Gospel Of Luke

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The Gospel of Luke is the third of the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, which tell the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Although neither this gospel nor the Acts of the Apostles, written by the same person, name the author, the traditional view ascribes its authorship to Luke named in Colossians Colossians 4:14, a doctor and follower of Paul.

The main characteristic of this Gospel, as Farrar (Cambridge Bible, Luke, Introd.) remarks, is expressed in the motto, "Who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil" (Acts 10:38); compare with Luke 4:18. Luke wrote for the "Hellenic world."



The approximate contents of the Gospel, in order, are as follows:

  • The birth of John the Baptist
  • The Annunciation
  • The Magnificat
  • Nativity of Jesus
  • Adoration of the Shepherds
  • Baptism of Jesus
  • Genealogy of Jesus
  • Temptation of Jesus
  • Choosing of some of the Twelve Apostles
  • Parable of The Patch and the Wineskins
  • Sermon on the Plain
  • Parable of The Two Debtors
  • Parable of The Sower
  • The saying about The Lamp
  • Feeding the multitude
  • Peter's confession
  • Transfiguration of Jesus
  • Parable of The Good Samaritan
  • Parable of The Friend at Night
  • The saying about asking, seeking, and knocking
  • Parable of The Strong Man Bound
  • Parable of The Rich Fool
  • The saying about The Birds of Heaven
  • Parable of the Faithful Servant
  • The saying about The Defendant
  • Parable of The Barren Fig Tree
  • Parable of The Mustard Seed
  • Parable of The Leaven
  • Parable of The Great Supper
  • Saying about The Discarded Salt
  • Parable of The Lost Sheep
  • Parable of Lost Money
  • Parable of the Prodigal Son
  • Parable of The Unjust Steward
  • Parable of The Rich Man and the Beggar Lazarus
  • Saying about The Master and Servant
  • Parable of The Importunate Widow
  • Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican
  • Parable of the Talents
  • Jesus and the Money Changers
  • Parable of The Wicked Husbandman
  • Saying about Caesar's Coin
  • Olivet discourse
  • Last Supper
  • Empty tomb
  • Resurrection appearances of Jesus
  • Ascension of Jesus

Authorship and audience

Although the author of Luke is generally considered to be anonymous, there is some suggestion that the author of Luke also wrote the book of Acts. The most direct evidence comes from the prefaces of each book. Both prefaces are addressed to Theophilus, the author's patron, and the preface of Acts explicitly references "my former book" about the life of Jesus. Furthermore, there are linguistic and theological similarities between the two works, suggesting that they have a common author. With the agreement of nearly all scholars, Udo Schnelle writes, "the extensive linguistic and theological agreements and cross-references between the Gospel of Luke and the Acts indicate that both works derive from the same author" (The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings, p. 259).

Nowhere in Luke or Acts does it explicitly say that the author is Luke, the companion of Paul. The earliest surviving witnesses that place Luke as the author are the Muratorian Canon (c. 170), the writings of Irenaeus (c. 180), and the Anti-Marcionite Prologue (second half of the 2nd century). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the evidence in favor of Lucan authorship is based on two main things: first, the use of "we" in Acts chapters 16, 20, 21 and 27 suggests the writer traveled with Paul; second, in the opinion of the Roman Catholic writers of the encyclopedia, the "medical language" employed by the writer is "identical with those employed by such medical writers as Hippocrates, Arctæus, Galen, and Pedanius Dioscorides". According to this view, Paul's "dear friend Luke the Doctor" (Colossians 4:14) and "fellow worker" (Philemon 24) makes the most likely candidate for authorship out of all the companions mentioned in Paul's writings.

A number of theories exist regarding the first person ("we") passages. According to V. K. Robbins, the first person narration was a generic style for sea voyages. Robbins goes on to discuss why the book of Acts also uses first person narration on land and why it is absent from many other sea passages. It is also possible a first person travel diary could have been incorporated into Acts from an earlier source or the author could simply have been untruthful about being a companion of Paul. Additionally, the thesis that the vocabulary is special to a physician was questioned by H. J. Cadbury in his dissertation The Style and Literary Method of Luke, which argued that some of the vocabulary is found in non-medical works as well.

The evangelist does not claim to have been an eyewitness of Jesus' life, but to have "investigated everything carefully" and "writ[ten] an orderly account" "of the events... just as they were handed on... by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses" (Luke 1:1-4]). According to the two-source hypothesis, the most commonly accepted solution to the synoptic problem, Luke's sources included the Gospel of Mark and another collection of lost sayings known as Q, the Quelle or "source" document. The more traditional theory, advocating Matthew as the earliest Gospel, which the two-source hypothesis usurped as favourite, is known as the Augustinian hypothesis.

The general consensus is that Luke was written by a Greek for gentile Christians. The Gospel is addressed to the author's patron, the most excellent Theophilus, which in Greek simply means Friend of God, and may not be a name, but a generic term for a Christian. The Gospel is clearly directed at Christians, or at those who already knew about Christianity, rather than a general audience, since the ascription goes on to state that the Gospel was written "...so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught" (Luke 1:3-4).

Date of composition

The date of this gospel's composition is uncertain. Estimates range from c. 50 to c. 100.

Traditional views of the Date

Traditionally, Christians believe that Luke wrote under the direction, if not at the dictation, of Paul. Conservative scholars suggest this would place it as having been written before Acts, with Acts being composed around 63 or 64. Consequently, the tradition is that this Gospel was written about 60 or 63, when Luke may have been at Caesarea in attendance on Paul, who was then a prisoner. If the alternate conjecture is correct, that it was written at Rome during Paul's imprisonment there, then it would date earlier, 50-60. Additionally, Acts does not contain the martyrdom of Paul (c. 62), so conservative scholars suggest Luke-Acts were written before this.

