Gospel of Luke

Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke (Gk. Κατά Λουκάν Ευαγγέλιον ) is a synoptic Gospel, and is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament. The text narrates the life of Jesus of Nazareth, with particular interest concerning his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. It ends with an account of the ascension.

The author is characteristically concerned with social ethics, the poor, women, and other oppressed groups. Certain popular stories on these themes, such as the prodigal son and the good Samaritan, are found only in this gospel. This gospel also has a special emphasis on prayer, the activity of the Holy Spirit, and joyfulness. D. Guthrie stated, “it is full of superb stories and leaves the reader with a deep impression of the personality and teachings of Jesus. The introductory dedication to Theophilus, states that "many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word", and that the author, "after investigating everything carefully from the very first has decided to compose an orderly account "so that [Theophilus] may know the certainty of the things [he has] been taught". Thus the author intended to write a historical account bringing out the theological significance of the history. The author's purpose was to portray Christianity as divine, respectable, law-abiding, and international. Scholarship is in wide agreement that the author of Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles.


Formal introduction

Jesus' birth and boyhood

Jesus' baptism and temptation

Jesus' ministry in Galilee

Jesus' teaching on the journey to Jerusalem

Jesus' Jerusalem conflicts, crucifixion, and resurrection

Content summary

The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus' miraculous birth, ministry of healing and parables, passion, resurrection, and ascension.

The composition may follow the two-source hypothesis, that the text is based in part on the Gospel of Mark and a now lost document (commonly referred to as Q). However, this hypothesis is also consistent with the author's declaration that Luke is written after widely investigating eyewitnesses and other accounts. A single author may have intentionally drawn upon Mark as part of this investigation.


Luke is the only gospel with a formal introduction, in which the author explains his methodology and purpose. It states that many others have already "undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word." The author adds that he too wishes to compose an orderly account for Theophilus, so that Theophilus "may know the certainty of the things [he has] been taught".

Birth narratives and genealogy

Like Matthew, Luke recounts a royal genealogy and a virgin birth for Jesus. Unlike Matthew, who traces Jesus' birth back through the line of David to Abraham in order to appeal to his Jewish audience, in Luke the evangelist traces Jesus' lineage back to Adam, indicating a universal sense of salvation. Unique to Luke is John the Baptist's birth story, the census and travel to Bethlehem, the birth in a manger, and a story from Jesus' boyhood.

Miracles and parables

Luke emphasizes Jesus' miracles, recounting 20, four of which are unique. Like Matthew, it includes the Sermon on the Mount and other important sayings. More than a dozen of Jesus' most memorable parables are unique to Luke, including the Good Samaritan the Corrupt Steward and the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Role of women

More than the other gospels, Luke focuses on women as playing important roles among Jesus' followers, such as Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Mary of Bethany. The Gospel of Luke is the only Gospel which contains the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus to Mary his mother (1:26-38).

Trials and crucifixion

Luke emphasizes that Jesus had committed no crime against Rome, as confirmed by Herod, Pilate, and the thief crucified with Jesus. In Luke's Passion narrative Jesus prays that God forgive those who crucify him and his assurance to a crucified thief that they will be together in Paradise. See also Responsibility for the death of Jesus.

Resurrection appearances

Luke's accounts differ from those in Mark and Matthew. Luke tells the story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and (as in John) Jesus appears to the Eleven and demonstrates that he is flesh and blood, not a spirit. Jesus' commission (the Great Commission) that the Eleven carry his message to all the nations affirms Christianity as a universal religion. The account of Jesus' ascent at the end of Luke is apparently an addition subsequent to the original redaction.


Like the rest of the New Testament, the gospel was written in Greek. Like Mark (but unlike Matthew), the intended audience is Gentile, and it assures readers that Christianity is an international religion, not an exclusively Jewish sect. Several cities have been proposed as its place of origin with no consensus.


