

h. Gentiles (cf. Luke 13:29; 14:23)

D. Luke records the eyewitness memories of Mary and also possibly her genealogy (i.e., Luke 3:23-38). His Gospel is based on interviews and research (cf. Luke 1:1-4).

 

II. AUTHOR

 

A. Unanimous early church tradition says Luke, Paul's missionary companion

1. Irenaeus (a.d. 175-195, Against Heresies, 3.1.1; 3.14.10) says specifically that Luke recorded in a book the gospel preached by Paul.

2. Anti-Marcion Prologue to Luke (a.d. 175) says Luke was the author of the Gospel.

3. Tertullian (a.d. 150/160-220/240 in Against Marcion 4.2,3; 4. 5,3) says Luke wrote a digest of Paul's gospel

4. Muratorian Fragment (a.d. 180-200) names Luke as the author and calls him a physician companion of Paul. Also it says that he wrote his account by hearsay (meaning he interviewed eyewitnesses).

5. Origen, quoted by Eusebius from his commentary on Matthew (Hist. Eccl. 6.25.6), asserts Luke's authorship of the Gospel.

6. Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3.4.2,6-7) also affirms Luke's authorship of both the Gospel of Luke and Acts.

B. Internal evidence for Luke's authorship

1. This Gospel, like so many biblical works, is anonymous.

2. If Luke-Acts is a two volume set, which seems true from the similar introduction, then the "we" sections of Acts (cf. Luke 16:10-17; 20:5-16; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16) imply an eyewitness account of Paul's missionary activity.

3. The introduction to Luke (cf. Luke 1:1-4) states that Luke interviewed and researched eye witness accounts in order to write a historical approach to Jesus' life, which shows he was a second-generation believer. The Introduction to Luke also covers Acts. Luke and Acts slightly overlap in time (i.e., post-resurrection events).

 

III. LUKE, THE MAN

 

A. Anti-Marcion Prologue to Luke (a.d. 175) says of him that he

1. was a native of Antioch of Syria

2. was a physician

3. was single

4. was a follower of Paul

5. wrote from Achaia

6. died at age 84 in Boeotia

B. Eusebius of Caesarea (a.d. 275-339) in Hist. Eccl. III.4.2 says of him that he

1. was from Antioch

2. was a missionary companion of Paul

3. wrote a Gospel and Acts

C. Jerome (a.d. 346-420 in Migna XXVI. 18) says of him that he

1. wrote from Achaia

2. died in Boeotia

D. He was a highly educated man who

1. used good Koine Greek grammar

2. had a large vocabulary (esp. medical and nautical)

3. knew and applied research methods (cf. Luke 1:1-4)

4. probably was a physician (cf. Col. 4:14). Luke used terms related to medicine, cures, diseases, etc. at least 300 times (cf. W. K. Hobart, The Medical Language of Luke, or better, A. Harnack, Luke the Physician). Also, Mark's negative comments about physicians in Mark 5:26 are omitted in the parallel in Luke 8:43.

E. He was a Gentile

1. Paul seems to make a distinction in his list of helpers in Col. 4:10-11 (i.e., "who are from the circumcision") and other helpers (i.e., Epaphras, Luke and Demas).

2. In Acts 1:19 Luke says "in their own language," referring to Aramaic, which implies it was not his language.

3. In his Gospel Luke omits all the controversies with Pharisees concerning the Jewish Oral Law.

F. Of all people to be the writer of the longest Gospel and Acts and thereby to have written more of the NT than any other author, it is surprising that a little-known, non-eyewitness (i.e., non-Apostle) Gentile would be chosen. Yet, this is the unanimous tradition of the early church.

 

IV. DATE OF WRITING

 

A. One never knows the exact relationship between

1. Luke's original research notes (probably done while Paul was in prison at Caesarea [cf. Acts 23-26 and specifically 24:27])

2. his final draft (i.e., the Gospel of Luke as we know it using Mark and "Q")

3. the circulation of Luke - Acts (to or for Theophilus)

B. It must be before a.d. 95 if I Clement has quotes or illusions from Acts and Acts is subsequent to the Gospel

1. Acts 13:22 – I Clement, 18:1

2. Acts 20:36 – I Clement, 2:1

C. Acts must be before the destruction of Jerusalem (a.d. 70) by the Roman general Titus.

1. no mention of the death of Paul the Apostle (a.d. 64-68)

2. Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 does not include the destruction of the Temple, which would powerfully illustrate God's judgment on Judaism

3. Paul visits Jerusalem in Acts 21 and Luke, if he wrote after a.d. 70, would probably have mentioned the destruction of Jerusalem in his Gospel

D. If Luke used the Gospel of Mark as an outline and/or Luke wrote close to the time of his research in Palestine, then the book probably dates to the late fifties and early sixties (with Acts written soon after while Paul was still in prison in Rome, a.d. 62-63).

