The Gospel According to Luke


The Gospel according to Matthew is the Gospel of rejection and sacrifice. The Gospel according to Mark is an exhibition of the wonder-working power of the Son of God. The Gospel according to Luke, which we take up to-day, is the Gospel of humanity, the Gospel that brings before us most vividly the human life of our Redeemer, that brings him most intimately into contact with our human wants and sorrows. The Gospel according to John, which concludes the four, is the Gospel of the divinity, as the Gospel according to Luke is the Gospel of the humanity, of Christ. So we have a complete cycle, a perfect whole, in these four Gospels with which the New Testament begins.

Luke is probably a contraction for the longer name Lucanus, just as Apollos is a contraction for the longer Latin name Apollonius. Luke was probably not a Jew; for in the Epistle to the Colossians, where Paul mentions those who are of the circumcision, Luke's name is not mentioned; but his name is mentioned among others who follow, and who are apparently all Gentiles, or of Gentile origin. Tradition says that he was born at Antioch, that gathering-place of the nations, far to the north of Palestine.

The Gospel is dedicated to Theophilus, just as the Acts, written also by Luke, is dedicated to Theophilus; and to him in the dedication is applied the very peculiar epithet, "Most excellent Theophilus." That word is applied also by Claudius Lysias, and by Tertullian, to Felix, and by Paul to Festus, both of them governors of Judea, and apparently it is used very much as we should use the words, " Your Excellency." Theophilus appears, therefore, to have been a man not only of official position, but of note and wealth; and the Gospel of Luke, and the Acts alike, are dedicated to him perhaps in token of respect, perhaps as the patronus libri, or patron of the book, who aids in its publication, who gives to it a certain measure of dignity and currency through his sanction and recommendation.

Tradition says that this Theophilus was himself a resident of Antioch, and that Luke was his f reedman; and as in those days slaves often were more educated than their masters and pursued employments of great respectability, so it is quite possible that Luke was an educated physician while yet he was a slave, and that after a time, possibly on account of the Christian relations between Theophilus, his master, and himself, he became the freedman of Theophilus. This Gospel may have been dedicated to the master who had set him free, as a token of gratitude for the boon he had received at his hands; and yet, after all this is said, we must also say that it rests upon precarious tradition, and not the very greatest weight is to be attached to it.

Historically the first thing we know with regard to Luke is that he is the companion of Paul in Paul's journey beginning at Troas. Lightfoot, a very sagacious commentator and a very learned man, suggests that this first appearance of Luke in company with Paul almost exactly synchronizes with the attack of Paul's constitutional malady, which Lightfoot believes to have been epilepsy; and he suggests that Luke may have accompanied Paul, partly in his professional capacity, in order to be caring for the health of the apostle.

You remember that scene in which the man of Macedonia appears in a dream to Paul and cries, "Come over and help us "; and you remember the response which is evoked. The apostle Paul goes over to Europe, and the transition is made from missionary work in Asia to missionary work in Europe. Luke goes with Paul to Philippi; and there at Philippi he seems to remain. Notice now how exceedingly meager the actual material is for building up even this story. It all rests upon the use of the word "we" in place of the word " they," when Paul comes. In all Paul's journeys up to Troas, Luke, in the Acts, uses the word "they "—" they" did so and so; but from Troas we find that he uses the word " we "; and that word " we" he uses until Paul comes to Philippi and departs from Philippi. Then for seven years of Paul's history Luke does not appear to have been with Paul; but when Paul comes back to Philippi again, where Luke may have been left as pastor of the church for the instruction of converts, we find that the word " we " is used again. Luke seems to have accompanied Paul to Asia, i. e., to Asia Minor, and then back again to Palestine; and at last Luke goes with Paul to Rome, and continues with Paul to the end of the history.

Curious, is it not, that, although Luke is the writer of the Acts and was the companion of Paul, he mentions his own name not even once? The only clue we have to his being Paul's companion and a sharer in his labors is this use of the word "we "; and these "we passages," as they are called, have become famous on this account. Luke seems to have desired no fame apart from that of his master and teacher, the apostle. He seems to have desired to connect himself with Paul, and be remembered only in his connection with Paul. Like that man who ordered that upon his tombstone there should be inscribed these words, "Here lies the friend of Milton," so Luke seems to have desired that his name should be forever connected with the name of the great apostle of the Gentiles. He wanted no other honor than that he should be known as the helper of Paul, the preacher of Christ to the Gentile world.

