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LUKE - ACTS      Luke Acts


The Third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are two important Lucan works that represent a history of Christian origins.  It is important to introduce their background before considering their contents.  We introduce the two works separately.


The author of the Gospel does not name himself, which means that Lk.1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-2 become important to any discussion on the authorship and purpose of Luke-Acts.  There is almost universal agreement that they are the work of one author.  Both works are addressed to Theophilus, and the style, subject-matter, theological outlook and vocabulary confirm the unity of authorship.  Traditionally authorship is ascribed to Luke, the physician and companion of the apostle Paul.  Some of the oldest manuscripts give the Gospel the simple title "According to Luke".  External support for Lucan authorship includes that of Marcion, the Muratorian fragment, the anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria. [1] The oldest Gospel manuscript, the Bodmer Papyrus XIV (see the next page), dated A.D. 175-225, attributes the Gospel to Luke. [2]

Luke the physician
The anti-Marcionite Prologue says that Luke was a native of Syrian Antioch. [3] He appears to have been a Gentile (he is named together with Epaphras and Demas in Col.4:12-14). Sir William Ramsay suggests that he was a brother to Titus, who was a Greek from Antioch (Gal.2:1-3; 2 Cor.8:18; 12:18).  He was educated and a doctor.  Consider Col.4:14; 2 Tim.4:11, Phlm 24 and the "we" passages in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16).


Lk.1:1-4 indicates that Luke, as a second generation Christian, was dependent on different sources for his data.  Luke was not a personal companion of Jesus, therefore his information is from "those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word" (Lk.1:2).  Logically, this would include the apostles.  Mary could have shared details which we find in the infancy narratives.  Luke's dependency may involve the Gospel of Mark and other early Christian traditions (e.g., the so-called Q document).  Note Luke's "Big Interpolation" (Lk.9:51-18:14). 


The dating of the Third Gospel relates to that of the other Synoptic Gospels and the Acts. If Luke used Mark, then the Gospel may be dated c.A.D. 68.  It must be dated earlier than the Acts.  L.Morris indicates: "Three dates for this Gospel have been suggested with some seriousness, namely about A.D. 63, about A.D. 75-85 and early in the second century. The date is bound up with that of Acts, for Luke must be earlier than its sequel". Morris mentions the fact that C.S.C.Williams supports the view that a Proto-Luke came before Acts.  (B.H.Streeter and V.Taylor also suggest that Luke penned an early draft of his Gospel). [4]


1. Luke states the reason for his work at the beginning of the Gospel (Lk.1:1-4).  According to I.H.Marshall, "He is concerned to write a Gospel, i.e., a presentation of the ministry of Jesus in its saving significance". [5] As a Gospel its aims are represented by Jn.20:30-31.  It is not written as a life of Christ.  Further, Luke is seeking to provide Theophilus (and others who are removed from the ministry of Jesus by geography and time) with a reliable basis for their faith, and then, through Acts, to give a trustworthy account of the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire (Lk.1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2).

2. In Luke-Acts, Luke demonstrates that God is working out his purpose.  L.Morris states:
This purpose is seen clearly in the life and work of Jesus, but it did not finish with the earthly ministry and work of Jesus.  It carried on into the life and witness of the church The church does not represent a new, completely unrelated act of God.  Luke seems to be saying that the work of Jesus led, and in the plan of God was meant to lead, to the life of the church. [6]

3. Luke is obviously concerned, in both parts of his work, to demonstrate that Christianity is not a menace to imperial law and order (F.F.Bruce). [7] This makes the work a political apologetic.  Other secondary purposes include: to show that the gospel is for Gentiles as well as Jews, to refute certain heresies, and to show Christianity's continuity with Judaism.


Are the Lucan works historical? I.H.Marshall maintains that of all the evangelists Luke is the most conscious of writing as a historian, yet, he says, throughout his work the history is a vehicle of theological interpretation in which the significance of Jesus is expressed.  To Marshall Luke is both a historian and theologian. [8] Luke's details, especially in the Acts, have been attacked, but the research of Sir W.M.Ramsay has vindicated him as "a historian of the first rank". [9]

Miracles in Luke-Acts
The inclusion of miracles in his writings is sometimes held against Luke being a historian.  But it needs to be noted that, as with the other Gospel writers, miracles are seen as forming an integral part of the ministry of Jesus - and of the continuing ministry of Jesus through his church. Miracles are messianic signs - signs of the inauguration of the New Age.  They are theologically important for the New Testament (NT) writers.  Today modern theological approaches to miracles are more open than they used to be.

