Overview of the Book of Luke
Overview of the Book of Luke
Purpose: To present a true and orderly account that establishes the facts of Jesus' ministry and their importance in salvation history and to guide the church as it preaches repentance and forgiveness in Jesus' name to all nations.
Date: c. A.D. 60-63
- Jesus' was Israel's Messiah.
- Jesus brought the kingdom of God.
- Jesus consciously controlled the events in his life to fulfill his ministry and to render himself as an offering for sin in the crucifixion.
- The facts of the gospel are historically verified. Jesus Christ truly was born, crucified and buried, and rose from the grave and ascended into heaven.
- Salvation is available to all people, including the socially disenfranchised. Accordingly, Christians must welcome and honor all who come to Christ.
- Prayer is an important element in every believer's life.
Author:It is commonly accepted that the same man wrote both Luke and Acts (see "Introduction to Acts"). The style and vocabulary are similar, and both books are addressed to Theophilus. Although the author never identifies himself by name, some passages use the pronoun "we" (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-16; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16), indicating that the author was Paul's companion on some of his travels. Only a few individuals are named in the letters Paul wrote from Rome (where the "we" sections end; see Acts 28:16) but not named in Acts. Of these people, the most likely author of these two books is Luke. This view is supported by tradition, which unanimously ascribes the book to Luke.
The preface makes clear that the writer was not an eyewitness of the things he recorded. Both the Gospel of Luke and Acts reveal that the author was a man of culture who had researched the information he needed for his writing but who was not one of the original followers of Jesus. An objection to Lukan authorship is that the theology, especially of Acts, has different emphases from that of Paul. But there is no reason why Luke should simply repeat what Paul said. Nor is it likely that Luke was one of Paul's converts. The writer does not contradict Paul, even though he does not quote him.
Nothing is known of Luke other than what we can glean from his two books and from the scant references to him in Paul's letters (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philemon 1:24). There is a tradition that he came from Antioch, and Colossians 4:14 indicates that he was a physician. Lukan authorship has sometimes been defended by noting medical language in Luke and Acts, but it has been shown that medical men in New Testament times used the ordinary language of laypeople and did not have a technical language of their own. There is nothing inconsistent with the tradition, however, and the author certainly shows an interest in the sick.
Time and Place of Writing:The Gospel of Luke may have been written around A.D. 63. Luke was written before Acts (see Acts 1:1; cf. Luke 1:1-4), and Acts ends with Paul in prison in Rome. Paul's Roman imprisonment ended in A.D. 63, and it is reasonable to hold that if Luke had known of Paul's release or death, he would have mentioned it. This points to a date of composition for Acts by A.D. 63 and a somewhat earlier date for Luke. Also, since Luke noted in Acts 11:28 the fulfillment of Agabus' prophecy, he likely would have noted the same with respect to Jesus' prophecy regarding the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20) if he had written after A.D. 70. Those who argue for a date of A.D. 75-85 hold that some of Luke's wording presupposes the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 19:43; 21:20, 24). But these passages speak of what was customary in sieges of the time, and if we grant that Jesus predicted that current policies would mean eventual disaster, not much can be made of them. A few critics have argued for a date in the second century, but there is little evidence to support this view.
Original Audience:Luke directly addressed Theophilus (Luke 1:3) as the recipient of his Gospel. Theophilus means "lover of God," so some interpreters have suggested that the name refers not to a specific man but to dedicated disciples. The appellation "most excellent" (Luke 1:3), however, supports the view that Theophilus was a real person. Nevertheless, what was primarily directed to him would be secondarily directed to every other believer as well.
Purpose and Distinctives:The preface to Luke's Gospel explains that Luke wrote primarily to give "an orderly account" (Luke 1:3) so that Theophilus might "know the certainty of the things" (Luke 1:4) he had heard. In a word, Luke intended to tell the truth about what Jesus had done. Yet his main concern was not mere historical reporting; he was primarily interested in explaining the history of salvation. Luke presented his record to display what God had done in Jesus to bring the historical accomplishment of salvation to its final stages. In this respect he presented Jesus as the Messiah who introduced the kingdom of God (Luke 12:35-48; 17:22-37; 21:25-26).
At the same time, Luke did not neglect the personal and human side of Jesus' life. Luke concerned himself with many people who would have been neglected by most writers of his day: children, women and poor people. Although many regarded these people as insignificant, Luke demonstrated Jesus' special concern for them.
Luke was clearly a cultured individual who was able to write in a variety of styles. His opening paragraph resembles older, sophisticated Greek, but at other times his language evokes memories of the simpler language of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). Clearly he saw this as a suitable style for the religious writing in which he was engaged.
Luke's descriptions of Jesus' journey toward Jerusalem and the sacrifice on the cross (Luke 9:51-19:44) are prominent in the literary structure of the Gospel. The sovereignty of God in Jesus' ministry and death is highlighted as Jesus moved toward the city where he would die for sinners (Luke 9:22; 17:25; 18:31-33; cf. Acts 4:28).
Luke also stressed the importance of prayer. He recorded that Jesus prayed before crucial occasions of his ministry. Nine prayers of Jesus are included in the Gospel (seven of which are found only in Luke), along with parables on prayer recorded only in Luke.
Luke was also interested in emotional reactions to Jesus. For instance, only his Gospel includes the magnificent songs of joy that accompanied the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:46-55, 68-79; 2:14, 29-32).
Dr. Joseph R. Nally, D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).