 

V. RECIPIENTS

 

A. It is dedicated to Theophilus (cf. Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1). There are several theories as to his identity:

1. a Roman governmental official because Luke calls him "most excellent" in Luke 1:3, the same title he uses for Felix (cf. Acts 23:26; 24:3) and Festus (cf. Acts 26:25)

2. a wealthy patron (Theophilus was a common name among Jews and Greeks) who helped pay the expenses of writing, copying, and distributing Luke and Acts.

3. his name means "God loved," "lover of God," so it is possibly a cryptic reference to some Christian

B. Luke's Gospel is targeted to Gentiles

1. It explains Jewish customs.

2. The gospel is for all people (cf. Luke 2:10).

3. It quotes prophecies which refer to "all flesh" (cf. Luke 3:5-6 which is a quote from Isaiah 40).

4. The genealogy goes back to Adam (i.e., all humans, cf. Luke 3:38).

5. It has many examples of God's love for Gentiles (e.g., Luke extends the boundaries of those welcomed to the Messianic banquet, Luke 13:29).

6. It uses Old Testament examples that announce God's love for Gentiles (cf. Luke 2:32; 4:25-77).

7. Luke's Great Commission asserts that forgiveness must be preached to all nations (cf. Luke 24:47).

 

VI. PURPOSE(S) OF LUKE'S WRITINGS

 

A. All of the Gospels were written to target specific groups of people for the purpose of evangelism (cf. John 20:30-31)

1. Matthew to Jews

2. Mark to Romans

3. Luke to Gentiles

4. John to all peoples

Luke uniquely mentions the mission of the Seventy (cf. Luke 10:1-24). For the rabbis, 70 was the number denoting the languages of the world (cf. Genesis 10). By Jesus sending out 70 preachers of the good news would communicate that the gospel is for all people.

B. Other possible purposes

1. to deal with the delayed Second Coming

a. Luke 21 is similar to, but slightly different from, Matthew 24 and Mark 13, concerning the imminent return of Christ and the end of the world.

b. However, Luke speaks of world evangelization, which takes time for the church to accomplish (cf. Luke 24:47).

c. Also Luke (like Paul) emphasizes that the Kingdom of God is here now (cf. Luke 10:9, 11; 11:20; 17:21), as well as a future consummation.

d. The parable in Luke 19:11-27 uses a delayed return of a master in an eschatological setting.

e. A good summary of the opinions and discussions of biblical scholars can be seen in The Anchor Bible Commentary, vol. 28, pp. 231-235.

2. to explain that Christianity is not a threat to the Roman government (as does Acts)

a. title "most excellent" in introduction

b. Luke 23 has Pilate saying three times, "I find no fault in this man" (cf. Luke 23:4, 14-15, 22)

c. the government officials in Acts are presented in a good light. Paul's addresses to Roman officials show respect to them and they in return respond positively to him (cf. Acts 26:31-32)

d. the Roman centurion at the crucifixion also gives a positive witness to Jesus (cf. Luke 23:47) 

C. There are some unique theological themes that play a role in the purposes for Luke's writings

1. Luke shows special care to certain groups of people.

a. The poor vs. the rich (e.g., Luke's Beatitudes, Luke 6:20-23)

b. The outcasts

(1) immoral women (cf. Luke 7:36-50)

(2) Samaritans (cf. Luke 9:51-56; 10:29-37)

(3) rebellious runaways (cf. Luke 15:11-32)

(4) tax collectors (cf. Luke 19:1-10)

(5) lepers (cf. Luke 17:11-19)

(6) criminals (cf. Luke 23:39-43)

2. Luke mentions the Temple in Jerusalem. The Gospel begins with the Jews and their Scriptures (i.e., Jesus fulfills OT prophesy) but they reject Him (cf. Luke 11:14-36) and He becomes the Savior of the entire world (cf. Luke 10:1-24) and replaces their temple with Himself (cf. Mark 14:58; 15:29; John 2:19-22).

 

VII. THE SOURCES FOR LUKE'S GOSPEL

 

A. Several theories have been advanced concerning the relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the Synoptic Gospels).

1. The uniform tradition of the early church is that Luke, a Gentile physician and missionary companion of the Apostle Paul, wrote the Gospel.

2. Around 1776 A. E. Lessing (and later Gieseler in 1818) theorized an oral stage in the development of the Synoptic ("to see together") Gospels. He asserted that they were all dependent on earlier oral traditions which the writers modified for their own target audiences

a. Matthew: Jews

b. Mark: Romans

c. Luke: Gentiles

Each was related to a separate geographical center of Christianity

a. Matthew: Antioch, Syria or Judea

b. Mark: Rome, Italy

c. Luke: Caesarea by the Sea, Palestine or Achaia

d. John: Ephesus, Asia Minor

3. In the early nineteenth century J. J. Griesbach theorized that Matthew and Luke wrote separate accounts of Jesus' life, completely independent of each other. Mark wrote a brief Gospel trying to mediate between these other two accounts.

