the four Gospels, Luke is the longest and most orderly. It gives a greater overall coverage of the life of Jesus than the other Gospels, though like them it does not attempt to provide a biography of Jesus.
The author has gathered and arranged his material with a certain purpose in mind, and with much skill has produced a book that contains more well known stories of Jesus than any other.
Writing the book
In his opening statement, Luke mentions briefly how he prepared his Gospel. Since he himself had never seen or heard Jesus, he obtained the material for his book from careful research of existing records and from the accounts of eye-witnesses (Luke 1:1-4). He followed his Gospel with a second volume, known to us as the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1-3; see ACTS, BOOK OF). Though a doctor by profession (Col 4:14), Luke was also an accurate historian, and he liked to date biblical events according to secular history (Luke 1:5; 2:1-2; 3:1-2). In addition he was a reliable Christian worker who spent many years of Christian service with Paul. (For further details see LUKE.) Luke probably assembled much of the material for his book while he was helping Paul during the two years of Paul’s imprisonment in Palestine (cf. Acts 21:17; 23:31-33; 24:27). Later, Luke travelled with Paul from Palestine to Rome (Acts 27:2; 28:16). There he met Mark (Col 4:10,14; Philem 24). Mark also had been preparing a Gospel, and Luke was able to take some of Mark’s material, combine it with his own, and so bring his book to completion. (For further details see GOSPELS.)
Purpose and characteristics
Luke prepared his Gospel for a person of some importance (probably a government official) named Theophilus, to give him a trustworthy account of the life of Jesus (Luke 1:1-4). In his second volume, written for the same person, Luke traced the spread of Christianity (Acts 1:1). However, Luke was concerned with more than just recording history. He wrote with a distinctly Christian purpose. He wanted to show that God in his love had a plan of salvation for the human race, that the Saviour according to that plan was Jesus, and that Jesus’ followers then spread his message of salvation worldwide (Luke 1:17; 2:11; 3:4-6; 4:18,21; 19:10; 24:44-48; cf. Acts 1:8). This salvation was not for Jews only, but for people everywhere, regardless of nationality or race (Luke 2:32; 3:6-8; 4:25-27; 7:9; 10:29-37; 17:11-18). In a society where many were disadvantaged, Luke showed that God’s salvation was available equally to all. Many of the socially despised would receive it, but many of the socially respectable would miss out (Luke 7:29-30; 10:30-37; 16:19-31; 18:9-14; 19:1-9). Among the disadvantaged people that Luke wrote about as being blessed by God were slaves (Luke 7:2-7; 12:37), aliens (Luke 10:30-37; 17:16), lepers (Luke 4:27; 17:11-18), the poor (Luke 1:53; 2:7; 6:20; 7:22) and women (Luke 2:36-38; 7:37-48; 8:2; 13:11-13), in particular, widows (Luke 4:25; 7:12-15; 18:1-7; 21:1-4).
Summary of contents
The Gospel of Luke falls naturally into major sections, the first of which covers the birth and childhood of Jesus. After an introduction (1:1-4), Luke records the prophecy of John’s birth (1:5-25), the prophecy of Jesus’ birth (1:26-38), Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (1:39-56), John’s birth (1:57-80), Jesus’ birth (2:1-20), temple ceremonies after his birth (2:21-40) and a visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old (2:41-52).
A short section deals with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It includes the preparatory preaching of John the Baptist (3:1-20), the baptism of Jesus (3:21-22), Jesus’ genealogy (3:23-38) and the devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (4:1-13). Luke then gathers together, in one section, material relating to the work Jesus did over a period of about three years, mainly in Galilee. This material includes Jesus’ sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth (4:14-30), various healings (4:31-44), the call of his first disciples (5:1-11), further healings (5:12-26), the call of Matthew (5:27-32) and explanations of the nature of true religion (5:33-6:11). After the appointment of twelve apostles (6:12-19), there are further teachings (6:20-49), miracles of compassion (7:1-17), explanations to John’s disciples (7:18-35) and demonstrations of forgiveness and devotion (7:36-50). Jesus’ teaching in parables (8:1-21) is followed by demonstrations of his power over storms, demons and sickness (8:22-56). The section concludes by recounting the work of the twelve (9:1-27), the transfiguration of Jesus (9:28-36) and some failures by the apostles (9:37-50).
