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Gospel of Luke

I. Authenticity. The authenticity of the Third Gospel has not been successfully challenged. References are frequent in the second century a.d. (Justin, Polycarp, Papias, Hegesippus, Marcion, Heracleon, the Clementine Homilies, Theophilus of Antioch). It is probable that Clement alludes to it (95). It is mentioned as the work of Luke by the Muratorian Fragment (170) and by Irenaeus (180). Such testimony continues into the third century (Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen). Such a mass of evidence is quite decisive.

II. Date. Although uncertain, the date can be confined to fairly narrow limits. The abrupt termination of the Acts of the Apostles suggests that the author did not long survive his friend and associate Paul. Nor is it likely to have been written after the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. The period of Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea saw Luke in Palestine, and this period (conjecturally 58-59) would presumably give abundant opportunity for the research that is evident in the record. Luke’s Gospel is thus the latest of the Synoptic Gospels.

III. Historiography. W. M. Ramsay’s work on the Acts of the Apostles has established the right of Luke to rank as a first-rate historian in his own capacity. He was demonstrated to have maintained a consistent level of accuracy wherever detail could be objectively tested, and the vividness of narration so evident in the second work is visible also in the Gospel.

IV. Style. Luke’s preface is in the elaborate style of ancient historians and demonstrates that Luke could write with facility in the literary tradition of his time. At Luke.1.5 he moves into an easy vernacular, which he employs for his whole narrative. His language is the common dialect, but used with grace and vigor and with an educated man’s skill in composition.

V. Unique Features. Many incidents and much teaching are found only in Luke’s Gospel:

1. The Nativity section is fresh and different and seems to point to direct contact with Mary herself. The record of the birth of John the Baptist is especially noteworthy, as are the four psalms (Luke.1.46-Luke.1.55, Luke.1.68-Luke.1.79; Luke.2.14, Luke.2.29-Luke.2.32) that form a striking link between the hymnology of the OT and that of the NT.

2. The human genealogy (Luke.3.23-Luke.3.38) of Christ, traced to Adam, is chosen in accordance with the cosmopolitan flavor of the Gospel and the writer’s conception of his writing as the first movement of the great historical process that took the faith from Bethlehem to Rome.

3. The childhood of Jesus is recorded in Jesus’ visit to the temple (Luke.2.41-Luke.2.52). Found only in Luke, this account also points to the probability that Mary was the chief authority.

6. Only Luke records the following miracles: the large catch of fish (John.5.1-John.5.11), the widow’s son (John.7.11-John.7.14), the sick woman (John.13.11-John.13.13), the sick man (John.14.2-John.14.6), the ten lepers (John.17.12-John.17.19), the healing of Malchus in Gethsemane (22:51).

7. In the closing chapters of the Gospel, the prayer on the cross (23:34), the penitent thief (23:39-43), the walk to Emmaus (24:13-35), and much of the Ascension narrative are recorded only by Luke.

VII. Sources. Beyond the writer’s own statement that he collected his material from eyewitnesses (Luke.1.2), it is impossible to be dogmatic. From the first words of the Gospel it is evident that Luke had both written accounts and living witnesses to draw from. In parts he appears to have followed Mark or Mark’s authorities and tradition. Mary could have supplied information regarding the Nativity, and the unique material on the Passion and Resurrection had apostolic authority.

Bibliography: I. H. Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian, 1970; E. E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke (NCB), 1974; L. L. Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke (TNTC), 1974; I. H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (NIGTC), 1978 (on the Greek text); J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (AB), 2 vols., 1985--.——EMB

LUKE, THE GOSPEL OF. The third account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the present common order of listing in the NT canon.



The gospel according to Luke has been called the most beautiful book ever written (Renan, Les Evangiles, p. 283). At its heart is the perfect life, Christ’s teachings, redemption through Him, and the lives of those who cluster around Him. In the gospel and its counterpart, Acts, more knowledge is given of the apostles and leaders of the primitive church than is found in any other document. This author, in fact, wrote more pages of the NT than any other person if, as is commonly assumed, Paul did not write Hebrews.

The Gr. of this gospel is generally recognized as among the best in the NT. Though there are, of course, reflections of Sem. sources, the book is not a mere collection or compilation of fragments. It is a connected treatise by a capable and well-informed person. Whatever the author borrowed from oral or written tradition, he made it his own and cast it in his own style.

That the author had sources is evident. He made no claim of being an eyewitness of the things he described. Rather, he affirmed that the things recorded were delivered to him and to his contemporaries “by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2). These words, however, also contain an important claim. While Luke was not in the apostolic group during the earthly ministry of Jesus, he does insist that the sources of his information were persons who had seen that which transpired from the beginning. Barring specific information to the contrary, the passage seems to imply that Luke wrote not only during or near the time of the apostles but that they were the obvious source of much of his information. In any case, he was no sketchy or casual inquirer. He had “followed all things closely for some time past” so as to be able to write “an orderly account” (v. 3).

The majority of scholars of the 20th cent. have held that Luke had access to two main literary sources, Mark and “Q,” to which he added certain materials from a source peculiarly his own, called “L.” As the documentary theory was being developed in the 1860s by Holtzmann (Die Synoptischen Evangelien, ihr Ursprung und geschichtlicher Character), it was not the canonical Mark, however, which was considered a source but rather an early form in which the material was cast as an Ur-gospel that came to be called Ur-Marcus. It was Streeter, in 1925, who sought to show that Matthew and Luke used Mark (The Four Gospels, p. 157). The hypothetical document called “Q” has usually been described as a body of sayings or teachings of Jesus, much after the pattern of wisdom lit. Some identify it with the “Logia” that Papias attributed to Matthew. In general, it is held to consist of the double tradition, the material found in both Matthew and Luke but not in Mark.

On this view of sources, there was relatively little demand for originality laid upon the writer of the third gospel. The written documents furnished most of the content, much of the order, and a model for much of the form. Deviation from the models would be largely a matter of preference and of style rather than of necessity. He would be more of an editor than an author.

In spite of the repeated insistence that the documentary view no longer needs to be proved (e.g., Moffatt: Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, p. 180) and that “it is the one absolutely assured result of a century of learned discussion...that St. Mark’s is the oldest Gospel which we possess” (e.g. Rawlinson, “St. Mark,” Westminster Commentaries), there have always been dissenting voices. Germany had its Hilgenfeld, Zahn, and Schlatter. Sanday’s famous seminar at Oxford had its dissentients, Allen and Bartlet. The voice of objection has not ceased in the United States from the days of Burton in 1904 (Some Principles of Literary Criticism and their Application to the Synoptic Problem) to the present. The “Q” hypothesis still can be publicly disparaged from the platform at learned societies (e.g., The Society of Biblical Literature [1966]) by men of repute. A scholar dares to write a major volume “to demonstrate that the idea of Markan priority is highly questionable” (Farmer, The Synoptic Problem [1964]). Public response of men of the stature of Matthew Black, of Aberdeen, is that in view of data that has come to light it is no longer possible to hold to the Markan priority. The debate has been reopened but has reached no new consensus.

Meanwhile, it is possible to think in broader and more flexible terms of Luke’s sources than would be indicated by the documentary hypotheses. Luke may well have interviewed ladies of or related to the household of Jesus. Reports directly from eyewitnesses are probable, esp. during Luke’s stay in Pal. while Paul was in prison in Caesarea. Personal acquaintance with some of the apostles and other leaders of the Early Church is almost certain. He obviously had access to the information accumulated by Paul. Irenaeus (Against Heresies, III, i, l) says that Luke “recorded in a book the Gospel preached by” Paul. Could not Luke have used a multiplicity of oral and written sources, possibly including another of the synoptic gospels, treated in the context of his own familiarity with the places and events of Pal., governed by a strong historical sensitivity, influenced by a Gentile breadth of insight and viewpoint, and guided and inspired by the Spirit of God? How else could he have produced such a masterpiece? One thing is certain; he used his sources, but he was no slave to them.


Not only is the unity of the third gospel assured; there is also general agreement that its sequel, the Book of Acts, is by the same author. On the basis of the same addressee (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), the specific reference to the former in the latter (Acts 1:1), and the obvious similarities of style, method, and materials, it is common to refer to the two books as one compound volume of Luke-Acts.

The same distinctive literary excellence characterizes the whole. Renan called this the “most literary of the Gospels.” It is the Gr. of the educated man, characterized by a rich vocabulary, striking contrasts, breadth of interest, depth of insights, and intelligent concern for all types of people. His gentile orientation is never narrow. It includes every son of Adam. The poor, the helpless, the infirm, and the sinsick occupy his thought. He is ever a missionary and evangelist, as is his Lord.

