Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
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Luke. The third book in the NT, frequently called the Third Gospel. Although the author is not identified in the text of the Gospel, Irenaeus, a Christian bishop who lived and wrote near the end of the second century, claimed that the author was a companion of Paul. Presumably, Irenaeus was thinking of the Luke who is mentioned in Col. 4:14; Philem. 24; and 2 Tim. 4:11. After the time of Irenaeus, it became traditional to refer to the author of the Third Gospel, as well as the author of the book of Acts, as Luke, the companion of Paul.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
The Gospel According to Luke
I. Prologue (1:1-4)
II. Infancy narratives (1:5-2:52)
III. Narratives about John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and temptation (fa3:1-4:13)
IV. Jesus in and around Galilee (4:14-9:50)
V. Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem (9:51-19:44)
VI. Jesus in Jerusalem (19:45-21:38)
VII. The Last Supper, trial, and death of Jesus (22:1-23:56)
VIII. Resurrection narratives (24:1-53)
Authorship and Date: The tradition that both this Gospel and the book of Acts were written by the same person is almost certainly correct. The two books have a similar literary style, and certain themes can be traced through both. Both books begin with prologues and dedications to one Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3), and the prologue in Acts has a brief but fitting description of the contents of what is there called ‘the first book’ (Acts 1:1), surely a reference to the Gospel of Luke.
Although most modern scholars agree with the tradition that one author wrote both Luke and Acts, many do not agree with the traditional identification of this author as a companion of Paul. They point out that the author of Acts shows no acquaintance with Paul’s literary activity or his major theological views as these may be discerned in the apostle’s genuine Letters. It is felt that a companion of Paul would have known him better and would have described him in closer conformity with the image that emerges from reading the Letters. It should be noted, however, that not all scholars agree with these judgments and that many accept the traditional identification of the author of Luke-Acts as indeed a companion of Paul. The divergences with the Letters are explained on the assumption that Luke was not with Paul at every moment and that he was writing at a time when the issues that engaged Paul’s attention were no longer of such great importance. Thus, the question of the authorship of Luke-Acts has not finally been settled.
The date at which Luke and Acts were written is usually set at ca. a.d. 80-85. In the prologue to the Gospel, the author implies that he was not an eyewitness to the things described and that he had consulted other documents. Similarities among the Gospels of Luke, Matthew, and Mark (the synoptic Gospels) suggest that there are certain literary relationships among these three Gospels and that Luke likely consulted one or both of the others. The Synoptic Problem is the problem of sorting out these relationships.
According to the Two-Source Hypothesis, Luke used Mark as one of his sources (Q was the other); according to the Griesbach Hypothesis, he used only Matthew. Thus, the relative date that one sets for the writing of Luke depends largely on the hypothesis one uses to solve the Synoptic Problem and the dates one assigns to the composition of Matthew and Mark. In one place, however, Luke appears to be in possession of some knowledge about the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans, an event that occurred in the year a.d. 70. Luke 21, which has parallels in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, contains some specific and detailed information about the Roman conquest and thus appears to have been written from a post-70 perspective (see esp. Luke 21:20-24). It is possible, however, that the same can be said for one or both of the other two synoptic Gospels.
How long after the year 70 did Luke write? The earliest references to Luke and Acts come from about a.d. 140. But it may be possible to narrow this range if we assume that the differences between the picture of Paul in Acts and that in Paul’s Letters may be partially explained by the fact that the Letters were not available to Luke at the time he wrote. It is likely that Paul’s Letters were not collected, copied, and distributed before the year a.d. 90. If Luke wrote before that time, he may not have known about the Letters. Thus, the outside chronological range for the writing of Luke-Acts would be ca. 70-90, and the dates 80-85 would probably be close to correct. Theme and Style: As an author, Luke is usually highly regarded. His literary ability, in comparison with that of other NT writers, is frequently said to be second only to that of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. He appears to be aware of the power of rhetorical style in the use of the Greek language; he is careful in the structuring of his narrative as a whole, and he is consistent in his characterizations and use of themes.
Probably because he is the only Evangelist to pair his Gospel with a narrative about the early history of the church, Luke is often called a historian. The German scholar Hans Conzelmann refers to Luke’s writing as a history of salvation. He claims that Luke thought of world history as made up of three periods: the time of Israel, the time of Jesus, and the time of the church. The time of Israel extends to John the Baptist (see Luke 16:16), and the period of the church begins with the descent of the Spirit in Acts 2. In between is the period of Jesus, a special time of salvation according to Conzelmann, marked by the absence of the devil, who departed in Luke 4:13 and did not return until Luke 22:3. Throughout both the Gospel and Acts, the author emphasizes the theme of divine necessity, a theme that expresses the belief that God is working out a plan of salvation within world history.
Although Luke includes several statements about the consummation of history, he does not impart a sense of urgency about these matters. His Gospel has less eschatological fervor than either Matthew or Mark. He cautions against people who proclaim that the end has arrived (Luke 21:8). According to Luke, Jesus told the parable of the pounds because some people wrongly felt that the Kingdom of God was to come almost immediately (Luke 19:11-27). The Lucan Jesus emphasizes patience, a necessary quality for persons who are waiting for something that is not to be immediate.
Luke’s interest in oppressed people, especially women and the poor, is frequently noted. His interest is not simply expressed, however, in terms of sympathy. In this Gospel, Jesus has as many words about the duties of the rich toward the poor as he has words of assurance to the poor. There is also a strong note of optimism in Luke. Jesus’ birth is greeted by the joyful songs of angels and the hopeful praises of pious people. The teaching of Jesus is filled with hope and assurance for the future. The Kingdom of God is pictured as God’s gracious gift. Jesus himself is portrayed as loving, kind, and a doer of good deeds.
Distinctiveness of Luke’s Gospel: Despite the extensive similarity between Luke and the other two synoptic Gospels, there is a great deal of material in Luke that is distinctive. Only Luke has such narratives as that of the boy Jesus in the Temple (2:41-52), the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (7:11-17), the dialogue with Mary and Martha (10:38-42), and Jesus’ visit to the home of Zacchaeus (19:1-10). Some of the best known parables appear only in Luke: for example, the good Samaritan (10:29-37), the lost coin (15:8-10), the prodigal son (15:11-32), the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31), and the Pharisee and the publican (18:9-14).
Moreover, although there are similarities between Luke’s birth narratives and Matthew’s, the actual stories in Luke are distinctive. Only he gives us the story of the birth of John the Baptist (1:5-25, 57-80), the annunciation of Jesus’ birth to Mary (1:26-38), the birth of Jesus in a manger (2:1-7), the angelic announcement and the visit of the shepherds (2:8-20), and the prayers of Simeon and Anna (2:25-38).
Finally, Luke’s account of the postresurrection appearances of Jesus is distinctive. In contrast to Matthew, he locates all the appearances in the vicinity of Jerusalem, includes an especially meaningful narrative about the appearance of Jesus to two disciples on the way to Emmaus (24:13-35), and concludes his Gospel with the ascension of Jesus and the return of the disciples to Jerusalem (24:50-53). In the final verse, we find the disciples ‘continually in the temple blessing God’ (24:53).
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer