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Survey of The Life and Teachings of Jesus

© L.D. Underwood 2010

Introduction to Luke

With regards to authorship of the Gospel of Luke, again we look at both the external and the internal evidence, which certainly favors Lukan authorship. That is, everybody, in all parts of the world have regarded the third gospel as being authoritative, and it was the work of St. Luke and from earliest times, this the view of church fathers, the view of most of the early manuscripts. Internally, we have the confirmation of that evidence. Luke was not only the author of this gospel of Luke, but also of the book of Acts. Therefore, the book of Acts can be helpful in our proof of the authorship of this third gospel.

The name Luke, or Lucas is not mentioned in the Gospels. In fact the only one who mentions Luke by name is the Apostle Paul who calls him, “The beloved physician” in the book of Colossians 4:14. We do know that he was a gentile, in fact in Colossians 4, Paul has six persons sending their greetings, we can divide in to two groups of three each the first three names were Jews; the second group of three names in Colossians 4 are non-Jews. So, Luke is among that second group of non-Jewish believers. He was a gentile which is a general term for non-Jew and to be more precise, he was a Greek, we know his name was Greek, Lucas, we know his style of writing was quite classically Greek, because both the Gospel and the book of Acts begin with a formal dedication in perfect Greek style— there is a touch of classical finesse even in the opening lines of Luke’s Gospel.

Now whether he was a proselyte of Judaism, before he became converted to Christ or whether he came directly from paganism into Christianity, we do not know. But we do know he was a man of culture, a man of great education for his medical studies he would have gone to one of the three Ivy league schools of his day—which would either have been Alexandria Egypt, or Athens Greece or most likely Tarsus. Tarsus, which is in modern day Turkey, had a school of philosophy and of literature unequalled at that time. It is very likely that if he went to Tarsus, there he came to know the Apostle Paul as a contemporary student at the University. Maybe they were even roommates. There was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between these two. We are going to find that there are a lot of medial references in this gospel of Luke. We have expressions like, “Physician heal thyself.” We have Luke making reference to someone having a, “Great fever”—which was a technical physician’s term for that illness. Numbers of expressions: the healing of Malcus’ ear that Peter lopped off in the Garden; a number of things that are in Luke’s Gospel that would indicate the author himself is a physician. He appears to have been Paul’s traveling companion on some of Paul’s missionary journeys. And so he would be with him during shipwreck and during prison detention and during the trials, and apparently right up to the hour of Paul’s martyrdom. He was Paul’s personal physician. And one of the church fathers, Tertullian, says that Paul was the illuminator of Luke, that is Luke got his basic theology and basic orientation from Paul. Or Irenaeus writes, “Luke the companion of Paul, put down the Gospel preached by Paul.” Origen says that Luke’s is the Gospel recommended by Paul. ****

It is interesting that both of these men would work hand in hand together with each other. They both had congenial natures. In fact, one could compare Paul and Luke, perhaps with Martin Luther and Melanchthon during the protestant reformation. Martin Luther as had a moving spirit, he was a grand actor with charismatic leadership public champion who was noted for his prowess and his ability to use strong language and he was right out there on center stage. Melanchthon, who was another reformer about the same time as Martin Luther was a more retiring spirit. He preferred to be out of view, behind the scenes back in the smoke-filled rooms. And I find that both of these types of people were needed. The Paul’s and the Luke’s seemed to get along well together, Just as the "Luthers" and the "Melanchthons" do. Maybe because they don’t step on each other’s toes they are not competing with each other perhaps. Yet their specialties are different. Without the "Pauls" there would be very little for us to write about. And without the Lukes, there would be very little preserved from all of that activity. So, these two work together in close companionship.

There are some people who believe that Luke might have been a brother of Titus that is never mentioned in the book of Acts even though he was a very important fellow worker. But there are some who believe, based on second Corinthians 8:18 that Luke might have been a brother of Titus. But Luke certainly betrays himself as the author in the things that he writes. We know of course a great deal of mention of healing miracles in the Gospel of Luke, in fact more than the other two synoptic gospels put together. It is very obvious that Paul had an influence on the writing of Luke because you have an account in Luke’s gospel where you have the institution of the Lord’s supper. If we examine that passage of scripture, we will find that it has almost verbal correspondence between what Paul writes in Corinthians and what Luke writes with regard to the Lord’s supper. There is a tradition that is traceable to the sixth century that says Luke was a painter. In the thirteenth century he appears to be the patron saint of painters. There is no direct evidence that he was himself an artist who painted with a brush, but certainly he painted with his pen and he has exercised a profound influence upon Christian art by the lifelike portrayals of characters in his book.

