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Introduction to Luke’s Gospel

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Author

Whoever the author is, he wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, as Acts 1:1 refers to "the first book". The first book being the Gospel of Luke, with Acts forming the second part of the complete story.

Both books are addressed to the same person, Theophilus, and they flow into each other. The author ends the first book with a note of suspense, "And see, I am sending what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" (28:49). Acts begins with a reference to this command to wait in Jerusalem (1:2).

Internal evidence

The author was not an original eyewitness during the ministry of Jesus (1:2), so he cannot be one of the twelve disciples or Paul. There are a number of passages in the Book of Acts where the pronoun changes from “they” to "we", which indicates that the author was with Paul at those times. The first was in Troas where he joins Paul on the second Missionary Journey, and was later left behind in Philippi, perhaps to lead the church there (16:10-17). He then rejoins Paul at Philippi on the third Missionary Journey, and they travel together to Miletus (20:5-15). He then accompanies Paul on his way to Jerusalem after the third Missionary Journey (21:1-18).

After this Paul was in prison for two years in Caesarea (24:27), where he was allowed visitors (24:23). There is no mention of Luke during this time. This may have been when he was gathering his material to include in his gospel. He is then with Paul on the journey to Rome, and remained with Paul while he was in prison there (ch 27-28).

In Paul’s “prison letters” he names a variety of different people who are with him at that time. In Colossians he lists some Jews: Aristarchus, Mark and Jesus who is named Justus, as well as some Gentiles: Epaphras, Luke and Demas (4:10-11). He also sends special greetings from Luke, the beloved physician, as well as Demas (4:14). The majority of these fellow workers are also named in the letter to Philemon (v23-24).

The only likely person from this list to have written the Gospel and Acts is Luke. The others can be eliminated: Aristarchus was travelling with the author (Acts 27:2), Mark was not travelling with Paul during the second Missionary Journey, as he had left with Barnabas, and is the author of another gospel. Epaphras came from Asia (Col 1:7), but Paul did not go there until his third Missionary Journey. Demas later fell away, so it is very unlikely that he would write a gospel. Jesus called Justus is not mentioned anywhere else in the N.T., which leaves Luke as the most likely candidate.

A few years later we see that Luke was the only co-worker who remained with Paul (2 Tim 4:11), with Mark being elsewhere, and Demas falling away.

External Evidence

There is a clear and consistent witness from the writings of the church fathers that Luke was the author of both the third Gospel and the Book of Acts.

Irenaeus (AD 185) wrote this about the gospel
“Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.” (Against Heresies 3:1:1)

“Luke also, the follower and disciple of the apostles, referring to Zacharias and Elisabeth, from whom, according to promise, John was born, says: "And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (Against Heresies 3:10:1)

“for thus Luke, who has mentioned His years, has expressed it: "Now Jesus was, as it were, beginning to be thirty years old,” when He came to receive baptism” (Against Heresies 2:22:5).

and this about the Book of Acts
“Simon the Samaritan was that magician of whom Luke, the disciple and follower of the apostles, says, "But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who beforetime usedmagical arts in that city, and led astray the people of Samaria” (Against Heresies 1:23)

“Besides this, he (Marcion) mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removingall that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great dealof the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father.” (Against Heresies 1:27:1)

Clement of Alexandria also confirmed Luke to be the author of both books
“And to prove that this is true, it is written in the Gospel by Luke as follows: "And in the fifteenth year, in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zacharias.” (Stromata 1:21)

“It remains that we understand, then, the Unknown, by divine grace, and by the word alone that proceeds from Him; as Luke in the Acts of the Apostles relates that Paul said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.” (Stromata 5:12)

The Muratorian Canon (AD 170-190) states that the physician Luke wrote the third Gospel and mentions that he had never seen Jesus in the flesh. It would have been unthinkable to ascribe the Gospel to Luke, who had not been an eyewitness to Jesus, unless he was the real author.
“The third book of the Gospel, that according to Luke, the well-known physician Luke wrote in his own name in order after the ascension of Christ, and when Paul had associated him with himself as one studious of right. Nor did he himself see the Lord in the flesh; and he, according as he was able to accomplish it, began his narrative with the nativity of John.”

