The Gospel of Luke spells out in greater detail the life and ministry of Jesus Christ than any of the other Gospels. The author, Luke, the beloved physician, also wrote the book of Acts. Hence his interest in a historically accurate account of the ministry of Jesus extended also to an account of the establishment of the New Testament church. In a real sense he is the inspired historian of the early church.
For determining who the author is we must begin with the gospel account. There is no direct mention within the gospel itself that Luke is the author. Nevertheless, the first four verses of chapter one give us insight as to who the author is. The truth of the matter is that these verses form a classical example of the truth of organic inspiration. By this, we distinguish the inspiration of the Bible from a mechanical process, as if the Holy Spirit used the authors as robots or typewriters. The Holy Spirit inspired these men as real living tools. He used their minds, wills, natural abilities, and personalities so that the end product reflected it. He did this in such a marvelous way that sin never entered into the process, the words written were without error, the truth of the Word of God alone.
Concerning this organic inspiration we include several elements.
First, God prepared the authors to write their particular message. Let’s examine how this applies to Luke. We learn first of all that Luke was a traveling companion with Paul on some of his missionary journeys. This is established by identifying Luke as the author of Acts. Without getting into the technical aspects of language, we can simply turn to the first part of the book of Luke (Luke 1:3) and Acts (Acts 1:1) and see that both are addressed to the same person, Theophilus. Besides,Acts 1 refers to a previous treatise written to Theophilus which contained the things that Jesus did and said (an obvious reference to the gospel he wrote). Since Luke wrote Acts, use of the pronoun “we” identified Luke as being present with Paul. This begins in Acts 16:10. When Paul traveled from Troas to Philippi, Luke mentions “we.” Then after Philippi there is no reference to “we” until Paul returned to Macedonia, as recorded in Acts 20:6. From this we conclude that Luke stayed in Philippi as a pastor until Paul came back on his third missionary journey. They continued together on this journey and Luke accompanied him to Jerusalem and eventually to Rome and was with him while Paul was in prison (II Tim. 4:11).
How do we know that the “we” referred to Paul and Luke and not someone else? This is determined by the process of elimination. Luke was with Paul in Rome. This is established by the so-called prison epistles. These letters mention the following as being present with Paul: Epaphras, Epaphroditus, Timothy, Tychicus, Aristarchus; Mark, Jesus Justus, Demas, and Luke. Epaphras and Epaphroditus did not arrive in Rome with Paul, hence they could not describe the sea voyage of Acts. Tychicus, Timothy, and Mark are mentioned in Acts in the third person “he.” Demas departed from the apostle; Jesus Justus is not mentioned anywhere as being on the journey with Paul; hence only Luke is left. Both in Philemon 24 and Colossians 4:14 Luke is identified as being in Rome with Paul.
Luke is also referred to as the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14). He was probably converted in Antioch (hence he writes in great detail of the church at Antioch, Acts 11, 13, 15, 22). He was a gentile, well-educated, as his writing indicates. He uses 180 Greek words which appear in his gospel alone and not in any of the others. This is compared to Mark who uses 44, Matthew 70, and John 50. Luke’s grammar is more involved and sentence structure more complex. He became the personal physician of the apostle. Some evidence of his medical background shows in the gospel, e.g., mention of the woman with an issue of blood having spent her livelihood on physicians, Luke 8:46, and observing the fact that Jesus sweat drops as of blood,Luke 22:44.
All this indicates that God prepared Luke to write this particular Gospel. He was educated, had a specific aptitude for accuracy, was personally acquainted with Paul, labored as pastor and missionary. All these qualifications become evident in the gospel itself.
Secondly, organic inspiration includes God’s revelation of the truth which they had to write down. There were times when this truth was revealed directly to the author, as for example by a vision or by the voice of God. Other times, however, the Holy Spirit over-ruled the use of references and oral tradition. Luke explains that he had at his disposal, “a declaration of those things, which are most surely believed (fulfilled) among us” (vs. 1). Some of these were written by others, some by the apostles, noble Jews, even relatives and friends of Jesus. They were reliable because Luke states, “they delivered them unto us which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (vs. 2). Luke had access to them because he lived during that period. He could, for example, talk to the apostles. He met Peter, Mark, and Barnabas at Antioch, James at Jerusalem, and Philip at Caesarea. This led him to say, “having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first” (vs. 3). He felt qualified to write. The Holy Spirit so worked in Luke that he was able to discern what was historically accurate and what was not. In the finished account we have the truth of Christ’s ministry.
