Luke and his Gospel

Strictly speaking, this Gospel is anonymous.  However, it is reasonable to suppose that the primary recipient knew who it was who was writing to him.  There is no known example in ancient literature of a work bearing a dedication being anonymous.  the oldest existing copy of the Gospel (AD 200) has the title ‘Gospel according to Luke’.

Luke is mentioned three times by name in the NT – Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:9-11; Phile 24.  From these references we know that he was a physician and that he was a good friend of Paul.  He is also mentioned in connection with Mark (2 Tim 4:9-11; Phile 24).  It is quite possible that this association prompted him to write a Gospel which added the results of his own researches to Mark’s Gospel.  Early tradition suggests that Luke was a physician of Antioch who wrote his Gospel in Achaia and died at the age of eighty-four.

Luke’s Gospel and the Acts together comprise more than 25% of the NT.

Luke is mentioned alongside non-Jewish associates of Paul in Col 4:11, indicating that he himself was a Gentile.  He writes in excellent Greek and shows a sensitive artistic ability when writing personal stories about men and women.  There is an over-arching shape to his Gospel, and many of the events that he relates are put within the context of the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem.

Luke has a keen historical sense.  He gives us the names of emperors and kings, and cites specific dates.  In Luke 3:1f no less than seven officials and five territories are named in just two verses.  See also Lk 1:5,36,56,59; 2:1,2,7,42; 3:23; 9:20,37,57; 22:1,7,66; 23:44,54; 24:1,13,29,33.

Luke shows concern for the needy and the disadvantaged.  He pays much attention to women, to the poor and the outcasts, and to those in any kind of trouble.

Luke is an enthusiastic Christian who wishes to communicate the joy that Christ brings.  From the praise of the angels in ch. 2 to the joy of the disciples in ch. 24, there is much rejoicing in this Gospel.

If we did not have Luke’s Gospel, we would not have

  1. the account of the miraculous catch of fish and its effect on Peter, Lk 5:1-11
  2. the anointing of Jesus by a sinful woman, Lk 7:36-50
  3. Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary, Lk 10:38-42
  4. Zaccheus, Lk 19:1-10
  5. three of the sayings from the cross, Lk 23:34,43,46

Several parables are found only in Luke, including

  1. the Good Samaritan, Lk 10:25-37
  2. the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son, Lk 15:1-21
  3. The Rich Man and Lazarus, Lk 16:19-31
  4. The Unjust Judge, Lk 18:1-8
  5. The Pharisee and the Publican, Lk 18:9-14


From Luke’s prologue, Lk 1:1-4, we can see that he produced his Gospel from three kinds of sources:-

  1. the actual events – ‘the things that have been fulfilled among us’
  2. eyewitness accounts – ‘handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses’
  3. written accounts – ‘many have undertaken to draw up an account’

A strong case can be made that the ultimate source of the uniquely Lukan material was none other than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Undoubtedly she was a major contributor to the opening chapters of Luke, which tell the story of Jesus’ birth. This story is marked by a mother’s perspective. Is it unreasonable to surmise that, directly or indirectly, Mary furnished other information to Luke as well? Almost half of Luke’s Gospel is devoted to the closing days of Jesus’ ministry. (Lk 9:51-18:17 ) It is possible that the small company who accompanied Him on His last journeys included His mother, and that the awesome importance of what was happening burdened her to commit His last teachings to memory or writing. We know that Mary always believed in her son, (Jn 2:1-11 ) that she was with Jesus at His crucifixion, (Jn 19:25 ) and that she spent the next few weeks with the small company of faithful disciples who waited for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (Ac 1:14 )

A story unique to Luke directly refers to Mary:-

Lk 11:27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Lk 11:28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Was not Mary herself the person most likely to remember and disseminate this teaching? As the story of the cowardly young man is Mark’s humble and unobtrusive device for revealing himself as the Gospel writer, so this teaching unflattering to Mary may be her very own signature, showing that she is the real source of much Lukan material.