Plummer says the author is the most versatile of all the NT writers (ICC, p. xlix). Though a learned Gentile, he is sufficiently oriented in Heb. society that he can be as thoroughly Hebraistic in describing it as he is Gr. in describing the Gr. society. Accordingly, when Luke uses distinctly Sem. sources, as in the first two chs. of the gospel, he makes them so completely his own that they in no way mar the unity of the whole. With apparent ease, Luke moves from the classical Gr. models of the prologue to a LXX type of Gr. strongly flavored with Semitisms in the infancy narratives and on to a good literary Koine Gr. in the body of the writing. There is no awkward piecing together of unrelated fragments. As A. B. Bruce says (EGT, I, p. 48), “It does not matter what documents Luke used, he exercised his own judgment in using them.” No part of Luke-Acts is without the distinctive and unifying stamp of the author’s own genius and style.

Another mark of unity is the consistent historical interest and insight. Luke is called the first church historian. As Hayes says, “Mark and Matthew wrote memoirs. John wrote a philosophy of religion...Luke the Gentile set himself to write a historical gospel, following Gentile models at certain points and connecting his account with Gentile history throughout” (The Synoptic Gospels and the Book of Acts, p. 215). He alone of NT writers relates the names of Rom. emperors and uses a great many proper names to correlate times and events. From beginning to end, he is bent on relating the Gospel to the world, to the empire, to all nations, and to all times. Luke raised sacred history from Israelitish nationality to universal humanity. The pattern is consistent throughout Luke-Acts.

A great deal has been said about the medical language of Luke. Whatever can be proved concerning the authorship of the gospel by it, a strong case can be made for the unity of Luke-Acts. Whether the author spoke as a physician or as an informed layman, there is a consistent pattern peculiar to these writings. No other NT book approaches the frequency of reference to medical needs, facts of diagnosis, descriptive details of the diseases and cures, psychological accompaniments, and marks of recovery. Nor does any other book contain so abundant casual use of medical vocabulary and reference to interests more particularly common to physicians. Whatever the reason, the phenomenon exists so persistently as to amount to a signature of the same author on the whole.


The author never mentions his own name, unless one credits an Armenian reading of Acts 20:13, based on a “Western” text, which says “I Luke” (F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 5). But, there was no difference of opinion in the Early Church as to his identity. No possibility was ever mentioned of questioning that the author was Luke the beloved physician, traveling companion and co-missionary with Paul. Plummer compares the certainty of the authorship of the third gospel with that of the four great epistles of Paul (Commentary on Luke, p. xvi). Irenaeus quotes from nearly every ch. of the gospel, often referring to Luke as the author. Clement of Alexandria, who had received the tradition handed down from father to son from the apostles (Stromata I. i. p. 322, ed. Potter), quotes the gospel frequently and definitely assigns it to Luke. Tertullian works through most of the gospel in his treatise against Marcion, often calling it Luke’s. The Muratorian Fragment not only refers to Luke but also calls him medicus. Even Julicher, who in recent times rejected the Lukan authorship, admitted that the ancients universally accepted it. Upon those who reject Luke as the author there rests the burden of explaining the universal voice of the “Fathers” in his favor. Certainly the name of Luke was not selected as a pseudonym to give prominence to the book. His name was quite unknown except as it was enhanced through his writings. As Renan says, “Luke had no place in tradition, in legend, in history” (Les Apôtres, p. xvii). The only reason for so universal an association of the name with the documents seems to be that Luke wrote them and thus became known.

Though Luke’s writings are the source of more knowledge of the apostles, deacons, and evangelists of the Early Church than the writings of any other person, Luke tells little or nothing directly about himself. He makes one reference to himself by a pronoun in the gospel (1:3) and uses the pronouns “we” and “us” a number of times in Acts. Paul alone of NT writers refers to him by name (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Philem 24). These references and the reflections of the author in his writings have made possible a fairly rich and authentic acquaintance with Luke. Legend has, of course, greatly elaborated the data and has led to the production of many imaginative biographies of Luke.

The strongest internal evidence for authorship stems from the “we” sections in Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16). The author was apparently a companion of Paul. Acts 20:4 eliminates, as possibles authors, the names of Timothy, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychichus, and Trophimus. Silas cannot be easily fitted into the “we” sections. There is neither external nor internal evidence for Titus. For the remaining person, Luke, of Paul’s associates, there are both kinds of evidence. The rest of Luke-Acts is by the same author as the “we” sections if style, vocabulary, and the usual marks mean anything. Therefore, it is reasonable that Luke should be considered the author of the third gospel.

Hobart devoted more than three hundred pages to a study of The Medical Language of Luke. He considered four hundred terms that were used by Luke alone among writers of the NT or that were used more frequently by him than by others and that were found also in the Gr. medical writers. The evidence seemed overwhelming that Luke was a physician. Cadbury argued that the evidence only proved that Luke was an educated man (The Making of Luke-Acts). Even when proper allowance is made for lay use of medical language, Harnack’s explicit statement of the case stands (Luke the Physician). He proves that Luke was a physician not only by his vocabulary but also by a variety of traces throughout his writings such as points of view, preference for the healing miracles, tendency to diagnose diseases, interests characteristic of physicians, and ways of reporting anecdotes. It is true that a few isolated instances prove little. But the overwhelming mass of data appears conclusive that the author was indeed a physician, presumably Luke, the only physician known to belong to Paul’s missionary party.


The question of date is closely related to that of sources and of the order in which the synoptic gospels were written. If the author had depended on Josephus’ Antiquities for his reference to Quirinius (Luke 2:2), it would have been necessary to date the gospel near the end of the 1st cent. The gospel information is too different from that of Josephus to have come from that source. Luke refers to an earlier governorship (Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? p. 227ff.).

Again, if the popular view of the priority of Mark is correct and if, as is widely held, Mark’s gospel was written near the time of the death of Peter and Paul (a.d. 68), Luke must have written rather late. Streeter bridges the gap by inventing a Proto-Luke, a combination of Q and the bulk of the material peculiar to the third gospel, to which Luke later added the infancy stories and materials from Mark (The Four Gospels, p. 217f.). The idea of a Proto-Luke is, of course, challenged by Sparks in the Journal of Theological Studies (July-October, 1943, pp. 129-138). Even if it should be necessary to concede that Luke wrote after a.d. 68, it is almost certain that he had been collecting sources for some years.

If, however, as a growing number of scholars believe, it is not necessary to accept the priority of Mark, or if Mark wrote earlier than the late 60’s, a more natural date for Luke becomes possible. Luke says plainly in Acts (1:1) that the gospel was written before Acts. If the reason for the abrupt ending of the Acts account of Paul’s life, and for the silence concerning the outcome of the Rom. trial should, as many think, be simply that Acts was written while Paul was still in prison in Rome, it must have been written early in the a.d. 60s. Then the gospel would have to be in the late 50s or still earlier than Acts in the 60s. The fact that Luke spent two or more years in Pal., while Paul was in prison in Caesarea, means that he was within easy walking distance of the places and people that could furnish all the data he needed. He would also have had the leisure to write at this time. On this basis, a date of a.d. 58 would be a good approximation, as near the end of Luke’s residence in Pal. and before the strenuous events described in the latter part of Acts.

The objection that Luke is so commonly third in the lists of gospels is more apparent than real. Ancient lists appear not to have been arranged always according to date of writing. There was a strong tendency to list the two apostles, Matthew and John, first. Others, it is thought, put Mark second because he was writing as a disciple of Peter, the prominent apostle. In any case, the ancient lists present no uniform order. Origen frequently cites the gospels in the order Matthew, Luke, and Mark. Clement of Alexandria, before Origen, puts the gospels that contain the genealogies first on the basis of the tradition he had received from the primitive elders (Euseb., Hist. VI, xiv). Luke also stood in the second place in Ambrosiaster, in the Catalogue of the Sixty Canonical Books, in the Old African Lat. codex, and in the cursives 90 and 399. If Luke was not an early gospel, it is remarkable that it, not being written by an apostle, was ever listed in second place, esp. by such notable leaders. The preponderance of evidence tends toward a.d. 58, in the absence of any compelling reason for rejecting an early date.

Place of origin.

