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For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.173-187; R.H.Gundry, pp.205-251. Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An Introduction to the New Testament, pp.111-134.


Note that Luke 1:1-4 provides a key to Luke and Acts (see Acts 1:1-2).

The inferences of Luke 1:1-4
M.C.Tenney's comments on the opening verses of Luke deserve study here:

  1. 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.

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

  3. These facts were well known to the Christian world and were accepted independently of the narratives. Luke says that they "have been fulfilled among us" (1:1). He is conscious that Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures.

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

  5. His information came from competent official sources ("who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the words (1:2).

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8.  He professed to write accurately and in logical order.  'In order' does not necessarily presuppose chronological order, but it does mean that he had a definite plan of procedure which he intended to adhere to.

  9. Luke's addressee was probably a man of the upper class who may be called here by his baptismal name, Theophilus.  Compare Acts 24:3; 26:25.

  10. This addressee had already been informed orally concerning Christ, perhaps through the preaching that he had heard, but he needed further instruction.

  11. Luke's purpose was to give his friend complete knowledge of the truth. [1]

Further purposes of Luke-Acts
Luke seeks to provide Theophilus, and those associated with him, with a trustworthy account of the origin of the gospel and its spread throughout the Roman world.  He does not seek to write a life of Christ.  Then, "Luke is obviously concerned, in both parts of his work, to demonstrate that Christianity is not a menace to imperial law and order" (F.F.Bruce). [2] Many see the joint work as a political apologetic. Other suggested purposes include: to show the universal nature of the gospel; to refute certain heresies; to defend Paul's ministry; to show Christianity's continuity with Judaism; to explain the delay of the Parousia.  

But who was the author of the third Gospel? There is almost universal agreement that Luke and Acts are the work of one author.  Both works are addressed to Theophilus, and the style, subject matter, outlook and vocabulary confirm the unity of authorship.  Traditionally authorship is ascribed to Luke the physician and companion of Paul.  Some of the oldest manuscripts give the book a simple title - 'According to Luke'.

Tradition says that Luke was a native of Syrian Antioch.  He appears to have been a Gentile (he is named together with Epaphras and Demas in Col.4:12-14).  Sir William Ramsay suggests that he was brother to Titus, who was a Greek from Antioch (Gal.2:1-3).  Luke was educated and a doctor.  He was not a personal companion of Jesus and had to rely on 'witnesses' for his Gospel data.  From the 'we' passages in the Acts one can argue that he was a companion of the apostle Paul (see: Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16).

Date and place of writing
Two simple observations here.  First, the dating of the Gospel relates to the dating of the Acts. Second, the fact that the destruction of the temple is not mentioned in Acts suggests a date before A.D.70.  A round date would be A.D.60.  Early tradition suggests Achaia as the place of writing.  The relationship with Mark's Gospel may suggest Rome.  B.H.Streeter argues for Corinth being the place of writing.


The basic outline of the Gospel suggested by M.C.Tenney is:

  • Luke: The Gospel of the Saviour of Men

  • The preface (1:1-4)

  • The preparation of the Saviour (1:5-2:52)

  • The introduction of the Saviour (3:1-4:15)

  • The ministry of the Saviour (4:16-9:50)

  • The mission of the Saviour (9:51-18:30)

  • The passion of the Saviour (18:31-23:56)

  • The resurrection of the Saviour (24:1-53)

Note: The large section, 9:51-19:28 ('the travel narrative') is unique to Luke.


"Tradition says that Luke was an artist." He is the most literary of the Gospels. Notice the four prophetical songs and their form (1:46-55; 1:67-79; 2:14; 2:28-32).

The historicity of Luke
I.H.Marshall maintains that of all the evangelists Luke is the most conscious of writing as a historian. [3] F.F.Bruce supports this view in saying, "Luke narrates the story of Jesus as a piece of history". [3] Further, the work and research of Sir William Ramsay has vindicated Luke as "a historian of the first rank". [5] A.N.Sherwin-White's book Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament supports Luke's knowledge of Roman law. [6]

But some of the details in Luke's works are still questioned by scholars, for example, his miracle stories and stories about angels.  Against this we would argue that miracles are an integral part of the Gospel tradition, where they are portrayed as messianic signs - signs of the inauguration of a new age.  Luke's stories of angels, it must be pointed out, are common to both his works (and reflect an OT awareness).  

The theology of Luke
I.H.Marshall recognises Luke as a theologian. [7] Tenney agrees and says:
"The Third Gospel emphasises doctrine... Although he does not discuss theology topically, his vocabulary reveals his knowledge of it and his interest in it.  Christ, the Son of God, who was acknowledged by the angels (1:35), by demons (4:41), and by the Father (9:35), is presented both as God and man.  Salvation is a prominent teaching in Luke: 'The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost!' (19:10) is a key sentence in the book" [8]

Notice the use of two salvation terms: 'redeemed' in 1:68 and 'justify' in 18:14.

Theological themes in the Gospel
Study the following themes:

  1. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit has a special prominence in Luke, and is one of a number of themes developed in the Acts (Luke contains more references to the Holy Spirit than in Matthew and Mark combined).  Notice how all the chief characters in Luke are empowered by the Holy Spirit for service, including Jesus himself (1:35; 3:22; 4:1,14,18; 10:21).

  2. Universalism is a characteristic of the Gospel (consider 2:14; 24:47). 

  3. The Gospel contains a straight challenge to discipleship (see 9:57-62). 

  4. Other interests include angels, prayer, joy, women, children, and miracles. Luke is interested in people (e.g., compare the parables in Mt.13 and Lk.15).

 H.Conzelmann has argued for the evangelist's special concern for the concept of time.  Christ, he says, came into the world in the 'middle of time' [9]


M.C.Tenney notes: "Several new characters appear in this Gospel.  Zacharias and Elizabeth his wife, Simeon, Anna, Zacchaeus, and Cleopas are not mentioned elsewhere, and each is a distinct type.  Luke's literary characters are as interesting as his historical characters" [10] How true to life are the father and his two sons (15:11-32), the Samaritan (10:30-37), the idle rich man (12:13-21), the shrewd steward (16:1-13), and the ostentatious Pharisee (18:9-14)! The theme of 'salvation' and the human interest makes Lk.19:10 the key verse of the book: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost".


1. M.C.Tenney, pp.173-176. Question the view that Theophilus was a baptismal name.

2. F.F.Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, 2nd edition, London, Tyndale, 1952, p.30f.

3. I.H.Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, NIGTC, Exeter, Paternoster, 1978, p.35.

4. From my notebook.

5. See W.M.Ramsay, St.Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, 17th edition, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1930.

6. See: A.M.Hunter, Introducing the New Testament, revised, London, SCM, 1972, pp.75-76.

7. See: I.H.Marshall, Luke - Historian and Theologian, Exeter, Paternoster, 1970.

8. M.C.Tenney, p.134.

9. See: H.Conzelmann, The Theology of St.Luke, ET, London, Faber, 1960.

10. M.C.Tenney, p.185f.

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Copyright 2007 Vernon Ralphs

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