What kind of historian is Luke?
Luke-Acts does not read like a modern history book - so how can we distinguish Luke as a historian? C.K.Barrett sees Luke as a historian of the Hellenistic age, which L.Morris takes to mean that Luke is more interested in things other than facts. [10] Luke certainly has an aim in writing - as far as the Gospel is concerned it is to present Jesus Christ.  Luke's writing style, or genre, has its parallels in contemporary literature. [11]


Modern scholarship recognises Luke as a theologian.  Redaction criticism (or editorial criticism) maintains that the Gospel evangelists are more than collectors and collators of material - they are real authors, who arranged their material and chose the way they word incidents and reports. [12] We note here a number of Lucan theological perspectives or interests:

Jesus Christ is the central message of the preached gospel, and he is the main feature of all the written Gospels.  In the Third Gospel Jesus is true man (Lk.3:23ff.). He is a prophet anointed by the Spirit, and greater than Moses (9:28-36); he is the anointed King or Messiah, who will reign (23:42); he is the "Lord", as confirmed by his resurrection (24:34); he is the Son of Man (Lk.19:10) and the Son of God (1:32).  But, as I.H.Marshall says, above all, Jesus is the Saviour of men (19:10). [13]

Salvation history (Heilsgeschichte)
H.Conzelmann argues in his book Die Mitte der Zeit (The Middle of Time) that Luke is concerned with the theme of redemption or salvation history.  The evangelist sets the story of salvation in three stages, those of Israel (Lk.16:16), Jesus' ministry (4:16ff.; Acts 10:38), and the church.  Christ came in the middle period of time.  Conzelmann's thesis is concerned with the delay of the parousia. [14]

Universality of salvation
The keynote of the ministry of Jesus is the gospel of salvation.  The Son of Man comes to seek and save the lost.  Lk.19:10 is the Gospel's central or key verse.  Jesus is introduced as the Saviour of the world.  The word "save" (Gk. sōzō) is used more in Luke than in any other Gospel.  The gospel is to be preached to the nations - the Great Commission is found in Lk.24:46-49.

The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit features in Luke and Acts.  The Spirit, who empowered Jesus (Lk.3:21-22; Acts 10:38), and was promised by him at his ascension (Lk.24:49; Acts 1:8), is outpoured on Jew and Gentile (Acts 2 and 10).  The Spirit provides the dynamic for the life and witness of the Christian community and its mission. 

The interest in people
Luke provides unique examples of God's interest in individuals.  He gives a significant place to women (e.g., Mary and Martha: Lk.10:38-42).  He is concerned about children (18:15-17).  He sees the gospel reaching the poor (7:22).  Jesus is portrayed as the friend of tax collectors and "sinners" (15:1).  In this area Luke displays a doctor's interest, [15] and yet more than this - he reveals God's love and care.  As A.H.McNeile puts it, whereas in Matthew the keynote may be that of royalty, and in Mark power, in Luke it is love. [16]

The plan of God
The sense of divine necessity is seen in Jesus' ministry (note the use of the Greek word dei in Lk.2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 13:16,33; 17:25; 19:5; 22:37; 24:7,26,44). The use of the word "purpose" (Gk. boulē, e.g., Lk.7:30; 10:22), especially in "the purpose of God" is also significant.  The phrase is used seven times in Acts (e.g., Acts 2:23).

The fulfilment of prophecy
Luke is also concerned with the fulfilment of OT prophecy (Lk.4:18-21; 10:23-24; 24:5-8, 44-47).  God fulfils his OT promises through Christ.