The anti-Marcionite Prologue to the third Gospel (AD 160 - 180) states this
"Luke was an Antiochan of Syria, a physician by profession. He was a disciple of the apostles and later accompanied Paul until the latter's martyrdom. He served the Lord without distraction (or blame), having neither wife or children, and at the age of 84 he fell asleep in Boeotia, full of the Holy Spirit. While there were already Gospels previously in existence - that according to Matthew written in Judea, and that according to Mark in Italy - Luke, moved by the Holy Spirit, composed the whole of this Gospel in the parts about Achaia. In his prologue he makes this very point clear, that other Gospels had been written before this, and that it was necessary to expound to theGentile believers the accurate account of the (divine) dispensation, so that they should not be perverted by Jewish fables, nor be deceived by heretical and vain imaginations and thus err from the truth. And so right at the beginning he relates for us the nativity of John - a most essential matter, for John is the beginning of the Gospel, being our Lord's forerunner and companion both in the preparation of the Gospel and in the administration of baptism and the fellowship of the Spirit. This ministry (of John) had been mentioned by one of the Twelve Prophets (ie. Malachi). And afterwards the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles."

Jerome (AD. 400) wrote this about Luke’s Gospel
“The third is Luke, the physician, by birth a native of Antioch, in Syria, whose praise is in the Gospel. He was himself a disciple of the Apostle Paul, and composed his book in Achaia and Boeotia. He thoroughly investigates certain particulars and, as he himself confesses in the preface, describes what he had heard rather than what he had seen. (Prefaces to Commentaries: Luke)

“Luke, a physician of Antioch as his writings indicate was not unskilled in the Greek language. An adherent of the apostle Paul, and companion of all his journeying, he wrote a Gospel, concerning which the same Paul says, "We send with him a brother whose praise in the gospel is among all the churches” and to the Colossians "Luke the beloved physician salutes you,” and to Timothy "Luke only is with me.” He also wrote another excellent volume to which he prefixed the title Acts of the Apostles, a history which extends to the second year of Paul's sojourn at Rome, that is to the fourth year of Nero, from which we learn that the book was composed in that same city.” (Lives of Illustrious Men 7)

Eusebius (AD 300) wrote this in his history of the church
"Luke, who was by race an Antiochan and a physician by profession, was long a companion of Paul, and had careful conversation with the other apostles, and in two books left us examples of the medicine for souls which he had gained from them. One of these is his gospel, in which he testifies that he has recorded, "as those who were from the beginning eye-witnesses, and ministers of the word," delivered to him, whom also, he says, he has in all things followed. The other is his Acts of the Apostles, which he composed, not from what he had heard from others, but from what he has seen himself. It is also said, that Paul usually referred to his (Luke's) gospel, whenever, in his epistles, he spoke of some particular gospel of his own, saying, "according to my gospel." (Historia Ecclesiastica 3:4)

Other information about Luke

Luke was one of Paul's fellow workers (Phm 24), a Gentile and the beloved physician (Col 4:14). He was the only Gentile author of the N.T., and wrote a larger proportion (28%) than any other author, compared with Paul only writing 25%. He was Paul's only companion during his last imprisonment (2 Tim 4:11). As a doctor, Luke uses medical terms in the gospel: high fever (4:38), and being full of leprosy (5:12). Both Luke and Acts contain many technical medical terms. He shows a great interest in the healing of diseases, as many healings are described.

His birthplace is not known, but we have a clue from the Codex Bezae version of Acts 11:27-28 which reads, "When we were gathered together, one of them stood up and said ...". This would indicate that Luke was at Antioch during the stay of Saul and Barnabas before the first missionary journey. In the quotations above Eusebius said that Luke was born in Antioch and Jerome called him the physician of Antioch. Luke also includes many details of the establishment and early history of the church in Antioch (11:19-27, 13:1, 14:19-26, 15:22-25, 18:22). The only deacon in Acts 6:5 who has a home town mentioned is Nicolaus of Antioch, perhaps Luke knew him. It appears that Luke was familiar with Antioch, as it is mentioned several times in the Book of Acts.