Jerome, in the preface to his commentary on Matthew, said that Luke wrote the gospel in Achaia and Boeotia (Migne xxvi, 18), but the source of his information is not known. Modern guesses as to the origin of the gospel vary considerably. Plummer lists the following: Rome (Holtzmann, Hug, Keim, Lekebusch, Zeller), Caesarea (Michaelis, Schott, Thiersch, Tholuck), Asia Minor (Hilgenfeld, Overbeck), Ephesus (Köstlin), and Corinth (Godet). Then he adds, significantly, that there is no evidence for or against any of them. In the absence of any need to think otherwise, Hayes (The Synoptic Gospels and The Book of Acts, p. 203) conjectures that Luke made his first considerable gathering of material in Pal. while Paul was in prison in Caesarea. If one accepts a relatively late date of the actual writing, one of the above places can be chosen according to the time and circumstances imagined. Or, if Acts was written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, Luke was written either before Paul and Luke left Caesarea or soon after they arrived in Rome. As abundant as Luke’s sources of information must have been among his apostolic acquaintances and others over a period of time, there is no reason why he could not have written the gospel before leaving Caesarea, unless one is bound by an opinion on the relationship between the gospel and Mark that would make this unacceptable. Wherever the gospel was written, there can be little doubt that it reflects much material that was collected personally in Pal., and that the handling of the material reflects a broad Gentile background which includes both wide missionary vision and experience in sharing the Gospel with the whole world.


Both Luke (1:3) and Acts (1:1) are addressed, ostensibly, to an individual named Theophilus. That the reference is indeed to a person and not simply to lovers of God everywhere is made clear from the epithet “most excellent” (κράτιστε), which Luke ascribes to the governors Felix and Festus (Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25). The name Theophilus was common among Jews and esp. among Gentiles (Plummer xxxiii). According to the Clementines, Theophilus was a wealthy citizen of Antioch. The title in Luke and its absence in Acts may indicate that he held a position in the government before being established as a Christian believer. This wealthy Christian may have been Luke’s literary patron, furnishing him the financial backing necessary for the publication of his two books (Hayes: The Synoptic Gospel and the Acts, p. 194).


The immediate occasion may well have been Luke’s interest in the influential Theophilus, who had apparently made some move toward the Christian faith. The manner in which he is addressed places his needs in focus. If Luke was also of Antioch, and esp. if his associations with Theophilus were particularly significant, Luke may have been greatly concerned that a full authentic account be presented to this discriminating leader. If further motive was necessary, Luke’s missionary experience prob. had taught him that a multitude of other discerning persons could use the same persuasive gospel.

The interruption of Paul’s itinerant ministry by a prolonged imprisonment in Jerusalem and Caesarea provided the needed leisure. Luke’s loyalty to Paul and perhaps Paul’s recurrent need of a physician did not permit distant solitary campaigns. They did permit Luke to “follow all things closely” and “to write an orderly account” so that the reader or readers might “know the truth concerning the things of which” they had been informed (1:3, 4). After participating in Paul’s second and third missionary journeys, Luke did not find the data of the gospel new to him. He was in an excellent position to verify, arrange, and record the truths he had received from a variety of sources. The many attempts of others (1:1) seemed inadequate. With his superior scientific training and greater command of the Gr. language, Luke no doubt felt an urge from God to do what others had only attempted. There had to be a better instrument for reaching the Gentile mind, esp. among the cultured and influential.


Though none of the gospels reflects an aim to be complete and comprehensive in recording all the historical details of the life, ministry, and death of Jesus, history was definitely a specific aim of Luke in his gospel. He made no attempt to probe the silent years of Jesus’ childhood and early maturity or to chronicle every event that could be reported. He did specifically “follow all things closely,” in order to give a perfectly reliable account of those important events and facts that constitute the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1-4), the historic foundations of the faith. Plummer observes (p. xxxv) that “Luke begins at the very beginning, far earlier than any other Evangelist; not merely with the birth of Christ, but with the promise of the birth of the forerunner. And he goes on to the very end: not merely to the Resurrection but to the Ascension.” Luke also has an unusually high proportion of material peculiar to himself, including many of the most beautiful treasures which we possess (Plummer, xxxv). Fullness of historically relevant data was an achieved goal.

While none of the gospels is without historical interest, there is a new dimension in Luke’s. He followed Gentile models at certain points and connected his accounts with Gentile history throughout. He has been called the first church historian. He did not write with a narrow controversial goal. His aim was not to depreciate the Twelve in the interests of Paul, to vindicate Paul, nor to reconcile the Judaizers with Paul’s disciples (Plummer, xxxvi). The document is no party paper under the cover of fictitious history. It is a carefully prepared research paper on the facts of the gospel for the conversion and confirmation of readers in the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. The purpose is a gospel—a sure, historical gospel.


The case for the Lukan authorship of the third gospel already has been discussed. While Luke was not one of the apostles, he was the companion of Paul and apparently was thought, in some sense, to have spoken for Paul. Tertullian said, “For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul” (Against Marcion, IV, v). Irenaeus said, “Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him” (Against Heresies, III, i, 1). The general acceptance accorded the gospel in antiquity seems to indicate that any demand for apostolicity was met in the association with Paul and in the apostolic community. As H. Ridderbos says (The Authority of the New Testament Scriptures, p. 35), “Apostolic authority and apostolic tradition in the New Testament must not be bound to the person of the apostle.” What is apostolic is not limited to the viva vox of the apostles nor to their writings. It acquires its own “unpersonal” existence. The apostolic witness, authorized by Christ, and inspired by the Holy Spirit belongs to the depositum custodi, the treasure with which the Church is entrusted (1 Tim 3:15; 4:6, 12; 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14; 2:2). The apostolic and canonical significance of a book for the Church depends in large measure on whether its content is a part of the basic apostolic tradition (ibid.).

That the third gospel was recognized early as authoritative is beyond reasonable question. Plummer said that it already had been recognized as authoritative before the middle of the 2nd cent. (xvi). No abrupt shift is observed in the use or acceptance of the gospel. As soon as it appears, its authority seems to be assumed. No question is raised. As more time elapses since apostolic times, words of explanation are introduced to identify Luke and to clarify his relationship with Paul and the Apostolic Church. Such references are noted in the section on “Authorship.” The notes of Tertullian, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and the Muratorian Fragment come from the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd centuries but the sources directly known to them cover easily an earlier half cent. Particularly in the case of Clement of Alexandria, the claim is made that the tradition was handed down from father to son from the apostles (Stromata I. i.).

Is there evidence from the period between the apostles and these writers of the existence and use of Luke’s gospel? There is. As Plummer says, “We obtain a very imperfect idea of the early evidence in favor of the Third Gospel when we content ourselves with the statement that it is not attributed to Luke by any one before Irenaeus and the Muratorian Fragment” (xv). Justin Martyr cites a variety of particulars that are found only in Luke (I Apol. xxxiv; Try. lxxviii; lxxxviii, c, ciii, cv, cvi). His pupil Tatian used the gospel in the Diatessaron. Celsus knew the third gospel with its genealogy extending to the first man (Orig., Con Cels ii, 32). The Clementine Homilies contain similarities that appear to be allusions (iii. 63. 65; xi. 20. 23; xvii. 5; xviii. 16; xix. 2). Marcion adapted this gospel to his purposes. Indeed, if Luke’s gospel had not been in such common use for a long time, how could a scholar of Origen’s breadth have listed it among the number of “those four Gospels admitted by all the churches under heaven”? Godet (pp. 8, 9) presents a good case for allusions by Clement of Rome in the 1st cent. to Luke’s second document, Acts. In the NT itself, he finds John’s narrative alluding, even in expression, to Luke’s and sees the long ending of Mark, “scarcely anything but an abridged reproduction of Luke’s” narrative (p. 11).

Since no question of debate is raised to indicate a shift of attitude between the time of writing and the universal acceptance of the third gospel as reflected in the latter part of the 2nd cent., since these 2nd cent. leaders clearly believed that they had an original and firm tradition, since this belief is supported by various evidences of the existence and broad use of the document throughout the Early Church, and since no voice is raised against the authority of this Gentile non-apostle, it is reasonable to assume that the third gospel’s position in the canon was firm and original.


The third gospel has no lack of textual materials. The five primary uncials (א, A, B, C, D) are the chief witnesses for the text. All of these but C (Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus) contain the whole gospel complete, while C has one long gap between chs. 12 and 19 and a number of shorter gaps throughout the book. Of the complete MSS, B is, of course, king of the uncials, and Aleph is next in rank. Where these two agree, the support for a reading generally is considered very strong. As Plummer indicates, “the Western element which sometimes disturbs the text of B is almost entirely absent from the Gospels” (p. lxxii).

These primary uncials are reinforced by a number of others (including L, Δ, R, T, X, Ξ, and W). To these are added several hundred minuscules that contain the whole or part of the gospels. Though these vary in importance, many of them are of considerable value. A variety of early Latin, Coptic, and Syriac VSS also are very useful. Many of these trs. reflect texts that antedate the oldest uncials (which come from the 4th cent.). These VSS represent wide geographical areas. Latin includes African, European, Italian, and the Vulgate. Coptic is Memphitic, Sahidic, and Bohairic; Syriac is Curetonian, Sinaitic, Peshitta, Harclean, and Palestinian. Finally, the quotations from the Fathers reflect ancient text types that furnish a basis for comparison.