Other Lucan interests
Luke is interested in a dynamic faith, represented by Jesus, and then his church. Other leading subjects include: prayer, praise and thanksgiving, peace and joy, angels and their ministry, and miracles. [17]


D.Guthrie is right when he says there is something attractive about Luke's Gospel.  He probably answers the question Why? by stating: "It is full of superb stories and leaves the reader with a deep impression of the personality and teaching of Jesus". [18]

The style of the Gospel
Luke refers to his work an "account" or "narrative" (Gk, diēgēsis, Lk.1:1), and not as a "gospel" (cf. Mk.1:1).  According to A.Plummer, Luke's style brings his work nearest to a biography.  He says, "[Luke's] object seems to have been to give his readers as full a picture as he could of the life of Jesus Christ, in all the portions of it - infancy, boyhood, manhood". [19]

The language of the Gospel
All the Gospels are written in koinē Greek, but Luke's language is the most literary.  The preface to the Gospel (Lk.1:1-4) is written in good classical style, which he replaces with a Greek that reflects a strong Hebraic flavour in chapters one and two.  From chapter three the Gospel reflects the language of the Septuagint (LXX), that is, a translation Greek.  Luke's OT quotations are taken from the LXX.  His use of the OT compares with that of Matthew's.  Further to this, the Gospel contains a number of Hebraisms, Aramaisms and Semitisms (e.g., "setting one's face", Lk.9:51, RSV). [20]


Students can find a detailed analysis of the Gospel in any good commentary on the Gospel. [21] Here is a simple outline.

  • The prologue (1:1-4)
  • The infancy narratives (1:5-2:52)
  • The ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-20)
  • The commencement of Jesus' ministry (3:21-4:13)
  • The Galilean ministry (4:14-9:50)
  • The journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27)
  • In Jerusalem (19:28-21:38)
  • The passion, crucifixion and burial of Jesus (22:1-23:56)
  • The resurrection and ascension (24:1-53).


The following textbooks are recommended for further study:

Conzelmann, H., The Theology of Luke, ET by G.Buswell, London, SCM, 1960.

Dunn, J.D.G., Jesus and the Spirit, London, SCM, 1975.

Evans,C.A., Luke, NIBC, vol.3, Peabody, Hendrickson/ Carlisle, Paternoster, 1995.

Marshall, I.H., Luke - Historian and Theologian, Exeter, Paternoster, 1970.

Marshall. I.H., The Gospel of Luke, NIGC, Exeter, Paternoster, 1978.

Morris, L. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC, revised edition, Leicester, Inter-Varsity, 1988.

Stronstad, R., The Charismatic Theology of St Luke, Massachusetts, Hendrikson, 1984.

Talbert, C.H., Perspectives on Luke-Acts, Edinburgh, T.& T.Clark, 1978.

Be aware that significant contributions are made to Lucan studies in more generalised textbooks, such as general biblical commentaries and dictionaries.  For example:

Blair,E.P., "Luke (Evangelist)" in Buttrick, G.A. (ed.),

The Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible, vol.1, New York, Abingdon, 1962.

Gilmour, S.M., "The Gospel According to St.Luke", in Buttrick,G.A. (ed.), The Interpreters' Bible, Vol.8, Nashville, Abingdon, 1952.

Inch, M.A., "Luke (Person)" in Elwell, W.A. (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol.2, London, Marshall-Pickering, 1988.

Johnson,L.T., "Book of Luke-Acts", in Freedman, D.N. (ed.), The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol.4, New York, Doubleday, 1992.

Marshall, I.H., "Luke", Guthrie, D. & Motyer, J.A. (eds.), The New Bible Commentary - Revised, Leicester, Inter-Varsity, 1970, pp.887-925.

Marshall, I.H., "Luke as Theologian", in Freedman, D.N. (ed.), The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol.4, New York, Doubleday, 1992.

Plümacher, E., "Luke (Person)", ET by D.Martin in Freedman, D.N. (ed.), The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol.4, New York, Doubleday, 1992.

Michaels, J.R., "Luke-Acts", Burgess, S.M. & McGee, G.B. (eds.), Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1988, pp.544-561.

Taylor, V., "Gospel of Luke", in Buttrick, G.A. (ed.), The Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible, New York, Abingdon, 1962.


1. What significance do you place on Luke 1:1-4?

2. What special interests can you find in Luke's Gospel?

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