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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 Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains” (Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies 3.11.7)

“Marcion, on the other hand, you must know, ascribes no author to his Gospel… Now, of the authors whom we possess, Marcion seems to have singled out Luke for his mutilating process. Luke, however, was not an apostle, but only an apostolic man; not a master, but a disciple, and so inferior to a master” (Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.2)

“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)

“…third, Luke, who has composed for those from the Gentiles the gospel praised by Paul.” (Origen, 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… [he] instigated by the holy spirit, in parts of Achaea wrote down this gospel, he who was taught not only by the apostle, who was not with the Lord in the flesh, but also by the other apostles, who were with the Lord, even making clear this very thing himself in the preface, that the others were written down before his, and that it was necessary that he accurately expound for the gentile faithful the entire economy in his narrative, lest they, detained by Jewish fables, be held by a sole desire for the law, or lest, seduced by heretical fables and stupid instigations, they slip away from the truth. It being necessary, then, immediately in the beginning we receive report of the nativity of John, who is the beginning of the gospel, who was the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a partaker in the perfecting of the people, and also in the induction of baptism, and a partaker of his passion and of the fellowship of the spirit. Zechariah the prophet, one of the twelve, made mention of this economy.” (Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke’s Gospel)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The author imitates a Graeco-Roman literary preface (cf. historiography, biography, scientific treatises), but chooses to remain anonymous.

  • “Inasmuch 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 eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time 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.” (Luke 1:1)

The following explanations have been offered for the sporadic usage of the first-person plural in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-37; 28:1-16.

  • The author was a firsthand participant in the narrated events. This is the view held in the majority of commentaries on the book.
  • 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.
  • “Theophilus” may be symbolic for the church as it means “friend 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 for the two volume work Luke-Acts. Most scholars date it between 75-100 CE, though a minority date it on the earlier (cf. Colin J. Hemer) or the later (cf. Richard Pervo, Joseph B. Tyson) end of the spectrum.
  • Luke was literarily dependent on Mark’s Gospel and must postdate it. There is debate over whether the Gospels of Luke and Matthew independently relied on a common sayings source called Q (Quelle or “source”) or whether one was literarily dependent on the other.
  • There are similarities between the Gospels of Luke and John such as the woman who anointed Jesus’s  feet (Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–8), the naming of Lazarus and the sisters Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38–42; 16:19–31; John 11:1–44), the inspection by Peter of the empty tomb (Luke 24:12; John 20:2–9), the resurrection accounts localized in Jerusalem (Luke 24:1–11, 33–53; John 20:1–29), and the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11; John 21:1-11). These similarities may be based on the common use of oral traditions or on one Gospel writer copying the other.
  • Luke 19:41-44 and 21:20 may reflect knowledge of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.
  • The Gospel of Luke is the first part of a two-part work and must date before its sequel, the book of Acts. 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 debates about whether the author of Luke’s Gospel had access to the Pauline Epistles. Compare Luke 18:9-14 with Paul’s view of justification by faith or the Lord’s Supper in Luke 22:15-20 (note the omission of verses 19b-20 in some Western witnesses) with Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (cf. Mark 14:22-25 and Matthew 26:26-29). Further examples are provided in the handout on Acts.
  • There is debate over whether Luke-Acts is literarily dependent or independent of Josephus’s Antiquities published around 93-94 CE. Compare the account of the census in Luke 2:1-3 with Josephus’s account in Antiquities 18.1-5 (cf. War 2.117-18). There is debate over whether Acts is literarily dependent or independent of Josephus’s Antiquities. Further examples are provided in the handout on Acts.

Key Themes in the Gospel of Luke

  • There are unique Lukan sayings, parables, and narratives on economic and social inequality
    • Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
    • the shepherds in the infancy narrative (Luke 2:8-20)
    • the poor person’s sacrificial offering (Luke 2:22-24)
    • not extorting money or excessive interest (Luke 3:10-14; 6:34-35)
    • Isaiah’s good news to the poor (Luke 4:16-21; cf. 7:22-23)
    • the Lukan form of the beatitudes and woes (Luke 6:20-26)
    • the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
    • Mary as a disciple (Luke 10:38-42)
    • the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21)
    • hosting a banquet for the needy (Luke 14:7-14)
    • the woman with the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10)
    • the son who squandered his inheritance (Luke 15:11-32)
    • the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-15)
    • the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
    • the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8)
    • the repentance of the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)
  • ministering to non-Jews outside the boundaries of Israel
    • Simeon’s prophecy about how Jesus would be a light of revelation for the nations (Luke 2:32).
    • Tracing Jesus’s genealogy to the original human (Luke 3:38)
    • Compare Luke 4:16-30, where the crowd takes offense at Jesus’s remarks about how the prophets Elijah and Elisha healed foreigners, with the parallel accounts of the incident in the Nazarene synagogue in Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:54-58 where the members were incredulous that a local resident was a prophet.
    • Ten lepers are healed, but only a Samaritan returns to express gratitude in Luke 17:12-19.
  • 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.
  • Peter will be fully rehabilitated after his temporary lapse in denying Jesus three times (see Luke 22:31-34) and will emerge as the leading spokesperson of the Jesus movement in the first twelve chapters of Acts.

Case Study: Women in the Gospel of Luke

  • Unique accounts of women in Luke’s Gospel: Elizabeth (1:5-25, 39-45, 59-80), Mary (1:26-38, 46-56; 2:4-52), the prophetess Anna (2:36-38), the sinful woman (7:36-50), the wealthy female patrons of Jesus including Mary Magdalene (8:2-3), the sisters Mary and Martha (10:38-42), the woman with the lost coin (15:8-10), the poor widow (18:1-8)
  • Watch the video lecture by Professor Emerita Carolyn Osiek entitled “Carolyn Osiek on Women Disciples, Leaders, and Apostles: Mary Magdalene’s Sisters




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