Critical views of the date

In contrast to the traditional view, many contemporary scholars regard Mark as a source text used by the author(s) of Luke, following from the theory of Markan Priority. Since Mark may have been written around the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, around 70, Luke probably would not have been written before 70. These scholars have suggested dates for Luke from 75 to as late as 100, and Acts shortly thereafter, between 80 and 100. Support for a later date comes from a number of reasons. The universalization of the message of Luke is believed to reflect a theology that took time to develop. Furthermore, Acts is believed to present a significantly different picture of Paul than that which is seen in the undisputed Pauline Epistles. Differences of chronology, 'style', and theology suggest that the author of Luke-Acts was not familiar with Paul's distinctive theology but instead was writing a decade or more after his death by which point significant harmonisation between different traditions within early Christianity had occurred.

Debate continues among non-traditionalists about whether Luke was written before or after the end of the first century. Those who would date it later argue that it was written in response to heterodoxical movements of the early second century. Those who would date it earlier point out both that Luke lacks knowledge of the episcopal system, which had been developed in the second century, and that an earlier date preserves the traditional connection of the gospel with the Luke who was a follower of Paul.


The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke are four papyrus fragments dating from the first half of the 3rd century, one containing portions of all four gospels (P45) and three others preserving only brief passages (P4, P69, P75). These early copies, as well as the earliest copies of Acts, date after the Gospel was separated from Acts.

The Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are 4th century codices]of the Greek bible that are the oldest manuscripts that contain Luke. The Codex Bezae is a 5th or 6th century Western text-type manuscript that contains Luke in Greek and Latin versions on facing pages. The Greek version, also called the Western version, appears to have descended from an offshoot of the main manuscript tradition, departing from more familiar readings at many points.

Verses Luke 22:19-20 and Luke 22:43-44 are not present in early versions and are generally marked as such in modern translations.

Relationship with other Gospels

According to Farrar, "Out of a total of 1151 verses, Luke has 389 in common with Matthew and Mark, 176 in common with Matthew alone, 41 in common with Mark alone, leaving 544 peculiar to himself. In many instances all three use identical language."

There are seventeen parables peculiar to this Gospel. Luke also attributes to Jesus seven miracles which are not present in Matthew or Mark. The synoptic Gospels are related to each other after the following scheme. If the contents of each Gospel are numbered at 100, then when compared this result is obtained: Mark has 7 peculiarities, 93 coincidences. Matthew 42 peculiarities, 58 coincidences. Luke 59 peculiarities, 41 coincidences. That is, thirteen-fourteenths of Mark, four-sevenths of Matthew, and two-fifths of Luke describe the same events in similar language. Luke's style is more polished than that of Matthew and Mark with fewer Hebrew idioms. He uses a few Latin words (Luke 7:41, Luke 8:30, Luke 11:33, Luke 12:6, and Luke 19:20, but no Syriac or Hebrew words except sikera, an exciting drink of the nature of wine, but not made of grapes (from Heb. shakar, "he is intoxicated", Leviticus 10:9), perhaps palm wine. According to Walter Bauer's Greek English Lexicon of the NT: in Aramaic (שכרא) it means barley beer, from the Akkadian shikaru. This Gospel contains twenty-eight distinct references to the Old Testament.

Attention to women

Compared to the other canonical gospels, Luke devotes significantly more attention to women. The Gospel of Luke features more female characters, features a female prophet (Luke 2:36), and details the experience of pregnancy (Luke 1:41-42). Prominent discussion is given to the lives of Elizabeth and of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 2}). Although most scholars understand the evangelist's self-referential use of a masculine participle in Luke 1:3 to mean that the evangelist was male, this prominence of women through the Luke gospel has led a small number of scholars, including Randel McCraw Helms, to suggest that the author of Luke may have been female.

Was written by Luke. He does not claim to have been an eye-witness of our Lord’s ministry, but to have gone to the best sources of information within his reach, and to have written an orderly narrative of the facts (Luke 1:1-4). The authors of the first three Gospels, the synoptics, wrote independently of each other. Each wrote his independent narrative under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Each writer has some things, both in matter and style, peculiar to himself, yet all the three have much in common. Luke’s Gospel has been called “the Gospel of the nations, full of mercy and hope, assured to the world by the love of a suffering Saviour;” “the Gospel of the saintly life;” “the Gospel for the Greeks; the Gospel of the future; the Gospel of progressive Christianity, of the universality and gratuitousness of the gospel; the historic Gospel; the Gospel of Jesus as the good Physician and the Saviour of mankind;” the “Gospel of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man;” “the Gospel of womanhood;” “the Gospel of the outcast, of the Samaritan, the publican, the harlot, and the prodigal;” “the Gospel of tolerance.” The main characteristic of this Gospel, as Farrar (Cambridge Bible, Luke, Introd.) remarks, is fitly expressed in the motto, “Who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38; comp. Luke 4:18). Luke wrote for the “Hellenic world.” This Gospel is indeed “rich and precious.”

“Out of a total of 1151 verses, Luke has 389 in common with Matthew and Mark, 176 in common with Matthew alone, 41 in common with Mark alone, leaving 544 peculiar to himself. In many instances all three use identical language.” (See Gospel Of Matthew; Gospel Of Mark; Gospels.)

There are seventeen of our Lord’s parables peculiar to this Gospel. (See List of Parables in Appendix.) Luke also records seven of our Lord’s miracles which are omitted by Matthew and Mark. (See List of Miracles in Appendix.) The synoptical Gospels are related to each other after the following scheme. If the contents of each Gospel be represented by 100, then when compared this result is obtained:

Mark has 7 peculiarities, 93 coincidences. Matthew 42 peculiarities, 58 coincidences. Luke 59 peculiarities, 41 coincidences.

That is, thirteen-fourteenths of Mark, four-sevenths of Matthew, and two-fifths of Luke are taken up in describing the same things in very similar language.

Luke’s style is more finished and classical than that of Matthew and Mark. There is less in it of the Hebrew idiom. He uses a few Latin words (Luke 12:6; Luke 7:41; Luke 8:30; Luke 11:33; Luke 19:20), but no Syriac or Hebrew words except sikera, an exciting drink of the nature of wine, but not made of grapes (from Heb. shakar, “he is intoxicated”, Leviticus 10:9), probably palm wine.

This Gospel contains twenty-eight distinct references to the Old Testament.

The date of its composition is uncertain. It must have been written before the Acts, the date of the composition of which is generally fixed at about 63 or 64 A.D. This Gospel was written, therefore, probably about 60 or 63, when Luke may have been at Caesarea in attendance on Paul, who was then a prisoner. Others have conjectured that it was written at Rome during Paul’s imprisonment there. But on this point no positive certainty can be attained.

It is commonly supposed that Luke wrote under the direction, if not at the dictation of Paul. Many words and phrases are common to both; e.g., compare:

1. Text:

The five primary uncials (Codices Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Ephraemi, Bezae) are the chief witnesses for the text of Luke's Gospel. This group is reinforced by L, Codex Delta and the Freer (Detroit) MS; R, T, X and Xi are also valuable in fragments. The other uncials are of secondary value. The Latin, Egyptian and Syriac versions are also of great importance. There are 4 Latin versions (African, European, Italian, Vulgate), 3 Egyptian (Memphitic, Sahidic, Bohairic), 5 Syriac (Curetonian, Sinaitic, Peshitto, Harclean, Palestinian or Jerusalem). Many of the cursive (minuscule) manuscripts are also of considerable worth, as are some of the quotations from the Fathers.

Blass, Philology of the Gospels (1898), has advanced theory of two recensions of this Gospel (a longer and a shorter), such as he holds to be true of Acts. In the case of Acts, theory has won some acceptance (see Acts Of The Apostles), but that is not true of the Gospel to any extent. The Western text of the Gospel is the shorter text, while in Acts it is the longer text. In both instances Blass holds that the shorter text was issued after the longer and original text. His idea is that Luke himself revised and issued the shorter text. In itself this is, of course, possible, since the books are both addressed to an individual, Theophilus. The other edition may have been meant for others. Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek explain the omission in the Western text of the Gospel as “Western non-interpolations,” and often hold them to be the true text. As samples one may note Luke 10:41; Luke 12:19; Luke 24:36, Luke 24:40, Luke 24:42, where the Western text is the shorter text. This is not always true, however, for in Luke 6:2 ff Codex Bezae (D) has the famous passage about the man working on the Sabbath, which the other documents do not give. In Luke 3:22, D has the reading of Psalm 2:7 (“ Thou art my Son; this day I have begotten thee”) for the usual text. Zahn (Introduction, III, 38) accepts this as the true text. There is no doubt of the interest and value of the Western readings in Luke, but it cannot be said that Blass has carried his point here. The peculiar mutilation of the Gospel by Marcion has an interest of its own.

2. Canonicity:

Plummer (Commentary on Luke, lxxx) says: “In the second half of the 2nd century this Gospel is recognized as authentic and authoritative; and it is impossible to show that it had not been thus recognized at a very much earlier date.” On the other hand, Schmiedel (Encyclopedia Biblica) says: “This 'tradition,' however, cannot be traced farther back than toward the end of the 2nd century (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and the Muratorian Fragment); there is no sound basis for the contention of Zahn (II, 175) that the existence of the tradition can also be found as early as in Marcion, because that writer, from his aversion to the Third Gospel (which nevertheless was the only one he admitted into his collection - with alterations it is true) omitted the expression of honor applied to Luke in Colossians 4:14.” Here the two views are well stated. Schmiedel shows dogmatic bias and prejudice against Luke. Julicher, however, frankly admits (Intro, 330) that “the ancients were universally agreed that the writer was that Luke, disciple of Paul, who is mentioned in Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11, and called 'the physician' in Colossians 4:14; presumably a native of Antioch.” This statement bears more directly on the question of authorship than of canonicity, but it is a good retort to the rather cavalier tone of Schmiedel, who is reluctant to admit the facts. The recognition of the Third Gospel in the Muratorian Canon (170 AD) is a fact of much significance. It was used in Tatian's Diatessaron (circa 170 AD) as one of the four recognized Gospels (compare Hemphill, Diatessaron of Tatian, 3 ff). The fact that Marcion (140 AD) mutilated this Gospel to suit his theology and thus used it is even more significant (compare Sanday, Gospels in the 2nd Century, Appendix). Other heretics like the Valentinians (compare Lightfoot, Biblical Essays, 5-7) made use of it, and Heracleon (compare Clement of Alexandria, Strom., iv. 9) wrote a commentary on it. Irenaeus (end of the 2nd century) makes frequent quotations from this Gospel. He argues that there could be only “four” Gospels because of the four points of the compass - an absurd argument, to be sure, but a powerful testimony to the general acceptance of this Gospel along with the other three. It is needless to appeal to the presence of the Third Gospel in the Curetonian Syriac, the Sinaitic Syriac, the African Latin - versions that date to the 2nd century, not to mention the probability of the early date of the Memphitic (Coptic) versions. Examples of the early use of this Gospel occur in various writings of the 2nd century, as in Justin Martyr (150 AD), the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (circa 140 AD), Celsus (circa AD 160), the Gospel of Peter (2nd century), the Epistle of the Church of Lyons and Vienne (177 AD), probably also the Didache (2nd century), Clement of Alexandria (190-202 AD), Tertullian (190-220 AD). It is doubtful about Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp; and the Epistle of Barnabas seems to make no use of the Third Gospel. But Clement of Rome, Ignatius and Polycarp quote Acts. But surely the general use and acceptance of the Third Gospel in the early 2nd century is beyond reasonable doubt. It is not easy to decide when the actual use began, because we have so little data from the 1st century (compare Plummer, Commentary, lxxiii).