Luke's sources of material

Luke's gospel was written extremely carefully, being the result of very careful research (1:3). As Luke was a close associate with Paul, he must have heard many of the stories from him. It is also likely that Luke obtained information from Mary, the mother of Jesus. Perhaps he talked with her and others who had known Jesus during the time Paul was in prison for two years in Caesarea.

Dedication to Theophilus

The prologue of the gospel is written in Classical Greek (1:1-4), and forms a single sentence. It follows the style of a formal introduction used by Greek writers of that time, like these used by Josephus in two of his books
"In my history ... most excellent Epaphroditus, I have made sufficiently clear ... the antiquity of our Jewish race. Since, however, I observe that a considerable number of persons ... discredit the statement ..., I consider it my duty to devote a brief treatise to all these points.” (C. Apion - vol 1)

"In the first volume of this work, my most esteemed Epaphroditus, I demonstrated the antiquity of our race ...” (C. Apion - vol 2)

There are a number of things we can learn from Luke’s prologue (1:1-4). Firstly, there were many narratives of the life of Christ in circulation at the time of writing of this gospel, so Luke was not the first to attempt a history of Jesus (v1). The author received his information from those who were there at the beginning and who were eyewitnesses or preachers, teachers or ministers of the word, including the apostles. The records of eyewitnesses show that the Christian faith is rooted in historical reality. He used original material, both oral and written. Luke states that he was especially careful in his selection of his source material, and does not include himself with the eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus (v2). The author had done a careful, precise, accurate study over a period of time. He has written an orderly, systematic account, which is not necessarily chronological. He has made a careful investigation of all the traditions which had come to him (v3). Theophilus has already been told the Gospel but the author is writing it down so that he can examine it for himself in detail (v4). Perhaps the author has already told Theophilus the gospel story and now he is taking the time to write it out for this special individual. Otherwise Theophilus could have heard some heretical teaching, with Luke writing to correct his misunderstanding.

The Gospel of Luke is addressed as a dedication to the "most excellent Theophilus", Acts addresses him, "O Theophilus" (1:1). Theophilus was a Greek name, meaning "friend of God" or "lover of God". The title "most excellent", was used to address procurators or provincial governors like Felix (23:26, 24:3) and Festus (26:25). Perhaps Theophilus held some official position in government. Not much else is known about him. He may have been a Roman official in Antioch. It was common practice to dedicate a book to some important person, who would even bear the expense of copying and distributing it. The Gospel was not intended only for Theophilus, but for Gentile converts in General. Some people say that this is a general address, such as, "Dear Christian Reader".

Purpose of writing

Many people suggest that Luke an Acts is a defence of the Gospel to the Gentiles, especially to the Roman government, showing that Christianity was politically harmless to the Romans. Before the fire of Rome (AD 64), Christianity was recognised as part of Judaism, which was a legal religion, a “religio licita”. After AD 64, when the Christians were blamed for the fire, Christianity became increasingly under suspicion. It is possible the Luke wrote his two books to argue that Christianity should be tolerated by the Roman government, especially if Theophilus was a senior Roman official.

In both Luke and Acts, Jesus and his followers were repeatedly declared innocent by Roman officials when tried in Roman courts. In the most important example, Pilate, the Roman governor, declared Jesus innocent three times (23:4,13-16,22). The centurion at the cross said, "Certainly this man was innocent" (23:47). Particularly through the birth narratives, Luke also shows that Christianity is to be seen as the true fulfilment of Judaism, which already had legal status.

