Lesson 3 of 5
In Progress

Background of Luke

The opening verses of this Gospel reveal much about it. They state that the author was familiar with other written accounts of Jesus. Nevertheless, he seems to have regarded those other accounts as deficient or in need of clarification and correction. (Although we cannot know for sure who wrote the Gospel of Luke, cultural and literary evidence makes it likely that the author was a “he.”) The prologue, therefore, mentions his investigatory research and intention to tell Jesus’ story in a way that will enhance the Christian reader’s understanding of Jesus’ significance.

Luke closely resembles Mark and Matthew, the other two Synoptic Gospels. A little more than half of the stories from Mark also appear in Luke, although the author of Luke made adjustments to this material. Luke and Matthew also share between them about 230 verses that recount sayings of Jesus, sayings that are absent from Mark. From the literary relationships among these Gospels it seems clear that the author of Luke drew from a copy of Mark as a source, from another written source that Matthew also used, and from an unknown number of additional sources. The author appears also to have composed some material on his own, perhaps drawing from collective memories or church traditions.

The author of Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. This author, then, hardly believed that Jesus’ significance and impact ended when he ascended into heaven. The story of Jesus literally continues in the story of the earliest Christian communities as they carry forward Jesus’ ministry, proclaiming the message of his salvation in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Luke in several ways looks forward to Acts (for example, in the Gospel’s attention to the Holy Spirit, who plays a key role in Acts). Likewise, Acts recalls the Gospel (for example, as Peter’s and Paul’s deeds resemble those Jesus performs in Luke). Because Acts so clearly presents itself as a sequel to Luke, scholars commonly refer to both books as Luke-Acts, to emphasize their general cohesion (not uniformity) as a two-volume literary product.

Luke-Acts reveals that its author was well educated and quite familiar with Israel’s Scriptures and Greek literary conventions. It is debated whether he was a Jew or a Gentile, whether the Gospel was written primarily for a Jewish or Gentile audience, and where the Gospel was written. Luke’s proficiency with the Greek language is among the most sophisticated of the New Testament’s many authors. Even though some Christian traditions identify this author as the physician named in Colossians 4:14, there is nothing about his writing that suggests he had received medical training or was particularly familiar with specialized medical language.