The Gospel of Luke
LUKE – INTRODUCTION
The Synoptic Gospels
and Luke are usually known as the Synoptic
Gospels. Synoptic comes from two Greek words, which mean
to “to see together”, and literally means “able to be seen
together”. (William Barclay – Daily Study Bible, Matthew,
These three gospels have many
similarities. In fact, many of the passages in them are
word-for-word identical. Each has its particular emphasis and some
unique sayings and events, but overall their similarity far
overshadows their differences.
When looking at the three synoptic
gospels closely, Bible scholars note that there seem to be two main
sources of material:
The Markan source.
Most Bible scholars believe that Mark is the earliest of the
four gospels. It was probably written between 60-70 A.D. It is
based on an oral tradition that emphasized EVENTS in the life
and ministry of Jesus.
The Q Source.
This source focused more on the TEACHINGS of Jesus rather than
Most Bible scholars believe that
Matthew and Luke used material from both the Markan
and Q sources. Matthew, for example, reproduces 606
of Mark’s 661 verses…and Luke reproduces 320 of the 661. In
addition, however, there are more than 200 verses that are common to
both Matthew and Luke that appear nowhere in Mark.
These verses – mostly SAYINGS of Jesus – are probably from the Q
We need to understand that the gospel
writers were basically editorialists. Each wanted to tell the story
of Jesus, but from their own unique perspectives and with the
purpose of emphasizing the aspects of Jesus’ ministry that they felt
were most important. Using the Markan and Q
traditions, plus some occasional other stories and sayings, each
synoptic gospel writer wrote a gospel that has its own special
The Gospel According to Luke
Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke’s gospel
is the first of a two-volume composition. The Acts of the
Apostles is the continuation of Luke’s gospel after Jesus
ascends into heaven. Together, “Luke-Acts” comprises almost one
quarter of the entire New Testament!
Tradition has always believed that
Luke was the author of “Luke-Acts”, and almost all Biblical scholars
today still affirm that tradition. As William Barclay notes in his
Daily Study Bible commentary, in the ancient world it was a
regular practice to attach books to famous names – no one thought it
to be wrong. Luke, however, was never one of the “famous” figures
of the early Church – and if he had not written the gospel, no one
would have attached it to his name. Luke was a Gentile; and he has
the unique distinction of being the only New Testament writer who
was not a Jew. By profession, he was a doctor – Paul refers
to him as the “beloved physician” in Col. 4:14.
The book was written to Theophilus
(Lk. 1:3, Acts 1:1). “Theophilus” literally means “lover
of God” – and scholars are divided whether this was an actual
person or perhaps the title refers to anyone who might read this
Most scholars today believe that the
four canonical gospels were written in the following order:
– A.D. 65 (probably originally written
to Christians in Rome);
– A.D. 80 (probably originally
written to Jewish-Christians in the area of Antioch,
Syria – about 10 years after the fall of Jerusalem during the
Jewish rebellion around A.D. 70 and dealing with the reality
that Pharisaic Jews were excommunicating their community from
– A.D. 85 (written mainly for Gentiles –
because that is what more and more Christians now were – Luke
stresses the salvation of Jesus for all people).
– A.D. 100 (probably written in
Ephesus – details a different tradition that those used for the
synoptic gospels – one of John’s major concerns appears to be
refuting the heresy of Gnosticism.)
Some Themes Emphasized by
Luke wished to show the
Roman authorities that Christianity was not a subversive sect.
During the first few decades of its history, Christianity was
regarded as a Jewish sect by Roman officials. This was helpful,
because Judaism was a tolerated religion by the Romans.
However, due to the evangelizing activity of Christians and in
light of the fact that more and more Gentiles were
embracing the faith, Roman attitudes began to change.
