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LUKE - ACTS      Luke Acts


As a second-generation Christian Luke depends on sources for his Gospel data.  This is plainly stated in Luke 1:1-4, which form the preface to the Gospel, and perhaps to Luke-Acts as a two-volume work.  The verses warrant careful study.

As well as looking to historical witnesses and oral and written traditions, Luke's awareness and use of the Old Testament (OT) is very obvious.  No study of Luke's work would be complete without looking into this subject of fulfilled Scripture.

1. A STUDY OF LUKE 1:1-4

I.H.Marshall observes that unlike the other evangelists, "Luke begins his Gospel with a brief preface in excellent Greek such as one would find in the work of a secular writer". [1] L.Morris agrees, calling it a "literary opening" and deduces from this that the work is meant for circulation. [2]

Verse one

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.

Luke gives no indication as to whom the previous writers were.  The two-documentary hypothesis postulates that Mark was the first Gospel to be written and that Luke made use of this together with a document that contained mostly sayings of Jesus, designated as "Q" . [3] The word "fulfilled" links the NT with the OT.  The early Christians had a deep conviction that in Jesus and his church the purposes of God were being worked out - that the promises contained in the Scriptures were being fulfilled (cf. Mt.1:22-23; Lk.4:21; Acts 1:16-17).

M.C.Tenney infers from this: [4]

  • In the time of the writer a number of works were extant that contained only a partial, or possibly a garbled account of Jesus' life and work.  The author would not have written a Gospel of his own had he been satisfied with any of those that he knew.

  • These accounts had attempted some systematic arrangement of available facts ("to draw up a narrative" - 1:1).

  • These facts were well known to the Christian world and were accepted independently of the narratives.  They "have been fulfilled among us" (1:1).

The author felt himself at least as well informed as the others and as capable of writing an account of his own responsibility ("it seemed good to me also" - v.4).

Verse two

Just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.

Luke's reference is to the apostles and their immediate circle.  "Handed down" indicates authoritative tradition (cf. 2 Thess.2:15; 3:6).  The apostles were eyewitnesses of Christ and his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). Christianity is a historical faith based on people and events in history.  "Servants of the word" (unique to Luke's Gospel) may be taken to indicate "preachers" or "servants of Christ" who is the Word (Jn.1:1f.; 1 Jn.1:1f.).  The Christian faith is based on a person.  John the Baptist may also be in mind here.

M.C.Tenney further observes:

  • [Luke's] information came from competent official sources ("who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" - 1:2).

Verse three

Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,

Luke states that he has personally "followed all things closely" (RSV).  The verb parakoloutheō ("to follow near") is to be taken figuratively in the sense of "tracking down" or "investigating". [5] Luke may be saying that he had acquired such familiarity with the facts and had so kept in touch with them that his witness is practically contemporary witnesses.  His information is reliable.  "From the beginning" means "from the first" (Gk. anōthen, cf. Acts 26:5).  It traces the commencement of the Gospel account to John the Baptist. "Orderly account" (Gk. kathexēs) is original to Luke. It may signify "chronological order" or better here "orderly narrative".

Theophilus is unlikely to be a symbolic name (despite its meaning, "lover of God").  It points to a real person who, as Luke's patron, would probably have met the costs of publishing the book.  The epithet "most excellent" probably indicates a person of rank (cf. Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25), though the possibility remains that it is only a courtesy title. [6] B.H.Streeter conjectured that this person of rank was a governor of a province, perhaps Achaia, and that Luke wrote his two volumes to him as an apologia for Christianity to the Roman aristocracy.  He further suggested the name of FlaviusClemens, heir to the throne, whose wife, Domitilla, was a Christian.  The literary opening, however, may indicate that the Gospel was meant for circulation.  Some scholars take Theophilus to indicate any reader who loves God.

M.C.Tenney further comments:

  • He was conversant with the facts, either by observation or by inquiry, and he was certainly a contemporary of the main course of action in the sense that he lived in the generation of those who had witnessed it.

  • Luke's knowledge covered all the major facts.  His Gospel contains many particulars that do not appear in the others and is the most generally representative life of Christ.

  • He professed to write accurately and in logical order.  His use of the term "in order" does not necessarily presuppose chronological order, but it does mean that he had a definite plan of procedure and that he intended to adhere to it.

  • Luke's addressee was probably a man of the upper class who may be called here by his baptismal name, Theophilus.