Date of writing

The story of Acts finishes in AD 62, with Paul under house arrest in Rome.  Given the somewhat abrupt ending of Acts, and the fact that it carries no hint of the severe persecution of Christians in Rome by Nero, or of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, it is reasonable to assume that Acts was written shortly after AD 62 and the Gospel a few years earlier than that.  (It should be noted, however, that many scholars favour a date around AD 80, because they think they have grounds for dating Mark after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.)

Key themes

1.  These things really happened!  As the introduction to the Gospel confirms, Luke was concerned to provide an accurate and orderly chronicle of events.

2. The Scriptures are fulfilled!  Luke also wants us to know that these did not just ‘happen’: they ‘fulfilled’ (Lk 1:10) God’s ancient promises, and brought towards its conclusion God’s redemptive plan (France notes the rich concentration of scriptural material in chapters 1 and 2, and also draws attention to Jesus’ exposition of OT testimony in Lk 24:25-27, 44-48).

3.  This is good news!  Luke is an evangelist, announcing the good news of salvation.  He reports “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Lk 2:10).  “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:10)

This Gospel contains 1,150 verses.  About 350 of these are in common with Mark’s Gospel  Of the remaining 800 verses, 200 are shared between Matthew and Luke (the hypothetical common source is referred to by scholars as “Q”‘, from ‘Quelle’, German for ‘source’).  The remaining 600 verses are unique to Luke.  It is this material in particular that reflects Luke’s interest in

  1. Good News about the supernatural activity of God – miracles, signs, wonder, angels, Holy Spirit.
  2. Good news for the sick – Luke has more of Jesus’ ministry with the sick than any of the other Gospels.  This interest is consistent with Luke’s training as a physician.  See, for example, Luke 4:38;5:12;8:43.
  3. Good news for the poor, the outcasts, and children.  On the interest in the poor, see Lk 1:53; 2:24; 4:18; 6:30; 14:11-13,21; 16:19-31.  On the interest in children, see the infancy narratives, and also the references to ‘the only son’ or ‘the only daughter’ in some of his stories, Lk 712; 8:42; 9:38.  See also Lk 9:47; 10:21; 17:2; 18:16.
  4. Good news for all nations, not just for the Jews.  See Lk 2:14,32; 3:6.  Luke may be the only non-Jewish writer of NT books.  It is he who has the parable of the Good Samaritan.  He represents the Romans in a positive light.  It seems that he wishes to convince the Roman government that Christians were not a secret society out to overthrow them.
  5. Good news for women.  Luke records the experiences of Mary and Elizabeth.  He speaks of a group of women who ministered to Jesus’ needs.  Mary the mother of Jesus may well have been one of his sources.  Anna the prophetess and Joanna the disciple are mentioned only in Luke (Lk 2:36-38; 8:3; 24:10). Luke included the story of Christ’s kind dealings with the widow of Main, Lk 7:11-18, and the sinful woman who anointed him, Lk 7:36-50.  He also related Jesus’ parables of the widow who persevered, Lk 18:1-8.
  6. Prayer.  Luke mentions many examples of Jesus’ commitment to prayer, Lk 3:21; 5:15f; 6:12; 9:18-22,29; 10:17-21; 11:1; 22:39-46; 23:34,46.
  7. The Good News is for all the world.  Samaritans enter the kingdom, Lk 9:51-56; 10:30-37; 17:11-19, as well as pagan Gentiles, Lk 2:32; 3:6,38; 4:25-27; 7:9; 10:1,47.  Publicans, sinners and outcasts, Lk 3:12; 5:27-32; 7:37-50; 19:2-10; 23:43, are welcome along with Jews, Lk 1:33; 2:10, and ‘respectable’ people, Lk 7:36; 11;37; 14:1.  Both the poor, Lk 1:53; 2:7; 6:20; 7:22, and rich, Lk 19:2; 23:50, can have redemption.

Luke and Acts

Luke seems to have structured his Gospel in anticipation of its sequel.  This tie to Acts is seen in the repetition of the prologue, Lk 1:1-4; Acts 1:1.  There are a number of parallel themes: Jesus heals, and so do Peter and Paul; Jesus must travel to Jerusalem, while Paul must go to Rome; Jesus is slain by opposition, and so is Stephen.  The account of the ascension also links the two volumes tightly together, Lk 24:49-53; Acts 1:1-11.