Christianity increasingly was being seen as an illegal
religion. Luke, therefore, wanted to emphasize that the Romans
had nothing to fear from Christianity – that it did not
in any way call for the overthrown of the Roman Empire. Luke
also often seems to go out of his way to portray Roman
authorities in a positive light (see the faith of the Roman
centurion in Lk. 7:1-10; the rather positive portrayal of
Pilate in Lk. 23:13-25; the Roman centurion as the first
Gentile convert in Acts 10:1-8, 22-48; the positive
portrayal of the Roman tribune Claudius Lysias who saved Paul’s
life from Jewish conspirators in Acts. 23:16-35; etc.).
Luke wished to support
the claim that the Church was the true Israel.
This is most clearly shown at the end of his work in Acts
28:23-28 – where Paul explains his evangelism to the
Gentiles as being the result of the Jews rejection of Jesus as
Luke was eager to stress
that Christianity was a world religion that recognized no racial
limitations. Examples of this
include: Luke’s genealogy of Jesus (Lk. 3:23-38) went all
the way back to Adam rather than just to Abraham as in
Mt. 1:1-17); the prophet Simeon proclaiming the
infant Jesus to be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk.
2:32a); Jesus’ positive portrayal of Samaritans (Lk.
10:29-37 and 17:11-19); Peter’s statement to Cornelius that
“Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every
nation any one who fears him and does what is right is
acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35); Paul’s statement of
universal religion in his speech in Athens (Acts 17:26-28).
Luke emphasizes the work
of the Holy Spirit. As compared to
six references to the Spirit in Mark and twelve in Matthew,
there are seventeen in the gospel of Luke and fifty-seven in
Acts. Luke especially mentions the Spirit in the first two
chapters of his gospel: the angel Gabriel informs Zechariah that
his son John (the Baptist) would be “filled with the Holy
Spirit” from before his birth (Lk. 1:15); and Mary is
informed that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you…” (Lk.
1:35), and that the Holy Spirit rested upon the prophet
Simeon (Lk. 2:25-26). And in the book of Acts,
beginning with Pentecost, the Spirit is mentioned constantly!
Luke emphasizes the
prayer life of Jesus and in the early church.
We note that in Luke’s gospel, his practice of prayer is
what led the disciples to ask him to teach them to pray -
and that is what led Jesus to teach them the “Lord’s
Prayer.” In Acts, prayer is constantly emphasized before
every major decision that the apostles make.
Luke, more than any other
New Testament writer, emphasizes the role of women in the gospel
tradition and in the early Church.
Examples in the gospel include his emphasis upon Mary the mother
of Jesus; Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist; the
prophetess Anna; his description of Mary Magadelene, Joanna, and
Susanna and many other women as providers for Jesus (Lk.
8:1-3); as well as specifically mentioning the women who
were the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection (Lk. 24:1-11).
Luke, more than any other
synoptic gospel writer, tells about post-resurrection
appearances to his disciples.
Luke has a special
concern for the poor.
The birth narrative stresses Jesus’ humble origin; John the
Baptist teaches that men should share their possessions with the
needy; and Jesus in his version of the Beatitudes (Lk
6:20-26) says that the poor (rather than the “poor
in spirit”) and hungry (rather than “hunger and
thirst for righteousness”) are blessed.
Luke stresses the proper
stewardship of wealth in both his gospel and in Acts.
In the gospel especially, Jesus’ parables of the rich fool, of
the dishonest steward, and of the rich man and Lazarus are
examples of this – all these parables are unique to Luke. In
Acts, it is mentioned that all who believed had things in common
– and that they would sell their possessions and goods and
distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts
Finally, Luke especially shows
Jesus as the friend of outcasts and sinners. Examples
(unique to him) include the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet and
wiped them with her hair (Lk. 7:36-50); Zachaeus (Lk.
19:1-10); the Penitent Thief (Lk. 23:43); and the
prodigal son and the loving father (Lk. 15:11-32).
To sum up, Luke is a gospel that for
many people is especially beautiful – for it especially shows the
LOVE and the FORGIVENESS that God came to bring us through Jesus!
418 W. Main