Introduction To The Gospel of Luke
The Gospel of Luke is the longest of the four Gospels despite the fact that it has been divided into four chapters less than was Matthew. It was written primarily for the Gentile Christians to portray Jesus as the Son of Man. In Lu 3:23-38, Jesus' genealogy is traced all the way back to Adam. This is quite different than Matthew's genealogy, which only traces Jesus' ancestry back to Abraham, and this reflects Luke's intent to portray Jesus as the Savior of everyone.
The Gospel of Luke only records nine Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, while Matthew (the Gospel to the Jews) records twenty-five prophecies; Mark, eleven prophecies; and John, fifteen prophecies. This is more evidence that this Gospel was written with a Gentile audience in mind.
Eusebius and Jerome (A.D. 330 and A.D. 384, respectively) wrote that Luke was a native of Antioch in Syria. If true, that would make Luke the only Gentile writer of Scripture and would further explain the unmistakable effort to present Jesus as the Savior of all people.
Luke's desire to present Jesus to the Gentiles can also be seen in many of the events that he alone among the Gospel writers reported, such as the widow's son being raised from the dead at Nain (Lu 7:11-17); Jesus' forgiveness of the sinful woman who fell at His feet despite the Jew's objections (Lu 7:36-50); the parable of the good Samaritan (Lu 10:25-37); the parable of the great supper where the guests wouldn't come (Lu 14:15-24); the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, which illustrated His great love for the lost (Lu 15:1-10); the story of the prodigal son and his brother (Lu 15:11-32); and the cleansing of the ten lepers (Lu 17:12-19). The material covered from Lu 9:51 through 18:14 is not given in any of the other Gospels and would be of particular interest to Gentiles. Nearly one-third of Luke's events are peculiar to his Gospel.
Luke was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, as were Matthew, John, and possibly Mark. However, he stated that he had a perfect understanding of all the events in Jesus' life, and one of his stated purposes in writing this Gospel was to set those events in their proper order. Thus, Luke was the historian of the Gospel writers.
Luke mentioned in the introduction to his Gospel that many had "taken in hand" to write an orderly account of the life and ministry of Jesus. However, he apparently did not think they succeeded, and therefore he, being led by the Holy Spirit, set out to give us the accurate account. With many accounts in circulation, both written and oral, it is easy to see why an authorized version was needed. The early, extra-biblical sources we have access to mention Luke's Gospel more than any of the other Gospels and show that Luke accomplished his purpose.
Luke alone mentioned the angels' appearance to Zacharias and Elizabeth, and with the exception of seven verses in Matthew, all of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus were recorded by Luke. Luke alone also gave us many of the details of Jesus' life before his baptism by John. These are details that those who were not eyewitnesses themselves would have been interested in and that were apparently missing from the oral accounts.
Luke mentioned historical data more than the other Gospel writers: the taxing taken when Cyrenius was governor of Syria (Lu 2:1-2), a listing of contemporary Roman and Jewish rulers (Lu 3:1-2), and Pilate's and Herod's jurisdictions (Lu 23:1 and 12). Taken with the book of Acts, which is a sequel to Luke (Ac 1:1), we have much more of the historical facts from which we date Bible events.
a. Internal evidence: The internal evidence for Luke being the author of this Gospel comes mainly from the book of Acts. Luke can readily be seen as the author of Acts, and by comparing Ac 1:1 with Lu 1:3, we can see that these two books were written to the same person, with reference being made in Acts to the former letter written to this man (Theophilus). Thus, we can assume that Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, also wrote this Gospel.
b. External evidence: There is as much or more external evidence to establish Luke as the author of this Gospel as to prove the authorship of any of the Gospels. Indeed, most of the books of the New Testament and their authors had been universally accepted by the latter portion of the second century. Before the year 200, Irenaeus in Gaul, Clement in Alexandria, and Tertullian in Carthage all mentioned the widespread acceptance of the books that comprise our New Testament. Justin Martyr reported that the memoirs of the apostles (as the four Gospels were then called) were read in the weekly services of the church (about A.D. 150) as being equal with the writings of the Old Testament prophets.
The Muratorian Canon is a manuscript that was discovered in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, and it contains some of the writings of Chrysostom. This document has been dated by scholars from internal evidence as being written in A.D. 170. Chrysostom says, "The Gospel of St. Luke stands third in order, having been written by St. Luke the physician, the companion of St. Paul, who, not being himself an eyewitness, based his narrative on such information as he could obtain, beginning from the birth of John."
