Background

The Gospel according to Luke is essentially volume 1 of a two-volume set with the book of Acts (also known as “The Acts of the Apostles”).  This can be seen immediately in both books as both are addressed to a man named Theophilus and the latter book mentions that there is a “former book,” which can only point to the book known as Luke.  Both books together thus give the account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (Luke) and the events that surrounded the spread of gospel message as it was carried by the apostles, both Jesus’ disciples and the apostle Paul (Acts).

Authorship

All of the evidence found outside of the Bible unanimously attributes the writing of this Gospel and the book of Acts to Luke, the traveling companion of the apostle Paul.  Early church fathers such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen all credit Luke with authorship.

There is also a good amount of internal evidence that points to Luke as the author. There is a sudden change to the use of “we” in the narrative while Paul was in Troas on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-10; see also Acts 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16), suggesting that the author joined him on the rest of his journeys beginning there.  Luke was known as a traveling companion of Paul (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11).  Within the Gospel there are also a number of Greek words and phrases that seem to be included as if by a person with a keen mind for medicine (for example, Lk 4:38; 8:43-44; 13:11-13; Acts 28:8-9),1See also William Kirk Hobart’s The Medical Language of St. Luke, which can be read online here. and Luke was called a “physician” by Paul (Colossians 4:14).  There also seem to be a few places that suggest the writer of the Gospel had received the oral instruction from Paul (compare Luke 22:17–20 with 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; Luke 24:34 with 1 Corinthians 15:5).2 Schaller, John, Loren A. Schaller, and Gary P. Baumler. The Book of Books: A Brief Introduction to the Bible. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1990. 217.

With all of this evidence, we have no reason to question the unanimous consensus of the early church that this Gospel and the book of Acts were written by the physician Luke.

Purpose and Content

Luke himself gives one purpose for writing his Gospel:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Other purposes evident in the book itself include Luke’s desire to show that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world, both Jews and Gentiles, men and women, etc (for example, Jesus’ genealogy goes back to Adam – Lk 3:23-38).  He also focuses on Jesus’ work as a servant (Luke 22:27), teaching and preaching to the people until it was time to shoulder their sins and die on the cross for the sake of their forgiveness.  Luke, however, does not end the servant’s story there, as he includes many unique details concerning Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances (Luke 24).

The book of Luke also includes special content that has inspired the church for millennia:

Luke’s gospel abounds with familiar stories found nowhere else in the Bible: the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Zacchaeus, and more. Luke takes special note of the importance of women in telling the story of Jesus: Elizabeth, Mary (mother of Jesus), Anna, Mary and Martha, the widow of Nain, and others. The opening chapters resound with songs the church has continued to sing over the centuries: the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Nunc Dimittis.3Prange, Victor H. Luke. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1988. 3-4.

Other features include a historical approach to writing, an emphasis on prayer, birth and infancy accounts of Jesus, an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit (seen also throughout the book of Acts), and inclusion of Jesus’ Perean ministry (Lk 9:51-19:28).

See also the Composite of the Four Gospels, the Events of Holy Week, and the Order of Resurrection Events.

Place and Date of Writing

Combining the information found in the book of Acts with external historical information a general estimate for the writing of the book of Luke is sometime between 58 and 60 AD in Palestine.  This is estimated from the following information:

  • approximately AD 60: Changeover of Governors from Felix to Festus (Acts 24:27)
  • approximately AD 60-61: Paul’s journey to Rome
  • approximately AD 61-63: Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome

Since the book of Acts ends with Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome (Acts 28:11-31), it appears that the book of Acts was written during that imprisonment.  Thus, because the book of Luke was written before Acts (Acts 1:1) and because Luke needed time for research (Lk 1:1-3), it can be safely assumed that Luke researched and wrote his Gospel for a period while in Palestine before Paul’s trip to Rome.

See also the Chronology of New Testament Books.

Notable Passages

One could mark every passage in the Gospels as a notable passage, but select passages are listed below.

  • Luke 1:1-4
  • Luke 1:26-37
  • Luke 2:1-21
  • Luke 3:21-22
  • Luke 4:1-13
  • Luke 5:30-32
  • Luke 6:20-49
  • Luke 8:22-25
  • Luke 9:18-36
  • Luke 9:48
  • Luke 10:25-42
  • Luke 11:2-4,9-10
  • Luke 15:1-32
  • Luke 16:18
  • Luke 16:19-31
  • Luke 18:9-17
  • Luke 22:19-20
  • Luke 23:26-27,32-49
  • Luke 24:1-53

Outline

  1. Preface (Lk 1:1-4)
  2. John and Jesus: Forerunner and Messiah (Lk 1:5-2:52)
  3. The Ministry of John (Lk 3:1-22)
  4. Jesus’ Galilean Ministry (Lk 3:23-9:50)
  5. Jesus’ Travel Ministry (Lk 9:51-18:30)
  6. Jesus’ Last Days in Jerusalem (Lk 18:31-21:38)
  7. Jesus’ Death, Resurrection, and Ascension (Lk 22:1-24:53)4Roehrs, Walter H., and Martin H. Franzmann. Concordia Self-Study Commentary. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1998.

References   [ + ]

1. See also William Kirk Hobart’s The Medical Language of St. Luke, which can be read online here.
2. Schaller, John, Loren A. Schaller, and Gary P. Baumler. The Book of Books: A Brief Introduction to the Bible. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1990. 217.
3. Prange, Victor H. Luke. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1988. 3-4.
4. Roehrs, Walter H., and Martin H. Franzmann. Concordia Self-Study Commentary. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1998.