Relatively late discoveries have enriched the resources of the critic. Codex W (Washingtonianus), purchased in 1906 by Mr. Freer, could be listed as a sixth primary uncial. It contains only the four gospels, but it comes from the late 4th or 5th cent. The Luke text is part Alexandrian and part Byzantine type. The Koridethian Manuscript (Θ), an uncial of the four gospels, was published in 1913. It is mostly Byzantine except in Mark, where it is akin to two groups of minuscules with which it has been grouped into the Theta or Caesarean family. Among the papyri, P45, Chester Beatty Papyrus I, dating from the 2nd or 3rd cent., has been outstanding. Originally the codex contained all four gospels and Acts, but the discovery at about 1930 included only certain leaves—seven in the case of Luke. In 1961, Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV (P75) was published. It contained most of Luke 3-24 in its present form. It is compared to P45 in many ways.

Godet mentions five or six thousand variant readings in the documents of Luke and says that “in general they are of very secondary importance and involve no change in the matter of Gospel history” (p. 48). The critic’s task is simplified by the tendency of certain MSS to go habitually together in opposition to others until two principal forms are established—often the older uncials grouping against the minuscules and the less ancient uncials. The exact scholar finds no substitute for careful analysis and exegesis in each instance. Even so, it is still proper to speak of the general agreement of the text with the most ancient VSS and with the quotations of the Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and to speak of the general uniformity of the MSS in which the Gr. text has been preserved. As Godet says, “A text so universally diffused could only proceed from the text which was received from the very first” (p. 46).

Special problems.

Since Luke’s interest is so specifically historical, the most serious questions to be raised concerning his writings are charges of inaccuracy in reporting facts. These charges and detractions take four main forms: (1) the inference that a theological interest has displaced any genuine concern for historical accuracy; (2) the charge that Luke’s facts are wrong as compared with secular history; (3) the assertion that Luke and Paul contradict each other in their reporting of facts and events; and (4) the theory that the speeches and songs allegedly reported by Luke are his own compositions, in which he uses the literary device of putting his own ideas into the minds and mouths of others. A fifth problem has historical overtones—the matter of alleged theological differences between Luke and Paul. These last would be serious only if they made impossible the traditional relationship between these men.

Many have been disturbed by the fact that nearly all that is known about Jesus is from the writings of theologians or at least of men who are committed believers in Jesus as the Christ. It is argued that the theological judgment about Jesus was the mother of the narratives of the gospels rather than that the facts narrated demanded the theological conclusions. In other words, it is alleged that the gospels are not sober historical witnesses to Jesus of Nazareth but are simply the theological opinions of the Early Church as embellished and illustrated by such items of fact, legend, and mythology as could be used to present their views. The impossibility, on this view, of distinguishing fact from myth or legend has led many to despair of ever recovering the historical Jesus. On the other hand, the major effort of Formgeschichte is to peel back the layers of theology in order to come as close as possible to the truth. Of course, the whole assumption that theology and history are at odds is an unproved hypothesis of doubt. None of the apostles would have admitted such a bi-polarity. They considered themselves witnesses of evident facts that had compelled them and many others to believe that Jesus is indeed the Christ. The “works” of Jesus were not inventions of the apostles and evangelists to illustrate their faith; their faith was, in part, dependent upon these “works” and “signs” (Luke 5:24; John 5:36). To say that Luke had a definite theological interest is not to say that the history has been conformed to the theology. Rather, as D. Guthrie says, “Luke brings out the theological significance of history” (p. 88).

Luke exposed himself to attack in the matter of reliability as a historian by the fact that he, more than any other evangelist, followed historical models, related the narrated events to major details of the empire and of world affairs, and claimed to give particular pains to providing a reliable account. The chief point of attack in the gospel is the enrollment by order of Augustus in the time of Quirinius (Luke 2:1-3). Critics have denied that Augustus ever issued a decree ordering a universal census, that such a decree would have affected King Herod’s Pal., that Quirinius was governor when Jesus was born, that Jesus was born at the time of a census, and that a Rom. census would have proceeded on a tribal basis. Sir William Ramsay and others accepted the challenge. Particularly as a result of Ramsay’s Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? the reputation of Luke for accuracy is greatly improved. Though no contemporary sources have certified this enrollment, the probabilities now lie on the side of Luke’s account. Quirinius was twice the imperial legate in Syria. His first term seems to have been as military governor or legate at the same time that Varus was busy as governor over the internal affairs of Syria around 7-5 b.c. (Ramsay, pp. 243ff.). It has been discovered that a general census was taken by the Romans every fourteen years. Luke distinguishes this “first” census from the well-known one of a.d. 6 (Acts 5:37). This would imply a date of about 8 b.c. for the beginning of the first census. Where there was resistance, enrollment took a long time (e.g., forty years in Gaul. See Stauffer, Jesus and His Story, pp. 21-32). Perhaps Herod followed the Jewish tribal custom to avoid resistance, even at the cost of two or three years delay in the first census. E. Harrison suggests that the first census may have taken fourteen years, so that this first enrollment may have had its beginning date near the time of the birth of Christ and its end at the better known a.d. 6. To accomplish this task in so short a time may have been worthy of note (Introduction to the New Testament, p. 194). In any case, the probabilities are against Luke’s having been careless of a point so easily checked when he was affirming to a prominent leader his own care for accuracy, and was using historical detail to substantiate his central message. Ramsay well inquires how, if Luke made such a glaring error in the facts surrounding the birth of Christ, did these inaccuracies escape the attention of the enemies of the Gospel in Rom. times? The probabilities, historically, lie on the side of Luke’s accuracy. It is even possible that the most striking result in a cent. of NT research is the relative vindication of the historical accuracy of the author of Luke-Acts and his present standing as the first real church historian.

The charge of contradiction between Luke’s writing and that of Paul applies more to Acts than to the gospel. For example, Paul appears to have visited Jerusalem three times according to Acts (9:20ff.; 11:30; 15:2). Galatians mentions only two occasions (1:16ff. and 2). The problem is created by the assumption that Paul is listing all of his visits to Jerusalem and not just those in which he had contact with the apostles. Or, if Galatians was written before the Jerusalem Council, as some think, there is no problem. Others point to Paul’s circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16:3) and his refusal to circumcise Titus (Gal 2:3), but Timothy was part Jewish and Titus was not. Luke tends to record Paul’s concessions to Jewish practice and wishes, while Paul insists that he never sacrificed the principle of “freedom in the gospel.” Suffice it to say that no direct contradiction has been proved—only reflections of a different interest in the significance of the events.

The question of the origin of the recorded speeches is more often in relation to Acts than in the gospel. However, the words attributed to Mary, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Simeon and Anna, as well as the discourses of Jesus Himself, are notable exceptions. It is true that one option lying before the evangelist was to follow Thucydides and make the speakers speak in a way which seemed to be demanded by the occasion, though adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said (History of the Peloponnesian War, I. 22. 1). That some Greeks used Thucydides’ method without his conscientious care is admitted. Others were severely critical of speech invention and regarded the historian’s task as recording what was actually said (R. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament, p. 141). There is no evidence that Luke departed from his careful historical method when he introduced speeches. Where it is possible to check (as between Mark 13 and Luke 21), the results are favorable to correct reporting. The intimate details concerning Mary, the prophetic utterances, and the hymns of praise are not invented to express Luke’s reaction; they are set forth only because they illumine the significance of an event—the event about which the book is written—the coming of the Christ. Even the variations between the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49) may indeed indicate only what they claim to present—two separate sermons of the Christ rather than the sermons of two evangelists. Is it not likely that Jesus, as other rabbis, repeated His principal teachings from time to time in different forms to suit a variety of occasions?

The fifth problem, that of the theological differences between the Acts and Paul, is related to the question of the authorship of Luke-Acts. It has been asserted that Luke’s record of Paul’s teaching differs so radically from Paul’s own presentation that the author must not have been acquainted with Paul. In Acts there is no hint of the theological tension reflected in Galatians, where law is seen as leading into bondage from which Christ has freed man. D. Guthrie well says, however, that there is no ground for demanding that Luke must present Paul’s theology in his historical book in precisely the same form as Paul presents it in his practical and didactic letters. Paul himself accommodated to circumstances. He circumcised Jewish Timothy but rejected circumcision as a means of salvation (Rom 2:25). He agreed to concessions to Jewish culture patterns for the Gentiles who looked to Jerusalem for guidance (Acts 15:25-29), but later, in the distant mission fields, he demanded no such conformity (Rom 14:2, 3). It is really no harder to establish theological harmony between Luke and Paul than to demonstrate consistency in Pauline thought and action.