Justin Martyr also stated that two of these memoirs of the apostles were written by two apostles, and the other two, by two of their followers. This would refer to Luke as being a follower of the Apostle Paul (2Ti 4:11).
Date of Writing
a. Internal evidence: There is no definite indication within the Gospel of Luke as to the date of writing. Some scholars have argued that Luke's record of Jesus' prophecy in Lu 21:5-6 dates the book before the destruction of Jerusalem, but as has already been detailed in the Introduction to Matthew (see Life for Today Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Matthew, Date of Writing, a. Internal evidence), that is not conclusive proof.
Luke's reference to the many who had tried to write down an orderly account of Jesus' life (Lu 1:1) definitely shows a considerable lapse of time between Jesus' ascension and Luke's writing of this Gospel.
b. External evidence: With so many extra-biblical sources mentioning Luke being the author of this Gospel, it is surprising that we have no mention of the date in which it was written.
Valentinus, who wrote between A.D. 139 and 160, mentioned, among other books, the Gospel of St. Luke as Scripture. Heracleon wrote a commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, which was put out before the middle of the second century, and some fragments of this still exist. Tatian wrote a harmony of the Gospels shortly after the middle of the second century, called the Diatessaron, and it was very popular.
From these references, we can see that the Gospel of Luke was accepted and in widespread use by the year A.D. 150. Other references from the "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs" and Clement of Rome take the date back to no later than A.D. 90. Beyond that, there is no evidence.
Since Luke traveled with Paul (2Ti 4:11), it has been suggested that Luke wrote this Gospel during one of Paul's long imprisonments in Caesarea (A.D. 60-62) or Rome (A.D. 63-64). This is conjecture. Even though it may be true, it cannot be verified.
About the Author
a. Internal information: Luke is mentioned by that name three times in the New Testament (Col 4:14, 2Ti 4:11, and Phm 24). He was the one referred to in the "we" portions of Acts (Ac 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, and 27:1-28:16). It is possible that the Lucius spoken of in Ac 13:1 and Ro 16:21 could have been the Luke who wrote the Gospel and the book of Acts. If the Lucius spoken of in Ro 16:21 was this Luke, then he would have been related to Paul.
Luke was referred to by Paul in Col 4:14 as the "beloved physician." His attention to the miracles Jesus performed in his Gospel reflects a physician's background. There is no evidence he ministered as a physician after his conversion. If he had "practiced medicine" alongside Paul, as some suggest, then he was remiss in not recording even one example of this in the book of Acts. It is clear, however, that Luke was a close companion of the Apostle Paul. Luke joined Paul in Troas, as can be seen by the narration changing from the third person (Ac 16:4) to the first person plural (Ac 16:10-11). This first person narration continues until Paul left Philippi headed for Thessalonica. This leads us to believe that Luke left the group in Philippi and did not join Paul again until nearly seven years later when Paul again passed through Philippi, and the narration again changes to "we" (Ac 20:5-6). The rest of the book of Acts continues to use "we," and Paul's references to Luke (Col 4:14, 2Ti 4:11, and Phm 24) show us that Luke was with Paul during his imprisonment (A.D. 60 to at least A.D. 64). 2Ti 4:11 reveals that for a period of time, only Luke remained with Paul. No doubt they must have had close fellowship during that time.
As has already been noted, Luke wrote this Gospel with all people in mind, not just the Jews, and that would be the natural thing for a follower of Paul to do. There is no reason not to believe that Luke's portrayal of Jesus' love toward those who didn't earn it (ex. Lu 17:11-19) reflected the influence of Paul.
b. External information: External evidence about Luke abounds. As mentioned in the beginning of this introduction, Eusebius and Jerome both assigned Luke to being a native of Antioch in Syria. Nearly all physicians of his day were Asiatic Greeks educated at Tarsus in Cilicia. This would further lead one to think that Luke was a Greek.
Eusebius wrote, "And Luke, who was a native of Antioch, and by profession a physician, for the most part companion of Paul, and who was not slightly acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us two books, divinely inspired proofs of the art of healing souls, which he won from them."
Jerome wrote in A.D. 384, "Luke, a physician of Antioch, not unskilled in the Hebrew language, as his works show, was a follower of the Apostle Paul, and the companion of all his wanderings. He wrote the Gospel of which the same Paul makes mention."
The Pseudo-Athanasius records, "The Gospel according to Luke was dictated by the Apostle Paul, but written and put out by Luke, the blessed apostle and physician."
Much more material about Luke exists, but it is based mainly on tradition and not fact.