The Gospel by a Gentile for Gentiles

Theophilus was a Gentile, so the gospel is written so that gentiles with little of no knowledge of Judaism would understand it. Luke dates the beginning of his gospel by the current Roman emperor and Roman governor (3:1). Luke does not have much emphasis on Jesus as the fulfilment of O.T. prophecy, especially when compared with Matthew. He only quotes the O.T. infrequently, and only from the Greek Septuagint translation. He regularly gives Hebrew words their Greek equivalents, so Simon the Canaanean (Mt 10:4), becomes Simon the Zealot (Lk 6:15), calvary is called the Kranion (Greek), not Golgotha (Hebrew), both meaning the Place of a skull. He never uses the Jewish title Rabbi for Jesus, but instead uses the Greek word Master, or Teacher. In the genealogy, Luke traces Jesus's ancestry not just to Abraham, the founder of the Jewish people, but to Adam, the founder of the human race. Luke never quotes Jesus using Aramaic words, as in Matthew or Mark.

There are many references to Gentiles: Simeon spoke of Jesus being "a revelation to the Gentiles" (2:32). Luke also mentions the widow of Zarephath and Namaan the Syrian leper (4:26-27, a Roman Centurion (23:47), Samaritans (10:33), and the Queen of the South, and Nineveh (11:26,32). In the book of Acts the main thrust is to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.

Structure of the book

In both Luke and Acts, the geography is most important. In the gospel, the movement is toward Jerusalem, while in Acts the movement is away from Jerusalem, to the ends of the earth, particularly Rome. This gives a chiastic structure in the two books

A. Galilee }
B. Samaria / Judea }   Luke
C. Jerusalem }
C. Jerusalem }
B. Judea / Samaria }   Acts
A. Nations }

The Gospel begins with the birth narratives (1:1 - 4:13), followed by the Galilean Ministry (4:14 - 9:50). Luke then includes a lengthy travel narrative, when Jesus set his face to Jerusalem (9:51 - 19:44), and concludes with the passion narratives set in Jerusalem (19:45 - 24:53).

He has quite a strong emphasis on Jesus being in Jerusalem. The birth narratives climax at Jerusalem (ch 2). The temptations are different from the order in Matthew so that the last is in Jerusalem (ch 4). The movement towards Jerusalem is particularly shown during the travel narrative. Wherever Jesus is, he is always heading towards Jerusalem (9:51-53,57 10:1,38, 13:22,31-32, 14:25, 17:11, 18:31,35, 19:1,28,41). The appearances after the resurrection all occur in or near Jerusalem, and Jesus's final instruction, was "stay in the city" 24:49,53).

Date of writing

It is difficult to be sure of a date or writing. It was probably before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and before the death of Paul, due to way Acts ends. Acts ends inn AD 60-62 with Paul in prison in Rome for two years (Acts 28). Before that he was in prison in Caesarea for two years (AD 58-59). Luke probably used this time to research and write his Gospel, including talking to the apostles and Mary and other eye-witnesses to Jesus. So Luke probably completed both his gospel and Acts in the late fifties or early sixties.

Luke's literary style

Luke gives great attention to detail. Many seemingly insignificant events or descriptions are regularly given. He also shows Jesus giving great attention to individuals. He frequently makes use of litotes or understatement, such as, "no small stir". He also uses the phrase, “Egeneto de" at the beginning of his sentences. This means “And it came to pass”, but is not always translated.

Luke is recognised as one of the most literary writers of the New Testament. Some have said that Luke's Gospel is the most beautiful book ever written. He uses a huge vocabulary, larger than any other N.T. writer, including over eight hundred words not used anywhere else in the N.T.

Luke - a man with a heart for individuals

In the quotation from Isaiah, Jesus gives the reasons for his coming (4:18-19), which is also what the disciples were to tell John was happening (9:22):
1. To bring good news to the poor
2. To proclaim release to the captives
3. The recovery of sight to the blind
4. To let the oppressed go free.
5. To proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

Luke shows that Jesus had a high regard for people and took special interest in the poor, the outcasts and women. He placed people before the letter of the law, particularly healing in synagogues on the Sabbath (4:31-37, 6:6-11, 13:10-17), he honoured and respected women, and reached out to the rejects and outcasts of society, like lepers,

Luke's gospel introduces Jesus as the universal saviour, for all people in all the world. He brought salvation both spiritually and physically, for now and eternity. This work of salvation was performed by Jesus through personal experiences of friendship with individuals. Jesus was not just the Great Physician, but the self-sacrificing Friend. A friend of both the poor and the rich, of both the honoured and the despised, including tax-collectors, sinners and fallen women.

