The Book of Luke

In the opening paragraph of his Gospel, Luke expresses his intent. He writes that “many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.” (1:1-2) He continues that “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” (1:3-4) What is implied is that the author is a careful observer of what has taken place–and that he is one who has undertaken the necessary research, so that he can write an account that will convey to his reader a) an accurate account–and history and archaeology confirm the accuracy of his research–and b) the meaning of what has taken place. Thus, “orderly” is meant to convey not that he is providing a chronological account in the modern sense of history, but that he is relating these events accurately so that the readers can grasp the significance of them. Of course, this is not to imply that what others have written is not truthful. Indeed a comparison of this Gospel with the Gospel according to Mark reveals that he followed the same basic outline as Mark with several exceptions. He added the infancy narratives and expanded stories about John the Baptist and Jesus at the beginning; between Mark 3:19 and 3:20, he inserted a major block of material (Luke 6:20 – 8:3); and between Mark 9:50 and Mark 10:1, he inserted the major unit, Luke 9:51 – 18:14. He also added certain material to the Passion and Resurrection stories. By paying attention to these sections unique to Luke, as well as his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, one senses the distinctive purpose for which Luke wrote. He is writing to help Theophilus and every other reader know the truth of who Jesus is–the Servant of the Lord who has come to be the Savior of all. In his first volume (the Gospel) he shows how Jesus is the centerpiece of all history accomplishing God’s work of universal salvation, and in his second volume, he shows how Jesus continued his work through his church that the benefits of what he had done might reach the ends of the earth. The section on Lucan Emphases will illustrate how Luke’s purpose in writing was carried out.

Traditionally authorship has been ascribed to Luke. This tradition dates back to the last third of the second century, but rests on several important facts. The introductory paragraphs to both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles indicate they are written for the same individual, Theophilus, and that this is a two volume work. The books go together. The language confirms that they both came from the same author. Because this is so, the “we-sections” in Acts suggest that the author of both volumes is a travel companion of the apostle Paul. The logical choice among his travel companions is Luke. Luke is known as “the beloved physician,” and by the manner in which his name is presented in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (4:10-11,14), we sense that he is a Gentile Christian rather than a Jewish Christian, all of which accords with the character of both books. For more information, see the introductory material to the Acts of the Apostles, but there seems no solid reason for attempting to refute the traditional view of this Gospel’s authorship. Why would the early church ascribe authorship of a Gospel to someone who was not an apostle, unless there were good reason for doing so?

Literary Characteristics
In noting literary characteristics of Luke we first notice Luke’s Greek style and his audience. Luke follows the conventions of Greek literature, which suggests that his initial target audience was Greek. The opening dedication is an immediate illustration of this awareness. Theophilus is called, “most excellent,” suggesting that he is a man of stature in society, perhaps even a Roman official. Luke’s Greek is good; Aramaic expressions are avoided, as are Latinisms.

With such command of Greek, it comes as no surprise that he is a superb story teller utilizing variety throughout. He provides beautiful narratives surrounding John’s and Jesus’ births testify. The parables in this Gospel are some of the most memorable of all: the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Rich Fool, etc. His use of poetry in the canticles of chapters one and two reflects his ability to reflect good Jewish piety, but in words that echo the Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint. Like in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke incorporates a “travel section” (9:50 -19:27) that moves the hearer through the gospel. Indeed, the story of Jesus is told in a warm and winning way, with the reader’s interest being maintained from beginning to the end.

Lucan Emphases and Characteristics
Luke accents that God’s will and work for all people find their center in Jesus’ activity in many ways. First, the gospel highlights the universal work of Jesus through the people highlighted. The genealogy of Jesus goes back, not just to Abraham, but to Adam, the head of the human race and the beginning of human history. Samaritans play a special role in the Gospel. A Samaritan is the “good” guy in the parable, showing genuine neighborliness to the man in need (10::25-37). The leper who returned to thank Jesus for cleansing him of his disease was a Samaritan (17:11-19). When the Samaritan villages would not receive Jesus, he refused to let James and John, his sons of Thunder, call down fire upon them (9:51-56). If he had allowed them to do so, what kind of reception would Philip have received in Acts 8?