Thirdly, God by His Holy Spirit gave the author the desire to write. This is expressly stated in verse 3: “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order most excellent Theophilus.” The Spirit did not force Luke to write or compel him to do a work that he detested. On the contrary, He so influenced him that he considered himself qualified for the task and desired very much to do it. The occasion was his friend Theophilus. We do not know much about him, only that his name means either “lover of God” or “loved by God.” He probably was brought to faith through the preaching of Luke and therefore became a close friend, and Luke desired to see him grow in the faith. The designation, “most excellent” was used in connection with official dignitaries. It could be that he had some position in government and therefore was in a key position to influence the spread of the gospel. At any rate, Luke’s love and concern for the spiritual welfare of this man prompted him to take his pen in hand and write a careful account of the ministry of Jesus.
Fourth, at the time of writing, the Holy Spirit guided the hand of the author so that he wrote accurately what He wanted him to write. This was the conviction of his soul. He would write “in order” (vs. 3), that is, accurately and precisely, because had had perfect understanding. Not only was this his personal idea, it was a fact, because the Holy Spirit was working in him to accomplish this. The writers were conscious of the fact that they were writing more than a personal letter to a friend. They were writing for the ages, and they knew the Spirit was present.
Finally, the Holy Spirit guided the church to include the inspired books in the completed canon of the Scripture. The presence of this gospel of Luke is a testimony of this truth. Not only did Luke consider this gospel worthy of such consideration, but the early church fathers soon looked upon it as an inspired gospel. Irenaeus says, “Luke the physician, whom Paul had associated with himself as one zealous for righteousness, to be his companion who had not seen the Lord in the flesh, but having carried his inquiries as far back as possible began his history with the birth of John.” Justin Martyr does likewise. It is found in all the ancient manuscripts and translations. The Holy Spirit guided the church so that this gospel was included in the Bible.
DATE AND PURPOSE
As in the case of Matthew and Mark, we encounter difficulty in trying to pinpoint a date for writing. There are a few things that we can consider. We know it was written before Acts, and the earliest date for the writing of Acts would have been A.D. 63, during the second year of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Here, too, the question of Luke’s having used Mark enters into the picture. We can’t be far off if we date it around the middle of the 60’s.
As to the purpose of writing it, we can point out as we did before that Luke had Theophilus in mind. He in turn represented the Greek world. Matthew was directed to the Jews, Mark to the Roman Christians, and now Luke to the Greek converts. A few things serve to illustrate this. If a person were acquainted with the geography of Palestine, he might not need such additional information as to how far Mt. Olivet was from Jerusalem, or descriptions of the towns such as Capernum or Nazareth. Greeks might not know those things. Besides, Luke directed the attention of his readers to the ancestry of Christ, going back to Adam, not Abraham. It would impress the Greek mind that Caesar’s decree had a direct effect upon the history of Jesus.
We suggest that Luke also had a specific theme in mind, such as Jesus the Son of Man. We must remind ourselves that all the Gospels had one central theme, namely, the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. The whole Bible extols the God of our salvation. The point is that each of the gospels emphasizes a certain aspect of this work of the Savior. Matthew presents himself as the Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy. Mark sets forth Jesus as the Servant of Jehovah, qualified and faithful in the work of salvation. Now, Luke also sets forth a specific emphasis, that is that Jesus as Savior is the Son of Man. This became obvious when we thumb through some of the details of the gospel. Even before He was born, Mary struggled with the mystery of divine conception—how He could be a man without a human father. In Luke’s gospel, details about his humanity come forth: His birth, infancy, early boyhood, and this we see a true Son of Man. He had to grow in wisdom and stature. The Genealogy places him within the line of mankind, going back to the very beginning. Luke gives us the greatest detail of his Humanity.
All this is given in order that we may know that the salvation brought by Jesus is for us. As the Son of Man, he took our place. Well might the virgin mother sing, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and the malefactor be at home in paradise.
The Son of Man is in truth, our Savior.