The gospel of Luke is typically found occupying the third place in almost all of the manuscripts. It never occurs in first place, very rarely in second place as far as the order or sequence of these gospels is concerned. So where as there are some debates between Matthew and Mark as to which is the first of those, Luke almost always is found as being third. If anyone is wanting some help with regard to dating, we have can get some information from the book of Acts because in the book of Acts in the opening verse he talks about that former treatise which he had written, referring back to the gospel of Luke. So, if we know when Acts was composed, then we can figure that Luke was written before that time. We can estimate its time of writing roughly in the 70’s certainly not any later than 80’s; but most likely somewhere in the 70’s is the composition date for the gospel of Luke. But, there is certainly a great deal of debate on the topic of time of writing.


What is Luke’s purpose in writing this Gospel? The immediate design is set forth for us in the opening verses of Luke’s gospel and if you have your Bible will you turn to Luke 1 because we want to look at the opening four verses with some detail this morning. Luke 1 and beginning with verse 1. He writes, “In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also having followed all things closely for sometime past, to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.”

So, his immediate design or purpose is to instruct Theophilus, that Theophilus might know the certainty of the facts concerning which he had been told. Now there is a question of course as to who or what Theophilus might be. Was he an actual person? Or was he an imaginary figure. What does the word Theophilus mean? Friend, or lover of God, and it was a fairly common name and it could have been used, some people feel to address all Christians, who are friends or lovers of God, and that way divert the attention of the enemy away from an actual person by addressing it to Christians at large under the name Theophilus, so that they feel it is not a real person but a fictitious term by which Luke is addressing all Christians. Personally, I think it was an actual person, I think it’s a nice theory, but I think he is addressing this most excellent Theophilus as an actual flesh and blood person. Now again, that term most Excellent, or you excellency seems to imply an official rank of some type, more than just a courtesy title, but something that indicates a position of authority and we don’t know if he as just an interested outsider or more likely he was a Christian convert who needed to be instructed in more in detail concerning the things he had been told briefly about.

I posit that this was a real person who has a very beautiful but not uncommon name, a man of high rank in the Roman world perhaps even a Roman governmental official and a convert to Jesus Christ. And Luke wants to establish Theophilus in the full knowledge in the facts of Christ’s life. In fact, he may even have been Luke’s patron, to defray some of the cost of Luke’s publishing of the book of Luke and Acts. But again, these are all theories, but at least that was the immediate design that he had for putting this book to writing. The ultimate design we’ve already talked about was to convey these truths to those who had had no instruction in terms in which the Greek mind would appreciate Christ’s life. He is addressing himself to Greeks. That is why he explains in his book a lot of Jewish customs and images and usages because that would not be known directly by Greeks.

So, he pictures Christ in a way that Greeks would appreciate in terms of the sublime humanity of our Lord. As you know the Greeks were very idealistically minded people. And they were always seeking for the ideal well-rounded perfect human being. So, Luke shows that Christ’s humanity was real and not feigned. It was perfect and not faulty in any way. He had a real physical life, Jesus did. That is, he grew from infancy through childhood into youth into manhood. A normal physical life. He had a real moral life. That is there was a growing sense of duty a sense of consciousness between that which is right and that which is wrong. He had a real intellectual life. In fact, the Bible talks about him growing in wisdom. He had a real social life. He was a member of family, he was at home in the homes and families of other people he had a real religious life teaching his disciples how to pray. Going to the synagogue on the Sabbath, so that all of these dimensions, he had a perfect well-rounded total humanity. And yet at the same time, was sinless. In fact, someone said he had no strong points because he had no weak ones. He was the perfect whole human Son of Man, as well as the Savior of the world.


If that was the purpose, what are some of the Characteristics of the book? By saying its author is a gentile and a Greek to boot, that makes Luke the only non-Jewish writer of the NT. And he begins with a formal preface that is he spell out the specific purpose of his book in a classical way as any Literary Greek person would have done. And Luke becomes volume 1 in the larger work of Luke-Acts.

Luke is the longest and most complete of the Gospel accounts and contains numerous facts which are not found in the other gospels. In fact, over on third of his material is peculiar to himself. There is one whole section in Luke all the way from 9:51 to 18:14 that is all the alter Judean and Perean ministries of Christ are peculiar to Luke’s gospel. The longest most complete gospel account. It is also the most artistic and Literary Gospel. Those who have studied the Greek know it has the best Greek, the most polished skilled style. Luke just seems to have a way with words and has a very rich vocabulary. And captivates people’s interest by his beautiful contrasts. If you want the techniques of advanced creative writing, study the book of Luke. As you would suspect it is marked by use of numerous medical terms. But as you might not suspect it records the first Christian hymns. We are going to look at some of those in a few weeks. They come down to us through the Latin and become known as the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis and the Ave Maria and the Gloria in Excelsis and some of these Christmas hymns that we have from the Latin, those all come from the biblical text in Luke in the first couple of chapters of Luke’s gospel. We can see Paul’s influence on Luke in his writings by the stress upon grace and justification and forgiveness and the Holy Spirit and the various emphasis which Paul also had. Something else that makes Luke interesting is it is the most historical and the most biographical of the Gospels. We can think of Luke as a historian.