Jesus also demonstrates the Father’s care especially for those often relegated to the fringes of society: the “tax collectors and sinners.” When at a Pharisee’s home for dinner, he did not refuse the unusual display of devotion from a sinful woman. In fact, he defended her extravagant action. Because she had been forgiven much, she loved much! (Luke 7:36-50) Three of his most powerful parables were told to answer the criticism leveled against him: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (15:2) The parables of the shepherd searching for his lone lost sheep out of a hundred; the woman searching for the one coin she lost out of ten; and the father waiting for his prodigal son to return home and reaching out in love to his son who did not have it in his heart to welcome his delinquent brother back–these parables (15:3 – 32) all demonstrate the heart of Jesus’ ministry. It is the same thing he expressed when he stopped at a rich, chief tax collector’s house in Jericho, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” (19:10) Jesus is the loving shepherd who wants to forgive and restore people to fellowship with their God.

The inclusiveness of the Savior also manifests itself in his concern for women. In first century Judaism, women were second class citizens, but not in Jesus’ mind. We have already mentioned the woman who anointed his feet with expensive perfume. When a woman who was hemorrhaging (which would make her unclean under the law) touched him, Jesus healed her and sent her on her way, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48) Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha. In his concern for Martha, he confronted her anxiety and pointed that only one thing was needed, which Mary had chosen. (10:38-42) Another Mary, Jesus’ mother, exemplified the same attitude when she pondered both the shepherds’ report and what the 12 year old boy Jesus said to her. (2:19,51) Anna, the prophetess, gave thanks to God when she saw the 40 day old infant Jesus in the temple. (2:36-38) Not only were the twelve with Jesus, chapter 8:2,3 indicates that “some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities” also were with him–and they “provided for them [Jesus and the twelve] out of their means.” On the way to the cross, Jesus spoke to the women who were weeping because of what was happening to him. (23:27-31)

An ancillary theme to Jesus’ inclusiveness is the emphasis he made on the poor being made rich and the rich being abased. At his inaugural sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18) That theme had been anticipated in the Magnificat of Mary, who broke into song, because God has “regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. . . . He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away.” (1:48, 51-53) In his Sermon on the Plain, Jesus struck this double note: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” and “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (6:20, 24) The parable of the rich fool makes clear the folly of trusting in one’s wealth. (12:13-21) Jesus was not going to get trapped into dividing people’s inheritance, for such requests flowed from a covetous heart. (12:13-15, 21) In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man suffered an indescribable pain because he had not heeded Moses and the prophets during his lifetime. (16:19-31)

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ concern for the poor, the outsiders, and the needy, is matched with a strong emphasis on prayer. The Father who cares enough to send his Son also wants people to pray. We see this as Jesus himself is a man of prayer; he teaches his disciples how to pray (11:1-13); he gave them a model prayer to adopt, promises that God would answer prayer, and gives them a parable to encourage them to go to any lengths to ask God for help. Another parable urged persistence in prayer, as a woman would not quit going to the judge until he finally handled her case. (18:1-8)

Additional emphases could be mentioned, such as the power of the Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit, but let me conclude with one other point. Jesus is the center of history. The plan of salvation leads to him. He fulfills the plan; the kingdom of God is inaugurated in climactic fashion with his coming. Through his faithful obedience to the Father’s will, his determination to go to the cross, he accomplishes what old Israel had failed to do. In Jesus’ death and resurrection he brings God’s plan of salvation to its next stage. Now repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. (Luke 24:44-49) All of the Old Testament components–Moses, the prophets, and the psalms [writings] have pointed to him and his work. They have found their fulfillment in him and now the good news is to go to all the nations, to the ends of the earth.

