As you know, we completed our study of 2 Samuel a couple of weeeks ago. Now we are now going to shift back to the New Testament. The new study is on the Gospel of Luke.
As you can see in the title, we are beginning with some introductory matters in this first study. I hope these introductory issues won’t seen too boring to you.
The first issue I want to talk about is that of authorship. The Church universal calls this book the Gospel of Luke, because the Church has long believed that Luke the physician (Col. 4:14), a Gentile companion of the apostle Paul, wrote both this Gospel and the book of Acts. However both documents are anonymous. That is, the author does not identify himself anywhere in the text of either book.
The reason there is little dispute about authorship by Luke of both the Gospel and Acts is because the tradition that Luke wrote them is solid from the late second century on, which suggests that there was a strong tradition of Lucan authorship prior to that. Some modern scholars have attempted to dispute Lucan authorship, but they have had little success.
Now let’s look at some evidence from within the Gospel about its authorship. To begin I want to show the connections between Luke and Acts that demonstrate that they were written by the same author. To do this you will want to put a finger in both Luke chapter one and Acts chapter one. In Luke 1:3 the author says he is writing the book for a man named Theophilus. Then in Acts 1:1 the author says, quote, “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach.” So we see that Acts also is written for Theophilus, and that the description of the “first book” is a description of a Gospel. In addition both books have similarity of language and style. And they have common interests, though we won’t take time to discuss those now. Finally, the Gospel of Luke ends with the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. That’s in Luke 24:44-53. And the book of Acts begins with an account of the Ascension in Acts 1:6-11. And no other Gospel writer tells us about the Ascension. Thus it is quite clear that Luke and Acts make up a two-volume work by the same author.
Next, more evidence that Luke is the author is found in four so-called “we” passages in Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-16; 21:1-17; 27:1-28:16). They are called “we” passages, because in those passages the author is recording events at which he was present; and he writes in the first person plural. We will look at just the first of them, in Acts 16:10-17. The context here is Paul’s second missionary journey. And the author has been writing in the third person throughout the book up to this point. If you look at verse six, it reads, “They went through the region of Phyrgia and Galatia, having been forbidden to speak the word in Asia,” and so on. Then after Paul had a vision in verse nine of a man from Macedonia calling them to come to Macedonia, the author suddenly changes from the third person to the first person in verse 10. It reads, quote, “When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia.” This means that the author was a traveling companion of Paul’s on the second, and as we shall see, later on the third, missionary journey. So the list of candidates for authorship is immediately considerably narrowed. Scholars have generally agreed that Luke is the companion of Paul’s that best fits the evidence. Thus the traditional view of Lucan authorship most satisfactorily explains all of the evidence.
Now then, turning, second, to the date of the Gospel, the exact date when any of the Gospels were written is difficult to establish. Since most scholars believe Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a written source, they must date Mathew and Luke later then Mark.
Unfortunately, there are two views regarding Mark’s date. One view suggests that Mark was written in the fifties, which means that the earliest Matthew and Luke could have been written was in the sixties. The other view suggests that Mark could not have been written until the sixties, when the first Roman persecution took place. Therefore those scholars push the date for Matthew and Luke back to the seventies or even the eighties. Many evangelical scholars believe that Luke-Acts was written in the early sixties, perhaps about AD 60-61, because the author of Acts did not yet know the outcome of Paul’s court case (he was martyred in the mid-sixties). That would be my position.
The third issue we want to discuss is that of the purpose of Luke’s Gospel. Luke obviously had in mind the general purpose of all Gospels, namely, to present the ministry and teachings of Jesus in a way that establishes Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. But Luke was a Gentile writing for Theophilus, who was a Gentile. Therefore he had a broader purpose than any of the other Gospel writers.
As William Barclay points out, Luke dates his material from the reigning Roman Emperor and the current Roman governor of Palestine. He shows little interest in Jewish prophecy and the Old Testament. He interprets Hebrew words for his Greek readers. And he traces the ancestry of Jesus, not to Abraham (the father of the Jews) but to Adam (the father of humanity).