The Gospel shows an intimate and homely atmosphere. Jesus is mostly shown in people's homes: speaking to tax-collectors over a meal, as a guest with Mary and Martha, with the men on the road to Emmaus while they were eating together.

1. The individual

Luke's parables are mostly concerned with individuals: including the good Samaritan, the friend at midnight, the lost coin and the prodigal son. Many people are named individually throughout the gospel, including Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna, Martha and Mary, Simon, Levi, the Centurion, the Widow of Nain, the woman who anointed Jesus' feet, Anna, Chusa, Joanna, Susanna, Mary Magdalene and others.

2. Women

In first century Jewish culture, women were regarded as second class citizens. The Rabbis asserted the privileged position of the man in the religious sphere with the greatest emphasis. A woman was regarded as the moral inferior of man. She was not allowed to bear witness in court, except in the rarest instances. Her place was with the slaves and children, not with her husband. A father, but not a mother, could promise his young daughter in marriage. If men ate together they were obliged to say grace. For women it did not matter, as with slaves and children. Women did not need to recite the Schema (Deut 6). The study of the law (Torah) was the privilege of men. The father instructed his sons in the law but not his daughters. One rabbi regarded it as positively disreputable to speak to a woman in public, it could earn him hell. Rabbi Eliezer said, "Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman". The Mishna declared, "two men to be worth a hundred women".

Into this cultural setting Jesus did a radical thing, not only to speak to women in public but to have women following him (Luke 8:1-3, 10:38-42), but he did not appoint any women to be one of the twelve disciples. Also it is into this background that Luke places his emphasis on women. The birth narratives are told from Mary's viewpoint. Luke also mentions Elizabeth, Anna, the widow of Nain, the woman who anointed Jesus' feet, Martha & Mary, Mary Magdalene. In chapter 24, women are the first witnesses of the risen Jesus.

Luke does an interesting thing, almost every instance a woman is mentioned it is one part of a couplet of a corresponding incident with a man. He either includes it in his narrative account or in the teaching of Jesus. The angel appears to Zechariah (1:8) and to Mary (1:26). Luke includes a prophetic song by Mary (1:46), and by Zechariah (1:67). There was recognition of the newly born Jesus in the Temple, first from Simeon (2:29), then from Anna (2:36). Jesus causes controversy by healing on the Sabbath, first a woman with infirmity (13:10), then a man with dropsy (14:1).

Luke also shows that Jesus related his teaching both to men and women. In his opening sermon, Jesus gave two examples, the widow who fed Elijah (4:25), and that Naaman was healed through Elisha (4:27). In his teaching on persistent prayer, he describes the friend at midnight (11:5), and the widow and the unrighteous judge (18:3). In his judgment on "this evil generation", he states that the Queen of South will rise in judgment (11:31), as well as the men of Nineveh (11:32). When warning against anxiety, we are called to consider the ravens, who do not sow or reap (12:24), the traditional task of men, as well as the lilies, who do not toil or spin (12:27), the traditional task of women. The Gospel causes division between a father and his son (12:53), as well as between a mother and her daughter (12:53). In his parables about the Kingdom of God, a man plants a grain of mustard seed (13:19), and a woman leavens meal (13:21). There are two parables when something is lost, the man with a lost sheep (15:3), and a woman with a lost coin (15:8). On the day of the son of man, there will be two men, one will be taken, and the other left (17:34), as well as two women, one taken, and the other left (17:35). There are two healings, the centurion's servant (7:1), and the widow's son (7:11).

3. Poverty and wealth

Luke is particularly interested in the poor. His heart goes out to everyone for whom life is a struggle. Luke teaches that poverty is not a spiritual handicap, whereas wealth can be. Luke includes much teaching and parables against riches. The poor are mentioned eleven times, as many as Matthew and Mark combined.