In a unique sense the third gospel depicts Jesus as the divine Redeemer who came to seek and to save those who were lost. The account begins before the annunciations to Zechariah and to Mary and ends with the ascension into heaven. Set in the context of full deity, the perfect humanity of Jesus is revealed in more detail than in any other gospel. Luke gives the fullest account of the birth, childhood, growth, domestic and social life of Jesus, but emphasized that He came as Savior and Redeemer. Christ is depicted not so much as the Messiah of the OT as the Redeemer of the whole world. Time and again the point is stressed that the kingdom is open to all races and conditions of men—Samaritans and pagans as well as Jews; poor as well as rich; outcasts, publicans, and sinners as well as respectable people, and to women as well as to men. It is the universal Gospel of the Savior of all men.

It is also the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the secret of Christ’s own ministry (Luke 4:18ff.). The human spirit throbs with prayer, praise, joy, forgiveness, weeping, love, friendship, wisdom, understanding, glory, and authority. Notices of time and place are more frequent than in the other gospels. Biographical interest is more intense, but the uniting theme is Christ’s saving purpose throughout.

Whatever may be said about sources or independence, Luke shares the “triple tradition” with both other synoptic gospels and the “double tradition” with Matthew in the sense of using in his own way the general bodies of material to which they all had access and in which they were all interested. To these Luke adds significant materials peculiar to himself, arranging the whole “in order,” sometimes chronologically and sometimes logically. The first two chs., recording the birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation, the adoration of the shepherds, the circumcision of Jesus, His presentation in the Temple, and the visit to Jerusalem at the age of twelve, are strongly Sem. in character. Ramsay makes a good case for Mary herself as the source of Luke’s information (Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? pp. 73-91). The long passage (9:51-18:14) and the shorter passage (19:1-28) are also peculiar to Luke. Together they contain sixteen of the twenty-three parables in Luke and many of the most interesting events in the life of Christ. The so-called Perean ministry occupies a prominent part in this section. The book may be outlined briefly as follows:


Luke is first of all a historian of the Gospel events and only secondarily a theologian (E. F. Scott, “The New Criticism of the Gospels,” H. Th. R., April 1926, pp. 143f.). The Gospel as he knows it is full of theological data and implications, but he reports it as he received it rather than as an inventor or theoretician (J. Creed, The Gospel According to St. Luke, p. lxxi). It is important to treat the “theology” of Luke in the light of this basic informality and not to impose one’s own systems of theology upon it.

Luke may be called a Paulinist in the sense that he shares with great conviction Paul’s position as the great apologist for the Gentile mission. Everything points to the fact that the Gospel is for all. Otherwise, little or nothing is said in the gospel that bears directly on the Pauline controversies. Christ must indeed have suffered, which the prophetic Scriptures had foretold, but no further theology of the cross is elaborated to explain redemption. Luke does not mention the death of the Son of man as “a ransom for many” (as Mark 10:45) or refer to the cup as “the blood of the Covenant poured out for many.” He is content with the implicit force of the reported events and the portrait of the Redeemer.

The kingdom of God holds its central place in the gospel as the “reign of God,” which also has its eschatological aspect with the sudden return of the Son of man (Luke 17:22f. and 21:35, 36). Jesus is the Christ, the Son of man, the Redeemer, the Lord. The facts of His heavenly origin, His virgin birth, His divine Person, His works, and the outcome of His Passion speak for themselves. No elaborate Christology need be added. He is Savior.

In the same informal way, Luke reveals an implicit “theology of the Spirit.” Christ ministered in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:18f.) and promised the same to His followers (24:49)—a promise which was fulfilled in the beginning of Acts (2:4) and which became a dominant theme of that book.


W. Hobart, The Medical Language of Luke (1882), 1-297; F. Godet, A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 2 vols. (1893), 1-49; A. Plummer, “Commentary on Luke,” International Critical Commentary (1896), xi-lxxxv; W. Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? (1898), 1-280; W. Ramsay, Luke the Physician (1908), 1-418; A. Harnack, Luke the Physician (1908), 1-198; A. Bruce, “The Gospel According to Luke,” The Expositor’s Greek Testament (1910), 44-60; D. Hayes, The Most Beautiful Book Ever Written (1913), 1-183; D. Hayes, The Synoptic Gospels and the Book of Acts (1919), 177-266; B. Streeter, The Four Gospels (1925), 150-364; J. Moffatt, Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament (1925), 261-314; V. Taylor, Behind the Third Gospel (1926), 1-280; H. Cadbury, The Making of Luke-Acts (1927), 213-368; A. Robertson, Luke the Historian in the Light of Research (1930), 1-29; J. Creed, The Gospel According to St. Luke (1950), xi-lxxxvi; N. Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (1952), 15-50; N. Stonehouse, The Witness of Luke to Christ (1951), 9-67; P. Parker, The Gospel Before Mark (1953), 1-249; W. Arndt, The Gospel According to St. Luke (1956), 1-36; E. Stauffer, Jesus and His Story (1960), 21-32; H. Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke (1960), 9-17, 95-234; W. Farmer, “A Skeleton in the Closet of Gospel Research,” Biblical Research, VI (1961), 18-42; R. Grant, Historical Introduction to the New Testament (1963), 133-147; E. Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament (1964), 184-199; W. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem (1964), 1-308; D. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, The Gospels and Acts (1965), 84-113; H. Meynell, “The Synoptic Problem: Some Unorthod ox Solutions,” Theology LXX (1967), 386-397; “Gospel of Luke,” Review and Expositor LXIV, 4 (1967), a complete issue on Lukan studies.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

|| 1. Text

2. Canonicity

3. Authorship

4. Sources

5. Credibility

6. Characteristics

7. Date

8. Analysis


1. Text:

The five primary uncials (Codices Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Ephraemi, Bezae) are the chief witnesses for the text of Luke’s Gospel. This group is reinforced by L, Codex Delta and the Freer (Detroit) MS; R, T, X and Xi are also valuable in fragments. The other uncials are of secondary value. The Latin, Egyptian and Syriac versions are also of great importance. There are 4 Latin versions (African, European, Italian, Vulgate), 3 Egyptian (Memphitic, Sahidic, Bohairic), 5 Syriac (Curetonian, Sinaitic, Peshitto, Harclean, Palestinian or Jerusalem). Many of the cursive (minuscule) manuscripts are also of considerable worth, as are some of the quotations from the Fathers.

Blass, Philology of the Gospels (1898), has advanced theory of two recensions of this Gospel (a longer and a shorter), such as he holds to be true of Acts. In the case of Acts, theory has won some acceptance (see Acts of the Apostles), but that is not true of the Gospel to any extent. The Western text of the Gospel is the shorter text, while in Ac it is the longer text. In both instances Blass holds that the shorter text was issued after the longer and original text. His idea is that Luke himself revised and issued the shorter text. In itself this is, of course, possible, since the books are both addressed to an individual, Theophilus. The other edition may have been meant for others. Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek explain the omission in the Western text of the Gospel as "Western non-interpolations," and often hold them to be the true text. As samples one may note Lu 10:41; 12:19; 24:36,40,42, where the Western text is the shorter text. This is not always true, however, for in 6:2 ff Codex Bezae (D) has the famous passage about the man working on the Sabbath, which the other documents do not give. In Lu 3:22, D has the reading of Ps 2:7 (" Thou art my Son; this day I have begotten thee") for the usual text. Zahn (Introduction, III, 38) accepts this as the true text. There is no doubt of the interest and value of the Western readings in Luke, but it cannot be said that Blass has carried his point here. The peculiar mutilation of the Gospel by Marcion has an interest of its own.

2. Canonicity:

The fact that the author was not an apostle affected the order of the book in some lists. Most manuscripts and versions have the common order of today, but the Western order (Matthew, John, Luke, Mark) is given by D, many Old Latin manuscripts, the Gothic VS, the Apostolical Constitutions. The object was probably to place the books by apostles together and first. The Old Latin has Luke second (John, Luke, Mark, Matthew), while the Curetonian Syriac has Luke last of the four. The cursives 90 and 399 also have Luke second.