Most scholars hold the two-source hypothesis as most probable, which argues that the author used the Gospel of Mark and the hypothetical Q document in addition to unique material, as sources for the gospel. This would be consistent with the author's declaration that he has drawn upon a wide-ranging investigation of all sources and witnesses, and the author's statement that many others had already written gospel accounts before Luke, of which the author was aware. The author of Luke is usually agreed to be more faithful to the wording and order of the Q material than was the author of Matthew. As an alternative to the two-source hypothesis, a few scholars hold to the traditional view that Luke is based on Matthew. The two major hypotheses that hold this position are the Griesbach hypothesis and the Augustinian hypothesis. Martin Hengel has made the more controversial argument that Luke also made use of Matthew.


Early tradition, witnessed by the Muratorian Canon, Irenaeus (c. 170), Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian, held that the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were both written by Luke, a companion of Paul. The oldest manuscript of the gospel (ca. 200) carries the attribution “the Gospel according to Luke”. Early Christian testimony concerning the gospel's authorship is in full agreement, although "some scholars attach little importance to it". The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written by the same author The most direct evidence comes from the prefaces of each book. Both prefaces are addressed to Theophilus, possibly although not certainly the author's patron, and the preface of Acts explicitly references "my former book" about the life of Jesus. Furthermore, there are linguistic and theological similarities between the two works, suggesting that they have a common author. Both books also contain common interests. Linguistic and theological agreements and cross-references between the books indicate that they are from the same author. Those biblical scholars who consider the two books a single, two-volume work often refer to both together as Luke-Acts. It should be noted that Acts of the Apostles (1:1-2)says, "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day He was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen."(NIV)

The text is internally anonymous. One of the two oldest surviving manuscripts P75 (circa 200), has the attribution According to Luke . The other P4 which 'is probably to be dated earlier than P75 ...' has no such (surviving) attribution. Tradition holds that the text was written by Luke the companion of Paul (named in Colossians ) but scholars are divided on this issue.

Given this, the internal evidence of the Acts of the Apostles concerning its author pertains to the authorship of the Gospel. This evidence, especially passages in the narrative where the first person plural is used, points to the author being a companion of Paul. As D. Guthrie put it, of the known companions of Paul, Luke is “as good as any… [and] since this is the traditional ascription there seems no reason to conjecture any other.” There is further evidence from the Pauline Epistles. Paul described Luke as “the beloved physician”, and some scholars have seen evidence of medical terminology used in both the Gospel and Acts, though others dispute this argument.

The traditional view of Lukan authorship is “widely held as the view which most satisfactorily explains all the data.” The list of scholars maintaining authorship by Luke the physician is lengthy, and represents scholars from a wide range of theological opinion. But there is no consensus, and the current opinion concerning Lukan authorship has been described as ‘about evenly divided’. on who the author was.


Some scholars place the date c 80-90. The terminus ad quem, or latest possible date, for Luke is bound by the earliest papyri manuscripts that contains portions of Luke (late 2nd/early 3rd century) and the mid to late 2nd century writings that quote or reference Luke. The work is reflected in the Didache, the Gnostic writings of Basilides and Valentinus, the apologetics of the Church Father Justin Martyr, and was used by Marcion. Donald Guthrie claims that the Gospel was likely widely known before the end of the first century, and was fully recognized by the early part of the second, while Helmut Koester states that aside from Marcion, "there is no certain evidence for its usage," prior to ca. 150.

Between 37 AD and 70 AD

Arguments for a date between 37 AD and 61 AD for the Gospel note that Luke is addressed to "Most Excellent Theophilus," almost certainly a reference to the Roman-imposed High Priest of Israel between 37 AD and 41 AD, Theophilus ben Ananus. This reference would date the original copy of Luke (now long since lost) to within 4 to 8 years after the death of Jesus.

Moreover, the writer states that it is written from eyewitness accounts of Jesus and an investigation "from the very beginning," indicating that it was written while eyewitnesses of Jesus' life, ministry, death, and resurrection were still living, and certainly before they were scattered by the Roman sack of Jerusalem in 68-70 AD. The author's reference to investigation "from the very beginning" suggests that the writer himself claims to have been a witness of these events, curious about Jesus, from the very start.

