Home » Course Materials » Introducing the Gospel of Luke

Introducing the Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke

Authorship: External Evidence

“Luke, the follower of Paul, set forth in a book the gospel that was preached by him.” (Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself. For he says that when Barnabas, and John was called Mark, had parted company from Paul, and sailed to Cyprus, we came to Troas [Acts 16:8]… As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these [particulars] proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth. That he was not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul, Paul has himself declared also in the Epistles, saying: ‘Demas has forsaken me, and is departed unto Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me’ [2 Timothy 4:10-11]” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.14.1)

“The Gospels containing the genealogies, he [Clement] says, were written first” [or] “He [Clement] said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6)

“… and third, Luke, who has composed for those from the Gentiles the gospel praised by Paul.” (Origen of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.25.6)

“The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. Yet he himself had not seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John.” (The Muratorian Canon, lines 2-8)

“The holy Luke is an Antiochene, Syrian by race, physician by trade. As his writings indicate, of the Greek speech he was not ignorant. He was a disciple of the apostles, and afterward followed Paul until his confession, serving the Lord undistractedly, for he neither had any wife nor procreated sons. [A man] of eighty–four years, he slept in Thebes, the metropolis of Boeotia, full of the holy spirit…” (the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke’s Gospel)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The book of Acts is the sequel of the Gospel of Luke: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2 NRSV)

Explanations for the “we” in Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, 27:1-37, and 28:1-16:

  • The author was a firsthand participant in the narrated events.
  • This was some sort of dramatic literary device that placed the reader in the middle of the action. For instance, see Vernon Robbins’s “By Land and By Sea: the We-Passages and Ancient Sea Voyages.”
  • This was a residue on an earlier source or a travel diary. For instance, see Stanley Porter’s chapter “The We Passages in Acts as a Source regarding Paul” in The Paul of Acts.
  • The “we” was a “pseudonymous” or a fictional claim to be by a firsthand participant of Paul’s missionary activities. For instance, see Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and Counter-Forgery.

Audience: Theophilus and other readers

  • The Gospel may have been dedicated to a wealthy patron who sponsored the writer’s literary project.
  • The name “Theophilus” may be symbolic for the church as it means “lover of God.”
  • There is debate over the provenance of the author and the readers, with some major suggestions including Antioch, Ephesus, or Rome.


  • Dates range from the early 60s to 130 CE. Most scholars date it between 75-100 CE, though a minority date it on the earlier (cf. Colin J. Hemer) or later (cf. Richard Pervo, Joseph B. Tyson) end of the spectrum.
  • Luke 19:41-44 and 21:20 may reflect knowledge of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.
  • Acts ends before narrating the deaths of Peter, Paul, and James, perhaps to conclude on the note that the Gospel has spread from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).
  • There are similarities and differences between the portrayal of Paul’s biography, travels, and theology in Acts with Paul’s own letters. There is debate over whether or not the author had access to a collection of Pauline Epistles.
  • There are similarities and differences between the book of Acts and Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities published around 93-94 CE. Compare Acts 5:36-37 with Antiquities 20.97-102, Luke 2:1-3 with Antiquities 18.1-5 (cf. War 2.117-18), or Acts 12:20-23 with Antiquities 19.343-50. There is debate over whether Acts is literarily dependent or independent of Josephus’s Antiquities.
  • Acts seems to portray the church as primarily drawn from the ranks of Jewish members of the synagogue and Gentile “God-fearers.” However, it may be aware that the “Christians” (cf. Acts 11:26; 26:28) have come to be recognized as a distinct community governed by “elders” (presbyteroi) and “overseers” (episkopoi) (cf. Acts 20:17-38).

Key Themes

  • Unique sayings, parables, and stories focus on economic and social inequality (e.g. the shepherds in the infancy narrative, Mary’s Magnificat, the Lukan form of the beatitudes and woes, the wealthy female patrons of Jesus, the sisters Mary and Martha, the good Samaritan, the rich fool, the woman with the lost coin, the unjust steward, the rich man and Lazarus).
  • Jesus’s ministry extended to the non-Jews outside the boundaries of Israel. Compare the incident in the Nazarene synagogue in Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:54-58 where the local residents could not believe that the boy they saw growing up was now a prophet with the parallel account in Luke 4:16-30 where the crowd takes offense at Jesus’s remarks about how the prophets Elijah and Elisha healed foreigners.
  • The martyrdom of Jesus is modeled on the themes of the noble death and the Deuteronomistic theme of the rejection of the prophets culminating in the death of Jesus. Although Luke seems to have removed Mark’s ransom saying (compare Luke 22:25-27 with Mark 10:45), he has Paul articulate Jesus’ vicarious death in Acts 20:28.
  • The impending eschatological return of Jesus has been delayed (Luke 21:24; Acts 1:6-8). Hans Conzelmann famously argued that Luke-Acts divided history into the epochs of Israel, Jesus, and the church.
  • The character of Peter has been rehabilitated (see Luke 22:31-34) and he emerges as the chief spokesperson of the Twelve (sometimes alongside John) in the first twelve chapters of Acts. The church is to be governed by twelve apostles (cf. see the replacement of Judas by Matthias to restore the number “twelve” in Acts 1:15-26) and the other missionaries like Paul and Barnabas are generally subservient to rather than identified as “apostles” or “sent ones” (exception: Acts 14:4).
  • The church is completely united, glossing over occasional cracks that appear beneath the surface such as the division between the Hebrews and the Hellenists (Acts 6:1-15), the debate at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15; cf. 21:17-25), and the split of Paul from Barnabas (15:36-41).
  • The Christians are in continuity with the scriptural heritage of Israel. The Jerusalem church wins over thousands of their Jewish compatriots and the apostles as well as Paul exemplify their Jewish piety. Paul’s primary audience is found within the Jewish and Gentile members of the synagogue (compare Paul’s target audience in Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). However, Acts hints that the Christian missionaries were having much more success in convincing non-Jews of their gospel about Jesus the Messiah (Acts 13:46-47; 18:6; 28:25-28), though the book concludes on an open-ended not (28:30-31).




%d bloggers like this: