Introduction to Luke

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Introduction to Luke

I. Outline of Luke

As with Matthew and Mark, it’s worth asking what introductory information concerning the Gospel of Luke is most relevant for a wide cross section of ministry context and if there is a unifying theme that surrounds an otherwise diverse set of introductory questions such as authorship date, audience, circumstances and major theological emphases. With Luke, the answer is almost certainly relating to his probably gentile background. If the description of early church authorship is correct, Luke is the beloved physician of the Apostle Paul who appears in greetings at the end of a couple of Pauline letters, particularly in Colossians where his name is separated from those who are identified as Paul’s countrymen in a way that suggests that he was a Greek or Roman rather than from a Jewish background. Suggestions have ranged from Antioch to Philippi and numerous points in between, but we really don’t know either where Luke’s home or the place of his writing or the community in which he was writing to, is located. The addressee, Theophilus, is almost certainly a patriot in Luke 1:1 and Acts 1:1 and may even a seeker or a young convert in the faith in which Luke wishes to instruct further so that Theophilus may have a greater assurance about the Christian faith (Luke 1:4). Because of his pervasive emphasis on the outcast of Jewish society as well as explicit gentile people as Luke proceeds to the Book of Acts. We can see, as well, the influence of Luke’s ethnic background at work in the choice of his emphases and themes. It’s reasonable also to assume not only a Hellenistic audience but one that is somewhat better off, given that Luke’s emphasis on the responsibility of the wealthy to care for the poor as well as simple highlighting God’s great love and compassion for the poor and outcast.

There is little evidence to suggest that large percentages of first century Christians were among the upper classes of Roman society, but significant individuals at times were. Luke’s congregation behind the project of Theophilus’ commission may well have been slightly more middle cast in nature. This gentile orientation often led scholars to imagine that Luke was the last of the three synoptics. They thought it was written well after AD 70, even into the mid to late eighties when Christianity had become, not exclusively but a very predominantly gentile movement. And the whole issue of the seeming delay of Christ’s return which has been viewed as punctuating the books of Luke and Acts was also a more pervasive phenomenon in first century Christianity. At the same time, as we have already stressed in numerous contexts, the fledgling Christian movement had become pervasively gentile even by the 60’s and the lay of the parajia, easily exaggerated, nevertheless was of some considerable significance already to the Thessalonian congregations at the beginning of the 60’s. So an earlier date is by no means out of the question.

With respects to dating, perhaps the most important issue is the attempt to account for the seemingly abrupt ending of the Book of Acts; recognizing it as volume two of a two volume enterprise. This is true, whether or not one accepts the authorship given in the early church; since the numerous stylistic and thematic continuity of the Gospel to the Book of Acts makes virtually all scholars agree that the same author was responsible for both and perhaps see the unity of the two volumes from the outset. It’s interesting, however, to note as an aside, therefore that the middle of the road scholars such as Raymon Brown in a very large and significant recent introduction to the New Testament, do give considerable credence to the possibility that the doctor by the name of Luke was indeed the author of the third Gospel. To an extent that similar credence is not always given to the authorship in the other three Gospels. Not least behind this reasoning is an even greater obscurity of Luke in the early church, compared even with Mark and certainly vise-vie the two apostle authors, Matthew and John. Why would anyone choose a person, named only twice in passing and greetings at the end of letters for pseudonymous description of authorship when many far better known and more authoritative individuals were available? But does the end of Acts suggest a date of AD 62? Since the most likely date for all house arrests and imprisonment in Rome in which the book ends with resolution were 60 to 62. Is the story seemingly unfinished because Luke wrote before there was a finish to report? There are other ways of explaining the ending to Acts. A significant one involves a proposal for the structure of Luke-Acts which finds a chiasm and therefore climatic center in the middle, i.e. at the end of Luke and beginning of Acts. Yet, at the same time, the amount of space devoted to what might be called the trials and passions or a road to potential death for Paul in Acts 21 through 28 leaves the reader, even by ancient standards, seemingly crying out for some report of how Paul’s appeal to the Emperor came out. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to continue to suggest a date in the early 60s.