It is also very curious that the moment Paul disappears, that moment the history of Luke becomes mere surmise, confusion, and fable. Tradition tells us about his being minister in Greece, and suffering martyrdom there by being nailed to an olive-tree in place of a cross; but this is all on no certain foundation. He was the companion of Paul in the most important of his missionary labors, beginning with the second missionary journey from Troas, and then going with him in the third missionary journey, from Philippi to Palestine and Rome.

The date of the Gospel according to Luke may be inferred with some degree of probability from the data that I have already given you. It is pretty clear that the evangelist Luke was not in Palestine (at least we have no data at all to show us that he was in Palestine at all) until he accompanied Paul there from Philippi. You remember what happened after Paul went up to Jerusalem for the last time, how he was apprehended, and how for two years (between the years 58 and 60) he was prisoner in Caesarea. This is the only certain time to which we can assign the accumulation of the material that was necessary for the construction of Luke's Gospel. That time of Paul's imprisonment, those two years in Caesarea, was the only time when Luke could have come into personal contact with Mary, the mother of our Lord, and have derived from her, as he must have derived, his information with regard to the infancy and growth of Christ, his presentation in the temple, and a number of other things which are narrated to us by Luke alone. It must have been the time, if any, when Luke procured from some one of the brethren of our Lord his account of the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, just preceding Christ's crucifixion. You know there is a passage of almost nine chapters which is entirely peculiar to Luke, and which must have been derived from some constant companion of our Lord.

This time of Luke's residence in Palestine, during the imprisonment of Paul, is the only time we can assign for the collection of this material. During that imprisonment at Cassarea Paul was not rigidly confined. His friends had access to him; and it was during that time, if any, that Luke may have had Paul's superintendence in his work of putting the materials of the Saviour's life into permanent and written form. As Paul had the prospect before him of leaving Palestine forever and of going to his death at Rome, it would have been just the time that he would have desired to put into permanent form the story of the gospel that he had been accustomed to preach. Just at this time we may imagine that he would suggest to Luke the composition of such a Gospel, and would have furnished him with such material as was necessary upon his part.

Since the Gospel according to Luke was written before the Acts of the Apostles (it was "the former treatise," you remember, as Luke himself tells us), and since the Acts of the Apostles must have been written before the close of Paul's first imprisonment in Rome, i. e., before the year 66, the only time which we can properly assign to the composition of the Gospel is the year 59. All of the synoptic Gospels, I think, may be put somewhere between the year 55 and the year 60; and the Gospel according to Luke was probably the latest of the three.

This Gospel is a Pauline Gospel, but not a Pauline Gospel in the sense that Paul was himself the author of it. When Paul, in his Epistles, speaks of "my gospel," I suppose he speaks of the oral gospel which he preached, and not of any Gospel which he, himself, wrote out; nor do I suppose that Paul was the author of this Gospel in the sense of dictating it to Luke. There is too much difference in style between Paul and Luke to warrant any such hypothesis.

Irenaeus, one of the early Christian Fathers, says that Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel which Paul preached. Tertullian, another Christian Father, a little later tells us that Paul was the illuminator of Luke, i. e., Paul furnished his material in a large part to Luke; and he also says that Luke's digest was commonly attributed to Paul, i. e., it was attributed to Paul as the suggester and furnisher of the material. There are many things in the purpose and air of Paul's Epistles, Paul's speeches in the Acts, and the Gospel according to Luke, which makes such a Pauline relation exceedingly probable. It is probable, I think, that Paul suggested to Luke, his companion and physician, the writing of the Gospel. It is probable that he superintended it, that to a large extent he furnished material for it, and that it finally went forth with his sanction; and we have reason to believe that the Saviour's promise of inspiration, which belonged to the apostle Paul, belonged also to the evangelist Luke, because he was the representative of Paul. Paul himself speaks of Luke as the beloved physician, i. e., one to whom he was bound by very tender ties; bound by gratitude, perhaps, for help rendered to him in his physical infirmities; bound, perhaps, by sympathy of nature and spirit, and by the many services that had been rendered to him in his journeys and in his imprisonment. There is one of whom Paul says that his praise is in all the churches, and that one is thought by many to be Luke. In writing to Timothy, during his imprisonment in Rome, Paul says, "Only Luke is with me "; as if Luke was the last one that remained with the apostle in his time of trial. All these things give us reason to believe that Luke had many qualifications of mind and heart that drew him close to the apostle, and made him the proper representative of Paul in the putting of his Gospel into permanent and written form. In fact, they were so closely related to one another in the view of the early church that Marcion, the Gnostic and enemy of Judaism, one who believed that the Old Testament God was a restricted divinity belonging to Palestine alone, and who held to the antagonism between the Old and the New Testament God—Marcion accepted no Gospel but the Gospel according to Luke; and even out of that he cut those parts that had any Hebraistic relation—such as the first and second chapters and quite a portion between the third and fourth chapters. Marcion threw away all the Hebraistic portion of Luke's Gospel, and accepted the rest as the only Gospel that was worthy of credence, or the only one, at any rate, adapted to his views; and then he threw away all the rest of the New Testament except ten of the Epistles of Paul; accepting the Pauline Gospel and the chief Pauline Epistles simply because they represent the gospel as it was preached to the Gentiles and possibly what we may call the Gentile element in the church. By this, Marcion indicates very clearly how close the relationship was between Luke and the apostle Paul; and yet I suppose we are not to imagine, for a moment, that the relationship was one of simple dictation. There was just as much independence in the construction of Luke's Gospel as we have seen to have existed in the case of the construction of the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Mark.

