Introduction to Luke's Gospel
General background and author
Luke is part of a two volume work (the second half of which is the book of Acts) which describes the life and work of Jesus and the beginning of the church. Although the author’s name does not appear in either book, the language and structure of Luke and Acts indicates that they were written by the same person. Certain sections of Acts use “we”, indicating that the author was with Paul during these times, and Paul’s “dear friend Luke, the doctor” (Col. 4:14) is the most likely candidate. Early Christian writings together with the early church witness, consistently support Luke’s authorship. He was probably a Gentile, born in either Antioch or Philippi, and well educated in Greek culture.
Luke was a medical doctor, a keen observer, who had made a careful investigation into the life of Jesus and the early church. He had never met Jesus, but Luke was a close associate of Paul travelling with him (Acts 16:10-15, 20:6-21:26) and was also with him during his imprisonment in Rome (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke was not just a historian, but was actively committed to Jesus and the missionary work of the Apostles.
There were a number of accounts available about Jesus’ life (Luke 1:1-2), but Luke felt that they were unsatisfactory. So, he used eye witnesses and reliable sources, to write an accurate and complete account of Jesus’ life.
Both Luke and Acts are addressed to “Theophilus” (literally “the one who loves God”). The “most excellent” in Acts 1:3 indicates that Luke is writing to an individual, either a Roman official, lawyer or someone of high position and wealth. He may have been Luke’s patron, responsible for copying and distributing the book to a wider audience. Some suggest that it may have been a briefing for Paul’s legal defence when on trial in Rome.
Date and place of writing
The date and place of writing are uncertain. The gospel was probably written between AD59-63, before the book of Acts, but after the point where the church would attract the attention of Gentile inquirers like Theophilus. We do not know where Luke wrote the gospel.
The purpose of writing
Luke’s purpose was to write a historically accurate account, written in a logical order, which could communicate the certainty of the church’s teaching (Acts 1:1-4). It was therefore written to strengthen the faith of all believers, to answer attacks of unbelievers, and to replace disconnected, incomplete and ill-founded reports about Jesus with a reliable, historically provable and complete version. It also provided historical evidence of the validity of faith in Jesus Christ.
The key themes of Luke
A large amount of Luke’s material seems designed to persuade people, particularly Gentiles, that Jesus came into the world to save them.
Luke told Jesus’ story as a piece of history, but he recorded the works and teachings of Jesus that were significant for the Christian faith, rather than general historical information like the physical appearance of Jesus. Luke’s main theme was salvation, and Jesus is presented as the Saviour of the whole world rather than Saviour of the Jewish people (Luke 2:10-11, 29-32, 3:4-6).
Luke explained that salvation was for the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus took salvation to everyone including the poor (Luke 4:18, 7:22), women (Luke 8:2, 17:35, 23:49), children (Luke 10:21, 18:16) and sinners (Luke 5:27-32, 15:1-7, 19:1-10). Society thought of these people as less important, but Luke emphasised Jesus’ contact with them, and their importance to God.
He emphasised the wideness of God’s mercy, but also the cost of following Jesus. Luke told us that we must count the cost (Luke 9:57-62, 14:25-35), deny ourselves (Luke 9:23-26), follow daily (Luke 5:27, 9:23, 59, 61, 14:27), repent and renounce sin (Luke 3:3, 8, 13:1-9, 15:1-32, 24:46-47).
Luke also spoke at length about worldly wealth. There were warnings about the dangers of wealth (Luke 1:53, 6:24, 12:13-21, 18:18-30), and instruction about the responsibility that wealth brings (Luke 16:1-15, 19-31, 19:1-27, 21:1-4).
Why should I read this Gospel?
Luke wrote an accurate and logical account of the person and work of Jesus which he hoped would lead people to a complete knowledge of the truth. We also need this knowledge of the truth if we are to live godly lives; and Luke is a reliable guide for us.
Luke has a balanced outlook, and presents us with the complete picture, for example, we see the wideness of God’s mercy, but are encouraged to count the cost of following Jesus. We all need Luke’s balanced outlook as a solid foundation, to keep our faith centred on Biblical truth and avoid wrong emphases.
1:1-4 - Introduction
1:5 – 2:52 – Announcement of the Saviour
3:1 – 4:15 – Introduction of the Saviour
4:16 – 9:50 – Ministry of the Saviour in Galilee
9:51 – 19:27 – Mission of the Saviour on the road to Jerusalem
19:28 – 23.56 – Suffering and death of the Saviour
24:1 – 53 – Resurrection of the Saviour