Like the contents of the previous Gospels we may also divide those of Luke’s into five parts:
I. The Advent of the Divine Man, Luk_1:1-80, Luk_2:1-52, Luk_3:1-38, Luk_4:1-13. After stating his aim the evangelist describes the announcement from heaven of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and of Christ himself, and their birth with the attendant circumstances, Luk_1:1-80, Luk_2:1-20. Then he shows that Christ was made subject to the law in circumcision, in the presentation in the temple, and in his journey to Jerusalem, Luk_2:21-52. He traces the descent of the Son of Man to Adam, and points out that He was prepared for his work by baptism and temptation, Luk_3:1-38, Luk_4:1-13.
II. The Work of the Divine Man for the Jewish World, Luk_4:14-44, Luk_5:1-39, Luk_6:1-49, Luk_7:1-50, Luk_8:1-56, Luk_9:1-50. In this part we first see Christ preaching in the synagogues of Nazareth, Capernaum and all Galilee; performing many miracles in Capernaum and by the sea of Galilee, such as the curing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the wonderful draught of fishes, the cleansing of the leper, and the healing of the palsied man; calling Levi to follow him; and instructing his enemies regarding his authority, his purpose, and the moral character of his demands, as a result of which many were amazed and Pharisees and Scribes were filled with hatred, Luk_4:14-44, Luk_5:1-39, Luk_6:1-11. After a night of prayer the Lord now chooses his twelve disciples and proclaims the constitution of his Kingdom, Luk_6:12-49. He cures the centurion s servant, raises the widow’s son, and gives instruction by word and example regarding the nature of his work and the character of the subjects of his Kingdom, Luk_7:1-49. The origin of the Kingdom is now illustrated in the parable of the sower, and the divine power of Christ over both the natural and the spiritual world is shown in the stilling of the storm, in the deliverance of the Gadarene demoniac, in his curing the woman with the issue of blood and raising the daughter of Jairus, Luk_8:1-56. The twelve are sent out and on their return Christ retires with them to a desert place, where He miraculously feeds the five thousand, after which He once and again announced his future suffering and was transfigured on the Mount, Luk_9:1-50.
III. The Work of the Divine Man for the Gentiles, Luk_9:51-62, Luk_10:1-42, Luk_11:1-54, Luk_12:1-59, Luk_13:1-35, Luk_14:1-35, Luk_15:1-32, Luk_16:1-31, Luk_17:1-37, Luk_18:1-30. Jesus in traveling towards Jerusalem sends messengers before him, but these are rejected by the Samaritans; then He sends out the seventy, who return with a good report, teaches that neighborly love is not to be restricted to the Jews (good Samaritan), and gives his disciples instruction regarding prayer, Luk_9:51-62, Luk_10:1-42, Luk_11:1-13. The Pharisees now claim that Christ casts out the devils through Beelzebub, in answer to which He pictures their condition, and when they tempt him in various ways, pronounces his woe upon them and warns his disciples against them, Luk_11:14-54, Luk_12:1-12. In connection with the parable of the rich fool the Lord warns against covetousness and anxious care, and bids his disciples to be prepared for the day of his coming, Luk_12:13-53. Sitting at meat in the house of a Pharisee, He teaches those present true mercy, true humility, true hospitality, and the fact that they, having refused the supper of the Lord, will be rejected, Luk_14:1-24. Next the necessity of self-denial is impressed on those that would follow Jesus, and in three parables the Pharisees are made acquainted with the real purpose of his coming, Luk_14:25-35, Luk_15:1-32. The disciples are instructed in the careful use of their earthly possessions, and to the Pharisees the law of retribution is explained, Luk_16:1-31. In various ways the Lord impresses on his followers the necessity of a forgiving spirit, of humility, of faith and gratitude, of constant prayer with a view to the unexpected character of his coming, of trusting in God and of self denial, all ending in everlasting salvation, Luk_17:1-37, Luk_18:1-30.
