Who wrote it? When was it written and why?
These are some of the important questions to answer as you explore any book of the Bible. To aid you in your study of God’s Word we’re adapting and posting some of the detailed book introductions found in The Reformation Study Bible.
Today, please allow The Reformation Study Bible to introduce you to…
The Gospel According to Luke
It is commonly accepted that Luke and Acts have a single author; the style and vocabulary are similar and both books are addressed to Theophilus. Although the author never names himself, several passages using the pronoun “we” suggest that the author was a companion of Paul on some of his travels (Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–16; 21:1–18; 27:1–28:16). Among the persons named in the letters Paul wrote from Rome (where the “we” sections end), the most likely candidate is Luke. In agreement with this, tradition unanimously ascribes the book to Luke.
…the most likely candidate is Luke. In agreement with this, tradition unanimously ascribes the book to Luke.
The preface to Luke shows that the writer was not an eyewitness of the events recorded in the Gospel. All of Luke and Acts shows that Luke was a man of culture who had searched out the information he needed, but was not one of the original followers of Jesus. It is sometimes urged against Luke’s authorship that his theology, especially in Acts, does not agree with Paul. But there is no reason why Luke should repeat what Paul said, and no evidence that he had read Paul’s letters. Nor is it likely that Luke was one of Paul’s converts. The writer does not contradict Paul, and we must allow for a certain independence. The objection reduces to the notion that Luke writes in his own way.
Nothing certain is known about Luke other than what we can glean from his two books. According to tradition he came from Antioch and was a physician (Col. 4:14). An argument has been made that Luke uses medical language. However, it seems that physicians in New Testament times did not have a technical language of their own, and Luke’s vocabulary does not go beyond what was used by lay people. But there is nothing inconsistent with the tradition that he was a physician, and the author certainly shows an interest in the sick.
Luke and Acts may have been written about A.D. 63. Acts ends with Paul still under house arrest in Rome, and it is reasonable to think that if Luke knew of Paul’s release or death he would have mentioned it. Luke notes that the prophecy of Agabus was fulfilled (Acts 11:28); he would surely have done the same with Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20) if he was writing after A.D. 70. Acts mentions nothing that must be dated after A.D. 62 and shows no knowledge of Paul’s letters. All these factors argue for an early date.
Acts mentions nothing that must be dated after A.D. 62 and shows no knowledge of Paul’s letters. All these factors argue for an early date.
Some interpreters argue for a date of A.D. 75–85, saying that some of Luke’s wording presupposes the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in A.D. 70 (e.g., Luke 19:43; 21:20, 24). But these passages speak of what was customary in sieges of the time, and not much can be made of them if no more is said than that Jesus predicted that current policies meant disaster in due course. A few critics have argued for a date in the second century, but there seems to be no good reason for this. With the information at our disposal a date in the early 60s is reasonable.
Luke tells us in the preface that his purpose is to provide an accurate, well-ordered account of the basic Christian message, to enable his reader to “know the certainty” of the things he has learned (Luke 1:4). Both the Gospel and Acts are dedicated to the “most excellent Theophilus.” Such a dedication is common in books intended for a wider audience.
Luke was clearly a cultured person, able to write in a variety of styles. His opening paragraph is classical in style, while in other places his language resembles 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 makes it clear that this salvation is available for sinful people. He has a strong concern for the disreputable…
His main interest is salvation history, the story of what God has done in Jesus to bring salvation to sinners. Luke makes it clear that this salvation is available for sinful people. He has a strong concern for the disreputable, who were neglected in contemporary religion but could find peace in God’s salvation. Luke records a number of predictions of the suffering and death of Christ and devotes much space to it. He is sometimes said to have little interest in eschatology (the last things). This is scarcely fair to Luke, for the thought that the kingdom of God will come in power at the end time is certainly present (Luke 12:35–48; 17:22–37; 21:25–36).
Luke concerns himself with many people who would be neglected by most writers of his day—children, women, and the poor. Though these were commonly regarded as having no great significance, Luke demonstrates Jesus’ special concern for them.
Prominent in the literary structure of the Gospel is Luke’s description of Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem and the sacrifice of the Cross (Luke 9:51–19:44). The sovereignty of God in Jesus’ ministry and death is highlighted as Jesus moves toward the city where He must die for sinners (Luke 9:22; 17:25; 18:31–33; cf. Acts 4:28).
The importance of prayer is stressed. Luke records that Jesus prayed before crucial occasions of His ministry. Nine of Jesus’ prayers are included in the Gospel (seven of them found only in Luke), along with parables on prayer found only in Luke.
Expressions of joy often accompany the good news of the Messiah in Luke. Only this Gospel includes the magnificent songs of joy that accompanied the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:46–55, 68–79; 2:14, 29–32).
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Adapted from The Reformation Study Bible, © 2005 Ligonier Ministries.