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Article Info:
published: 3/17/04
updated: 8/14/14

The Gospel of Luke



Overview of the Book of Luke

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The Book of Luke is the 3rd book of the Christian New Testament and is one of the four gospels. Christian tradition holds that the gospel was written by Luke, a Greek-speaking Gentile physician and companion of the Apostle Paul. The gospel is 24 chapters long, and is, by total verses and words, the longest of the four gospels, even though the Gospel of Matthew has 28 chapters. Those who argue for an early date of authorship suggest the late 50's or early 60's A.D. Those who argue for a later date suggest that composition was in the 80's A.D.

Luke was probably written from Rome and it is addressed to a man named Theophilus, a wealthy man who may have commissioned the writing project. The purpose of Luke is to record the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It emphasizes that Gentiles as part of God's plan as well as prayer, the joy of the "good news", the importance of taking care of the poor, sinners, and women. it also stresses family life and that Jesus is the Son of Man.

In the preface to his Gospel, Luke refers to "many" who before him had written accounts of what the "eye witnesses" and "ministers of the word" transmitted. Luke differs from the "many" in that his work is: (1) "in order," (2) with a" perfect understanding of all things from the first" (pareekoloutheekoti anoothen akriboos, "having traced all things accurately from the remote beginning.")


Characteristics of Luke

Luke begins with earlier facts of John the Baptist and of our Lord's history than Matthew and Mark, he writes methodically and in more chronological Order. Ancient testimony assures us that Paul's teaching formed the substratum of Luke's Gospel (the Muratorian Fragment; Irenaeus, Haer. iii. 1,14; Tertullian, Marcion iv. 2; Origen, Eusebius, H. E. vi. 25; Jerome, Vir. Illustr. 7).

Compare as to the special revelation to Paul 1 Cor. 11:23; 15:3; Gal. 1:1,11,12. Paul was an "eye-witness" (1 Cor. 9:1; Acts 22:14,15); his expression "according to my gospel" implies the independency of his witness; he quotes words of Christ revealed to him, and not found in the four Gospels (Acts 20:35).

Thus, besides Matthew and Mark, to whose Gospels the "many" as well as Luke had access, Paul is the chief "eye witness" to whom Luke refers in the preface. Luke and Paul alone record Jesus' appearing to Peter first of the apostles (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5). Luke's account of the Lord's Supper, making an interval between His giving the bread and the cup to the disciples, accords most with Paul's in 1 Cor. 11:23, which that apostle says he received directly from the Lord Jesus.

Luke (Luke 22:43) records the appearance of an angel unto Jesus during His agony; as no one else is mentioned as having seen the vision, (indeed the disciples were sleeping for sorrow,) it must have been especially revealed by the Lord after His resurrection. Who so likely a person to have communicated it to Luke as Paul, who "received the gospel, not of man but by the revelation of Jesus Christ"?

The selection of gospel materials in Luke, exhibiting forgiveness for the vilest, grace, and justification, is such as accords with Paul's large views as to the Gentiles and free justification by faith (Luke 18:14). The allusion in 2 Cor. 8:18, "the brother whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches," may be to Luke. The subscription of this epistle is "written from Philippi by Titus and Luke."

Possibly during Paul's three months' sojourn there (Acts 20:3) Luke was sent to Corinth, and it is to his evangelistic labours the reference is. As being chosen of the churches of Macedonia to be their "messenger," traveling with Paul, the "brother" meant must have been one of those mentioned in Acts 20:4-6 as accompanying Paul into Asia with the alms.

Now all the rest sailed away, leaving Paul to follow alone with Luke. Luke either by his written Gospel or by his evangelistic labours was one "whose praise in the Gospel was throughout the churches." Luke must be the "brother" meant. Paul in 1 Tim. 5:18 seems directly to quote and canonize the Gospel according to Luke (10:7), "the labourer is worthy of his hire" (as both passages ought to be translated, not "reward," the word being the same, misthou); compare also Luke 24:26,27,46 with 1 Cor. 15:3.

Alford rejects ancient testimony that Paul's teaching constitutes the substance of Luke's Gospel, on the grounds that the evangelist asserts that his Gospel is drawn from those who "from the beginning" were eye witnesses of Christ's ministry, among whom Paul cannot be reckoned. But Luke's drawing information from persons who had been with the Lord from the begining is quite consistent with Paul's revelations (Eph. 3:3; 1 Cor. 9:1; 11:23) forming a prominent part of the substance of Luke's Gospel. Paul's words correspond with Luke's (Luke 10:7 with 1 Cor. 10:27; Luke 17:27-29; 21:34,35; with 1 Thes. 5:2,3,6,7).