IV. The Sacrifice of the Divine Man for all Mankind, Luk_18:31-43, Luk_19:1-48, Luk_20:1-47, Luk_21:1-38, Luk_22:1-71, Luk_23:1-49. Jesus announces once more his future suffering and death, at Jericho restores the sight of a blind man and calls Zaccheus, and points out to his followers that his Kingdom would not immediately come, Luk_18:32-43, Luk_19:1-27. Triumphantly He enters Jerusalem, where He cleanses the temple, answers the questions of the Chief Priests, the Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and instructs his followers regarding his future coming, Luk_19:28-48, Luk_20:1-47, Luk_21:1-38. After eating the Passover with his disciples He was betrayed, condemned and crucified, Luk_22:1 Luk_23:56.
V. The Divine Man Saviour of all Nations, Luk_24:1-53. On the morning of the first day Christ arose; women seek him in the grave; He appears to two of his disciples on the way to Emmaus, to the eleven, and finally departs from them with the promise of the Spirit.
The following are the most important characteristics of the third Gospel:
1. In point of completeness it surpasses the other Synoptics, beginning, as it does, with a detailed narrative of the birth of John the Baptist and of Christ himself, and ending with a record of the ascension from the Mount of Olives. In distinction from Matthew and Mark this Gospel even contains an allusion to the promise of the Father, Luk_24:29, and thus points beyond the old dispensation to the new that would be ushered in by the coming of the Holy Spirit. The detailed narrative of Christ’s going to Jerusalem in Luk_9:51-62, Luk_10:1-42, Luk_11:1-54, Luk_12:1-59, Luk_13:1-35, Luk_14:1-35, Luk_15:1-32, Luk_16:1-31, Luk_17:1-37, Luk_18:1-14 is also peculiar to this gospel.
2. Christ is set before us in this Gospel as the perfect Man with wide sympathies. The genealogy of Jesus is trace back through David and Abraham to Adam, our common progenitor, thus presenting him as one of our race. We are told of the truly human development both in body and spirit of Jesus in Luk_2:40-52, and of his dependence on prayer in the most important crises of His life, Luk_3:21; Luk_9:29. Those features of the Lord’s miracles of healing are clearly brought out that show his great sympathy. “Peter’s mother-in-law suffers from a great fever; and the leper is full of leprosy. The hand restored on the sabbath is the right hand, the centurion s servant is one dear to him, the son of the widow of Nain, is an only son, the daughter of Jairus an only daughter, the epileptic boy at the hill of transfiguration is an only child.” Bruce, The Expositor’s Greek Testament I p. 47.
3. Another feature of this gospel is its universality. It comes nearer than other Gospels to the Pauline doctrine of salvation for all the world, and of salvation by faith, without the works of the law. In the synagogue at Nazareth Christ points out that God might again deal with the Jews as He had done in the days of Elijah and Elisha, Luk_4:25-27; He declares that the faith of the centurion was greater than any He had found in Israel, Luk_7:2-10; sends messengers before his face into Samaria, Luk_9:52-56; demands love of Israel even for the Samaritans, Luk_10:30-37; heals the Samaritan leper as well as the others, Luk_17:11-19; and speaks the significant word: “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it, Luk_11:28.
4. More than the other evangelists Luke relates his narrative to contemporaneous history and indicates the time of the occurrences. It was in the days of king Herod that the birth of John the Baptist and Christ was announced, Luk_1:1; Luk_1:26; during the reign of Caesar Augustus, that Christ was born, Luk_2:1; while Cyrenius was governor of Syria, that the taxation took place, Luk_2:2; in the fifteenth year of Tiberias, etc., that Christ was baptized and began his public ministry, Luk_3:1-2. Notice also the following chronological indications: Luk_1:36; Luk_1:56; Luk_1:59; Luk_2:42; Luk_3:23; Luk_9:28; Luk_9:37; Luk_9:51; Luk_22:1; Luk_22:7. We should not infer from the foregoing, however, that Luke furnishes us with a chronological record of the Lord’s public ministry. Very indefinite expressions of time are found throughout the Gospel, as: “and it came to pass, when he was in a certain city,” Luk_5:12; “and it came to pass on a certain day,” Luk_5:17; “and it came to pass also on another sabbath,” Luk_6:6, etc.