II. Structure of Luke

If we look at our first graphic to help illustrate the structure to the Gospel of Luke, particularly in line graph form, similar to those which we began our surveys of Matthew and Mark; we can see that, once again, as in Matthew, vise-vie Mark, there is a lengthy two chapter introduction dealing with the events surrounding Jesus’ infancy. One event at the end of Luke, chapter 2, surrounding his life at age twelve, then in chapter 3:1-9:51 runs closely parallel with Mark, except with one omission, there is a literary theme in 9:51 as the day had arrived for Jesus to be taken up, his ascension. So, he set his face to go to Jerusalem and from here until 18:14, there is almost no material parallel to Mark, just a handful of exceptions. But material from a source critical perspective can be classified as ‘Q’ + ‘L’, that is to say the common sayings that Matthew and Luke share but not found in Mark, plus distinctively Lukan material, until abruptly at 18:14, Luke appears to rejoin Mark’s sequence though not quite as closely as in 3:1-9:51, but with more distinctively Lukan text, since we have labeled this segment, all the way through the end of chapter 23 in Jesus’ death. As in Matthew, there is one lengthy chapter dealing with Jesus’ resurrection appearances. And again in contrast to Mark’s much shorter chapter and Mark’s reporting of predictions of those appearances.

Intriguingly, if now one compares the next slide with the previous one, one can see that many of the same literary scenes reappear with locations very close to them. Again, we have the two long chapters dealing with the young Christ child following the abrupt jump as in Matthew or in Mark where we simply start with the adult Jesus and events at the very outset and preparatory to Jesus, great Galilean and most public period of ministry with the largest crowds of followers and greatest degree of popularity at any time in his life. That precise Galilean ministry then ensues in 9:51 not only changes source and background, but also geographical ones as Jesus is now portrayed as journeying on the road. And so, just a little after he resumes the Markan narrative and yet although, he is journeying on the road the entire time; there are very few actual references to show where he is, suggesting that the focus is more on theological form of travelling. As it were, having left his home for the last time, under the shallow of the Cross with an increasing awareness that execution is looping at the end of the day, is what Luke is trying to convey in this section rather than any detail of a geographical itinerary of Jesus’ travels.

In verse 18:35, place names, again, begin to proliferate. Jesus is in the vicinity of Jericho and continues to Jerusalem; once in Jerusalem, he begins to teach in the temple. We can chart his very movement at times: day by day and sometimes, hour by hour, until we come to the passion narrative proper on into the final chapter of the resurrection. Although, we haven’t yet come to the Gospel of Acts, it is reasonably widely known that Acts 1:8 can be viewed as a very simplified thumbnail sketch of the Book of Acts as Jesus prophesized the disciples would be witnesses, first in Jerusalem and then Judaea and then in Samaria and finally to the uttermost parts of the earth. This is precisely how the geography of the narrative of Acts proceeds. It is interesting to see how the result of both the source critical and conceptual outlines of the Gospel of Luke, now combined with the geographical markers of the Gospel of Luke lead to precisely the inverse sequence of locations throughout Luke’s first volume.

It is in Luke alone in context of both Jesus’ infancy and at the beginning of his public ministry in chapter 3, where it refers repeatedly to figures on the stage of the Roman Empire, not only in Israel but in Syria and even the Roman Emperors themselves in context of world history and Roman rule. Earlier, it was referred to the one glaring section that Luke omits from Mark in 3:1-9:50 and that is Jesus’ so called withdrawal from Galilee so what remains is the depiction of Jesus in that northern most province. Although there are very few place names in the travel narrative, we do see reference to Samaria at the outset. In Luke chapter 9, we have Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany. In Luke chapter 10 very close to Jerusalem we have Luke describing in chapter 13 Jesus travelling between the borders of Samaria and Galilee, thus leading us to believe geographically this travel narrative is portrayed as representing Jesus itinerant ministry, perhaps over a period of months with no necessarily straight line, nevertheless, it is unified by the location of the provinces of Samaria and Judea. And then, as he heads toward and enters in and remains in Jerusalem, we have the completion of the inverse scenario of Jerusalem, moving outward to Judea and Samaria, throughout the Gentile world and finally of the Gospel by Paul preaching to his followers alone in the Book of Acts. But, how in this chiastic outline, can Jesus in Galilee relate to that of the gentile world; although scholars debate today how much of a Hellenistic and gentile population lived in first century Galilee. However there is no doubt it contains a greater gentile presence than that of Samaria and Judea. Certainly in Jerusalem, the very religious as well as being political capital of the Israelite people there would have been far less gentiles. In the 8th century BC, Galilee already had been overrun often enough by gentiles to gain the epithet, Galilee of the Gentiles.

III. The Outline of Luke-Acts

It’s worth adding that the very heart of Luke and Acts narrates the story of Jesus’ resurrection in detail in Luke 24 and then alludes to it a second time more briefly at the beginning of Acts 1. There is a passing reference to the ascension at the end of Luke 24, narrated in greater detail than Acts 1. Both of the events, the resurrection and the ascension, perhaps, seen by Luke as a package, reflect the heart of this hourglass like shaped diagram. This is precisely what one often finds in this chiastic or inversely parallel structures. It is Luke and only Luke who narrates the only resurrection appearances in and around Jerusalem, matching the churches unique presence in and around Jerusalem in the opening chapters of Acts.

Luke is, without a doubt, one of the four Gospels that has the least agreed on macro structured outline and therefore no approach takes a majority or probably even a plurality that is readily discernable. However, we commend this suggestion to the students for their consideration and analysis.

IV. Synopsis

We are now ready to turn to a synopsis again and begin to apply some of the insights that we have learned over the course of these introductory lectures on Matthew, Mark and Luke. We need to consider, first of all, an example from Matthew and Mark, the account of Jesus walking on the water. We’ll set to one side for the time being the parallel in the Gospel of John, since we haven’t yet formally introduced the Gospel. But, just comparing Matthew 14:22-33 and Mark 6:45-52. This is per-rick-a-pi 147 on pages 138-139 of the textbook. One may see more striking examples of differences from when we examine the triple condition with respect to the healing of the paralytic. As we look at these two parallel columns, we see Mark’s characteristics immediately in verse 45. We see a reference to geography that could reflect an eye witness touch omitted in Matthew’s slightly abbreviated version. We continue to read down and then next potentially significant difference comes in Mark 6:48 at the end of the verse when Mark says he meant to pass by them. It’s easy in English to imagine that this meant that he wanted to avoid being seen by them but the verb, ‘passed by’ is in the Greek a word that only means ‘to go in front of’ or ‘near’ a person. It is the very verb used in the Septuagint in Exodus 33 in the account of God passing by Moses, not allowing Moses to see his (God’s) face or his glory in all his fullness.

So combine this, perhaps, insignificant observation with the context of Jesus walking on the water as both Matthew and Mark agree, stating: ‘take heart, do not fear, it is I.’ Here we have these Greek words, ‘ego eimi’; precisely what one finds in the Septuagint rendering of Exodus 3:14 and the self-disclosure of God to Moses at the burning bush. Now we have good reason to suspect that the walking on the water is a theophany, revelation of God or more specifically a Christophany. Such a revelation through Christ Jesus, but the allusion could have easily lost its significance. The allusion to ‘passing by’ and that is the kind of thing that easily could have dropped out in an oral tradition that tended to abbreviate events. But the most interesting differences are yet to come. By far the most dramatically sized difference between the two accounts appears in Matthew 14:28-31. In Matthew, alone, it includes this story of Peter, also even if just for a brief time, walking on the water. Whether we are meant to see this is praising Peter for even being willing to make the attempt, gently rebuking him or even not so gently rebuking him because he quickly lost faith after he saw that he was beginning to replicate Jesus’ miracle. There is no doubt that this is an intentional inclusion on the part of Matthew in that five times over a short span in Matthew 13-18; he adds, otherwise, unparalleled additional references to activities and sayings of Peter. In terms of potentially harmonizing the two accounts, the most troubling difference comes as the two versions of the walking on the water come to an end.