All that I have said up to this point has been intended simply to prepare the way for a presentation of the general character of the Gospel according to Luke. You can see at once that in its author (not a Jew, but a proselyte from the Gentiles, a Gentile Christian), in the furnisher of its material (Paul the apostle to the Gentiles), the Gospel according to Luke occupies a wider horizon, it has a larger aim than either of the Gospels that have preceded. If you can call the Gospel according to Matthew a Gospel written for Jewish Christians, then you may call the Gospel according to Luke written for Gentile Christians. If you can call the Gospel according to Mark the Gospel written for the Romans, then you can call the Gospel according to Luke the Gospel written for the Greeks; and as Greek was at that time the literary language of the whole Roman Empire, and as men wrote Greek in Rome as well as in Athens, this Gospel according to Luke, in some respects, was better adapted to universal and rapid circulation than either of the others.

This breadth, this application to universal humanity is the characteristic of Luke. There is no Jewish exclusiveness in Luke; nothing, for example, like the confining of the lineage of Jesus to the seed of David and the seed of Abraham. The genealogy in Luke takes us back to Adam, the father of the race; "the Son of man " is set before us here. It is Christ in his largest human relations. We have his connection with humanity continually brought before us in the account of his birth and his growth in wisdom and in stature, as well as in favor of God and man. You find that this humanity of Jesus, the fact that he was a man like all of us, is the dominant thought of the Gospel. Luke brings into view the universal human relations of our Lord. If the Gospel according to John presents to us the divine side of the Saviour's person, the Gospel according to Luke presents to us the human side of our Saviour's person; and so we find that, in Luke, we have the gospel history linked in, more than any other Gospel links it in, with the events of profane history. It is Luke, and none of the other Evangelists, that gives us chronological data which enable us to fix the time at which various events occurred, gives us the names of the different rulers of the surrounding states, and so enables us to fit this history into what we know of profane history outside; and then there are many things with regard to the humanity of Christ which are brought very beautifully into view in this Gospel, which we find nowhere else; such, for example, as that remarkable incident, the only incident that is related to us during the whole of the thirty years of Christ's life. At the age of twelve years he goes up to the temple, and there is found by his parents listening to the doctors of the law, asking them questions and giving them answers. That incident, which seems to mark the point of time where Jesus first became conscious of the fact that he was the Sent of God, the Son of God, is related to us by Luke only.

We have only from Luke the information that, after the temptation, Satan departed from him for a season; in other words, that there was an interval before Satan came back again with power to tempt him in the garden.

It is only Luke who tells us of the miraculous draught of fishes which accompanied the calling of the disciples. It is only Luke that tells us about the first missionary journey of the Seventy. Luke's miracles are miracles in which our Saviour appears as the Great Physician, as the Healer of lost and diseased humanity. The miracle wrought for the ten lepers is told us only by Luke; it is Luke only who speaks of the conversations of Christ with Moses and Elias at the transfiguration. It is only Luke who tells us of Christ's weeping over Jerusalem. It is only Luke who tells us of the healing of Malchus' ear by the Saviour in the garden. It is only Luke who records for us our Saviour's prayer as his enemies nailed him to the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." It is only Luke that tells us of the promise to the repentant thief, "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Luke alone tells us that, after the crucifixion had taken place and the Saviour had breathed his last, the multitudes present returned to Jerusalem, beating their breasts. These things draw us near to Christ; they identify Christ with our common humanity; they appeal to our sympathy. There is pathos in them, because we see in them evidence that Christ is really one of us, a man like ourselves.