The fourth and final matter I would like to take up is the term “gospel.” The Greek word is euangelion, and we get our English words evangel, evangelism, evangelist, and the verb, to evangelize from it. Underlying the term euangelion is the word angelos, which originally meant one who brought a message of good news.
Thus the “gospel” with a small “g” literally means “good news.” We frequently call the authors of our Gospels evangelists, because they are sharing the “good news” about Jesus. That also explains why we call their books Gospels. The books contain “good news” about Jesus.
As you know, some Christians limit the role of evangelists to people who invite others to accept Christ. But such a definition is too narrow. It is undoubtedly true that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wanted non-believing readers to become Christians. But their purposes went far beyond that. The “good news” about the ministry of Jesus, as they understood it, also provided nurture and instruction for believers.
To summarize what we know about the term “gospel” (small “g”), it simply describes the joyful message of our Christian faith. In a nutshell the message is the good news that God acted through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus to save us from sin and death.
But there is another use of the term Gospel, this one with a capital “G.” The capital “G” usage describes a certain kind of book. The Gospel of Luke, along with those of Matthew, Mark, and John, are our biblical examples.
The New Testament itself never uses the term “Gospel” in the sense of a book. That was a second century, development. But when the writings of the New Testament were collected, the Church recognized four books of this type as extraordinarily inspired; and those four books became known as the four Gospels.
All right, we are now ready to begin our study of the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 1:1-4 we learn a great deal about how Luke wrote his Gospel. First, he indicates that he was not the first person to write a Gospel: “many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us” (v. 1).
Second, Luke informs his readers that he was not himself an eyewitness to the events he was about to record; but rather he received the information from those who were eyewitnesses. He says about the events, “they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (v. 2).
Third, Luke assures his readers that he did a careful, thorough, accurate, and orderly job of researching and writing his Gospel. In verse three he claims to have “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (NIV). In other words, he did not just talk to a couple of people and write his book. He took time to investigate everything. Then he wrote a complete narrative that flows from beginning to end in an orderly way. The word translated “carefully” carries the sense of “accurately.” Luke not only investigated everything. He did it carefully, thoroughly, accurately, and then wrote an in an orderly fashion.
We also observe in verse three that Luke took his investigation back to “the beginning” (NIV). And this is borne out in the Gospel. Luke went back to the birth of Jesus to begin the story, something neither Mark nor John did.
Fourth we see that Luke was not totally satisfied with the previous attempts to write Gospels. Notice that he told Theophilus in verse four that he wanted Theophilus to, “know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” That means that Theophilus could not know the truth that Luke wanted him to know from the previous efforts.
That isn’t to say that all of the previous efforts were bad. For example, as I indicated earlier, most scholars believe that Luke had Mark before him as a written source. And certainly there was nothing wrong with Mark’s Gospel. However the Gospel of Mark is a very short work (only 16 chapters); and Luke was sensing a powerful nudge from the Holy Spirit to write a Gospel that would serve purposes that the Gospel of Mark was not written to serve.
There is one brief passage from outside of he Gospel of Luke that we ought to look at, because it is important to our understanding of how Gospel writers function. Please turn to John 20:30-31. As you can see, John saw his gospel primarily as a record of Jesus’ “signs,” that is his miracles. Although Jesus performed many miracles, John chose to record only seven. John selected those seven as particularly significant “signs” of who Jesus was, namely, “the Christ, the Son of God.” In other words John is saying that Jesus’ miracles signified that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah.
John also indicates, like Luke, that he knew much more about the ministry of Jesus than he had space to record. And John says that his primary purpose in writing was to convince his readers that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Son of God.
Now then to summarize, we see from both Luke and John that the general purpose of Gospel writers was to present Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Yet each evangelist did that in quite unique ways. In addition, as they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they had, and exercised, the freedom to select some material from Jesus’ ministry, and to exclude other material. None of them felt obligated to write everything they knew about Jesus. And we have seen that Luke was a Gentile, writing probably in the early sixties, for his fellow Gentiles. He did careful research, and then he wrote an accurate, orderly account for his friend, Theophilus. This clearly demonstrates that the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the biblical writers was not a word-for-word dictation, but a dynamic movement of their hearts and brains to write what they wrote.