Unique to Luke are: the lowly being lifted up, the hungry being filled and the rich being sent away empty (1:52-53), and the good news being preached to the poor (4:18). In Luke it is the poor who are blessed (6:20), compared with Matthew’s, "Blessed are the poor in spirit", but the rich are not (6:24). The poor have good news brought to them (7:22), which forms the climax to description of Jesus' ministry to John. His disciples are to sell and give, and receive treasure in heaven (12:33), and the poor, lame and blind are invited to the banquet (14:13).

The angel Gabriel came to a lowly maiden and humble shepherds (ch 1). Mary brought the poor persons offering for her purification (2:24). Jesus told several parable against riches, the parable of the rich fool (12:13-21), the rich ruler (18:18-30), and the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31).

4. Jesus ministering to the outcasts and sinners

Luke shows Jesus reaching out to other people who would be outcasts from society for various reasons. Unique to Luke is the account of sinful woman washing his feet (7:36-50), the parable of the "good" Samaritan (10:25-37), and of the prodigal son (15:11-32), the cleansing of the ten lepers (17:11-19), and only the Samaritan returning to thank Jesus, the meeting with Zacchaeus the tax collector (19:1-10), and the repentant criminal on the cross (23:39-43). In addition to these, Luke also includes the accounts of Jesus cleansing a leper (5:12-16), calling and eating with Levi the tax-collector (5:27-32), Legion the demoniac (8:36-50), and the blind beggar at Jericho (18:35-43)

5. Children

Luke also shows an interest in children, with the unique accounts of the birth, infancy and childhood of John the Baptist (1:57-80), as well as Jesus as a baby (2:16), a little child (2:27) and as a boy (2:40), and the widow of Nain's only son (7:11-15). He also includes that the epileptic boy was an only child (9:37-43), the account of the child that Jesus put in front of his disciples (9:47-48), and parents bringing their children to Jesus (18:15).

Passages unique to Luke's Gospel

This is a list of the major passages which are only found in Luke’s Gospel. The ones marked with an asterix are those found in the birth narratives (ch 1-2), the "travel narrative" (ch 9-19), and the resurrection appearances (ch 24).

1:1-4 Dedication to Theophilus * 1:46-56 Song of Mary (Magnificat) *
1:5-25 Prediction of John's birth * 1:57-66 Birth and naming of John *
1:26-38 Prediction of Jesus's birth * 1:67-80 Song of Zechariah *
1:39-45 Mary visits Elizabeth *
2:8-20 Angels appear to shepherds * 2:36-38 Anna's thanksgiving *
2:21-24 Circumcision and dedication * 2:39-40 Return to Nazareth *
2:25-35 Simeon's song and prophecy * 2:41-52 Jesus found in temple *
3:1-2 Dating of John's ministry 3:23-38 Genealogy from Adam
3:10-15 John's instructions
5:1-10 Miraculous catch of fish
6:24-26 The woes
7:11-17 Raising of widow of Nain's son 7:36-50 Woman anoints Jesus's feet
8:1-3 Women who helped Jesus
9:51-56 Rejection by Samaritans *
10:1-12, 17-20 Mission of seventy * 10:25-37 Parable of good Samaritan *
10:38-42 Mary and Martha *
11:5-8 Parable of friend at midnight * 11:37-41 True cleansing *
11:27 True blessedness*
13:1-5 Repentance * 13:22-30 Who are in the kingdom? *
13:6-8 Parable of barren fig tree * 13:31-33 That fox Herod *
13:10-17 Healing of crippled woman *
14:1-6 Healing of man with dropsy * 14:7-14 Parable of invitation to banquet *
15:8-10 Parable of lost coin * 15:11-32 Parable of prodigal son *
16:1-9 Parable of unjust steward * 16:19-31 Parable of rich man and Lazarus *
16:14-15 Covetous Pharisees *
17:7-10 Worthless slaves * 17:11-19 Healing of ten lepers *
18:1-8 Parable of unjust judge * 18:9-14 Pharisee & tax-collector *
19:1-10 Zacchaeus * 19:41-44 Lament over Jerusalem *
19:11-27 Parable of the pounds *
22:35-38 The two swords
23:6-12 Jesus before Herod 23:27-31 Daughters of Jerusalem
24:13-35 The road to Emmaus * 24:44-49 Fulfilment of Scripture *
24:36-43 Appearance to the disciples * 24:50-53 Ascension *