5. Luke writes a purer Greek than any of the other evangelists, but this is evident only, where he does not closely follow his sources. The Greek of the preface is of remarkable purity, but aside from this the first and second chapters are full of Hebraisms. Of the rest of the Gospel some parts approach very closely to classical Greek, while others are tinged with Hebrew expressions. Plummer says: “The author of the Third Gospel and of the Acts is the most versatile of all the New Testament writers. He can be as Hebraistic as the LXX, and as free from Hebraisms as Plutarch.” Comm. on Luke in International Crit. Comm. p. XLIX. His style is also very picturesque; he tries to make us see things, just as the eyewitnesses saw them. Moreover his Gospel contains 312 words that are peculiar to him. Several of these are ἅπαξ λεγόμενα. There are also five Latin words, viz. δηνάριον,λεγεών, σουδάριον,ἀσσάριον and μόδιος. Cf. lists in Plummer’s Comm. and Davidson’s Introd.
Though the author speaks of himself explicitly in the preface of his Gospel, we are dependent on tradition for his name. And here again the testimony of the fathers is unanimous. Irenaeus asserts that “Luke, the companion of Paul, put down in a book the Gospel preached by him.” With this agrees the testimony of Origen; Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory, Nazianze, Jerome, e. a.
The Gospel itself offers us no direct collateral testimony. Yet there are certain features that strengthen our belief in the authorship of Luke. In the first place the writer evidently looks at things with the eye of a physician. In 1882 Dr. Hobart published a work on, The Medical Language of St. Luke, showing that in many instances the evangelist uses the technical language that was also used by Greek medical writers, as παραλελυμἐνος, Luk_5:18; Luk_5:24 (the other Gospels have παραλύτικος);συνεχομένη πυρετῷ μεγαλλῳ Luk_4:38; ἔστη ἡ ῥύσις τοῦ ἅιματος Luk_8:44 (cf. Mat_5:29); ἀνεκάθισεν, Luk_7:14, Luke carefully distinguishes demoniacal possession from disease, Luk_4:18; Luk_13:32; states exactly the age of the dying person, Luk_8:42; and the duration of the affliction in Luk_13:11. He only relates the miracle of the healing of Malchus ear. All these things point to Luke, “the beloved physician.
In the second place there is what has been called the Paulinism of Luke. This has sometimes been emphasized unduly, no doubt, but it certainly is a characteristic feature of the third Gospel, and is just what we would expect in a writing of Paul’s companion. In the third place we find great similarity between this Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. If Luke wrote the latter, he also composed the former. The general opinion is expressed by Knowling in his introduction to the book of Acts, in the Expositor’s Greek TestamentII p. 3: “Whoever wrote the Acts wrote also the Gospel which bears the name of Luke.” It is true that there are more Hebraisms in the Gospel than in Acts, but this is due to the fact that the writer in composing the former was more dependent on written sources than he was in writing the latter.