The ‘we’ passages (Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–16; 21:1–18; 27:1–28:16) indicate that Luke accompanied Paul during some of his travels.  Between these journeys, he seems to have spent time in Jerusalem, where he would have been able to conduct research for his Gospel.  Moreover, Luke spent time with Silas (Acts 15:40), who was a member of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22) and would have access to detailed eyewitness testimonies about Jesus.  Then, if Luke remained with Paul in Rome, this would fit with what we are told in Colossians, Philemon, and 2 Timothy.


‘A man whose accuracy can be demonstrated in matters where we are able to test it is likely to be accurate even where the means for testing him are not available. Accuracy is a habit of mind, and we know from happy (or unhappy) experience that some people are habitually accurate just as others can be depended upon to be inaccurate. Luke’s record entitles him to be regarded as a writer of habitual accuracy.’  (F.F. Bruce, The New Testaments Documents.)

According to Howe and Geisler, ‘Sir William Ramsey has shown that in making reference to 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 islands he made no mistakes!’ (When Critics Ask)

‘One of many striking confirmations of Luke’s accuracy is his use of titles. The many titles that he brings into his narrative would, if he were careless or uninformed, most certainly give rise to errors. He notes that when pagan opponents of Christianity rioted in Ephesus, there was more than one proconsul of Asia. (Ac 19:38 ) Sergius Paullus appears in Luke’s history as “proconsul of Cyprus” (Ac 13:7 ) and Gallio as “proconsul of Achaia,” (Ac 18:12 ) although the province was ordinarily known as Greece. The local authorities in Ephesus are “Asiarchs.” (Ac 19:31 ) The magistrates of Philippi are “praetors” and their assistants “lictors,” (Ac 16:20,35 ) but the magistrates of Thessalonica are “politarchs.” (Ac 17:6 ) The chief official of Malta is protos — first man of the island. (Ac 28:7 ) Herod Antipas, known to his subjects as a king, is designated a “tetrarch.” (Lk 3:1 ) And Lysanias is called “tetrarch of Abilene.” (Lk 3:1 ) All these names and titles have been verified as correct, in some instances by archaeological discoveries within the last century (7). Luke’s accuracy is all the more remarkable when we consider the difficulty of his task. Roman political titles were in a constant state of flux. Moreover, a writer in antiquity could not check his facts by going to a local library.’ (Source)

Medical terminology

‘The medical terminology used by Luke, as well as his discreet silence about the failures of his colleagues in treating the woman with an issue of blood, indicate his medical training. Only Luke quotes ‘Physician, heal yourself’ (Lk4:23). In Lk 4:35 ripsan, ‘thrown him down’, is a medical term describing epileptic convulsions and blaptein, ‘harm’, is similarly a technical medical term (J. R. W. Stott, Men with a Message). In Lk 24:11 leros, ‘idle tale’, is a medical term used to describe the babblings of a feverish or insane patient (W. Barclay, Commentary on Luke).’ (NBD)


Luke contains a considerable amount material about women that is not found in the other Gospels.  This fact has contributed to the commonly-held view that Luke has a progressive, almost modern, attitude towards woman.

Writing in the Women’s Bible Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), Jane D. Schaberg and Sharen H. Ringe contest this notion.  They say that:

‘Even as this Gospel highlights women as included among the followers of Jesus, subjects of his teaching, and objects of his healing, it deftly portrays them as models of subordinate service, excluded from the power center of the movement and from significant responsibilities. Claiming the authority of Jesus, this portrayal is an attempt to legitimate male dominance in the Christianity of the author’s time.’

And again:-

‘One of the strategies of this Gospel is to provide female readers with female characters as role models: prayerful, quiet, grateful women, supportive of male leadership, forgoing the prophetic ministry.’

They suggest that the study of Luke’s Gospel offers an educational opportunity for the reader to engage in a conscious critique of Luke’s strategy.  To the contrary, what we learn from this is just how far people (men as well as women) are prepared to go in contradicting the word of God when it cuts across their own vested interests.