Distinctive features of Luke's gospel

Historical references

Before the beginning of the twentieth century, Luke's reliability as a historian was severely criticised and dismissed. One writer called Weizacher said: "The historical value of Acts shrinks until it reaches a vanishing point". However, more recently, following more research, Luke has become increasingly respected as a very accurate historian. Ramsay, a well-respected archaeologist, said this:
"Luke's history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness". "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense; he seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length, while he touches lightly or omits entirely much that was valueless for his purpose. In short, this author should be placed among with the very greatest of historians."

Professor Otto Piper said this:
"Wherever modern scholarship has been able to check up on the accuracy of Luke's work the judgement has been unanimous: he is one of the finest and ablest historians in the ancient world"

In his gospel, many events are given a precise historical date. These include the prediction of John’s birth during the days of Herod the Great (1:5), who ruled from 37 to 4 BC. The birth of Jesus (2:1) was during the reign of Caesar Augustus, who ruled from 30 BC to AD 14, and at the time of the first enrollment, to distinguish from a second in AD 6 (Acts 5:37). At this time Quirinius was governor of Syria, which was during the first decade BC, and again between AD 6 and 9.

The beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-2) was in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, who reigned from AD 14 to 37, so the fifteenth year was between AD 27 and 29. Pontus Pilate was governor of Judea from AD 26 to 36. Herod (Antipas) was tetrarch of Galilee from 4 BC to AD 39, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis from 4 BC to AD 34. Luke also mentions Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, and the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Annas was high priest from AD 6 until AD 15, when he was dismissed by Roman governor.

Major themes of Luke's Gospel

1. Jesus as the Saviour

Luke is the only gospel writer to describe Jesus as the Saviour (Soter). Mary was told to name him Jesus, meaning saviour (1:31), and in the Magnificat proclaims, "My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" (1:47). Zechariah said that God has raised up a mighty Saviour for us (1:69), and the shepherds were told, "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour" (2:11). In the Roman world, the title "Soter" was an official designation for political leaders who established peace, meaning saviour or benefactor, so this was a politically loaded word.

Jesus was the one who brought Salvation. John was to give knowledge of salvation to his people (1:77), and Simeon declared: "my eyes have seen your salvation" (2:30). When John the Baptist quoted Isaiah, he said, "all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (3:6). Jesus himself declared to Zachaeus, "Today, salvation has come to this house" (19:9). There is a strong emphasis on "today", and "now". Jesus is the saviour and his salvation has come now, today, so don’t miss out. The story of Zacchaeus is especially significant, salvation came to the house of Zacchaeus, a greedy and corrupt tax-collector, but failed to come to Jerusalem. The key verse summarises the message of the book: "For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost" (19:10).

2. Jesus as the saviour of all

All men are regarded as sinners, and Jesus is the saviour of them all. According to Luke, Jesus is not only the Messiah of the Old Testament, but the Redeemer of the whole world. The gospel of Christ is for the whole world, both Jew and Gentile. The angels sang, “God's peace and goodwill are to be among men” (2:14), and Jesus is a light for revelation to the Gentiles (2:32), so all flesh is to see the salvation of God (3:6). The Samaritans are not despised, and his disciples are rebuked for wanting to call fire down on them (9:54). In the famous parable, it was a despised Samaritan who had compassion (10:33), and only a Samaritan leper returned to give thanks after being cleansed from leprosy (17:16).

Luke shows that the coming of Jesus is not merely an event in Jewish history, but a world-changing event. This would explain why he connects the coming of Jesus with wider historical events, including the dates of rule of Roman emperors.