3. Authorship:

The first writers who definitely name Luke as the author of the Third Gospel belong to the end of the 2nd century. They are the Canon of Muratori (possibly by Hippolytus), Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria. We have already seen that Julicher (Introduction, 330) admits that the ancients Universally agreed that Luke wrote the Third Gospel. In the early part of the 2nd century the writers did not, as a rule, give the names of the authors of the Gospels quoted by them. It is not fair, therefore, to use their silence on this point as proof either of their ignorance of the author or of denial of Luke’s authorship. Julicher for instance, says (Introduction, 330): "There is no tradition worthy of the name concerning Luke, whom Papias did not mention, or at any rate did not know." But we owe to Eusebius all the fragments that we have preserved from the writings of Papias. Our ignorance of Papias can hardly be charged up to him. Plummer (Commentary, xii) says that nothing in Biblical criticism is more certain than the fact that Luke wrote the Third Gospel. On the other hand, Julicher (Introduction, 331) is not willing to let it go as easily as that. He demands appeal to Acts, and there (ibid., 447) he denies the Lukan authorship save as to the "we" sections. J. Weiss (Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments; das Lukas Evang., 1906, 378) admits that but for Ac no sufficient reason would exist for denying the authorship of the Third Gospel to Luke, the disciple of Paul. A Pauline point of view in this Gospel is admitted generally. Many modern critics take it for granted that the Lukan authorship of Ac is disproved, and hence, that of the Gospel likewise falls by the way. So argue Baur, Clemen, De Wette, Hausrath, Hilgenfeld, Holtzmann, Julicher, Pfleiderer, Schurer, Spitta, von Soden, J. Weiss, Weizsacker, Zeller. Men like Blass, Credner, Harnack, Hawkins, Hobart, Klostermann, Plummer, Ramsay, Renan, Vogel, Zahn, stand by the tradition of Lukan authorship, but Harnack is almost irritated (Luke the Physician, 1907, 6), since "the indefensibility of the tradition is regarded as being so clearly established that nowadays it is thought scarcely worth while to reprove this indefensibility, or even to notice the arguments of conservative opponents." Harnack proceeds to make a plea for a hearing. Jacobus (Standard Bible Dictionary) admits that "Ac tells us nothing more of the author than does the Gospel." That is true so far as express mention is concerned, but not so far as natural implication goes. It is true that the place to begin the discussion of the Lukan authorship of the Gospel is Acts. For detailed discussion of the proof that Luke wrote Acts, see Acts of the Apostles. It is there shown that the line of argument which has convinced Harnack, the leader of the liberal criticism of Germany, ought to convince any openminded critic. It means a good deal when Harnack (Luke the Physician, 14) says: "I subscribe to the words of Zahn (Einleitung, II, 427): `Hobart has proved for everyone who can at all appreciate proof that the author of the Lukan work was a man practiced in the scientific language of Greek medicine--in short, a Greek physician.’ " It is here assumed that the line of argument pursued in the article on ACTS OF THE APOSTLES is conclusive. If so, little remains to be done in the way of special proof for the Gospel. The author of Ac specifically refers (Ac 1:1) to a former treatise which was likewise addressed to Theophilus. This we find to be the case with the Gospel passing under the name of Luke (1:4). The critics who admit the Lukan authorship of Ac and deny the Lukan authorship of the Gospel are hardly worth considering.

It is, therefore, largely a work of supererogation to give at length the proof from internal grounds that Luke wrote the Gospel, after being convinced about Acts. Still it may be worth while to sketch in outline the line of argument, even though it is very simple. Plummer (Comm., x-xvii) argues three propositions:"

(1) The author of the Third Gospel is the author of the Acts.

(2) The author of Ac was a companion of Paul.

(3) This companion was Luke."

Harnack (The Ac of the Apostles, 1909) has argued with great minuteness and skill theory that the same linguistic peculiarities occur in all portions of Acts, including the "we-"sections. He accepts the facts set forth by Hawkins (Horae Synopticae) and adds others. He agrees, therefore, that the author of Ac was a companion of Paul. Harnack is convinced by the exhaustive labors of Hobart (Medical Language of Luke) that this author was a physician, as we know Luke to have been (Col 4:14). He shows this to be true of the author of Ac by the use of "us" in Ac 28:10, showing that the author of Ac received honors along with Paul, probably because he practiced medicine and treated many (compare Barnack, Luke the Physician, 15 f). These medical terms occur in the Gospel of Luke also, and the same general linguistic style is found in both the Gospel and Acts. Hawkins has made a careful study of likenesses and variations in style in these two books (compare Horae Synopticae, 15-25, 174-89). The argument is as conclusive as such a line of proof can be expected to be. For further discussion see Ramsay, Luke the Physician, 1908, 1-68; Zahn, Introduction, III, 160 ff. There are no phenomena in the Gospel hostile to this position save the Semitic character of Luke 1 and 2 (barring the classical introduction 1:1-4). Luke, though a Gentile, has in these chapters the most Semitic narrative in the New Testament. But the explanation is obvious. He is here using Semitic material (either oral or written), and has with true artistic skill preserved the tone of the original. To a certain extent the same thing is true of the opening chapters of Acts.

4. Sources:

The synoptic problem (see GOSPELS, THE SYNOPTIC) remains the most difficult one in the realm of New Testament criticism. But the Gospel of Luke yields on the whole more satisfactory results than is yet true of Matthew.

(1) Unity.

If the Lukan authorship of the book is accepted, there remains no serious doubt concerning the unity and integrity of the Gospel. The abridgment of Luke’s Gospel used by Marcion does not discredit those portions of the Gospel omitted by him. They are omitted for doctrinal reasons (compare Sanday, Gospels in the 2nd Century, chapter viii). His readings are of interest from the viewpoint of textual criticism, as are the quotations of other early writers, but his edition does not seriously challenge the value of Luke’s work.

(2) Luke’s Method.

Luke has announced his methods of work in a most classic introduction (1:1-4). Here we catch a glimpse of the author’s personality. That is not possible in Mark nor in Matthew, and only indirectly in passing shadows in the Fourth Gospel. But here the author frankly takes the reader into his confidence and discloses his standpoint and qualifications for the great task. He writes as a contemporary about the recent past, always the most difficult history to interpret and often the most interesting. He speaks of "those matters which have been fulfilled among us," in our time. He does not himself claim to have been an eyewitness of "those matters." As we know already, Luke was a Gentile and apparently never saw Jesus in the flesh. He occupies thus a position outside of the great events which he is to record. He does not disguise his intense interest in the narrative, but he claims the historical spirit. He wishes to assure Theophilus of "the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed." He claims to have investigated "the course of all things accurately from the first," just as the true historian would. He thus implies that some of the attempts made had been fragmentary at any rate, and to that extent inaccurate. He has also produced an "orderly" narrative by which Theophilus may gain a just conception of the historical progress of the events connected with the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that "many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters" does not deter Luke from his task. The rather he is stirred thereby ("It seemed good to me also") to give his interpretation of the life and work of Jesus as the result of his researches. He stands not farther away than one generation from the death of Jesus. He has the keen interest natural to a cultured follower of Jesus in the origin of what had become a great world-movement. He is able to get at the facts because he has had intercourse with eyewitnesses of Jesus and His work, "even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word." Luke had abundant opportunity during the two years at Caesarea with Paul (Ac 24-26) to make careful and extended investigations. Many of the personal followers of Jesus were still living (1Co 15:6). It was a golden opportunity for Luke’s purpose. He had also the written narratives which others ("many") had already drawn up. We are, then, to expect in Luke’s Gospel a book closely akin to Ac in style and plan, with the historian’s love of accuracy and order, with the author’s own contribution in the assimilation and use of this oral and written material. One would not expect in such a writer slavish copying, but intelligent blending of the material into an artistic whole.

(3) The Aramaic Infancy Narrative.

The very first section in this Gospel (Lu 1:5-2:52) illustrates Luke’s fidelity in the use of his material. Wellhausen drops these two chapters from his edition of Luke’s Gospel as not worthy of consideration. That is conjectural criticism run mad and is not to be justified by the example of Marcion, who begins with chapter 4. Wright (Gospel according to Luke in Greek, 1900, viii f; under the word "Luke’s Gospel," DCG) holds that this section was the last to be added to the Gospel though he holds that it comes from Luke. It may be said in passing that Wright is a stout advocate for the oral source for all of Luke’s Gospel. He still holds out against the "two-document" or any document theory. However, he claims rightly that Luke’s information for these two chapters was private. This material did not form part of the current oral Gospel. In Matthew the narrative of the birth of Jesus is given from the standpoint of Joseph, and Mary is kept in the background, according to Eastern feeling (Wright). But in Lu the story is told from Mary’s point of view. Luke may, indeed, have seen Mary herself in the years 57-59 AD (or 58-60). He could easily have seen some of Mary’s intimate friends who knew the real facts in the case. The facts were expressly said to have been kept in Mary’s heart. She would tell only to sympathetic ears (compare Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? 74 f). It is not possible to discredit Luke’s narrative of the Virgin Birth on a priori grounds (compare Orr, The Virgin Birth of Christ, 1907; Sweet, Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ, 1906). The curious Semitic flavor of this narrative argues strongly for its genuineness, since Luke was a Greek. We do not know whether Luke knew Aramaic or not. That was possible, since he spent these 2 years in Palestine. We do not know whether this information came to him in written form (note especially the hymns of Mary and of Zacharias) or in oral tradition. But it is hardly possible to credit a Greek with the invention of these birth-narratives and poems which ring so true to the soil and the Hebrew life. Immediately after Luke’s statement about historical research comes the narrative of the birth of Jesus. It is the first illustration of his work on his sources.