The only certain knowledge we have of Luke is derived from the Acts of the Apostles and from a few passages in the Epistles of Paul. From Col_4:11; Col_4:14 it appears that he was not a Jew and that his worldly calling was that of a physician. Eusebius and Jerome state that he was originally from Antioch in Syria, which may be true; but it is also possible that their statement is due to a mistaken derivation of the name Luke from Lucius (cf. Act_13:1) instead of from Lucanus. The testimony of Origen makes us suspect thIsa. Theophylact and Euthymius had the mistaken opinion that he was one of the Seventy sent out by our Lord. This is refuted by the preface of the Gospel, where Luke clearly distinguishes himself from those that saw and heard the Lord. Apparently the evangelist joined the company of Paul and his co-laborers on the second missionary journey at Troas. This may be inferred from the beginning of the we-sections in Act_16:10. The first one of these sections ends at Act_16:17, so that Luke probably remained at Philippi. He stayed there, so it seems, until Paul returned from Greece on his third missionary journey, for in Act_20:5 we suddenly come upon the plural pronoun of the first person again. Then he evidently accompanied the apostle to Jerusalem, Act_20:6; Act_20:13-15; Act_21:1-17. In all probability he was with Paul at Ceasarea, Act_27:1, from where he accompanied the apostle to Rome, Act_27:1 Act_28:16. He remained at Rome during the first imprisonment, Col_4:14; Phm_1:24, and was according to these passages a beloved friend and fellow-laborer of the apostle. And when the great missionary of the gentiles was imprisoned for the second time, Luke was the only one with him, 2Ti_4:11, and thus gave evidence of his great attachment to Paul. The last part of Luke’s life is involved in obscurity. Nothing certain can be gathered from the conflicting testimony of the fathers. Some claim that he gained a martyr’s crown; others, that he died a natural death.
The question must be asked, whether Paul was in any way connected with the composition of the third Gospel. The testimony of the early Church is very uncertain on this point. Tertullian says: “Luke’s digest is often ascribed to Paul. And indeed it is easy to take that for the master’s which is published by the disciples.” According to Eusebius, “Luke hath delivered in his Gospel a certain amount of such things as he had been assured of by his intimate acquaintance and familiarity with Paul, and his connection with the other apostles.” With this the testimony of Jerome agrees. Athanasius states that the Gospel of Luke was dictated by the apostle Paul. In view of the preface of the gospel we may be sure that the Church fathers exaggerate the influence of Paul in the composition of this Gospel, possibly to give it apostolic authority. Paul’s relation to the third Gospel differs from that of Peter to the second; it is not so close. Luke did not simply write what he remembered of the preaching of Paul, much less did he write according to the dictation of the apostle, for he himself says that he traced everything from the beginning and speaks of both oral and written sources that were at his command. Among these oral sources we must, of course, also reckon the preaching of Paul. That the great apostle did influence Luke’s representation of “the beginning of the Gospel,” is very evident. There are 175 words and expressions in the gospel that are peculiar to Luke and Paul. Cf. Plummer p. LIV. Besides, as we have already seen, some of the leading ideas of Paul are found in the third gospel, such as the universality of the Gospel, the necessity of faith, and the use of the word διακαιόω in a forensic sense, Luk_7:29; Luk_10:29; Luk_16:15; Luk_18:14. A striking resemblance exists also between Luke’s account of the institution of the Lord’s supper, Luk_22:19-20. and Paul’s memoir of this in 1Co_11:23-25, but this may be due to the use of a common source.
The Lukan authorship of the Gospel was generally accepted up to the time, when Rationalism began its attacks on the books of the Bible. The Tubingen school, notably F. C. Baur, maintained that the Gospel of Marcion, who began to teach at Rome in 140 A. D., was the original of our Gospel. Others followed where Baur led. In later years, however, critical opinion wheeled about completely and the opinion is generally held that Marcion’s Gospel is a mutilation of Luke’s, though in some parts it may represent another and even an older text. This, of course, made it possible again to maintain the authorship of Luke. But even now there are several German scholars who doubt that Luke wrote the Gospel, and Harnack’s protest against their contention seems ineffective. Their objections to the Lukan authorship are based on the Acts of the Apostles rather than on the Gospel, but, as has been intimated, the two stand or fall together. We shall consider these objections, when we treat of Acts.