Much of the next, very long, section is found only in Luke. The section deals mainly with Jesus’ ministry in Samaria and around the Jordan Valley, and leads to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It begins with Jesus’ reminder of the cost of discipleship (9:51-62) and his sending out of an additional seventy disciples to hasten the spread of the gospel into all regions of Palestine (10:1-24). Then come teachings and stories about love (10:25-42), prayer (11:1-13), inward cleansing (11:14-36), hypocrisy (11:37-12:3), anxiety (12:4-34), readiness for the crises ahead (12:35-13:9), the nature of Christ’s kingdom (13:10-14:24), true discipleship (14:25-35), repentance (15:1-32), wealth (16:1-31), forgiveness, faith and gratitude (17:1-19), the coming of the son of Man (17:20-18:8), self-sufficiency (18:9-30), the Messiah’s ministry (18:31-43) and the responsibilities of the Messiah’s servants (19:1-27).
At last Jesus reached Jerusalem, and a short section deals with his few days there before his crucifixion. After his triumphal entry into the city and his cleansing of the temple (19:28-48), he came into conflict with the Jewish leaders (20:1-21:4) and spoke of coming judgment (21:5-38). Finally, Luke deals with events relating to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus prepared for his last Passover with his disciples (22:1-13), then spent some time with them in the upper room (22:14-38) before going to Gethsemane, where he was arrested (22:39-53). He was brought before the Jewish leaders (22:54-71), then before the Roman governor (23:1-25), and afterwards taken outside the city and crucified (23:26-56). On the third day he rose from the dead (24:1-12) and appeared to his disciples in various places (24:13-43). Six weeks later, after giving further teaching and a final blessing, he departed from them (24:44-53).
According to evidence from early records, Luke was a Gentile who was born in Antioch in Syria. By profession he was a doctor (Col 4:14), but he also became a skilled historian. His most memorable writing was a lengthy account of the development of Christianity from the birth of its founder to the arrival of its greatest missionary in Rome. The first part of this record is called Luke’s Gospel, the second part the Acts of the Apostles (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2). Luke first appears in the biblical record when he joined Paul and his party in Troas during Paul’s second missionary journey. This is shown by Luke’s inclusion of himself in the narrative – ‘we sought to go into Macedonia . . . we made a direct voyage’ (Acts 16:10-11). Luke went with Paul to Philippi (Acts 16:12,16) and remained there when Paul and his party moved on (indicated by the use of ‘they’, not ‘we’, in Acts 17:1).
It seems that Luke lived in Philippi for some time. When Paul passed through Philippi on his way to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey, Luke rejoined Paul’s party. This is indicated by the renewed use of ‘us’ and ‘we’ in the narrative (Acts 20:5-6). (For a map of the area of Luke’s movements see ACTS, BOOK OF.) From this time on, Luke kept close to Paul. This explains why the sea journey to Palestine and the events that followed in Jerusalem and Caesarea are recorded in some detail (Acts Chapters 20-26). Paul and his party were in Palestine for at least two years (Acts 24:27), and Luke no doubt used this time to gather information from eye-witnesses of the life of Jesus to include in his Gospel. He was a very thorough and discerning person, who was careful to see that his story of Jesus was meaningful and accurate (Luke 1:1-4). Luke travelled with Paul on the eventful sea voyage to Rome (Acts 27:1; 28:16) and remained with him during his two years imprisonment there (Acts 28:30; Col 4:14; Philem 24). Although he was close to Paul throughout those years, Luke says almost nothing about himself in his record. He seems to have been a humble person, never self-assertive, but always dependable. When the aged Paul, after being released and later recaptured, sat cold and lonely in prison awaiting his execution, Luke alone stayed with him (2 Tim 4:11).