The fact that the author was not an apostle affected the order of the book in some lists. Most manuscripts and versions have the common order of today, but the Western order (Matthew, John, Luke, Mark) is given by D, many Old Latin manuscripts, the Gothic VS, the Apostolical Constitutions. The object was probably to place the books by apostles together and first. The Old Latin has Luke second (John, Luke, Mark, Matthew), while the Curetonian Syriac has Luke last of the four. The cursives 90 and 399 also have Luke second.

3. Authorship:

The first writers who definitely name Luke as the author of the Third Gospel belong to the end of the 2nd century. They are the Canon of Muratori (possibly by Hippolytus), Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria. We have already seen that Julicher (Introduction, 330) admits that the ancients Universally agreed that Luke wrote the Third Gospel. In the early part of the 2nd century the writers did not, as a rule, give the names of the authors of the Gospels quoted by them. It is not fair, therefore, to use their silence on this point as proof either of their ignorance of the author or of denial of Luke's authorship. Julicher for instance, says (Introduction, 330): “There is no tradition worthy of the name concerning Luke, whom Papias did not mention, or at any rate did not know.” But we owe to Eusebius all the fragments that we have preserved from the writings of Papias. Our ignorance of Papias can hardly be charged up to him. Plummer (Commentary, xii) says that nothing in Biblical criticism is more certain than the fact that Luke wrote the Third Gospel. On the other hand, Julicher (Introduction, 331) is not willing to let it go as easily as that. He demands appeal to Acts, and there (Introduction, 447) he denies the Lukan authorship save as to the “we” sections. J. Weiss (Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments; das Lukas Evang., 1906, 378) admits that but for Acts no sufficient reason would exist for denying the authorship of the Third Gospel to Luke, the disciple of Paul. A Pauline point of view in this Gospel is admitted generally. Many modern critics take it for granted that the Lukan authorship of Acts is disproved, and hence, that of the Gospel likewise falls by the way. So argue Baur, Clemen, De Wette, Hausrath, Hilgenfeld, Holtzmann, Julicher, Pfleiderer, Schurer, Spitta, von Soden, J. Weiss, Weizsacker, Zeller. Men like Blass, Credner, Harnack, Hawkins, Hobart, Klostermann, Plummer, Ramsay, Renan, Vogel, Zahn, stand by the tradition of Lukan authorship, but Harnack is almost irritated (Luke the Physician, 1907, 6), since “the indefensibility of the tradition is regarded as being so clearly established that nowadays it is thought scarcely worth while to reprove this indefensibility, or even to notice the arguments of conservative opponents.” Harnack proceeds to make a plea for a hearing. Jacobus (Standard Bible Dictionary) admits that “Acts tells us nothing more of the author than does the Gospel.” That is true so far as express mention is concerned, but not so far as natural implication goes. It is true that the place to begin the discussion of the Lukan authorship of the Gospel is Acts. For detailed discussion of the proof that Luke wrote Acts, see Acts Of The Apostles. It is there shown that the line of argument which has convinced Harnack, the leader of the liberal criticism of Germany, ought to convince any openminded critic. It means a good deal when Harnack (Luke the Physician, 14) says: “I subscribe to the words of Zahn (Einleitung, II, 427): 'Hobart has proved for everyone who can at all appreciate proof that the author of the Lukan work was a man practiced in the scientific language of Greek medicine - in short, a Greek physician.' “It is here assumed that the line of argument pursued in the article on Acts Of The Apostles is conclusive. If so, little remains to be done in the way of special proof for the Gospel. The author of Acts specifically refers (Acts 1:1) to a former treatise which was likewise addressed to Theophilus. This we find to be the case with the Gospel passing under the name of Luke (Luke 1:4). The critics who admit the Lukan authorship of Acts and deny the Lukan authorship of the Gospel are hardly worth considering.

It is, therefore, largely a work of supererogation to give at length the proof from internal grounds that Luke wrote the Gospel, after being convinced about Acts. Still it may be worth while to sketch in outline the line of argument, even though it is very simple. Plummer (Comm., x-xvii) argues three propositions: “

(1) The author of the Third Gospel is the author of the Acts.

(2) The author of Acts was a companion of Paul.

(3) This companion was Luke.” Harnack (The Acts of the Apostles, 1909) has argued with great minuteness and skill theory that the same linguistic peculiarities occur in all portions of Acts, including the “we-”sections. He accepts the facts set forth by Hawkins (Horae Synopticae) and adds others. He agrees, therefore, that the author of Acts was a companion of Paul. Harnack is convinced by the exhaustive labors of Hobart (Medical Language of Luke) that this author was a physician, as we know Luke to have been (Colossians 4:14). He shows this to be true of the author of Acts by the use of “us” in Acts 28:10, showing that the author of Acts received honors along with Paul, probably because he practiced medicine and treated many (compare Barnack, Luke the Physician, 15 f). These medical terms occur in the Gospel of Luke also, and the same general linguistic style is found in both the Gospel and Acts. Hawkins has made a careful study of likenesses and variations in style in these two books (compare Horae Synopticae, 15-25, 174-89). The argument is as conclusive as such a line of proof can be expected to be. For further discussion see Ramsay, Luke the Physician, 1908, 1-68; Zahn, Introduction, III, 160 ff. There are no phenomena in the Gospel hostile to this position save the Semitic character of Luke 1 and 2 (barring the classical introduction Luke 1:1-4). Luke, though a Gentile, has in these chapters the most Semitic narrative in the New Testament. But the explanation is obvious. He is here using Semitic material (either oral or written), and has with true artistic skill preserved the tone of the original. To a certain extent the same thing is true of the opening chapters of Acts.