History is far more than dates, far more than dry dusty facts of the past. But here is a historical work, and it is good to see Luke as a historian because in this preface that we made reference to a moment ago, in this Literary prologue of Luke’s gospel, he makes some very interesting claims that a historian would find useful. He claims to be a historian who used to finest materials with the best methods to fulfill his motive which was to obtain truth for Theophilus. And if we were to spend the time and compare Luke with some of the great historians of the past--thinking of men like Herodotus and Thucydides and Polybius and other ancient historians of the past.

Or if we would compare him today with historians who are writing current history, we would find that he was in many ways comparable or even superior to some of the historians of the past and present. First of all, Luke’s material. Now any contemporary historian for example would attempt to find good material and he uses obviously a number of secondary accounts that were available to him he tells us in that opening verse, “That in as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us.” So he must have had available to him documents that were secondary accounts written by people who were acquainted with earlier eyewitnesses of the deeds and the words of Jesus and he makes no disparaging remarks about those other books and those other accounts, he doesn’t censor their authors, like some of the ancient historians try to do with their contemporaries, but he associates himself with those many who were writing about Christ, and they were writing orderly accounts of those things which Christians hold dear concerning Christ’s teaching and his activities. Now what these narratives were that he made and had available to him, may have included some heretical works, may have included some apocryphal gospels on might be certain he would not have used those because most of them would not have been written until much later. Because most of those were about the second century or so. So, they would not fit in this section here where he says in verse 1, “The things here which are most surely believed among us. So this would not be heretical works, and neither would Luke be referring here to the Gospel of Matthew. Or the Gospel of John because these would be included among the eyewitnesses, he mentioned in verse 2.

So, eyewitnesses can make errors in their observation. But normally their testimony gives high value to a work, because they were present when those events actually occurred. And so, there must have been these short accounts of the events, the life, the work the death of Christ, floating around which have since perished, that we don’t have as records, but which were available to Luke. In fact, the marvel is not that we have so many books in the canon of the NT, but the fact that we have so few books in the Bible. When we look and think about the mass of material that was available at that time, and surely the church must have been guided by the holy spirit in carefully selecting these books for the canon, just as much as the writers were guided by the spirit in writing them, and certainly in the persecutions, under say the emperor Diocletian for example in the early fourth century when it was a criminal offense to hold books of the Bible. Certainly, the Christians at that time would want to be sure they were risking their lives for books that were really inspired. If they were going to be martyred for it, they might as die for that which is true and not just speculation.

So we have these secondary roles of information but in addition he mentions that there were also eyewitnesses available to Luke. The word that he uses there for eyewitness occurs only here in the NT, and is the same word from which we get our English word autopsy. That shows the scientific care with regard to these reliable sources. These people were eyewitnesses to the events concerning which they gave information to Luke. And they were also, he says ministers or servants of the word. And I am sure must have quizzed those witnesses carefully. Just as much as he would question the patient who would come to him with medical problems whose symptoms, he was trying to probe in order to get an active diagnosis of the facts. So, he was as careful to get first-hand information as, lets say, Thucydides who is the idol of modern scientific historian. We can be sure he had numerous opportunities in Jerusalem and other places to talk to those who were eyewitnesses. We might be sure he interviewed Mary the mother of Jesus who would have known of course the most from a human perspective of what took place with the birth of her son.

Without question his materials were excellent. Secondly his method was first rate. See it is one thing to have the best of materials; it is another thing to use those materials effectively and accurately that is why methodology is very important in the transforming of raw material into an authentic narrative. There are several things he mentions about his methodology for example he said, “It seems good to me having followed all things closely” (Luke 1:3) --that is, he investigated it carefully. Which indicates careful research, thorough research. These were from the very first that includes the details of the birth of Jesus and even his forerunner, from the very start of Jesus’ early life and earlier, he went to the source of the river you see, in and endeavor to find the origins of the movement he was discussing.

He did these things he says “accurately” there was a great amount of objectivity involved. That was at least his desire that was part of his methodology. He says he put this into a systematic or orderly account. That is there was a consecutive treatment of the matter. A chronological record if you please. That is his main interest in say the first eight chapters or so, and the last several chapters of the book, and the last several chapters of the work. Very clearly an emphasis on consecutive chronological sequence. A very systematic orderly, logical artistic arrangement. So, he is excellent as far as his materials, and his methodology.

Thirdly his motive was impeccable. Good materials and good methodology are no infallible guarantee we are going to have accurate history. Unless the motivation is of the highest order. There are a lot of people who are prejudiced against the facts with which they deal, because of personal or environmental biases and so unintentionally those biases filter in to what they write about. But Luke’s motive is impeccable his desire, his motivation is to provide truth for his reader. We cannot have any higher motivation than that.

Luke is an excellent historiographer when we compare him with writers of history of the past or of the present. In terms of his materials, in terms of his information and also of his methodology. If we were to find one key verse in the gospel of Luke that sums it all up as to why he is writing it would be Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save, that which is lost.”