(4) Luke’s Relation to Mark’s Gospel.

Luke knew Mark in Rome (Col 4:10,14; Phm 1:24). He may have met him in Palestine also. Had he seen Mark’s Gospel when he wrote his own? Was it one of the "many" narratives that came under Luke’s eye? Wright (compare DCG) denies that Luke had our Mark. He admits that he may have had an Urmarkus or proto-Mark which he heard in oral form, but not the present (written) Gospel of Mark. He thinks that this can best be accounted for by the fact that out of 223 sections in Mark there are 54 not in Luke. But most modern critics have come to the conclusion that both Matthew and Luke had Mark before them as well as other sources. Matthew, if he used Mark, in the early chapters, followed a topical arrangement of his material, combining Mark with the other source or sources. But Luke has followed the order of Mark very closely in this part and indeed throughout. Luke has a special problem in 9:51-19:27, but the broad general outline follows that of Mark. But it cannot be said that Luke made a slavish use of Mark, if he had this Gospel before him. He gives his own touch to each incident and selects what best suits his purpose. It is not possible for us to tell always that motive, but it is idle to suppose that Luke blindly recorded every incident found in every document or every story that came to his ears. He implies in his introduction that he has made a selection out of the great mass of material and has woven it into a coherent and progressive narrative. We may admit with Harnack (New Testament Studies: Sayings of Jesus, xiii) that the Markan problem "has been treated with scientific thoroughness" and that Luke had Mark as one of his sources. The parallel between Luke and Mark in the narrative portion is easily seen in any Harmony of the Gospels, like Broadus or Stevens and Burton.

(5) Q (Quelle) or the Logia.

It is a matter of more uncertainty when we come to the mass of material common to Matthew and Luke, but absent from Mark. This is usually found in the discourses of Jesus. The more generally accepted theory today is that both Matthew and Luke made use of Mark and also this collection of Logia called Q for short (Ger. Quelle, "source"). But, while this theory may be adopted as a working hypothesis, it cannot be claimed that it is an established fact. Zahn (compare Introduction) stoutly stands up for the real authorship of the First Gospel of Matthew. Arthur Carr ("Further Notes on the Synoptic Problem," The Expositor, January, 1911, 543-553) argues strongly for the early date and Matthean authorship of the First Gospel. He says on the whole subject: "The synoptic problem which has of late engaged the speculation of some of our keenest and most laborious students is still unsolved." He even doubts the priority of Mark’s Gospel. Wellhausen (Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien, 73-89) advocates the priority of Mark to Q. But Harnack balances the problem of "Q and Mark" (Sayings of Jesus, 193-233) and decides in favor of Q. In any case, it is to be noted that the result of critical research into the value of Q is to put it quite on a paragraph with Mark. Harnack is quite impressed with the originality and vivid reality of the matter in Q. The material present in Q cannot be gauged so accurately as that in Mark, since we have the Gospel of Mark in our hands. Where both Matthew and Luke give material not found in Mark, it is concluded that this is drawn from Q. But it cannot be shown that Matthew may not have used Q at some points and Luke at still others independently. Besides Q may have contained material not preserved either in Matthew or Luke. A careful and detailed comparison of the material common to both Matthew and Luke and absent from Mark may be found in Hawkins, Horae Synopticae, 10713; Harnack, Sayings of Jesus, 127-82; Wellhausen, Einleitung, 66; Robertson, "Matthew" in Bible for Home and School, 14-19. But, if it is true that Luke made use of Q as of Mark, he was no mere copyist. No solution of the synoptic problem can ever be obtained on the idea that the Gospels are mere reproductions of previous documents. There was freedom in the use of all the material, both oral and written, and the writer gave his own interpretation to the result. It was often a restatement in the author’s own language, not formal quotation. Wright (DCG) calls this editorial element "editorial notes"; that is, of course, often true when the author makes comments on the matters presented, but "ancient authors took immense pains to reduce the rude chronicles which they used, into literary form" (same place) . The point of all this is that a great deal of criticism of the Gospels is attempting the impossible, for many of the variations cannot possibly be traced to any "source." Wright (same place) puts it tersely again: "And if in John’s Gospel it is more and more recognized that the mind of the evangelist cast the utterances of our Lord into the peculiar form which they there hold, the same process of redaction may be observed in Luke, who comes nearest of the synoptists to the methods of John." As a matter of fact, this is as it should be expected. The frank recognition of this point of view marks progress in synoptic criticism.

(6) Other Sources.

There is a large block of material in Lu 9:51-18:14 which is given by him alone. There are various sayings like some reported by Matthew (or Mark) in other connections. Some of the incidents are similar to some given elsewhere by Matthew and Mark. There are various theories concerning this position of Luke. Some critics hold that Luke has here put a mass of material which he had left over, so to speak, and which he did not know where to locate, without any notion of order. Against this theory is the express statement of Luke that he wrote an orderly narrative (1:3 f). One is disposed to credit Luke’s own interpretation unless the facts oppose it. It is common for traveling preachers, as was Jesus, to have similar experiences in different parts of the country and to repeat their favorite sayings. So teachers repeat many of their sayings each year to different classes. Indeed, it is just in this section of Luke that the best parts of his Gospel are found (the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Pharisee and the Publican, etc.). "The more we consider this collection, the more we are entranced with it. It is the very cream of the Gospel, and yet (strange to say) it is peculiar to Luke" Wright DCG) Wright calls this "a Pauline collection, not because Paul is responsible for the material, but because the chapters breathe cosmopolitan spirit of Paul. That is true, but Jesus loved the whole world. This side of the teaching of Jesus may have appealed to Luke powerfully because of its reflection in Paul. Matthew’s Gospel was more narrowly Jewish in its outlook, and Mark’s had fewer of the sayings of Christ. But it is to be noted that this special material in Luke extends more or less all through the Gospel. Burton (Some Principles of Literary Criticism and Their Application to the Synoptic Problem, 49) calls this special material in Lu 9:51-18:14 "the Perean document." We do not know, of course, anything of the actual source of this material. Whether Luke has here followed one or more documents, he has, as elsewhere, given his own stamp to the whole, while preserving in a marvelous way the spirit of Jesus. (For the possible parallel between this section of Luke and John see Robertson’s "Notes" to Broadus, Harmony of the Gospels, 249-52.) For the earlier material in Luke not found elsewhere (3:7-15,17,18; 4:2b-13(14,15),16-30; 5:1-11; 6:21-49; 7:1-8:3) Burton suggests "the Galilean document" as the source. Wright, on the other hand, proposes "anonymous fragments" as the source of Luke’s material not in the infancy narrative, nor in Mark, nor in Q, nor in the "Pauline" or Perean document. At any rate, it is certain that Luke’s own words of explanation should warn us against drawing too narrow a line around the "sources" used by him. His "many" may well have included a dozen sources, or even more. But it may be said, in a word, that all that criticism has been able to learn on the subject has confirmed the statement of Luke himself concerning his method of research and his use of the material.

5. Credibility:

More fault has been found with Luke as a historian in Ac than in the Gospel. Harnack (Ac of the Apostles) is not disposed to give Luke full credit as a reliable historian. But Ramsay (Luke the Physician, 5) champions the reliability of Luke (compare also Paul the Traveler; The Church in the Roman Empire) against the skepticism of Harnack, which is growing less, since in the Theol. Literaturzeitung (July 7, 1906, S. 4) he speaks well of Luke’s ability to secure correct information. So in Luke the Physician (121-45) Harnack urges that the possible "instances of incredibility have been much exaggerated by critics." He adds about Ac 5:36: "It is also possible that there is a mistake in Jos" (compare Chase, Credibility of the Book of the Ac of the Apostles; see also ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.

But the Gospel is not free from attack. The chief matter in the Gospel of Lu which is challenged on historical grounds, apart from the birth-narratives, which some critics treat as legendary, is the census in Lu 2:1 ff. Critics, who in general have accepted Luke’s veracity, have sometimes admitted that here he fell into error and confused the census under Quirinius in 6-7 AD when Quirinius came, after the banishment of Archelaus, to take a census and to collect taxes, much to the indignation of the Jews (compare Ac 5:37; Josephus, Ant, XVIII, i). It was not known that Quirinius had been governor of Syria before this time, nor was there any other knowledge of a census under Augustus. The case against Luke seemed strong. But Ramsay (Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? 227 ff) shows that the inscription at Tibur, as agreed by Mommsen and like authorities, shows that Quirinius "twice governed Syria as legatus of the divine Augustus." He was consul in 12 BC, so that the first mission was after that date. Ramsay shows also from the papyri that the 14-year cycle was used for the Roman census (many census papers are known from 20 AD on). He argues that the first one was instituted by Augustus in 8 BC. Herod, as a vassal king, would naturally be allowed to conduct it in the Jewish fashion, not the Roman, and it was probably delayed several years in the provinces. Thus once more Luke is vindicated in a remarkable way (see Chronology of the New Testament, sec. I, 1, (2)).