4. Sources:

The synoptic problem (see Synoptic Gospels) remains the most difficult one in the realm of New Testament criticism. But the Gospel of Luke yields on the whole more satisfactory results than is yet true of Matthew.

(1) Unity.

If the Lukan authorship of the book is accepted, there remains no serious doubt concerning the unity and integrity of the Gospel. The abridgment of Luke's Gospel used by Marcion does not discredit those portions of the Gospel omitted by him. They are omitted for doctrinal reasons (compare Sanday, Gospels in the 2nd Century, chapter viii). His readings are of interest from the viewpoint of textual criticism, as are the quotations of other early writers, but his edition does not seriously challenge the value of Luke's work.

(2) Luke's Method.

Luke has announced his methods of work in a most classic introduction (Luke 1:1-4). Here we catch a glimpse of the author's personality. That is not possible in Mark nor in Matthew, and only indirectly in passing shadows in the Fourth Gospel. But here the author frankly takes the reader into his confidence and discloses his standpoint and qualifications for the great task. He writes as a contemporary about the recent past, always the most difficult history to interpret and often the most interesting. He speaks of “those matters which have been fulfilled among us,” in our time. He does not himself claim to have been an eyewitness of “those matters.” As we know already, Luke was a Gentile and apparently never saw Jesus in the flesh. He occupies thus a position outside of the great events which he is to record. He does not disguise his intense interest in the narrative, but he claims the historical spirit. He wishes to assure Theophilus of “the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.” He claims to have investigated “the course of all things accurately from the first,” just as the true historian would. He thus implies that some of the attempts made had been fragmentary at any rate, and to that extent inaccurate. He has also produced an “orderly” narrative by which Theophilus may gain a just conception of the historical progress of the events connected with the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that “many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters” does not deter Luke from his task. The rather he is stirred thereby (“It seemed good to me also”) to give his interpretation of the life and work of Jesus as the result of his researches. He stands not farther away than one generation from the death of Jesus. He has the keen interest natural to a cultured follower of Jesus in the origin of what had become a great world-movement. He is able to get at the facts because he has had intercourse with eyewitnesses of Jesus and His work, “even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.” Luke had abundant opportunity during the two years at Caesarea with Paul (Acts 24 through 26) to make careful and extended investigations. Many of the personal followers of Jesus were still living (1 Corinthians 15:6). It was a golden opportunity for Luke's purpose. He had also the written narratives which others (“many”) had already drawn up. We are, then, to expect in Luke's Gospel a book closely akin to Acts in style and plan, with the historian's love of accuracy and order, with the author's own contribution in the assimilation and use of this oral and written material. One would not expect in such a writer slavish copying, but intelligent blending of the material into an artistic whole.

(3) The Aramaic Infancy Narrative.

The very first section in this Gospel (Luke 1:5 through Luke 2:52) illustrates Luke's fidelity in the use of his material. Wellhausen drops these two chapters from his edition of Luke's Gospel as not worthy of consideration. That is conjectural criticism run mad and is not to be justified by the example of Marcion, who begins with chapter 4. Wright (Gospel according to Luke in Greek, 1900, viii f; under the word “Luke's Gospel,” DCG) holds that this section was the last to be added to the Gospel though he holds that it comes from Luke. It may be said in passing that Wright is a stout advocate for the oral source for all of Luke's Gospel. He still holds out against the “two-document” or any document theory. However, he claims rightly that Luke's information for these two chapters was private. This material did not form part of the current oral Gospel. In Matthew the narrative of the birth of Jesus is given from the standpoint of Joseph, and Mary is kept in the background, according to Eastern feeling (Wright). But in Lk the story is told from Mary's point of view. Luke may, indeed, have seen Mary herself in the years 57-59 AD (or 58-60). He could easily have seen some of Mary's intimate friends who knew the real facts in the case. The facts were expressly said to have been kept in Mary's heart. She would tell only to sympathetic ears (compare Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? 74 f). It is not possible to discredit Luke's narrative of the Virgin Birth on a priori grounds (compare Orr, The Virgin Birth of Christ, 1907; Sweet, Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ, 1906). The curious Semitic flavor of this narrative argues strongly for its genuineness, since Luke was a Greek. We do not know whether Luke knew Aramaic or not. That was possible, since he spent these 2 years in Palestine. We do not know whether this information came to him in written form (note especially the hymns of Mary and of Zacharias) or in oral tradition. But it is hardly possible to credit a Greek with the invention of these birth-narratives and poems which ring so true to the soil and the Hebrew life. Immediately after Luke's statement about historical research comes the narrative of the birth of Jesus. It is the first illustration of his work on his sources.

(4) Luke's Relation to Mark's Gospel.

