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 the text does not name its author, the modern consensus follows the traditional view that this gospel and the Acts of the Apostles were written by the same author. The traditional view is that this author is the Luke named in the Epistle to Philemon 24, a follower of Paul.
Authorship and audience
The critical view, expressed by Udo Schnelle , is that "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).
The evangelist does not claim to have been an eyewitness of Jesus's life, but to have investigated everything carefully and to have written an orderly narrative of the facts (Luke 1:1-4). The authors of the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and John, probably used similar sources. 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 by scholars as Q, the Quelle or "source document.
The general consensus is that Luke was written by a Greek for the gentile Christians. The Gospel is addressed to the author's patron, the "most excellent" Theophilus.
Date of composition
The date of this gospel's composition is uncertain. Estimates range from ca 80 to ca 130 AD.
Traditional views of the date
Traditionally, Christians believe that Luke wrote under the direction, if not at the dictation, of Paul. This would place it as having been written before the Acts, whose date of the composition is generally fixed at about AD 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, 40–60. Evangelical Christians tend to favor this view, in keeping with the tradition to date the gospels very early.
Luke addressed his gospel to "most excellent Theophilus." Theophilus, which in Greek means "Friend of God", may just be a literary expression.
Unfortunately, nowhere in Luke or Acts does it say that the author is Luke, the companion of Paul; this ascription is late second century. Furthermore, the text itself reveals hints that it was not written as a dictation of a single author, but made use of multiple sources.
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. Since Mark was probably written after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, around 70, Luke could not have been written before 70. Based on this datum, scholars have suggested dates for Luke from 80 to as late as 150, and Acts shortly thereafter, also between 80 and 150. The de-emphasis of the Parousia and the universalization of the message strongly suggest a much later date than the 60–70 given by the traditional view.
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 hetrodoxical 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 papyrus fragments from the third 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 Bezae, in the University Library, Cambridge, contains a 5th or 6th century manuscript that is the oldest complete manuscript of Luke, in Greek and Latin versions on facing pages. The Greek version appears to have descended from an offshoot of the main manuscript tradition and departs from familiar readings at many points. Though the text bears many intended corrections, often to bring it into line with the usual readings, the Codex Bezae demonstrates the latitude in manuscripts of scripture that still existed quite late in the tradition. Biblical scholars have minimized the Codex's importance, citing it generally only when it supports the common readings.
Relationship with other gospels
Most New Testament scholars believe the author of Luke relied on Mark and Q as his primary sources.
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, 8:30, 11:33, 12:6, and 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.
Many words and phrases are common to the Gospel of Luke and the Letters of Paul; compare:
- Luke 4:22 with Colossians 4:6.
- Luke 4:32 with 1 Corinthians 2:4.
- Luke 6:36 with 2 Corinthians 1:3.
- Luke 6:39 with Romans 2:19.
- Luke 9:56 with 2 Corinthians 10:8.
- Luke 10:8 with 1 Corinthians 10:27.
- Luke 11:41 with Titus 1:15.
- Luke 18:1 with 2 Thessalonians 1:11.
- Luke 21:36 with Ephesians 6:18.
- Luke 22:19-20 with 1 Corinthians 11:23-29.
- Luke 24:34 with 1 Corinthians 15:5.
Testimonials and appreciations
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 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." This Gospel is indeed "rich and precious."
Online translations of the Gospel of Luke:
This article was originally based on text from Easton Bible Dictionary of 1897 and from M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897.