In choosing our next book for study, I wanted very much to go through one of the gospels, and when I settled on Luke, I thought it would be best to look at both of the books written by him in turn. I believe that Luke himself intended that both his gospel and his history of the early church should be studied together. In keeping with Friday Night Salt and Light protocol, we’ll begin our study of Luke with a short foray into Acts.
Author – Tradition holds that Luke – the physician and companion of Paul – is the author of both the gospel which bears his name and the book of the Acts of the Apostles. That the two books were written by the same author is commonly agreed; however, over the last century or so, it has become fashionable to attribute both these books to someone other than Luke. This idea has, no doubt, been the source from which many doctoral dissertations have been drawn, many heated debates have arisen, and innumerable words have been written. Luke never makes an explicit claim to be the author as do the authors of the epistles (except Hebrews). Yet (in my opinion), there’s also no definitive reason outside the murky art of modern textual criticism to refute the traditional attribution of these books to Paul’s Luke. In fact, none of the four gospels contains an explicit internal identification of the author, and consequently modern textual critics have also called into question their authorship. Of course many elaborate theories have also been proposed to identify the “real” authors. In truth, the identity of the human author of Luke and Acts is not important in the light of our belief that
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Peter 1:20-21
20knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
This is why our Refuge Church Statement of Beliefs includes
We believe that all the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, and that they are the infallible rule of faith and practice.
So, over the possible objections of some modern theological academics, we’ll continue under the traditional premise that Luke, the traveling companion of Paul, is indeed the author of both these books. The first mention of Luke in God’s Word is in Colossians 4:14 – written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome about 62 AD. The only other references to Luke in the Word are in Philemon 1:24 – written about the same time, and in 2 Timothy 4:11 – written just before Paul’s martyrdom some four years later.
Yet Luke had been journeying with Paul for quite a while before his imprisonment. As we learned in the introduction to our study in Philippians, Luke began journeying with Paul during his second missionary journey following Paul’s dispute with Barnabas over John Mark (Acts 15:37-41). Recall that after circumcising Timothy at the beginning of Acts 16, Paul, Silas, and Timothy continued, intending to revisit the churches of Asia Minor which had been founded during the first missionary journey. When they came to Troas, Paul was shown a vision of a man of Macedonia, and determined to go into Europe to preach the Gospel.
It was there that Luke joined them when they sailed to Macedonia. We can deduce this from the fact that Luke changes from using “they” in his narrative to using “we.”
6Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Thus, we know that Luke began traveling with Paul sometime around 50 or 51 AD, and likely continued with Paul throughout his ministry until his martyrdom sometime around 66 or 67 AD.
Paul identifies Luke as “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14. The word Paul uses there is ἰατρός iatros, and is the same word Jesus uses in?
When Jesus heard it, He said to them, ?Those who are well have no need of a physician, [ἰατρός iatros] but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.?
The word ἰατρός iatros has only one meaning, so it’s safe to say that Luke was known as a healer, although his specific training in the medical art of the day remains a mystery. Little is known of Luke apart from the books attributed to him, and the three references to him by Paul. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs mentions him quite briefly, saying only that church tradition holds that Luke was hanged from an olive tree.
Date – The Gospel of Luke was likely written during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment around 60-61 AD. The earliest known manuscript containing parts of Luke’s gospel is a papyrus dating from around 200 AD, which also includes a portion of John’s gospel. Modern textual critics point out that neither Luke nor Acts identify Luke – Paul’s companion – as the author, and have thus claimed a much later date for the books – as late as the end of the second century.
However, if we assume that the author of Luke and Acts was the same companion Paul mentions in Colossians, Philemon, and 2 Timothy, and Luke was an adult somewhere around 20 years of age when he left with Paul for Macedonia around 50 AD, then it’s safe to say that both books attributed to him must have been written during the 1st century or very early 2nd century AD.
Another clue is found in the content of the book of Acts – specifically where its narrative leaves off – describing Paul’s first imprisonment under house arrest in Rome around 60-62 AD.
30Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, 31preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
If Acts had been written at a later date, then why would it not include the narrative of Paul’s acquittal, return journey to Macedonia, second arrest, Roman imprisonment, and martyrdom? Since Acts ends without any description of these later events, the implication is that the book of Acts must have been written sometime before Paul’s release from house arrest around 62 AD. Furthermore, since the author himself identifies the book of Acts as a continuation of his gospel narrative…
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
…we can infer that the Gospel of Luke was likely written after Luke joined Paul on his second missionary journey around 51 AD, and before the book of Acts was written near the end of Paul’s first Roman imprisonment around 62 AD.
One general principle which we should keep in mind, though, is that the Word itself is also an historical record along with the secular histories that are often used as “proof” texts for citing “errors” in the Bible. In this, the Word is often unfairly challenged. Because the Bible claims to be the Spirit-breathed Word of God Himself, it is rightfully held to a higher standard than other documents. In modern textual criticism, the burden of proof always seems to be laid upon the Word, and never on the conflicting documents. This is true with regard to both the content, and to consistency between extant ancient manuscripts of the same text. Part of our job in defending God’s Word is to point out this unfairness on the part of its critics.
For example, the oldest known manuscript of Julius Caesar’s commentaries on the Roman civil war dates from the Middle Ages (10thcentury AD), long after Caesar’s death. This manuscript is missing significant portions of the commentary, and no contemporary (to Caesar) manuscripts of any portions of the commentary are known. Yet no one seems to question the traditional attribution of the commentary to Julius Caesar, or the veracity of its claims (albeit biased) to be an eyewitness account – certainly not to anywhere near to the degree that the authorship and dates of the gospel accounts have been questioned.
