“Theophilus” had seen many of the accounts of Jesus’ life. Perhaps he had questions; perhaps he was confused about some details. It seemed good for Luke the physician to chronicle in good order the good news of Jesus of Nazareth so they could have certainty regarding what they had been taught.
The Gospel according to Luke is the third book in modern editions of the New Testament. While the Gospel, and its companion volume, Acts, are anonymous, the transitions from third person plural to first person plural in the latter part of Acts suggest the author was personally present during some of those events; through harmonization with Paul’s letters and through later witness it is agreed that this participant was Luke the physician (Acts 16:8-10, Colossians 4:11; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1, 3.14.1; Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus 2.1.15, Stromata 5.12.82; Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.2.2). Luke is believed to be a Gentile, a physician by trade, from Asia Minor (Troas? Acts 16:8-10, Colossians 4:11, 14); it is hard to believe he had not been a God-fearer and had not been previously acquainted with the Hebrew Bible. The events described in Luke take place about 5 BCE to 30/33 CE; Luke records events surrounding Paul until ca. 62 CE in Acts, and thus it is most likely that Luke wrote Luke and Acts between 57-64 in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome (Acts 21:17-28:31). Scholars have made much of perceived contradictions between Acts and Paul’s letters; most deny Lukan authorship of the Gospel and suggest it is written later.
Luke, Matthew, and Mark, are called the “synoptic” (“seeing all together”) gospels since they share many sayings, stories, and general narrative structure. Over time different suggestions have been made as to who wrote when and who influenced whom; the current idea in vogue suggests that Mark was written first, and that Matthew and Luke are dependent on him. Some think Luke and Matthew also use a hypothetical shared original text, “Q” (from German Quelle, source); others think Luke is dependent on Matthew. It is not at all our intention to delve into the “synoptic problem”; nevertheless, for comparison’s sake, we should note that around 40% of Luke is shared with both Matthew and Mark, around 25% with Matthew in addition to Mark, only about 1% with Mark but not Matthew, and about 35% is unique to Luke. Luke wrote to “Theophilus” (“God-lover”), be it a person or a group of people; he set forth the story of Jesus more chronologically than thematically, in light of other witnesses, as confirmation regarding what God had accomplished through Jesus of Nazareth.
Luke consciously imitated the historical narrative style of the Hebrew Bible, explaining how God had wrought salvation through Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout his Gospel Luke provided the same structural narrative as seen in Matthew and Mark. Luke set forth Jesus’ birth, baptism, genealogy, and temptation by Satan (Luke 1:1-4:13). Luke then focused on Jesus’ Galilean ministry: proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom in Galilee, calling disciples, meeting and overcoming the challenges of the Pharisees, providing ethical exhortation in the “Sermon on the Plain,” healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching in parables, giving the disciples the “Limited Commission,” the confession of the disciples, and the Transfiguration (Luke 4:14-9:50). Jesus then “set His face toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), and Jesus called some as disciples, commissioned the seventy, taught more parables to the disciples and the Pharisees, excoriated the Pharisees and others who rejected His message, ate with and taught some Pharisees, healed, explained impending events to His disciples, challenged the rich young ruler, and brought salvation to the house of Zacchaeus (Luke 9:51-19:27). Luke then recounted the events in Jerusalem: the triumphal entry, cleansing of Temple, refutation of all religious authorities, apocalyptic portrayal of the end of Jerusalem, the last supper, prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayal, trial before Sanhedrin, Peter’s betrayal, presentation before Pilate and Herod, condemnation, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and resurrection appearances (Luke 19:28-24:53).
Luke’s Gospel is known for his endeavor to set forth the events in order and for many of the narratives and teachings unique to his record: the heralding and birth of John and Jesus, those who saw and welcomed Jesus’ birth, and Jesus at twelve in the Temple (Luke 1:1-2:52); Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30); Jesus and Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50); the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son and the Older Brother, and Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 10:29-36, 15:11-16:31); Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9); resurrection appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-33); and Jesus’ resurrection appearance before and instruction to His disciples (Luke 24:34-53), among other such narratives and teachings.
Luke’s Gospel is the longest and most thorough of all the Gospels, and from it we gain a picture of Jesus as the King, the fulfillment of the hope of Israel, witnessed by His disciples to be made ready to proclaim His life, death, and resurrection to the whole world. We do well to learn about Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, and testify to the witness of the Apostles regarding His life, death, and resurrection!
Ethan R. Longhenry