This introduction to the Gospel of Luke is little more than a hypothesis, and is not even complete. Think of it as an initial rough draft that will be filled in with more details as the commentary progresses.
Authorship of Luke
Luke was not one of Christ’s apostles, but was a traveling companion to Paul. Therefore, Luke is not an eyewitness to the evens in his Gospel, but writes as an historian who has carefully investigated the matters about which he writes (Luke 1:1-4).
Luke was a Gentile, not a Jew, and tradition indicates that he was a physician. This is supported by his inclusion of many medical details in his account that the other Gospel writers ignore.
Furthermore, because of Luke’s precision as a doctor, and desire for accuracy in his account, he wrote a top-notch history of the life of Christ. Historians who are not Christians have studied the way Luke writes, and they agree that he is a skilled and accurate writer.
He writes in a very orderly way, and gives more specific details about the life of Christ than Matthew, Mark or John. For example, did you know that over 50 percent of Luke’s gospel is unique? It contains materials found nowhere else. Without Luke, certain periods of Christ’s life and ministry would be unknown to us. He has a greater focus on individuals than do the other gospels. Luke mentions thirteen women not found in the other gospels. He contains more of the miracles and parables than the other Gospels, and there are at least 29 events in the life of Christ recorded in Luke that are not found in any other Gospel (Deffinbaugh, 1).
Audience of Luke
Luke seems primarily to be writing to Theophilus (1:1-4), who may have been some sort of high-ranking Roman government official. This man had apparently heard much about Jesus, and Luke is writing to confirm the truth of what Theophilus heard.
Date of Luke
Historical Setting of Luke
Purpose of Luke
Themes in Luke
God is the primary actor. See Green, 1997:50
There are Great Reversals. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Zacharias and Mary. Herod and Religious rulers vs. shepherds. Rich vs. poor (and the priority position of the latter).
More Coming soon…
Luke and 1 Samuel
In my reading, I recently came across the following insight into the theme and structure of Luke. It comes from N.T. Wright’s book, The New Testament and the People of God (pp. 378-383).
When John begins his work with the words ‘In the beginning…’, we know he is imitating the start of Genesis. When Matthew opens with ‘The book of the generation…’, we know he is evoking a regular link-phrase, again from Genesis. But what is Luke up to? His formal and rounded prologue (1:1-4) evokes the literary openings of several works of the Hellenistic period, including, interestingly, two of Josephus’ books. He is intending this book to be placed, not in the first instance within the Jewish, biblical world (it will include that, but is not contained by it) but within the general world of serious Hellenistic writing, not least history-writing.
As soon as this intention is announced, however, Luke leads us off into a small corner of the Hellenistic world, and introduces us, like Shakespeare beginning a play with a pair of minor characters, to Elizabeth and Zachariah, who are to become the parents of John the Baptist. No Roman emperors. no state occasions, no flourish of Hellenistic trumpets; just the pious elderly Jewish couple, in the latter days of Herod, longing for a child. For those with ears to hear, however, Luke is after all doing much the same as John and Matthew. This time, though, the allusion is not to Genesis, the creation of the world, but to 1 Samuel, the creation of Israel’s monarchy.
The story of Elizabeth and Zachariah in Luke 1:5-25, 39-45, 57-80 is without a doubt intended to take the reader’s mind back to the story of Hannah and Elkanah in 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11. This time it is the father (Zechariah), not the mother (Hannah), who is in the Temple, and he himself a priest, not merely appearing before one as hannah does before Eli. But the story has not only the same shape (the couple whose longing for a child is taken up within the divine purpose) but also the same triumphant conclusion (Hannah’s song is picked up by both Mary’s and Zechariah’s). And in both there is a longer purpose waiting to be uncovered, a purpose which encompasses the message of judgment and salvation for Israel.
It is, first, a message of judgment. Samuel, Hannah’s son, will announce to Eli that his days, and his sons’s days, are numbered, and that the ark of Israel’s God will be taken away. John, Elizabeth’s son, will declare divine judgment on Israel, a message which will be picked up by John’s associate and successor, Jesus, in ever more explicit warnings against Jerusalem and the Temple. The story of David, which grows out of that of Samuel, is from the beginning a story of warning for the house of Saul; it is because Israel’s god has decided to reject Saul that David is anointed in the first place. David’s story progresses through his life as an outcast, leading a motley crew of followers in the Judaean wilderness, and reaches its initial climax at the moment when Saul and Jonathan are slain and he, David, is anointed king over Israel. And one of his first acts is to go to Jerusalem to take the city as his capital. Jesus’ story progresses through his wondering with his motley followers in Galilee and elsewhere, and reaches its initial climax when he comes to Jerusalem amid expectations that now at last Israel’s God was to become king. This is a message of judgment for the existing regime.