Luke knew Mark in Rome (Colossians 4:10, Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). He may have met him in Palestine also. Had he seen Mark's Gospel when he wrote his own? Was it one of the “many” narratives that came under Luke's eye? Wright (compare DCG) denies that Luke had our Mark. He admits that he may have had an Urmarkus or proto-Mark which he heard in oral form, but not the present (written) Gospel of Mark. He thinks that this can best be accounted for by the fact that out of 223 sections in Mark there are 54 not in Luke. But most modern critics have come to the conclusion that both Matthew and Luke had Mark before them as well as other sources. Matthew, if he used Mark, in the early chapters, followed a topical arrangement of his material, combining Mark with the other source or sources. But Luke has followed the order of Mark very closely in this part and indeed throughout. Luke has a special problem in 9:51 through 19:27, but the broad general outline follows that of Mark. But it cannot be said that Luke made a slavish use of Mark, if he had this Gospel before him. He gives his own touch to each incident and selects what best suits his purpose. It is not possible for us to tell always that motive, but it is idle to suppose that Luke blindly recorded every incident found in every document or every story that came to his ears. He implies in his introduction that he has made a selection out of the great mass of material and has woven it into a coherent and progressive narrative. We may admit with Harnack (New Testament Studies: Sayings of Jesus, xiii) that the Markan problem “has been treated with scientific thoroughness” and that Luke had Mark as one of his sources. The parallel between Luke and Mark in the narrative portion is easily seen in any Harmony of the Gospels, like Broadus or Stevens and Burton.

(5) Q (Quelle) or the Logia.

It is a matter of more uncertainty when we come to the mass of material common to Matthew and Luke, but absent from Mark. This is usually found in the discourses of Jesus. The more generally accepted theory today is that both Matthew and Luke made use of Mark and also this collection of Logia called Q for short (Ger. Quelle, “source”). But, while this theory may be adopted as a working hypothesis, it cannot be claimed that it is an established fact. Zahn (compare Introduction) stoutly stands up for the real authorship of the First Gospel of Matthew. Arthur Carr (“Further Notes on the Synoptic Problem,” The Expositor, January, 1911, 543-553) argues strongly for the early date and Matthean authorship of the First Gospel. He says on the whole subject: “The synoptic problem which has of late engaged the speculation of some of our keenest and most laborious students is still unsolved.” He even doubts the priority of Mark's Gospel. Wellhausen (Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien, 73-89) advocates the priority of Mark to Q. But Harnack balances the problem of “Q and Mark” (Sayings of Jesus, 193-233) and decides in favor of Q. In any case, it is to be noted that the result of critical research into the value of Q is to put it quite on a paragraph with Mark. Harnack is quite impressed with the originality and vivid reality of the matter in Q. The material present in Q cannot be gauged so accurately as that in Mark, since we have the Gospel of Mark in our hands. Where both Matthew and Luke give material not found in Mark, it is concluded that this is drawn from Q. But it cannot be shown that Matthew may not have used Q at some points and Luke at still others independently. Besides Q may have contained material not preserved either in Matthew or Luke. A careful and detailed comparison of the material common to both Matthew and Luke and absent from Mark may be found in Hawkins, Horae Synopticae, 10713; Harnack, Sayings of Jesus, 127-82; Wellhausen, Einleitung, 66; Robertson, “Matthew” in Bible for Home and School, 14-19. But, if it is true that Luke made use of Q as of Mark, he was no mere copyist. No solution of the synoptic problem can ever be obtained on the idea that the Gospels are mere reproductions of previous documents. There was freedom in the use of all the material, both oral and written, and the writer gave his own interpretation to the result. It was often a restatement in the author's own language, not formal quotation. Wright (DCG) calls this editorial element “editorial notes”; that is, of course, often true when the author makes comments on the matters presented, but “ancient authors took immense pains to reduce the rude chronicles which they used, into literary form” (same place) . The point of all this is that a great deal of criticism of the Gospels is attempting the impossible, for many of the variations cannot possibly be traced to any “source.” Wright (same place) puts it tersely again: “And if in John's Gospel it is more and more recognized that the mind of the evangelist cast the utterances of our Lord into the peculiar form which they there hold, the same process of redaction may be observed in Luke, who comes nearest of the synoptists to the methods of John.” As a matter of fact, this is as it should be expected. The frank recognition of this point of view marks progress in synoptic criticism.

(6) Other Sources.

There is a large block of material in Luke 9:51 through Luke 18:14 which is given by him alone. There are various sayings like some reported by Matthew (or Mark) in other connections. Some of the incidents are similar to some given elsewhere by Matthew and Mark. There are various theories concerning this position of Luke. Some critics hold that Luke has here put a mass of material which he had left over, so to speak, and which he did not know where to locate, without any notion of order. Against this theory is the express statement of Luke that he wrote an orderly narrative (Luke 1:3 f). One is disposed to credit Luke's own interpretation unless the facts oppose it. It is common for traveling preachers, as was Jesus, to have similar experiences in different parts of the country and to repeat their favorite sayings. So teachers repeat many of their sayings each year to different classes. Indeed, it is just in this section of Luke that the best parts of his Gospel are found (the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Pharisee and the Publican, etc.). “The more we consider this collection, the more we are entranced with it. It is the very cream of the Gospel, and yet (strange to say) it is peculiar to Luke” Wright DCG) Wright calls this “a Pauline collection, not because Paul is responsible for the material, but because the chapters breathe cosmopolitan spirit of Paul. That is true, but Jesus loved the whole world. This side of the teaching of Jesus may have appealed to Luke powerfully because of its reflection in Paul. Matthew's Gospel was more narrowly Jewish in its outlook, and Mark's had fewer of the sayings of Christ. But it is to be noted that this special material in Luke extends more or less all through the Gospel. Burton (Some Principles of Literary Criticism and Their Application to the Synoptic Problem, 49) calls this special material in Luke 9:51-18:14 “the Perean document.” We do not know, of course, anything of the actual source of this material. Whether Luke has here followed one or more documents, he has, as elsewhere, given his own stamp to the whole, while preserving in a marvelous way the spirit of Jesus. (For the possible parallel between this section of Luke and John see Robertson's “Notes” to Broadus, Harmony of the Gospels, 249-52.) For the earlier material in Luke not found elsewhere (Luke 3:7-15, Luke 3:17, Luke 3:18; Luke 4:2-13(Luke 4:14, Luke 4:15), Luke 4:16; Luke 5:1-11; 6:21-49; 7:1 through 8:3) Burton suggests “the Galilean document” as the source. Wright, on the other hand, proposes “anonymous fragments” as the source of Luke's material not in the infancy narrative, nor in Mark, nor in Q, nor in the “Pauline” or Perean document. At any rate, it is certain that Luke's own words of explanation should warn us against drawing too narrow a line around the “sources” used by him. His “many” may well have included a dozen sources, or even more. But it may be said, in a word, that all that criticism has been able to learn on the subject has confirmed the statement of Luke himself concerning his method of research and his use of the material.