In Matthew 14:33, those in the boat worshipped Jesus saying, ‘truly, you are the Son of God.’ In Mark 6:51b-52, they were utterly astounded for they did not understand. Intriguingly, Mark says, it’s not about the walking on the water but about the loaves, the previous story and the miracle of feeding the five thousand. Apparently, Mark’s mind tied it into the walking on the water in some way. But their hearts were hardened. At first glance, it would seem like this should comprise a classic contradiction and yet if one tried to put oneself in the place of the confused and terrified and at the same time, over joyed disciples, observing the events such as those common to both Mark and Matthew. It’s not difficult to imagine them worshipping Jesus at one level, apart from full understanding. As we noted earlier the term, Son of God, in the Gospels is synonym for Messiah or it begin to take on overtones of a divine being but not with the clarity that can be perceived only after the resurrection. And yet at the same time, astonishment is perfectly intelligible after seeing such miracles. And not understanding is fully intelligible for what precedence did they have to believe and or make sense of such supernatural events. And thus from that perspective, Jesus could have declared and subsequent Gospel writers could have understood that there still was significant spiritual hardness yet to be overcome in the disciple’s lives.

V. Comparison of Matthew and Luke

But for our purposes, once we have shown one possible way of harmonizing the accounts. More significant is that we have the two different forms in what evangelicals affirmed to be the inspired and inerrant authoritative text of Scripture. Why they are in the two different forms and what are we to learn from them? For students who have now read both chapters six and seven of the textbook, they will know that this sits in with Marks uniquely emphatic ongoing emphasis on the failure and lack of understanding of the disciples which is mitigated, at least to some degree in Matthew, though not always to a great degree as the rebuke in Matthew 14:31 indicates. To be called ‘someone of little faith’, is still not a compliment and yet Peter did show some faith by getting out of the boat. We might say an extraordinary amount of faith and at least beginning to walk literally in his Master’s footsteps on the waves.

A second example comes from the so-called ‘Q’ material and enables us to compare Matthew and Luke, page 73 of the textbook; the scriptural text is Matthew 8:5-13 which we have looked at once before in the sociological analysis and Luke 7:1-10. Again, there is a possible parallel in John whether or not it is the same event is disputed but our purposes; we will look only at Matthew and Luke. Here, this of course is the healing of the centurion servant. But this time we want to look into the similarities and differences between the two versions of the episodes to see if we might be able to explain in light of the critical disciples and now more recently introductions to the Gospels in which the variant versions appear. Jesus in Capernaum in both instances, the centurion beseeches him on behalf of one who is called a servant or slave. But the first major difference in Luke column, in Luke 7:3, is the inclusion of an embassy or team of messengers from among the Jewish Elders asking on behalf of the gentle centurion if Jesus might come and heal his slave/servant, and when they come, they couch their request in very Jewish language because they say that this centurion is worthy of this favor for he loves our nation and he built us our synagogue. Matthew, on the other hand, appears to have the centurion appeal directly and come to Jesus. Again, at first glance, it would appear to be a classic contradiction. It happens not once but twice as in Luke 7:6, Jesus goes with the Jewish Elders but when he is not far from the centurion’s home, the centurion sent other friends to him saying,’ Lord, don’t trouble yourself, just speak as it were from a distance’ and so there is no indication that Jesus personally encounters the centurion at all.

Once again, what seems at first glance a virtually incontrovertible contradiction, can be cleared up when one understands the cultural background of an era in which the words of ones emissaries or messengers could be described as the words of the very individual or group of individuals who sent them, precisely with those words. We have similar conventions today, one thinks for example of the press secretary of a given president of the United States appearing before the media and giving a report on behalf of the president, which then may often be reported in the media as ‘the president announced today that’ and we realize that he may not have publically uttered those words at all and indeed may not have even written them. He may have had a speech writer coin them. Hopefully, he has at some point glanced at them long enough to approve them though if the nature of the content were clear enough, along the lines of some previous memo, there may not be even that much verbatim correspondence. But again, once we have shown a potential harmonization, this does not mean that we preach or teach the harmonization primarily. God gave us these two accounts apparently for different purposes, to be used in different settings.