Similarly, only 250 ancient manuscripts are known of the works of Plato. The oldest known manuscript dates from the late 9thcentury AD – over 1000 years after Plato’s death. But while tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts exist for the gospels (many of them dating within 100 years of the events they report) no one seems to question the existence of Plato or the authorship of his writings, while the authorship and dates of the gospel accounts, and the very existence of the Lord Jesus Himself are continually questioned by “scholars.”
Why does it matter when these books were written? What’s the big deal? I would submit to you that calling into question the dates of the gospel accounts and the book of Acts is an integral part of satan’s plan to undermine the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself. If he can call into question when the books were written, then he can also cast doubt on the narrative they contain. Luke and Paul both admit they were not, themselves, eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Paul claims he heard about them from the other apostles, and Luke says he was given the accounts by Paul and the others. If the author of Luke-Acts lived much later, as some modern scholars claim, and the books were not written until then, it becomes easy to call into question the validity of the claims made in them about Jesus.
This is nothing new. Satan has been questioning the Truth of God’s Word at least since he deceived Eve using the same tactic in the Garden of Eden.
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said?”
Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known copy of the Old Testament was the Aleppo codex dating from the 10th century AD. Therefore, it was easy to promote the idea that the entire Word had been doctored by a conspiracy of Christians at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, and claim that the Gospel was fabricated by Christians in order to promote their religion. Then when the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from around 150 BC, were found to be virtually identical to modern copies of the Old Testament, satan had to find another avenue to call the Word of God into question.
Just so, this lie about the Council of Nicea, has been utterly debunked by the discovery of much older manuscripts of the gospels and epistles of the New Testament. Yet, this lie continues to be uttered frequently by Bible detractors today. Since no manuscripts of the synoptic gospels contemporary to Jesus’ life on earth have yet been discovered, they become satan’s easiest targets. By questioning the authorship of the gospel accounts, their proximity in time to the events they report can also then be questioned, and thus the truth of the claims they make concerning the deity of Jesus, and the very Gospel of salvation through faith in Him.
Furthermore, perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the call to abandon the belief in the inerrant Truth of God’s Word today is that it is coming with alarming and increasing frequency from within the leadership of the so-called “Christian” church. This, too, is nothing new.
3Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. 4For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet it seems that the turning away from the idea of the inerrancy of Scripture is increasingly rampant within the walls of our congregations as the Day of Christ’s return draws near.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
1Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. 3Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
Difficulties – There are admittedly certain profound difficulties with the text of Luke, in comparison with the other gospels and with secular histories written by Luke’s contemporaries (e.g. Tacitus and Josephus). In particular, Luke contains seeming inconsistencies and even outright errors in some of the date markers he records (e.g. the reign of Quirinius – governor of Syria), and with the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3 in comparison with the one recorded in Matthew 1. We will delve into these challenges at the appropriate time as we make our way through the text. As we do so, we will stand in our conviction that the gospel of Luke, along with the rest of the Word of God, was breathed by His Spirit into its human scribe, and is reliable Truth. We know and believe that…
1 Corinthians 14:33
“God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
Yet, although I can’t speak for anyone else, I must say that close examination of Luke’s timestamps and genealogy has given rise to a great deal of confusion for me personally. Nevertheless, since I believe in the inerrancy of God’s Word, I must assume that the confusion comes simply from not having (or not recognizing) all the pieces of the puzzle. Some of the difficulties we find in Luke will remain unresolved after we study them. I even toyed with the idea of simply glossing over them in the interest of saving time, and out of fear of raising doubts. In the end, I decided that would be intellectually dishonest, and decided instead to raise the issues I’ve encountered as they come up during the course of studying the text, with the willing admission ahead of time that I offer no conclusive resolutions.
Theme and Form – Luke is, of course a gospel – that is an account of the advent, earthly ministry, death on the cross, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Luke, however, was not himself an apostle per se – having never seen the risen Christ in person, as Paul and the other apostles had. Nor was Luke an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Nevertheless, Luke considered himself well qualified to write an account of both Christ’s ministry, and the history of the early church. He makes this assertion at the beginning of his gospel.
1Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
Along with Mathew and Mark, Luke’s gospel is one of the “synoptic” – meaning “taking a similar view,” (from the Greek root “syn” meaning “identical” and the Greek root “optos” meaning “seen”) – gospels. These three gospels are called synoptic because of their close similarity to each other in terms of the stories they relate about Jesus, and their common positions on the deity of Jesus, His sacrificial death, and most importantly His resurrection. As we make our way through Luke’s gospel, we will also look at the parallel accounts in the other gospels whenever the opportunity arises. Many study Bibles include built-in cross-references useful for comparing various accounts of the same events and teachings. For those who may not have such a Bible, many cross-references (commonly called Harmonies of the Gospels) may be found on the Internet
It has been said that the purpose, or theme, of Luke is the proclamation of the salvation to be found only in our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, that would be the rightful thrust of any “gospel” worth its salt. The entire purpose of any gospel is to proclaim in detail the glorious Gospel which Paul spelled out so simply and clearly in eight verses.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
1Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
So now, after that rather long-winded introduction, let’s delve into the Gospel of Luke.