The internal contents strikingly make no mention of the destruction of the Jewish temple by the Roman Empire in 68 to 70 AD, despite mentioning prominently Jesus' prophecy that the temple would be destroyed. Luke 21:5-30. This prophecy, providing no detail of how or by whom the temple would be destroyed, is presented as perplexing the hearers. Who will destroy the temple is not mentioned.

Indeed, Mark -- which scholars believe formed a basis for Luke -- clearly indicates that the hearers believed that Jesus was saying that God or Jesus Himself would supernaturally destroy the temple: Mark 15:28-29 "Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!" There is no indication in Luke of an awareness that the temple would be destroyed by the Romans, rather than by the hand of God. This lingering mystery about the prophesy indicates it had not yet taken place when Luke was written. A later writer would have taken the opportunity to emphasize that Jesus' prophesy had come true.

Scholars conjecture that Luke collected much of his unique material during the imprisonment of Paul in Caesarea, when Luke attended to him. Paul mentions Luke, in passing, several times as travelling with Paul.

After 70

Many contemporary scholars regard Mark as a source used by Luke (see Markan Priority). If it is true that Mark was written around the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, around 70, they theorize that Luke would not have been written before 70. This view also believes that Luke's prediction of the destruction of the temple could not be a result of Jesus miraculously predicting the future but must have been written with knowledge of these events after the fact. They believe that the discussion in Luke 21:5-30 is specific enough (more specific than Mark's or Matthew's) that a date after 70 seems necessary, if disputed. These scholars have suggested dates for Luke from 75 to 100. Support for a later date comes from a number of reasons. The universalization of the message of Luke is believed to reflect a theology that took time to develop. Differences of chronology, "style", and theology suggest that the author of Luke-Acts was not familiar with Paul's distinctive theology but instead was writing a decade or more after his death, by which point significant harmonization between different traditions within Early Christianity had occurred. Furthermore, Luke-Acts has views on christology, eschatology, and soteriology that are similar to the those found in Pastoral epistles, which are often seen as pseudonymous and of a later date than the undisputed Pauline Epistles.

Marcion circa 144, appears to have used this gospel, but he called it the Gospel of the Lord.

Second century

The second-century heretic Marcion used a version of Luke as his only gospel. Those who would date Luke later argue that it was written in response to Marcion (see Gospel of Marcion).

Audience and authorial intent

Like Mark (but unlike Matthew), the intended audience is Gentile, and it assures readers that Christianity is an international religion, not an exclusively Jewish sect. Luke portrays his subject in a positive light regarding Roman authorities. For example, the Jews are said to be responsible for Jesus' crucifixion, with Pontius Pilate finding no wrong in him.

The consensus is that Luke was written by a Greek or Syrian for gentile or non-Jewish Christians. The Gospel is addressed to the author's patron, Theophilus, which in Greek simply means friend of God or (be)loved by God or loving God, and may not be a name but a generic term for a Christian. The Gospel is clearly directed at Christians, or at those who already knew about Early Christianity, rather than a general audience, since the ascription goes on to state that the Gospel was written "so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught" ().


The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke are three extensive papyrus fragments dating from the late 2nd century or early 3rd century. P4 is probably the earliest, dating from the late 2nd century. P75 dates from the late 2nd century/early 3rd century. Finally P45 (mid-3rd century) contains extensive portions of all four Gospels. In addition to these major early papyri there are 6 other papyri (P3,P7,P42,P69,P82 and P97) dating from between the 3rd-8th century which also have small portions of Luke's Gospel. The early copies, as well as the earliest copies of Acts, date after the Gospel was separated from Acts.

Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are 4th-century codices of the Greek bible that are the oldest manuscripts that contain Luke. Codex Bezae is a 5th- or 6th-century Western text-type manuscript that contains Luke in Greek and Latin versions on facing pages. This text-type appears to have descended from an offshoot of the main manuscript tradition, departing from more familiar readings at many points. Verses are omitted only in Codex Bezae and a handful of Old Latin manuscripts. Nearly all other manuscripts including Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and Church Fathers contain the "longer" reading of Luke 22:19 and 20. Verse 22:20, which is very similar to , provides the only gospel support for the doctrine of the New Covenant. Verses are found in Western text-type. But they are omitted by a diverse number of ancient witnesses and are generally marked as such in modern translations. See Bruce M. Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament for details.

Relationship with other gospels

According to Farrar, "Out of a total of 1151 verses, Luke has 389 in common with Matthew and Mark, 176 in common with Matthew alone, 41 in common with Mark alone, leaving 544 peculiar to himself. In many instances all three use identical language." Mark is widely considered a principal direct source, and Martin Hengel has made the more controversial argument that Luke also made use of Matthew.

There are 17 parables peculiar to this Gospel. Luke also attributes to Jesus seven miracles which are not present in Matthew or Mark. The synoptic Gospels are related to each other after the following scheme. If the contents of each Gospel are numbered at 100, then when compared this result is obtained: Mark has 7 peculiarities, 93 coincidences. Matthew 42 peculiarities, 58 coincidences. Luke 59 peculiarities, 41 coincidences. That is, thirteen-fourteenths of Mark, four-sevenths of Matthew, and two-fifths of Luke describe the same events in similar language. Luke's style is more polished than that of Matthew and Mark with fewer Hebrew idioms. He uses a few Latin words (Luke ; ; ; ; and ), but no Syriac or Hebrew words except sikera, an exciting drink of the nature of wine but not made of grapes (from Heb. shakar, "he is intoxicated"; Lev ), perhaps palm wine. According to Walter Bauer's Greek English Lexicon of the NT, in Aramaic (שכרא) it means barley beer, from the Akkadian shikaru. This Gospel contains 28 distinct references to the Old Testament.

Many words and phrases are common to the Gospel of Luke and the Letters of Paul; compare:

Luke's writing style

The main characteristic of this Gospel, as Farrar (Cambridge Bible, Luke, Introd.) remarks, is expressed in the motto, "Who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil" (Acts ; cf. with Luke ). Luke wrote for the "Hellenistic world".


Most scholars believe that the Gospel of Luke was written originally in Greek. The first four verses of Luke are in more formal and refined Greek, which would be meant to be familiar to the elite citizens of the Greco-Roman era. Then the language changes into a style of Greek which is very similar to the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). Then the language makes its final change toward the end into the common form of 1st-century Greek (called "koine"). Popular opinion among scholars is to see these variations in writings as the Lukan author's ability to write in different literary styles.

Attention to women

Compared to the other canonical gospels, Luke devotes significantly more attention to women. The Gospel of Luke features more female characters, features a female prophet and details the experience of pregnancy ().

Prominent discussion is given to the lives of Elizabeth and of Mary, the mother of Jesus (ch. ).

Disputed verses

Textual critics have found variations among early manuscripts and have used principles of textual criticism to tentatively identify which versions are original. Bart D. Ehrman cites two cases where proto-orthodox Christians most likely altered the text in order to prevent its being used to support heretical beliefs.

When Jesus is baptized, many early witnesses attest that Luke's gospel had the Father say to Jesus, "This day I have begotten you." In orthodox texts (and thus in most modern Bibles), this text is replaced by the text from Mark. Ehrman concludes that the original text was changed because it had adoptionist overtones.

When Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane, the text refers to his being comforted by an angel and sweating drops like blood (verses 43-44 in ). These two verses disrupt the literary structure of the scene (the chiasmus), they are not found in all the early manuscripts, and they are the only place in Luke where Jesus is seen to be in agony. Ehrman concludes that they were inserted in order to counter doceticism, the belief that Jesus, as divine, only seemed to suffer. While probably not original to the text, these verses reflect first-century tradition.

See also


External links

Online translations of the Gospel of Luke:

Related articles:

This article was originally based on text from Easton Bible Dictionary of 1897 and from M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897.


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