It is also a message of salvation. The highest moment in the story of Samuel is not his denunciation of Israel, but his anointing of the young David. On that occasion, according to 1 Samuel 16:13, ‘the spirit of YHWH came mightily upon David from that day forward.’ This was the David of whose son Israel’s God said, later in the narrative, that he would establish his kingdom for ever, and moreover that ‘I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me’ (2 Samuel 7:14). The highest moment in the story of John is not his prophetic warning of wrath to come, but his baptism of Jesus, the occasion when, according to Luke 3;22, ‘the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove’, and when a voice from heaven announced him, in words full of Davidic overtones, ‘You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ Within the often-remarked artistry which enables Luke to draw a complete picture with a few strokes of his pen, he has said as clearly as he can that John the Baptist is playing Samuel to Jesus’ David. And, with that, the Hellenistic and Roman kingdoms of the world, the world to which Luke’s prologue so nobly addresses itself, receive notice that there is a new kingdom, a kingdom of Israel’s god, and that the young man now anointed by his cousin in the Jordan is the king through whom it is to be set up.
The story of salvation continues in parallel. David’s anointing is followed, in the narrative of 1 Samuel, by his taking on Goliath single-handed, as the representative of Israel. Jesus’ anointing is followed at once by his battle with Satan. David returns from his encounter to a rapturous popular welcome and the jealousy of Saul; Jesus returns from his encounter to make what is in effect a messianic proclamation in Nazareth, as a result of which he is rejected by his fellow-townsmen, though welcomed enthusiastically by others. David eventually leaves the court to wander as a hunted fugitive with his band of followers; Jesus spends much of Luke’s gospel traveling with his band of followers, sometimes being warned about plots against his life.
None of this is to imply that the parallel with 1 Samuel is the only, or even necessarily the main, key to Luke’s gospel. But the close similarity so far suggests strongly (against classical form-criticism) that Luke is not simply collecting bits of tradition and stringing them together at random; and it suggests, too (against the main forms of redaction-criticism) that the arrangement which Luke is adopting is not simply in pursuit of a home-made scheme of theology invented against the background of events at the start of the second Christian generation, but that he is telling his story in a particular way in order that it may say, as much by its shape and outline as by its detailed content: this story is the climax towards which Israel’s history has been building all along.
When we come to the end of the gospel, and to the start of Acts, the Davidic parallel is still clear. It is made explicitly in, for instance, Luke 10:41-44 (the question about David’s Lord and David’s son); in the messianic material in the crucifixion scene (23:35-43); and in the note of fulfilment, particularly of royal hopes, in 24;26, 44-49. Luke is insisting that Jesus dying on the cross, and Jesus risen from the dead, is to be understood in Davidic categories. He has become king in the paradoxical way demanded as the true fulfilment of the Jewish scriptures. The start of Acts picks up exactly where Luke left off: now that the Davidic king has been exalted, the message of salvation is to go out to the world. It is as though Luke were to say: after the death of David came his son Solomon, to whom the world came to hear wisdom, and to whom the nations were subject. Now, after the death and resurrection of David’s true son Jesus, the true Davidic kingdom has been established, and the nations will become subject to it. The end of Acts, as we remarked earlier, completes this picture, with the kingdom of Israel’s God announced in Rome openly and unhindered.
…Luke is telling the story of Jesus as the fulfilment, the completion, of the story of David and his kingdom.
…Luke believed that, prior to Jesus, Israel’s story had yet to reach its climax. the exile was not over; redemption had yet to appear. …[In Jesus], he believed, the exile became most truly exilic, sin was finally dealt with, and redemption at last secured. But at the same time Luke clearly grasped the equally important Jewish belief that when Israel was redeemed the whole world would be blessed.
…He told the story of Jesus as a Jewish story, indeed as the Jewish story, much as Josephus told the story of the fall of Jerusalem as the climax of Israel’s long and tragic history. But he told it in such a way as to say to his non-Jewish Greco-Roman audience: here, in the life of this one man, is the Jewish message of salvation that you pagans need.