Introduction to Luke

INTRODUCTION TO

LUKE

The Gospel of Luke is the longest book in the New Testament. Focusing on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, this Gospel is part one of a two-part history, the book of Acts being part two. Both were dedicated to “most honorable Theophilus” (Lk 1:3; Ac 1:1).

Luke the Evangelist

Luke the Evangelist

CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING

AUTHOR: The author of the Third Gospel is not named. Considerable evidence points to Luke as its author. Much of that proof is found in the book of Acts, which identifies itself as a sequel to Luke (Ac 1:1-3). A major line of evidence has to do with the so-called “we” sections of the book (Ac 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-37; 28:1-16). Most of Acts is narrated in third-person plural (“they,” “them”), but some later sections having to do with the ministry of the apostle Paul unexpectedly shift to first-person plural (“we,” “us”). This indicates that the author had joined the apostle Paul for the events recorded in those passages. Since there are no “we” passages in the Gospel of Luke, that fits with the author stating that he used eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus (1:2), indicating he was not such an eyewitness himself.

Among Paul’s well-known coworkers, the most likely candidate is Luke, the doctor (see Col 4:14; Phm 24). That is also the unanimous testimony of the earliest Christian writers (e.g., Justin Martyr, the Muratorian Canon, and Tertullian). Since Luke is not named among the workers who were “of the circumcised” (i.e., a Jew; Col 4:11), he was almost certainly a Gentile. That explains the healthy emphasis on Gentiles in Luke (6:17; 7:1-10). Luke also reflects an interest in medical matters (e.g., 4:38; 14:2).

BACKGROUND: Traditionally, the Gospel of Luke is believed to have been written after both Matthew and Mark. Those who date Matthew and Mark in the AD 60s or 70s have tended to push the dating of Luke back to the AD 70s or 80s.

Since Luke wrote both the Third Gospel and the book of Acts (Ac 1:1-3), it is relevant to consider the dating of both books together. The events at the end of Acts occurred around AD 62-63. That is the earliest point at which Acts could have been written. If Acts was written in the early AD 60s from Rome, where Paul was imprisoned for two years (Ac 28:30), the Third Gospel could date from an earlier stage of that period of imprisonment. The other reasonable possibility is during Paul’s earlier two-year imprisonment in Caesarea (Ac 24:27). From that location, Luke would have been able to travel and interview the eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life and ministry who were still alive.

The Third Gospel is addressed to “most honorable Theophilus” (Lk 1:3), about whom nothing else is known other than that he is also the recipient of the book of Acts (Ac 1:1). The Greek name Theophilus means “lover of God” or “friend of God” and implies that he was a Gentile, probably Greek. He seems to have been a relatively new believer, recently instructed about Jesus and the Christian faith (Lk 1:4). The title “most honorable” indicates that, at the least, he was a person of high standing and financial substance. It may also reflect that he was an official with some governmental authority and power.

MESSAGE AND PURPOSE

The Gospel of Luke is a carefully researched (1:3), selective presentation of the person and life of Jesus Christ, designed to strengthen the faith of believers (1:3-4) and to challenge the misconceptions of unbelievers, especially those from a Greek background. Its portrait of Jesus is well balanced, skillfully emphasizing his divinity and perfect humanity.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIBLE

Nearly 60 percent of the material in the Gospel of Luke is unique. Thus, there is a great deal that readers of Scripture would not know if the Third Gospel were not in the Bible. Notable among the larger distinctive portions are: (1) much of the material in Luke 1-2 about the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, (2) the only biblical material on Jesus’s childhood and pre-ministry adult life (2:40-52), (3) a genealogy for Jesus (3:23-38) that is significantly different from the one in Matthew 1:1-17, (4) most of the “travelogue” section about Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51-19:44), (5) a considerably different slant on the destruction of the temple (21:5-38) from the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25 and Mark 13, and (6) quite a bit of fresh material in the post-resurrection appearances, including the Emmaus Road, a distinctive statement of the Great Commission, and the only description in the Gospels of Jesus’s ascension into heaven (Lk 24:13-53).

STRUCTURE

Luke’s distinctive “narrative about the events” (1:1) of the life of Jesus is written in “orderly sequence” (1:3), though not strict chronological sequence in many cases (as the notes will explain at various points). Generally, after the key events leading up to the beginning of Christ’s public ministry (1:5-4:13), the flow of the book is from his early ministry in and around Galilee (4:14-9:50), through an extended description of ministry related to his journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:44), climaxing in the events of Passion Week and post-resurrection appearances in and around Jerusalem (19:45-24:53).

OUTLINE

I.Preparation for the Ministry of Jesus (1:1-4:13)

A.Formal prologue (1:1-4)

B.Births of John the Baptist and Jesus (1:5-2:20)

C.Childhood and early adulthood of Jesus (2:21-52)

D.Ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-22)

E.Genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38)

F.Testing of Jesus by the devil (4:1-13)

II.Jesus’s Ministry in Galilee (4:14-9:50)

A.Early preaching (4:14-44)

B.Calling of disciples, then apostles (5:1-6:16)

C.The Sermon on the Plain (6:17-49)

D.Faith issues; the sending out of the Twelve (7:1-9:17)

E.Peter’s confession and the transfiguration (9:18-50)

III.Jesus’s Ministry in Judea and Perea (9:51-19:44)

A.Setting out toward Jerusalem (9:51-13:21)

B.Continuing toward Jerusalem (13:22-18:30)

C.Final approach to Jerusalem (18:31-19:44)

IV.Climax of Jesus’s Ministry in Jerusalem (19:45-24:53)

A.Controversies and teaching (19:45-21:4)

B.Prediction of the temple’s destruction (21:5-38)

C.Events of Jesus’s final Passover (22:1-46)

D.Betrayal, arrest, and trials (22:47-23:25)

E.Crucifixion and burial (23:26-56)

F.Resurrection, Great Commission, and ascension (24:1-53)

50-5 BC

Augustus Caesar’s reign begins. March 15, 44 BC

Roman Senate declares Herod king of the Jews. 39 BC

Herod assumes possession of the domain to which he had been named earlier. 37 BC

Herod begins thorough expansion of the temple in Jerusalem in 20 BC. The inner sanctuary was completed in 1 1/2 years and the rest of the temple was finished in AD 63, only seven years before it was destroyed.

Imperial census in territory governed by Herod 6 to 4 BC

5 BC-AD 9

Jesus’s birth 5 BC

Eclipse of the moon just prior to Herod’s death March 12/13, 4 BC

Passover celebrated just after Herod’s death April 11, 4 BC

Herod’s sons, Herod Phillip, Herod Antipas, and Archelaus divide Palestine and rule three territories under the aegis of Rome. 4 BC

Jesus travels with his parents from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. AD 9

AD 10-30

Caiaphas is high priest. 18-36

Pontius Pilate is prefect of Judea. 26-36

John the Baptist’s ministry begins. 29

Jesus’s baptism 29

Jesus’s wilderness temptations 29

Jesus’s call of his first disciples 29

The first Passover of Jesus’s ministry, an occasion on which it was said that the temple (inner sanctuary) had stood for 46 years 30

Jesus goes from Judea to Galilee when he learns of John the Baptist’s death. 30

AD 31-33

Second Passover of Jesus’s ministry; he comes under increasing scrutiny for plucking grain on the Sabbath. 31

Jesus feeds the 5,000 around the time of his third Passover. 32

Between Passover of 32 and 33 Jesus withdraws from public ministry and focuses on preparing his disciples. During this time period is Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi and Jesus’s transfiguration.

Jesus’s trials, death, and resurrection Nisan 14-16 or April 3-5, 33

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