1. Readers and Purpose. The Gospel of Luke was first of all intended for Theophilus, who is addressed as “most excellent Theophilus” in Luk_1:3, and is also mentioned in Act_1:1. We have no means of determining who this Theophilus was. It has been supposed by some that the name was a general one, applied to every Christian, as a beloved one or a friend of God. But the general opinion now is, and rightly so, that it is the name of an individual, probably a Greek. The fact that he is addressed by Luke in the same manner as Felix, Act_23:26; Act_24:3, and Festus, Act_26:25 are addressed, led to the conclusion that he was a person of high station. Baljon thinks he was undoubtedly a Gentile Christian, while Zahn regards him as a Gentile who had not yet accepted Christ, since Luke would have addressed a brother differently. It is generally agreed, however, that the Gospel was not intended for Theophilus only, but was simply addressed to him as the representative of a large circle of readers. Who were these first readers of the gospel? Origen says that the third gospel was composed “for the sake of the Gentile converts ;” Gregory Nazianze, more definitely: “Luke wrote for the Greeks.” Now it is quite evident from the gospel itself that the evangelist is not writing for the Jews. He never gives the words of Jesus in the Aramaic language; instead of ἀμὴν λέγω he has ἀληθώς λέγω, Luk_9:27; Luk_12:44; Luk_21:3; for γραμματεῖς he uses νομικόι, διδάσκαλος, Luk_2:46; Luk_7:30; Luk_10:25; Luk_11:45; and of many places in Palestine he gives a nearer definition. It is very probable that that Gospel of Luke was intended for the Greeks, because Paul labored primarily among them, Theophilus was in all probability a Greek, the preface of the gospel is in many respects like those found in Greek historians, and the whole Gospel is remarkably adjusted to the needs of the Greeks. Cf. for this last point especially Gregory, Why Four Gospels p. 207 if.
The purpose of Luke is clearly stated in the preface, viz. 98 that Theophilus and the Gentile readers in general might know the certainty of those things, wherein they had been instructed, Luk_1:4. It is his desire to present clearly the truth of all Gospel facts. In order to do this, he aims at fulness of treatment; traces all things from the beginning; writes an orderly account of all that has happened, recording the sayings of the Lord in their original setting more than the other evangelists do, thus promoting definiteness and strengthening his representation of the reality of things; mentions the names not only of the principal actors in the Gospel history, but also those of others that were in any way connected with it, Luk_2:1-2; Luk_3:1-2; Luk_7:40; Luk_8:3; brings the Gospel facts in relation with secular history, Luk_2:1-2; Luk_3:1-2; and describes carefully the impression which the teachings of Christ made, Luk_4:15; Luk_4:22; Luk_4:36; Luk_5:8; Luk_5:25; Luk_6:11; Luk_7:29; Luk_8:37; Luk_18:43; Luk_19:37. From the contents of the Gospel we may further gather that it was the author s nearer purpose to present Christ in a very acceptable way to the Greeks, viz, as the perfect man (cf. p. 91 above), as the sympathetic friend of the afflicted and the poor, Luk_1:52; Luk_2:7; Luk_4:18; Luk_6:20; Luk_12:15 ff. Luk_16:19, etc., and as the Saviour of the world, seeking those that are lost, Luk_7:36-50; Luk_15:1-32; Luk_18:9-14; Luk_19:1-10; Luk_23:43.
2. Time and Place. Tradition tells us very little regarding the time, when Luke wrote his Gospel. According to Eusebius Clement of Alexandria received a tradition from presbyters of more ancient times “that the Gospels containing the genealogies were written first.” Theophylact says: “Luke wrote fifteen years after Christ’s ascension. The testimony of Euthymius is to the same effect, while Eutichius states that Luke wrote his Gospel in the time of Nero. According to these testimonies the evangelist composed his Gospel possibly as early as 54, and certainly not later than 68 A. D.