The Ac of the Apostles has come out of the critical ordeal in a wonderful manner, so that Luke’s credit as a historical writer is now very high among those qualified to know the facts. He has been tested and found correct on so many points that the presumption is in his favor where he cannot as yet be verified. Moffatt (Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, 265) finds Luke "more graphic than historical."

6. Characteristics:

He was the most versatile of the Gospel writers. He was a Greek, a Christian, a physician, a man of travel, a man of world-outlook, sympathetic, cultured, poetic, spiritual, artistic, high-minded. His Prologue is the most classic piece of Greek in the New Testament, but the rest of chapter 1 and all of chapter 2 are the most Semitic in tone. The breadth of his literary equipment is thereby shown. He not only uses many medical terms common to technical circles, but he has the physician’s interest in the sick and afflicted, as shown in the large number of miracles of healing narrated. His interest in the poor is not due to Ebionitic prejudice against the rich, but to human compassion for the distressed. His emphasis on the human side of the work of Jesus is not due to Ebionitic denial of the Divinity of Jesus, but to his keen appreciation of the richness of the human life of the Son of God. His rich and varied vocabulary reveals a man who read and mingled with the best life of his time. He wrote his books in the vernacular, but the elevated vernacular of an educated man touched with a distinct literary flavor. His poetic temperament is shown in the preservation of the beautiful hymns of the nativity and in the wonderful parables of Jesus in chapters 10, 15-18. They are reported with rare grace and skill. Luke is fond of showing Christ’s sympathy with women and children, and he has more to say about prayer than the authors of the other Gospels. His interest in individuals is shown by the dedication of both his books to Theophilus. His cosmopolitan sympathies are natural in view of his training and inheritance, but part of it is doubtless due to his association with the apostle Paul. He comes to the interpretation of Jesus from a world-standpoint and does not have to overcome the Pharisaic limitations incident to one reared in Palestine. It is a matter of rejoicing that we have this book, called by Renan the most beautiful book in the world, as a cultured Greek’s interpretation of the origin of Christianity. He thus stands outside of the pale of Judaism and can see more clearly the world-relations and world-destiny of the new movement. With Luke, Jesus is distinctly the world’s Saviour. The accent on sin is human sin, not specifically Jewish sin. John in his Gospel came in his old age to look back upon the events in Judea from a non-Jewish standpoint. But he rose to the essentially spiritual and eternal apprehension of Christ, rather than extended his vision, as Luke did, to the cosmopolitan mission and message of Jesus, though this did not escape John. The Gospel of Luke thus has points of affinity with Paul, John and the author of Hebrews in style and general standpoint. But while Luke’s own style is manifest throughout, it is not obtrusive. He hides himself behind the wonderful portrait of Jesus which he has here drawn in undying colors.

7. Date:

The extreme position of Baur and Zeller may be dismissed at once. There is no reason for dating the Gospel of Luke in the 2nd century on the ground that he used Marcion’s Gospel, since it is now admitted all round that Marcion made use of Luke. The supposed use of Josephus by Luke (see Acts of the Apostles for discussion and refutation) leads a goodly number of radical scholars (Hilgenfeld, Holsten, Holtzmann, Julicher, Krenkel, Weizsacker, Wernle) to date the book at the end of the 1st century. This is still extreme, as Harnack had already shown in his Chronologie der altchristl. Litt., I, 1897, 246-50. Any use of Josephus by Luke is highly improbable (see Plummer on Lk, xxix). The Gospel was certainly written before Ac (Ac 1:1) and while Paul was alive, if 1Ti 5:18 be taken as a quotation from Lu 10:7, which is by no means certain, however. But it is true that the most natural way to interpret the sudden close of Acts, after 2 years in Rome (Ac 28:31), is the fact that Luke finished the book at that time (Maclean, 1 volume HDB). Moffatt (Historical New Testament, 273) calls this early date "reactionary" and "extravagant." But it is supported by Alford, Blass, Ebrard, Farrar, Gloag, Godet, Grau, Guericke, Hahn, Headlam, Hitzig, Hofmann, Hug, Keil, Lange, Lumby, Marshall, Nosgen, Oosterzee, Resch, Riehm, Schaff, Schanz, Thiersch, Tholuck, Wieseler, and Harnack himself is now ready to join this goodly company. He warns critics against too hasty a closing of the chronological question (Ac of the Apostles, 291), and admits that Ac was written "perhaps so early as the beginning of the 7th decade of the 1st century" (ibid., 297), "the Ac (and therefore also the Gospel)." In the Date of the Ac and the Synoptic Gospels (1911, 124) Harnack says: "It seems now to be established beyond question that both books of this great historical order were written while Paul was still alive." There is an intermediate date about 80 AD, assigned by Adeney, Bartlett, Plummer, Sanday, Weiss, Wright, on the ground that the investigations mentioned in Lu 1:1-4 describe the use of narratives which could have been written only after a long period of reflection. But that is not a valid objection. There is no sound critical reason why the Gospel of Mark, Q, the infancy narratives, and all the other sources alluded to by this preface could not have been in circulation in Palestine by 55 AD. Indeed, Allen writes in The Expository Times (July, 1910): "I see no reason why such an original (Mark’s Gospel in Aramaic) should not have appeared before the year 50 AD." The other objection to the early date comes out of Lu 21:20, "Jerus compassed with armies" as compared with "the abomination of desolation" in Mr 13:14. The change is so specific that it is held by some critics to be due to the fact that Luke is writing after the destruction of Jerusalem. But it is just as likely (Maclean) that Luke has here interpreted the Hebraism of Mark for his Gentilereaders. Besides, as Plummer (p. xxxi) shows, Luke in 21:5-36 does not record the fact that Jerusalem was destroyed, nor does he change Christ’s "flee to the mountains" to "Pella in North Peraea," whither the Christians actually fled. Besides, the fact that Ac shows no acquaintance with Paul’s Epistles is best explained on the assumption of the early date. The question is thus practically settled in favor of the early date. The place of the writing is not known. The early date naturally falls in with Caesarea (Blass, Michaelis, Thiersch), but there is little to guide one.

8. Analysis:

(1) Prologue, Luke 1:1-4.

(2) Infancy and childhood of John and Jesus, Luke 1:5-2:52.

(3) Beginning of Christ’s Ministry, Luke 3:1-4:13.

(4) Galilean Campaign, Luke 4:14-9:6.

(5) Retirement from Galilee, Luke 9:7-50.

(6) Later Judean and Perean Ministry, Luke 9:51-19:28.

(7) Close of the Public Ministry in Jerusalem, Luke 19:29-21:37.

(8) The Dreadful End, Luke 21-23.

(9) Resurrection of Christ, Luke 24.


See extended list of books at close of article on ACTS OF THE APOSTLES; the extensive list of Commentaries Plummer’s Commentary on Luke can also be consulted. After Plummer the best commentaries on Luke’s Gospel are Bruce, Expositor’s Greek Test.; Weiss’ Meyer Krit.-exeget. Komm.; Godet; Holtzmann, Hand-Commentary Of the many Introduction to the New Testament, Zahn’s is the ablest and most exhaustive (conservative) and Julicher’s is the fairest of the radical school. The best of the briefer ones is Gregory’s Canon and Text (1907). Special treatises deserving mention here are Blass, Philology of the Gospels (1898); Ev. secundum Lukam (1897); Wellhausen. Das Ev. Lukae (1904); Sense, Origin of the Third Gospel (1901); Friedrich, Das Lukasevangelium und die Apostelgeschichte, Werke desselben Verfassers (1890); Harnack, Luke the Physician (1907), and Sayings of Jesus (1908); The Date of the Ac and the Synoptic Gospels (1911); Hawkins, Horae Synopticae (2nd edition, 1909); Hervey. Authenticity of Luke (1892); Hobart, Medical Language of Luke (1882); Litzinger, Die Entstehung des Lukasevangelium und der Apostelgeschichte (1883); Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? (1898) and Luke the Physician (1908); Resch, Das Kindheit-Evangelium nach Lukas und Matthaus; Selwyn, Luke the Prophet (1901); Vogel, Zur Characteristik des Lukas nach Sprache und Stil (1897); Weiss, Quellen des Lukasevangelium (1907); Wright, Synopsis of the Gospels and his Gospel according to Luke in Greek (1900).

See also

  • Synoptic Gospels
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