Verse four

so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

This may indicate that Theophilus was a believer or inquirer.  The verb "taught" (Gk. katēcheō, inform, instruct, teach) is used of converts or inquirers (cf. Acts 18:25; 1 Cor.14:19). Luke is portraying himself as a historian.  According to I.H.Marshall, "Luke is to be regarded as claiming to write history and attaching importance to the accurate reporting of the crucial events associated with Jesus". [7]

M.C.Tenney adds:

  • This addressee had already been informed orally concerning Christ, perhaps through the preaching that he had heard, but he needed further instruction to stabilise him and convince him of the truth.


R.N.Longenecker says that the Gospel evangelists' use of the OT is to be seen in the arrangement of their narratives (where they parallel certain OT features), in their emphases (where certain OT themes are highlighted), and their employment of biblical language, but especially in their editorial comments when using OT material (e.g., Lk.2:23-24; 3:4-6). [9] He says the Lucan birth narratives (Lk.1-2) clearly "anchor the birth of Jesus Christ in the faith and piety of Israel, in the Hebrew Scriptures, and thus in the plan and purpose of God".  The passages "indicate the author's concept of the gospel's continuity with and fulfilment of the prophetic message to Israel of old". [10]

The plan of God
The overall impression given by Luke's recognition of fulfilled Scripture is that God is working out his plans and purposes.  He speaks of "God's purpose" (tēn boulēn tou theou, 7:30), and of the Father's will (22:42).  Luke has a strong sense of Heilsgeschichte (salvation history).  L.Morris says:

Luke saw God as working out a great plan in human affairs... This purpose is seen supremely in the cross (Acts 2:23; 3:13; 5:30, etc.).  Luke also brings it out with his many references to the fulfilment of prophecy (Lk.4:21; 24:44, etc.). He was clear that people do not defeat God.[11]

According to J.A.Fitzmyer, Luke has more instances of fulfilled Scripture in his Gospel than any other evangelist as he seeks to link events in the life and ministry of Jesus with OT precedents. [12] He also points out that the impersonal verb dei ("it is necessary" is used 28 times in Luke-Acts.  This term gives a very strong sense of purpose and mission to Jesus' life and ministry (see Lk.2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 17:25; 19:5; 22:37; 24:7; 24:44).

Fulfilment and the early church
Luke shares the awareness that as Scripture was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus, so it was being fulfilled in the life and ministry of the church (Acts 2:16,17).  The apostles were conscious of the counsel of God (Acts 2:23; 4:28) and the fact that events took place in accordance with the prophetic scriptures (Acts 3:18; 13:27-33). [13]

The Lord Jesus and the Old Testament
Luke pictures Jesus illustrating his person and ministry by reference to the OT.  For example, Jesus speaks of fulfilling the Scripture (Lk.4:21; 18:31; 22:37; 24:44), and he compares himself with OT characters such as Elijah (4:26) and Jonah (11:29-30).  Luke takes OT characters to be types of Christ (the antitype).

J.M.Dawsey argues that Luke may set out to answer the question Who is Jesus? and in doing so counters misconceptions as to who Jesus really is.  He demonstrates that Luke compares Jesus with Elijah, Moses and David and says he is like - but not like - these. There is something paradoxical about the Lucan Jesus – "Jesus both meets and breaks expectations". [14]

"Fulfilment" and Heilsgeschichte are Lucan motifs or themes that relate to his eschatology - a subject that we will deal with separately.


Luke's extensive use of OT books like Isaiah invites detailed study.  The evangelist makes use of the Greek translation of the OT (LXX), but his work contains a number of Semitisms (e.g., kai egenetō, "it came to pass").  This idiom is smoothed out by the NIV, but is generally reserved by the AV (e.g., Lk.1:23,41,59; 2:15,46). 

Three books recommend themselves as an introduction to this area of study:

G.L.Archer & G.C.Chirichigno, Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament - A Complete Study, Chicago, Moody, 1983.

G.K.Beale & D.A.Carson (eds.), Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Baker/Apollos, Grand Rapids/Nottingham, 2007.

W.C.Kaiser, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New, Chicago, Moody, 1985.

The Jewish and Old Testament background to Luke-Acts
The opening chapters of R.Stronstad's The Charismatic Theology of Luke [15] will make the student aware of the nature of Luke's work and of the rich Jewish and OT background to Luke-Acts.  He describes charismatic activity in OT times and fills in the intertestamental period in respect to the Spirit and prophetic activity.  Stronstad also introduces Septuagintal terminology and OT charismatic motifs.  These include: the transfer motif, the sign motif, and the vocational motif and include OT characters such as Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, Saul, David, Aaron, Gideon, Samson, and others.


1. How does the Third Gospel refer to, and use, the Old Testament?

2. What importance did the Lord Jesus place on the Old Testament?.

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Copyright 2008 Vernon Ralphs

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