Of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament, none gives the unique account and personal detail of the Gospel of Luke, and this is an ironic twist, considering its authorship is tabbed to a man who became a follower of Jesus, but never met him. The specifics of the stories give an intimate continuity of Old Testament prophecy to New Testament fulfillment, as Luke continued the work with the writing of the Acts of the Apostles and the work of The Holy Spirit following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
The authorship and time of writing must be deduced, as the author does not identify himself or the date in the passages. Luke, as mentioned in Acts 16, 20, 21 and 27, was a contemporary of the Apostle Paul. Since the latest date recorded in Acts is 62 A.D. at the first imprisonment of Paul, this is a close estimate of the time of Luke’s writing of his gospel and the secondary work. Luke is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (4:14), and by the third century A.D. was traditionally associated as the author of the gospel.
Early Christian writings, from the works of Justin Martyr to Tertullian, identify the author as Luke, an identification that was firmly in place by the third century. Luke was an educated man by ancient standards, capable of writing in high Greek style…that is, not Jewish. If so, Luke would be the only Gentile author of a New Testament book (Rademacher, Allen and House, 2007, p. 1587).
The setting is clear. Luke’s gospel gives one of two Biblical narratives of the birth of Jesus, joining Matthew. It is one of two Gospels written by a non-disciple, as Matthew and John were penned by members of The Twelve, and Mark and Luke authored by friends of Paul. Though Luke gives a detailed account of the journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem in Luke 9:51-19:48, he would have learned these events from eyewitness accounts and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Luke speaks of the fall of Jerusalem in 19:41-44 and 21:20-44, therefore giving clues that this event had taken place by the time of his writing, which would date its authorship to post-70 A.D.
The Gospel of Luke has a two-fold purpose: first, it signifies the continual work of the promised Messiah (Jesus) of the Old Testament to the spread of the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles in Acts. “Luke provides the community continuity with Israel of old, identifying with Christ’s purpose, and validation with God’s people…but also the guarantee of the coming realization of salvation in all its fullness to the people” (Harrelson, 2003, p. 1848-49). In The Mighty Acts of God, Rhodes and March call the Gospel of Luke “the Gospel of the Savior of All Sorts of People” (2000, p. 235).
The second purpose of Luke was a letter to a young Gentile named Theophilus, “that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:4, NKJV). He is reassuring this young believer of the purpose of spreading the good news to future unbelievers, and declaring Jesus as the promised one to all people, not just the Jews. “Theophilus and the Gentiles needed a more complete understanding of the things which they had been instructed concerning Jesus and the church” (Rhodes and March, 2000, p. 235).
Luke gives three specific directives to the work and person of Jesus, as the promised Messiah (1:31-35), a servant of God’s people (4:16-18) and the authority sitting at the right hand of the Father God on His throne (22:69 and Acts 2:20-36). Through Luke’s detail, we see a very personal Savior, not exalted in earthly royalty above the people, but in perfect community with the people. Luke, a physician as noted in Colossians 4:14, is likely to identify strongly with the personal connection to broken, hurting and the oppressed who need “good news.” Without authority, however, this good news is only a witness of words, but Luke testifies to the eyewitness accounts as the fulfillment of Jesus’ purpose. “Jesus humanity and compassion are repeatedly stressed by the author” (Rademacher, Allen and House, 2007, p. 1589).
The most unique aspect of the gospel is not its harmony to the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), but the unveiling of stories which can only be found in this narrative: “though the Gospel of Luke is one of the Synoptics, it is still very distinctive. Almost half its contents are not found in the other Gospels.” According to The Harmony of the Gospels as published in the New King James Study Bible, there are at least 31 accounts of scriptures or stories which are native to Luke’s gospel alone, for example the visit of a 12-year-old Jesus to the temple where his parents found him teaching in Luke 2:41-50 (2007, p. 1481). How a writer who never met Jesus personally gives such vivid and intimate detail of the life of Jesus is a credit to both his intelligence and relational ability as an author, and a direct commentary of his devotion to God through a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Luke is my personal favorite gospel, and personal favorite book. His writings make me dig deeper into the historical veracity of the account of Jesus, to verify both his stories and find facts that only the physician himself seemed to cultivate from the story. As a man who likely was converted to a Christ-follower, Luke gives the modern pastor and evangelist a gospel of truth and practicality to the person who has never known the life-transforming power of the good news. While Matthew gets deep into genealogy, and John explores the divinity of Jesus, and Mark navigates the servant, immediate work of Christ to the people, it is Luke’s writing that like a good novel, captures the reader to beg for more. With the Book of Acts, he delivers, and seals this promise, with the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s not a fairy tale, but it’s the fulfillment of an authentic promise many years in the making.
Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Rademacher, E., Allen, R.B. and House, H.W. (2007). The New King James Version Study Bible, Second Edition. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, Inc.
Rhodes, A. B., & March, E. (2000). (Revised ed.). Louisville, KY: Geneva Press.