3. The Holy Spirit

In both Luke and Acts, Luke gives a distinctive emphasis to the role of the Holy Spirit, who has not been active since the last of the O.T. prophets. One of Luke's most important recurring expressions is the description of people "being filled with the Spirit". In the birth narratives, Luke shows that the Spirit which has been quenched since the last of the O.T. prophets, had now returned. All of the family of John the Baptist were filled with the Holy Spirit: John (1:15), Elizabeth (1:41) and Zechariah (1:67). The Holy Spirit came upon Simeon (2:25-27), and will come upon Mary (1:35). The Holy Spirit descended like at dove at Jesus’ baptism (3:22), so he was full of the Holy Spirit when be went to be tempted (4:1-2), and when he returned (4:14). At the start of his ministry he quoted Isaiah, saying that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him (4:18).

4. Prayer

At each of the great moments of his life, Jesus was at prayer. Eight of these ten accounts is unique to Luke: At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended while he was praying (3:21), after a day of miracles he withdrew into wilderness to pray (5:15,16). After praying all night on mountain he chose the 12 (6:12). He also prayed before predicting his death, at Peter's confession (9:18), and at his transfiguration (9:29). He was praying after the seventy returned (10:17,21), and before teaching the disciples to pray in Lord's Prayer (11:1). He also prayed for Peter (22:31-32), in Gethsemane (22:39-46), and on the cross (23:34,46).

Luke also records the prayers of other people, including that John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray (11:1, 5:33), the angel appeared to Zechariah while the people were praying, and was in answer to Zechariah's prayer (1:10,13). Anna, who witnessed the dedication of Jesus, spent her time praying in the temple (2:36-38), and Jesus told his disciples to pray in Gethsemane (22:40:46).

Luke includes several parables to illustrate the need of prayer, including the friend at midnight (11:5-13), the widow and the unjust judge (18:1-8), and the Pharisee and the tax collector (18:9-14). Jesus also exhorted the people to prayer, for those who abuse you (6:28), for labourers (10:2), and when you have need - ask, seek and knock (11:9-13). He also told them to pray and not to loose heart (18:1-6), and to be delivered from temptation (22:40,46).

5. Praise

Unique to Luke's gospel are the well-known prayers used by the church: The Ave Maria - the angel to Mary (1:28-31), the Magnificat by Mary (1:46-55), the Benedictus by Zechariah (1:68-79), the Gloria in Excelsis from the angels to shepherds (2:14), and the Nunc Dimittis by Simeon (2:29-32). There are also themes of glorifying God (2:20, 5:25, 7:16. 13:13, 17:15, 18:43), praising God (2:13,20, 19:37), and blessing God (1:64, 2:28, 24:53).

6. The theme of amazement

Like the other gospel writers, Luke uses a group of different words to describe the responses of the people to the ministry of Jesus. These include, to marvel (1:21,63, 2:18,33, 4:22, 8:25, 9:43, 11:14,38, 20:26, 24:12,41), to be overwhelmed (2:48, 4:32, 9:43), to be astounded (2:47, 8:56, 24:22), as well as bewilderment (5:26), astonishment (4:36, 5:9), fear (1:12, 65, 2:9, 5:26, 7:16, 8:25,35, 37, 9:34,45), and being perplexed (24:4). He also notes the popularity of Jesus (5:26, 7:16-17. 11:14, 13:17, 14:25)

7. Prophecy against Jerusalem

Luke shows that Jesus came to redeem Jerusalem, fulfilling all Jewish expectations. Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel (2:25), and Anna spoke to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel (2:38). The two on the road to Emmaus said, "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel" (24:21).

Luke also seems to have a strong theme of judgement against Jerusalem, because of the rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders. Simeon also predicted that the child will be set for the fall and rising of many in Israel (2:34). In his message to Herod, Jesus said that his house is forsaken (13:35).Jesus wept over Jerusalem (19:41), and predicted its judgement in the parable of vineyard (20:9), later saying that Jerusalem will be trodden down by Gentiles (21:20), and told the women to weep for themselves, on the way to the cross (23:28).

The judgement theme also is shown by the use of the phrase "this generation", which refers to the generation of people living at the time of Jesus, who failed to respond to him or the Kingdom he brought (7:31, 11:29-32,50-51, 17:25, 21:32).


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