Luke's choice of materials accords with the new light in which "the apostle of the Gentiles" was inspired to set gospel facts, e.g. the parable of the prodigal son, the tracing of Christ's genealogy up to Adam the common parent of Jew and Gentile, not only to Abraham, as Matthew. Also Luke 2:32, "a ... Light to lighten the Gentiles"; Luke 4:25, Christ's reference to Elijah's mission to the Gentile widow of Sarepta; Luke 9:52; 10:30, the good Samaritan; Luke 17:18, the only grateful one of the ten cleansed lepers, a Samaritan; the mission of the seventy, a number typical of the nations, as the twelve represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

Theophilus

Theophilus, to whom he writes, was a Gentile believer, as appears from the geographical and other explanations given of many things, which would have been needless had he been a Jew (Luke 1:26, Nazareth; Luke 4:31, Capernaum; Luke 23:51, Arimathea; Luke 24:13, Emmaus; Acts 1:12, Olivet). In the inscription over the cross the Greek and Latin are put before the Hebrew, in John the Hebrew is first. Matthew refers to Old Testament as what "Moses said," Luke as what "is written."

The name Theophilus (friend of God) is Greek Matthew calls Jerusalem" the holy city" and its temple "the temple of God"; but Mark and Luke omit these titles, doubtless because they were writing to Gentiles, after Jerusalem by continual persecutions of the church had sunk in the esteem of Christians, and when the temple made without hands, "the temple of the Holy Spirit," the church, was fully understood to have superseded the temple of stone.

The Style

Luke's writing is classical and periodic. The pure Greek of the preface shows that he could have written similarly throughout, but he tied himself to the Hebraistic language of the written records and perhaps also of the received oral tradition which he embodied. In Acts too his style is purer in the latter parts, where he was an eye witness, than in the earlier where he draws from the testimony of others. The sea of Gennesaret is but a "lake" with him, as having seen more of the world than the Galilee fishermen.

Peter is often called "Simon," which he never is by Paul, who uses only the apostolic name Peter, a proof that some of Luke's materials were independent of and earlier than Paul. Paul and Luke alone have the expressive word (atenizoo) "steadfastly behold" or "look" (Acts 1:10; 14:9; 3:4; 2 Cor. 3:7,13). Awkward phrases in Matthew and Mark are so evidently corrected in Luke as to leave no doubt he had their Gospels before him. Compare the Greek in Mark 12:38 with Luke 20:46, where filounton is substituted for thelonton; Luke 7:8, where the insertion of "set" removes the harshness of Mt. 8:9, "a man under authority."

He substitutes the Greek foros ("tribute") in Luke 20:22 for the Latin census, which Matthew (Mt. 22:17) as a taxgatherer for, and Mark (Mark 12:14) writing to, Romans, use. He omits Hosanna, Eli Eli lama sabacthani, Rabbi, Golgotha (for which he substitutes the Greek kranios, "calvary:' or "place of a skull"). The phrases (parakoloutheoo, katecheoo, pleeroforeo) "having perfect understanding," "instructed" (catechetically and orally), "most surely believed" (Luke 1:1-14) are all used similarly by Paul (1 Tim. 4:6; Rom. 2:18; 2 Tim. 4:17). "Lawyers" six times stand instead of "scribes"; epistatees, "master," instead of rabbi six times, as more plain to Gentiles. "Grace" "favour" is never used by Matthew and Mark, thrice by John, but frequently in Luke. "To evangelize" or "preach the gospel" is frequent in Luke, once in Matthew, not at all in Mark and John. The style of Acts is less Hebraic than that of Luke's Gospel, because for the latter he used more of Hebraic materials and retained their language.

Canonicity

The oldest reliable testimony to the Gospel according to Luke is Marcion, whose Gospel so called (A.D. 130) is Luke's, abridged and mutilated. Therefore, Luke's Gospel was in common use A.D. 120. The appendix to Tertullian (Praescr. adv. Haer) says his teacher Cerdon received the Gospel of Luke alone. Justin Martyr often quotes it. Celsus attacks it as a book of the Christians (Origen contra Celsus ii. 32). Tatian includes it in his Harmony.