Internal evidence is even more uncertain. Some infer from Luk_21:24 that Luke realized that a certain time was to elapse between the destruction of Jerusalem and the final judgment, and therefore wrote after the destruction of the Holy City, a very inconclusive argument indeed, since this is a prophetic word of Christ. We might argue in favor of a date after the destruction of Jerusalem from the absence of the warning note that is found in both Matthew and Mark, but being an argument from silence even that does not prove the point. Several scholars, especially of the Tubingen school, date the Gospel near the end of the first or in the beginning of the second century. The main argument for this date is the supposed fact that Luke is in some parts of his Gospel dependent on the Antiquities of Josephus, a rather chimerical idea. Both Zahn and Weiss are of the opinion that Luke wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem, but not later than the year 80 A. D. Zahn settled on this terminus ad quem, because he considers it likely that Luke was a member of the Antiochian congregation as early as the year 40 A. D., and would therefore be very old in the year 80 A. D.; Weiss, since the evangelist evidently expected the second coming of Christ in his time, which was characteristic of the first generation after Christ. The great majority of conservative scholars place the composition of this Gospel somewhere between 58 and 63 A. D. The main arguments for this date are: (1) it is in harmony with ancient tradition; (2) it best explains the total silence of Luke regarding the destruction of Jerusalem; and (3) it is most in harmony with the dating of Acts in 63 A. D., which offers a good explanation of Luke’s silence with respect to the death of Paul.
As to the place, where the Gospel of Luke was written tradition points to Achaia and Boeotia. We have no means of controlling this testimony, however, so that it really leaves us in ignorance. Some of the modern guesses are, Rome, Caesarea, Asia Minor, Ephesus, and Corinth.
3. Method. In view of the preface of Luke’s Gospel we have reason to believe that in the composition of it the evangelist depended on both oral tradition and written sources. In present day theories the emphasis is mainly placed on written sources, and the most prevalent hypothesis is that he employed the Gospel of Mark, either in the present form or in an earlier recension; the apostolic source Q or some διήγησις containing this (from which two sources he derived mainly the matter that he has in common with Matthew and Mark); and a third main source of unknown character and authorship, from which he drew the narrative of the nativity, Luk_1:1-80, Luk_2:1-52, and the account of the last journey to Jerusalem, contained in Luk_9:51 Luk_18:14. Zahn also believes that Luke employed Mark as one of his sources, but does not attempt to give a nearer definition of the other sources used. The opinion that he drew part of his material from Josephus deserves but a passing notice. It seems to us that it is impossible to determine exactly what sources Luke used; all we can say is: (1) Having been an associate of Paul for several years, part of which he spent in Palestine, where he had abundant opportunity to meet other apostles and eyewitnesses of the Lord’s works, he must have gathered a large store of knowledge from oral tradition, which he utilized in the composition of his gospel. This accounts for a great deal of the matter which he has in common with Matthew and Mark. (2) During the time of his research in Palestine he also became acquainted with a goodly number of διηγήσεις narratives of the Gospel facts, of which we can no more determine the exact nature, and drew on them for a part of his material. One of these probably contained the matter found in Luk_1:1-80 and Luk_2:1-52, and in Luk_9:51 Luk_18:14. (3) It does not seem likely that Luke read either the Gospel of Matthew or that of Mark, and classed them or either one of them with the previous attempts, on which he desired to improve. Oral tradition in connection with the guidance of the Holy Spirit is quite sufficient to explain the resemblance between these Gospels and that of Luke.
The canonicity of this Gospel is well attested. Says Alexander in his work on the Canon p. 177: “The same arguments by which the canonical authority of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark was established, apply with their full force to the Gospel of Luke. It was universally received as canonical by the whole primitive Church has a place in every catalogue of the books of the New Testament, which was ever published is constantly referred to and cited by the Fathers as a part of sacred Scripture and was one of the books constantly read in the churches, as a part of the rule of faith and practice for all believers.” There are in all 16 witnesses before the end of the second century that testify to its use and general acceptance in the Church.
The gospel of Luke presents to us Christ especially as one of the human race, the Seed of the woman, in his saving work not only for Israel, but also for the Gentiles. Hence it pictures him as the friend of the poor and as seeking sinners, emphasizes the universality of the Gospel blessings, and distinctly bespeaks a friendly relation to the Samaritans. Its permanent spiritual value is that it reminds the Church of all ages that in every nation he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him; and that we have a great High Priest that was touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and was in all parts tempted like as we are, yet without sin.