The discourses of Christ are intended, all of them, to produce this same impression upon us. It is only Luke who tells us about that first discourse in Nazareth, his early home, where Christ offers his gospel first of all to his own townspeople, and especially makes his preaching there the fulfilment of Isaiah's promise that the gospel should be preached to all those in suffering and sorrow. It is only Luke who tells us of the parable of the Importunate Widow, and the certainty that the Judge on high will answer our prayers, as the unjust judge answered that widow's prayers. Only Luke gives us the parable of the Unrighteous Steward, the parable of the Ten Pounds, of the Fig Tree upon which so much care is bestowed and to which so much grace is shown before it is finally cut down and burned up. Luke alone tells us of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus; and finally and above all, it is only Luke that gives us that trinity of parables: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Piece of Money, and the Prodigal Son; that parable that perhaps more than any other of all the Gospels opens to us the fatherly, human love of the heart of God. The parable of the Prodigal Son is given to us only in the Gospel of Luke.

How much we owe to Luke's Gospel, the Gospel of the humanity of our Lord, the Gospel that brings us close to the sympathizing Saviour, one who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities!

Luke is the Evangelist who tells about our Saviour's praying. Run through the Gospel of Luke and you will see that it puts our Saviour in the attitude of a human suppliant as no other Gospel does. At Jesus' baptism God parts the heavens and descends like a dove on the Saviour, as the answer to his prayer. Christ prays all night long before he calls his twelve apostles. Christ prays on the Mount of Transfiguration; and it is after his prayer that the glory of God overshadows him and he appears as the bearer, so to speak, of the Shekinah; and then it is in the garden, where Christ is praying, in Gethsemane, as Luke, and Luke only, states, that the sweat flows from his body in great drops of blood, in the agony of his supplication. All these things bring us close to Christ as a human Redeemer and sympathizing Saviour; and so Luke gives us not only the Gospel of humanity, so far as Christ and the representation of his person are concerned, but he also gives us the Gospel that, in some respects, is best adapted to meet all men upon their own level and commend itself to all who are suffering.

There was an old tradition that Luke was a painter. I have seen many pictures in European galleries in which Luke is represented as painting pictures of our Lord, of Mary the Virgin, or of the various apostles, or where the picture itself is attributed to Luke. There are such pictures still among the relics of the Roman Catholic churches abroad. This tradition has an exceedingly slight foundation. We have no reliable authority for supposing that Luke was an actual painter upon canvas. Probably some other painter of later time, whose name was similar, was confounded with Luke the Evangelist; and so this tradition grew up. Although Luke was not a painter upon canvas, he was a painter with his pen, and no other Evangelist has given us so clear and so beautiful a picture of the human Christ as Luke. No other Evangelist has told us so much about the Virgin Mary as Luke has told us.

It is a very remarkable fact that, although Luke is the most classical of the New Testament writers when he is using his own style, when he is telling the things he has observed—one might say that the preface to his Gospel is most nearly like classical Greek of any portion of equal extent we have in the New Testament— yet when he comes to the second and third chapters of his own Gospel, and is using Hebrew documents which have come into his possession, he follows them word for word, and they are so Hebraistic in their style that you might almost think they had been written by the Evangelist Matthew. The spirit of faithfulness to his material leads him to give over any attempt

to manipulate what comes to his hands. He gives it to us just as it came to him; so the Gospel according to Luke shows throughout the spirit of faithfulness to the truth, combined with a great deal of what you might call human interest, breadth of view, and love for humanity at large. To Luke Christ is the Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and all men are the objects of his saving and redeeming work. When Luke comes to paint the various apostles, he paints them with a human interest that is very well worthy of a master in the art.

Luke was not, then, a painter upon canvas, but he was a painter with his pen; and of all the pictures in the four Gospels that are given us of the life and work of Christ, there is not one that we should value more highly, that we should study more closely, from which we can get more benefit in our daily, spiritual life than we can from this Gospel according to Luke.

We have next Sunday the contrast to all this. I trust that a review of these four Gospels will bring to our minds what perhaps has never been brought before us so clearly before, the great variety that exists in these various pictures of the life and work of Christ; and the last of them, the Gospel according to John, the Gospel of the divinity, as this one to-day is the Gospel of the humanity, is in many respects the most sublime and most wonderful of them all.