Date: c. A.D. 65
The third Gospel was written by an ancient medical doctor named Luke, a traveling companion of the apostle Paul. He put together what was evidently intended to be a history of the Christian movement from its beginnings up to his own day. It included the gospel about Jesus of Nazareth as volume one; the Book of Acts, which was about the work of the risen Jesus in the lives of his followers as volume two; and perhaps a volume three, which is either lost to us today or was never written because of the persecution that arose at that time (in which Luke may have died). Peter and Paul died at approximately that time so it is possible that Luke did too.
The first four verses of Luke’s gospel tell us what was going on historically at the time of writing, as well as how ancient writers went about doing their job. Luke pointed out that Christianity was of interest to a lot of people, so much so that “many” had begun writing histories of the movement (no doubt Mark was one of them). That was good in a way, but also worrisome. Luke was concerned that the truth might get lost in all that was being written if it were not carefully verified. Consequently, he decided to make a careful study of what had been said, checking the facts out with people who had been around since the early days of Jesus. The result of his research was this Gospel that bears his name. He directed the book to a Roman official named Theophilus, no doubt to convince him that Christianity was no threat to the empire, as well as being God’s appointed way of salvation.
Theological Themes in the Gospel of Luke
Luke’s gospel has several characteristics. First, Luke made a special point of relating Jesus to world history. In his genealogy he traced Christ’s ancestors all the way back to Adam, rather than just to David or Abraham, as Matthew did. That would have meant very little to a Gentile reader, but tracing Jesus to Adam makes him part of all history, including Gentile history.
Second, Luke was especially interested in Jesus’ birth and infancy. Matthew saw it as a fulfillment of prophecy, Luke saw it as an extraordinary event that took place in the midst of secular history. He itemized six historical notes (3:1-2) intended to ensure historical accuracy. The information is so precise in this section of the Gospel that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was probably the source of much of it.
Third, Luke was concerned to stress the relation of the kingdom of God to those in need. He showed that Jesus brought good news for the poor, oppressed, sick, downtrodden, and captive. Jesus came to set men and women free from bondage and oppression. It is a spiritual message that touches all parts of our lives, including the social dimension.
Fourth, Luke was interested in women and in social relationships. He described the place that women played among Jesus’ followers with sympathy and interest. He also realized that Jesus’ acceptance of women went against some of the rules of his day. Jesus was not afraid to set new standards, especially for those who were not being treated properly.
Finally, Luke was concerned to show the universal dimension of the gospel of Christ. Matthew was, too, but he spoke as a Jew. Luke spoke as a Gentile, showing that the gospel is for everyone–men, women, slaves, free, Jews, Gentiles–whoever is in need is invited to come to Jesus to be saved.
Outline for the Gospel of Luke
Prologue Luke 1:1-4
Jesus’ birth and early years Luke 1:5-4:13
Jesus’ Galilean ministry Luke 4:14-9:50
Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem Luke 9:51-19:27
Triumphal entry and last week in Jerusalem Luke 19:28-23:56
Resurrection and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Luke 24:1-53