The thematic structure of the book (see second outline of the book) accents this centrality of Jesus. The book opens with Jesus’ place in history with several references to historical figures. It then proceeds to show how Jesus is the greater Elisha (and Elijah), Joshua (and Moses), and Solomon (and David). Finally the book concludes with Jesus after his resurrection demonstrating to his disciples that all of the Scriptures point to him and this event in history. Jesus’ activity is a universal salvation meant for all people.

All of the commentaries I have in my possession on the Gospel according to Luke (six different ones) follow very similar outlines. Some of them have more detail than others, but perhaps the following one from Donald G. Miller, The Gospel According to Luke, Vol. 18 in the Laymen’s Bible Commentary, 1959 will be of assistance to you, as you see Jesus’ Messiahship portrayed in terms of the Servant of the Lord, echoing the so-called Servant Songs from Isaiah, especially 61:1,2, which Jesus quotes in his inaugural sermon at the synagogue in his hometown.(Luke 4:16-21)
Preface. Luke 1:1-4

The Coming of Messiah: Fulfillment of Promise. Luke 1:5 – 2:40
Promise of Forerunner’s Birth (1:5-25)
Promise of Messiah’s Birth (1:26-56)
Birth of Forerunner (1:57-80)
Birth of Messiah (2:1-21)
Dedication of Messiah (2:22-40)

The Nature of Jesus’ Messiahship: the Suffering Servant. Luke 2:41-4:30
Jesus’ First Recognition of Sonship (2:41-52)
God’s Vindication of Jesus’ Sonship (3:1-22)
The Universal Meaning of Jesus’ Sonship (3:23-38)
The Son Remains the Servant (4:1-13)
The Servant’s Mission and Its Consequences (4:14-30)

Messiah Works in Galilee: Response to the Servant. Luke 4:31 – 9:50
Superficial Acclaim (4:31 – 5:26)
Rejection (5:27 – 6:11)
The Growing Insight of Faith (6:12 – 9:50)

Messiah Moves Toward Jerusalem: the Kingdom of the Servant. Luke 9:51 – 19:27
Servants of the Kingdom (9:51 – 10:24)
Characteristics of the Kingdom (10:25 – 12:59)
Membership in the Kingdom (13:1 – 14:35)
The God of the Kingdom (15:1-32)
Warnings to Kingdom Members (16:1 – 18:30)
The King Moves Toward His Kingdom (18:31 – 19:27)

Messiah Manifests Himself at Jerusalem: Death and Resurrection of the Servant. Luke 19:28 – 24:53
The Dramatic Arrival (19:28 – 48)
The Temple Ministry (20:1 – 21:38)
Last Hours with the Disciples (22: 1-38)
Gethsemane (22:39-46)
The Passion (22:47 – 23:56)
The Resurrection (24:1-49)
The Ascension (24:50-53)

A thematic outline accents Jesus as the centerpiece of all history. The central divisions in this thematic outline are somewhat fluid as the transitions between Jesus as consummate prophet, teacher, and king are overlapping:

Preface 1:1-4
I. God’s activity has entered into history in a special way in Jesus: 1:5-4:13 (Note the historical references at 1:5; 2:1; and 3:1)
II. Jesus brings fulfillment to the work of the prophets: 4:14-7:50 (Note the reference at 4:24-27 and the parallel miracles at 7:1-17)
III. Jesus brings fulfillment to the promise to Moses of a great teacher (Deuteronomy 18:15; Luke 9:35): 8:1-18:34 (note the dominance of teaching in this unit)
IV. Jesus brings fulfillment to the promise of the Son of David (a king greater than Solomon): 18:35-23:56 (note reference to Son of David and kingship, e.g., 18:38-39; 19:38; 23:38, etc.)
V. God’s activity is fulfilled in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. All Scriptures point to Jesus. God’s activity will continue with his witnesses (as demonstrated in the book of Acts): Luke 24

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