4. In the early twentieth century H. J. Holtzmann theorized that Mark was the first written Gospel and that both Matthew and Luke used his Gospel structure plus a separate document containing the sayings of Jesus called Q (German quelle or "source"). This was labeled the "two source" theory (endorsed by Fredrick Schleiermacher in 1832).

Some speculate that this list of quotes from Jesus, structured like OT wisdom literature, may be what Papias records that Matthew wrote. The problem is that not one copy of this list of sayings survived. If the church cherished the Gospels so much, how could they lose a list of the sayings of the Founder of the Faith used by both Matthew and Luke?

5. Later, B. H. Streeter offered a modified "two source" theory that he called "the four source" theory which posited a "proto Luke" plus Mark plus Q.

6. The above theories of the formation of the Synoptic Gospels are only speculation. There is no historical or actual manuscript evidence of either a "Q" source or a "proto Luke."

Modern scholarship simply does not know how the Gospels developed or who wrote them (the same is true of the OT Law and former Prophets). However, this lack of information does not affect the Church's view of their inspiration or trustworthiness as historical as well as faith documents.

7. There are obvious similarities in structure and wording between the Synoptics, but there are also many arresting differences. Differences are common in eyewitness accounts. The early church was not bothered by the divergence of these three eyewitness accounts of Jesus' life.

It may be that the target audience, the style of the author and the different languages involved (Aramaic and Greek) account for the seeming discrepancies. It must be stated that these inspired writers, editors, or compilers had the freedom to select, arrange, adapt, and summarize the events and teachings of Jesus' life (How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart, pp. 113-148).

B. Luke specifically claims that he did research (Luke 1:1-4) into Jesus' life from eye witnesses. Paul's imprisonment at Caesarea by the Sea in Palestine allowed Luke time and access to these people. Luke 1-2 may reflect Mary's memories (See Sir William Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem?)), as may the genealogy of Luke 3.

C. Several of the early church sources mention that Luke was a traveling missionary companion of the Apostle Paul. Some of these early sources also assert that Luke's Gospel was affected by Paul's preaching. It cannot be denied that the worldwide mission of the gospel is clearly identified as fulfilled prophecy in Luke, Acts, and Paul's writings.

 

VIII. THE UNIQUENESS OF LUKE

 

A. The first two chapters are unique to Luke and may have come from Mary, as may the genealogy of Luke 3:23-28.

B. Miracles unique to Luke

1. son of the widow of Nain resuscitated, Luke 7:12-17

2. sick woman in synagogue healed on the Sabbath, Luke 13:10-17

3. sick man in synagogue healed on the Sabbath, Luke 14:1-6

4. ten lepers healed; only one, a Samaritan, returns to give thanks, Luke 17:11-18

C. Parables unique to Luke

1. the good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37

2. the persistent friend, Luke 11:5-13

3. the rich fool, Luke 12:13-21

4. the lost coin, Luke 15:8-10

5. the two sons, Luke 15:11-32

6. the unrighteous steward, Luke 16:1-8

7. the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31

8. the unrighteous judge, Luke 18:1-8

9. the Pharisee and Publican, Luke 18:9-14

D. Parables in Luke that are also in Matthew, but in a different form and context

11. Luke 12:39-46 (Matt. 24:43-44)

2. Luke 14:16-24 (Matt. 22:2-14)

3. Luke 19:11-27 (Matt. 25:14-30)

E. Other unique accounts

1. the events of the first two chapters

2. Zaccheus the tax-collector, Luke 19:1-10

3. Jesus sent to Herod by Pilate to be examined, Luke 23:8-12

4. the two on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-32

F. The most unique elements in Luke are found in Luke 9:51-18:14. Here Luke does not rely on Mark or "Q" (i.e., sayings of Jesus possibly written by Matthew). Even similar events and teachings are put into a different form. The unifying theme (literary structure) of this section is "on the way to Jerusalem" (cf. Luke 9:51; 13:22, 33; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11,28), which is really His journey to the cross.

 

READING CYCLE ONE  (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the entire biblical book at one sitting. State the central theme of the entire book in your own words.

1. Theme of entire book

2. Type of literature (genre)

 

READING CYCLE TWO  (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the entire biblical book a second time at one sitting. Outline the main subjects and express the subject in a single sentence.

1. Subject of first literary unit

2. Subject of second literary unit

3. Subject of third literary unit

4. Subject of fourth literary unit

5. Etc.

 

Related Topics: Bible Study Methods, Introductions, Arguments, Outlines