We can go on and point out other differences, Matthew’s unique inclusion of words which are found in Luke in a different context beginning in Matthew 8:11. But the upshot is that Matthew’s view is as is his characteristic unrelentingly negative in respect to the Jewish leadership and that both by the inclusion of the words of judgments in Matthew 8:11-12 and also by the omission by the more favorable encounter and exchange of messages between centurion, Jewish Elders and Jesus. Luke, on the other hand has the most variegated approach to the Jewish leadership on a number of occasions, allowing for a number of reasonable positive actions between Jesus and them.

Let us turn finally, either in a synopsis in the New Testament and more traditional in its design and layout and look at Luke 10:25-11:13. Here we can practice the path of reading or thinking vertically, just as we did in the last lecture with Matthew. Only this time with a section of Luke’s travel narrative. This collection begins with a scribe or lawyer putting Jesus to the test by asking him a question on how to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered, not as the Apostle Paul would but by turning him back his own law and asking how the law reads, to which the layer sums up very appropriately the commandments of God; of what we call today the double love command; ‘to love the Lord, your God with all your heart, strength, soul and mind and also your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus answers rightly, do this and you will live. But then comes the exchange that leads to the good Samaritan, follows by the episode of Mary and Martha, a brief reference to Jesus praying in a certain place when the disciples ask to teach them how to pray. After which comes to be known as the Lord’s Prayer, at least an abbreviated version, and then a little parable of the friend at midnight and then teaching also very similar to the sermon on the Mount as was the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:9-13 on God’s eagerness to answer prayers and give to his children what they ask for with the Holy Spirit preeminent among those gifts.

At this point in class, we take some time to see how many different distinctive and or dominant Lukan themes one can find in this cluster of text. Again, the students may wish to pause the sound file and see what they can come up with on their own before proceeding. Certainly the whole concern about love for your neighbor and then the redefinition of neighbor to include even the outcast and the enemy sets closely with Luke’s recurring theme of compassion for the poor and outcast, including Samaritans, including enemies in a number of different categories. It has often been observed that the double love command referred to by the lawyer in Luke 10:27 may itself be illustrated by the position of the parable of the Good Samaritan showing love for neighbor and the praising of Mary more than Martha, then showing the love of God and thus creating a sort of chiastic A, B, B, A structure with loving God, loving neighbor and loving God. The focus on the two women, Mary and Martha, also promotes Luke’s concern for women and his concern to show them at times in a very positive light, both features shine in his Gospel more than they do elsewhere though by no means absent in the other Gospels. The distinctive and dominant theme of prayer now provides an absolutely distinctive but in terms of its frequency follows in Luke 11:1-13. Luke’s inclusion doubles the sum total found in the other Gospels put together leads us not to be surprised to find the twin usage of parables in this cluster of text both with the Good Samaritan and with the friend at midnight. There are undoubtedly implications for prayer again in this second parable and certain in the final of Luke 11:9-13. And there is the very noteworthy difference in the otherwise very closely parallel text of the final line of Matthew’s and Luke’s version of answers to prayer where Matthew, we read, ‘if you then know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him.’ Luke changes basically only the terms, ‘good things’ and replaces it with, ‘how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.’ We are not surprised when we learn that the references to spirit activity are both dominant and distinctive in Luke’s Gospel.

Here, then, we have a very direct application about the early survey of redaction criticism, of our more recently survey of key themes in each of the Gospels and the purposes of such discoveries is so that as we preach and teach these passages, we need to highlight and emphasize what they are saying. If we are serious about our commitment as evangelicals to Scripture, we need to interpret it in the form which it was inspired and come to grips with the fact that we have four Gospels and not one and proceed accordingly.