Specialty of Luke. He gives with especial accuracy not so much the discourses as the observations and occasional sayings of our Lord with the accompanying incidents. Appropriately to his profession Luke "the beloved physician" dwells on the healing power of the great Physician (Luke 5:17 end, Acts 10:38). He describes symptoms in a professional manner (compare "full of leprosy" Luke 5:12). He alone mentions the subject of Moses and Elias' conversation with our Lord at the transfiguration, "His decease (exodus, Peter's very word, 2 Pet. 1:15, in alluding to his own decease, and in the same context the transfiguration of which he was eye-witness) which He should accomplish at Jerusalem."

Luke is fullest of the evangelists in describing our Lord's private prayers. There are eight such instances: Luke 3:21, "Jesus praying, the heaven was opened" at His baptism; Luke 5:16, "in the wilderness"; Luke 6:12, "continued all night in prayer to God before ordaining the twelve; Luke 9:18, as He was alone praying, His disciples were with Him, and He asked whom say the people that I am?" Luke 9:28 29, at the transfiguration, "He went up into a mountain to pray, and as He prayed the fashion of His countenance was altered;" Luke 11:1, "as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased one of His disciples said (struck with the holy earnestness of His tone, words, and gestures), Lord teach us to pray" (Luke 22:32,41,42,44-46; 23:46).

Connection with Paul. Luke may have first become connected with Paul in tending him in the sickness which detained him in Phrygia and Galatia (Gal. 4:13, "because of an infirmity of my flesh I preached," owing to his detention by sickness, contrary to his original intention he preached there). This probably was early in the journey wherein Luke first appears in Paul's company, that apostle's second missionary journey (Acts 16:9,10).

Thus Paul's allusion to Luke's being a "physician" is appropriate in writing to the Colossians as they were in Phrygia, the quarter wherein Luke ministered to his sickness. Luke, after being left behind at Luke 17:1, where the third person is resumed, went again with Paul to Asia (Luke 20:6) and to Jerusalem (Luke 21:15), and was with him in his captivity at Caesarea (Luke 24:23) and at Rome (Luke 28:16). Tertullian (adv. Marcion, iv. 2) ascribes the conversion of Luke to Paul.

The Date of the Gospel

The Book of Acts which was written before it (Acts 1:1) ends with Paul's two years' modified imprisonment at Rome, "dwelling in his own hired house, and receiving all that came in unto him" (Acts 28:30,31). Abruptly it closes without informing us of the result of his appeal to Caesar, doubtless because when he wrote no event subsequent to the two years had transpired; this was A.D. 63. "The former treatise," i.e. the Gospel, was probably written at Caesarea during Paul's imprisonment there, A.D. 58-60 (Thiersch).

The Purpose of the Gospel

"That Theophilus might know the certainty of those things wherein he had been instructed" (Luke 1:4). The epithet "most excellent" prefixed shows that Theophilus was not an imaginary but a real person. Luke's describing minutely, in Paul's journey, the places before reaching Sicily and Italy, but omitting such description of Syracuse, Rhegium, Puteoli, Appii Forum, and the Three Taverns, as if familiar to his reader, implies Theophilus was well acquainted with Sicily and Italy.

From Luke 9:51--18:15 there are no parallel notices in Matthew and Mark except Luke 11:17; 13:18, probably repeating the same truths on a later occasion (Mark 3:24; 4:30). This period begins with His journey in October to the feast of tabernacles, and ends with His arrival in Bethany six days before the Passover. From Luke 18:15, the blessing of the infants, Luke coincides with Matthew and Mark in the main. Even earlier, Luke 17:11 corresponds with Mt. 19:1,2; Mark 10:1; John 11:54.

The portion Luke 9:51--18:15 is vague as to dates, and probably is designed by the Holy Spirit to supplement what the other evangelists had not recorded. The preface (Luke 1:1-4), the account of events preceding Jesus' ministry (Luke 1:5--2:52), are peculiar to Luke. From Luke 3:1--9:50 Luke mainly accords with Matthew and Mark in the order and the events of our Lord's ministry, which was chiefly about Capernaum. His testimony as a physician to the reality of demoniacal possession prevents its being confounded with lunacy (Luke 4:41). His accuracy appears in his giving exact dates (Luke 2:1-3; Luke 3:1,2); also in his marking the two distinct sightings of Jerusalem observed by travelers in coming across Olivet; first at Luke 19:37, secondly, at Luke 19:41.

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Source: ISBE (in the public domain)