5. Credibility:

More fault has been found with Luke as a historian in Acts than in the Gospel. Harnack (Acts of the Apostles) is not disposed to give Luke full credit as a reliable historian. But Ramsay (Luke the Physician, 5) champions the reliability of Luke (compare also St. Paul the Traveler; The Church in the Roman Empire) against the skepticism of Harnack, which is growing less, since in the Theol. Literaturzeitung (July 7, 1906, S. 4) he speaks well of Luke's ability to secure correct information. So in Luke the Physician (121-45) Harnack urges that the possible “instances of incredibility have been much exaggerated by critics.” He adds about [[Acts 5:36 : “It is also possible that there is a mistake in Jos” (compare Chase, Credibility of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles; see also Acts Of The Apostles.

But the Gospel is not free from attack. The chief matter in the Gospel of Lk which is challenged on historical grounds, apart from the birth-narratives, which some critics treat as legendary, is the census in Luke 2:1 ff. Critics, who in general have accepted Luke's veracity, have sometimes admitted that here he fell into error and confused the census under Quirinius in 6-7 AD when Quirinius came, after the banishment of Archelaus, to take a census and to collect taxes, much to the indignation of the Jews (compare Acts 5:37; Josephus, Ant., XVIII, i). It was not known that Quirinius had been governor of Syria before this time, nor was there any other knowledge of a census under Augustus. The case against Luke seemed strong. But Ramsay (Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? 227 ff) shows that the inscription at Tibur, as agreed by Mommsen and like authorities, shows that Quirinius “twice governed Syria as legatus of the divine Augustus.” He was consul in 12 BC, so that the first mission was after that date. Ramsay shows also from the papyri that the 14-year cycle was used for the Roman census (many census papers are known from 20 AD on). He argues that the first one was instituted by Augustus in 8 BC. Herod, as a vassal king, would naturally be allowed to conduct it in the Jewish fashion, not the Roman, and it was probably delayed several years in the provinces. Thus once more Luke is vindicated in a remarkable way (see Chronology Of The New Testament, I, 1, (2)).

The Acts of the Apostles has come out of the critical ordeal in a wonderful manner, so that Luke's credit as a historical writer is now very high among those qualified to know the facts. He has been tested and found correct on so many points that the presumption is in his favor where he cannot as yet be verified. Moffatt (Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, 265) finds Luke “more graphic than historical.”

6. Characteristics:

He was the most versatile of the Gospel writers. He was a Greek, a Christian, a physician, a man of travel, a man of world-outlook, sympathetic, cultured, poetic, spiritual, artistic, high-minded. His Prologue is the most classic piece of Greek in the New Testament, but the rest of chapter 1 and all of chapter 2 are the most Semitic in tone. The breadth of his literary equipment is thereby shown. He not only uses many medical terms common to technical circles, but he has the physician's interest in the sick and afflicted, as shown in the large number of miracles of healing narrated. His interest in the poor is not due to Ebionitic prejudice against the rich, but to human compassion for the distressed. His emphasis on the human side of the work of Jesus is not due to Ebionitic denial of the Divinity of Jesus, but to his keen appreciation of the richness of the human life of the Son of God. His rich and varied vocabulary reveals a man who read and mingled with the best life of his time. He wrote his books in the vernacular, but the elevated vernacular of an educated man touched with a distinct literary flavor. His poetic temperament is shown in the preservation of the beautiful hymns of the nativity and in the wonderful parables of Jesus in chapters 10, 15-18. They are reported with rare grace and skill. Luke is fond of showing Christ's sympathy with women and children, and he has more to say about prayer than the authors of the other Gospels. His interest in individuals is shown by the dedication of both his books to Theophilus. His cosmopolitan sympathies are natural in view of his training and inheritance, but part of it is doubtless due to his association with the apostle Paul. He comes to the interpretation of Jesus from a world-standpoint and does not have to overcome the Pharisaic limitations incident to one reared in Palestine. It is a matter of rejoicing that we have this book, called by Renan the most beautiful book in the world, as a cultured Greek's interpretation of the origin of Christianity. He thus stands outside of the pale of Judaism and can see more clearly the world-relations and world-destiny of the new movement. With Luke, Jesus is distinctly the world's Saviour. The accent on sin is human sin, not specifically Jewish sin. John in his Gospel came in his old age to look back upon the events in Judea from a non-Jewish standpoint. But he rose to the essentially spiritual and eternal apprehension of Christ, rather than extended his vision, as Luke did, to the cosmopolitan mission and message of Jesus, though this did not escape John. The Gospel of Luke thus has points of affinity with Paul, John and the author of Hebrews in style and general standpoint. But while Luke's own style is manifest throughout, it is not obtrusive. He hides himself behind the wonderful portrait of Jesus which he has here drawn in undying colors.

7. Date:

The extreme position of Baur and Zeller may be dismissed at once. There is no reason for dating the Gospel of Luke in the 2nd century on the ground that he used Marcion's Gospel, since it is now admitted all round that Marcion made use of Luke. The supposed use of Josephus by Luke (see Acts Of The Apostles for discussion and refutation) leads a goodly number of radical scholars (Hilgenfeld, Holsten, Holtzmann, Julicher, Krenkel, Weizsacker, Wernle) to date the book at the end of the 1st century. This is still extreme, as Harnack had already shown in his Chronologie der altchristl. Litt., I, 1897, 246-50. Any use of Josephus by Luke is highly improbable (see Plummer on Lk, xxix). The Gospel was certainly written before Acts (Acts 1:1) and while Paul was alive, if 1 Timothy 5:18 be taken as a quotation from Luke 10:7, which is by no means certain, however. But it is true that the most natural way to interpret the sudden close of Acts, after 2 years in Rome (Acts 28:31), is the fact that Luke finished the book at that time (Maclean, 1 volume HDB). Moffatt (Historical New Testament, 273) calls this early date “reactionary” and “extravagant.” But it is supported by Alford, Blass, Ebrard, Farrar, Gloag, Godet, Grau, Guericke, Hahn, Headlam, Hitzig, Hofmann, Hug, Keil, Lange, Lumby, Marshall, Nosgen, Oosterzee, Resch, Riehm, Schaff, Schanz, Thiersch, Tholuck, Wieseler, and Harnack himself is now ready to join this goodly company. He warns critics against too hasty a closing of the chronological question (Acts of the Apostles, 291), and admits that Acts was written “perhaps so early as the beginning of the 7th decade of the 1st century” (ibid., 297), “the Acts (and therefore also the Gospel).” In the Date of the Acts and the Synoptic Gospels (1911, 124) Harnack says: “It seems now to be established beyond question that both books of this great historical order were written while Paul was still alive.” There is an intermediate date about 80 AD, assigned by Adeney, Bartlett, Plummer, Sanday, Weiss, Wright, on the ground that the investigations mentioned in Luke 1:1-4 describe the use of narratives which could have been written only after a long period of reflection. But that is not a valid objection. There is no sound critical reason why the Gospel of Mark, Q, the infancy narratives, and all the other sources alluded to by this preface could not have been in circulation in Palestine by 55 AD. Indeed, Allen writes in The Expository Times (July, 1910): “I see no reason why such an original (Mark's Gospel in Aramaic) should not have appeared before the year 50 AD.” The other objection to the early date comes out of Luke 21:20, “Jerus compassed with armies” as compared with “the abomination of desolation” in Mark 13:14. The change is so specific that it is held by some critics to be due to the fact that Luke is writing after the destruction of Jerusalem. But it is just as likely (Maclean) that Luke has here interpreted the Hebraism of Mark for his Gentilereaders. Besides, as Plummer (p. xxxi) shows, Luke in 21:5-36 does not record the fact that Jerusalem was destroyed, nor does he change Christ's “flee to the mountains” to “Pella in North Peraea,” whither the Christians actually fled. Besides, the fact that Acts shows no acquaintance with Paul's Epistles is best explained on the assumption of the early date. The question is thus practically settled in favor of the early date. The place of the writing is not known. The early date naturally falls in with Caesarea (Blass, Michaelis, Thiersch), but there is little to guide one.

8. Analysis:

(1) Prologue, Luke 1:1-4.

(2) Infancy and childhood of John and Jesus, Luke 1:5 through 2:52.

(3) Beginning of Christ's Ministry, Luke 3:1 through 4:13.

(4) Galilean Campaign, Luke 4:14 through 9:6.

(5) Retirement from Galilee, Luke 9:7-50.

(6) Later Judean and Perean Ministry, Luke 9:51 through 19:28.

(7) Close of the Public Ministry in Jerusalem, Luke 19:29 through 21:37.

(8) The Dreadful End, Luke 21 through 23.

(9) Resurrection of Christ, Luke 24.


See extended list of books at close of article on Acts Of The Apostles; the extensive list of Commentaries Plummer's Commentary on Luke can also be consulted. After Plummer the best commentaries on Luke's Gospel are Bruce, Expositor's Greek Test.; Weiss' Meyer Krit.-exeget. Komm.; Godet; Holtzmann, Hand-Commentary. Of the many Introductions to the New Testament, Zahn's is the ablest and most exhaustive (conservative) and Julicher's is the fairest of the radical school. The best of the briefer ones is Gregory's Canon and Text (1907). Special treatises deserving mention here are Blass, Philology of the Gospels (1898); Ev. secundum Lukam (1897); Wellhausen. Das Ev. Lukae (1904); Sense, Origin of the Third Gospel (1901); Friedrich, Das Lukasevangelium und die Apostelgeschichte, Werke desselben Verfassers (1890); Harnack, Luke the Physician (1907), and Sayings of Jesus (1908); The Date of the Acts and the Synoptic Gospels (1911); Hawkins, Horae Synopticae (2nd edition, 1909); Hervey. Authenticity of Luke (1892); Hobart, Medical Language of Luke (1882); Litzinger, Die Entstehung des Lukasevangelium und der Apostelgeschichte (1883); Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? (1898) and Luke the Physician (1908); Resch, Das Kindheit-Evangelium nach Lukas und Matthaus; Selwyn, Luke the Prophet (1901); Vogel, Zur Characteristik des Lukas nach Sprache und Stil (1897); Weiss, Quellen des Lukasevangelium (1907); Wright, Synopsis of the Gospels and his Gospel according to Luke in Greek (1900).

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