Introduction to the Bible - 42 - Luke

The Gospel of Luke

by Louis Berkhof


 Like the contents of the previous Gospels we may also divide those of  Luke's into five parts:

 I. The Advent of the Divine Man, 1 :-4:13. After stating his aim the  evangelist describes the announcement from heaven of the forerunner,  John the Baptist, and of Christ himself, and their birth with the  attendant circumstances, 1: 1-2: 20. Then he shows that Christ was made  subject to the law in circumcision, in the presentation in the temple,  and in his journey to Jerusalem, 2: 21-52. He traces the descent of the  Son of Man to Adam, and points out that He was prepared for his work by  baptism and temptation, 3: 1 4: 13.

 II. The Work of the Divine Man for the Jewish World, 4: 14- 9: 50. In  this part we first see Christ preaching in the synagogues of Nazareth,  Capernaum and all Galilee; performing many miracles in Capernaum and by  the sea of Galilee, such as the curing of Peter's mother-in-law, the  wonderful draught of fishes, the cleansing of the leper, and the  healing of the palsied man; calling Levi to follow him; and instructing  his enemies regarding his authority, his purpose, and the moral  character of his demands, as a result of which many were amazed and  Pharisees and Scribes were filled with hatred, 4: 14 6: 11. After a  night of prayer the Lord now chooses his twelve disciples and proclaims  the constitution of his Kingdom, 6:12-49. He cures the centurion s  servant, raises the widow's son, and gives instruction by word and  example regarding the nature of his work and the character of the  subjects of his Kingdom, 7:149. The origin of the Kingdom is now  illustrated in the parable of the sower, and the divine power of Christ  over both the natural and the spiritual world is shown in the stilling  of the storm, in the deliverance of the Gadarene demoniac, in his  curing the woman with the issue of blood and raising the daughter of  Jairus, 8:1-56. The twelve are sent out and on their return Christ  retires with them to a desert place, where He miraculously feeds the  five thousand, after which He once and again announced his future  suffering and was transfigured on the Mount, 9:1-50.

 III. The Work of the Divine Man for the Gentiles, 9: 51-18: 30. Jesus  in traveling towards Jerusalem sends messengers before him, but these  are rejected by the Samaritans; then He sends out the seventy, who  return with a good report, teaches that neighborly love is not to be  restricted to the Jews (good Samaritan), and gives his disciples  instruction regarding prayer, 9: 51-11:13. The Pharisees now claim that  Christ casts out the devils through Beelzebub, in answer to which He  pictures their condition, and when they tempt him in various ways,  pronounces his woe upon them and warns his disciples against them, 11:  14-12 :12. In connection with the parable of the rich fool the Lord  warns against covetousness and anxious care, and bids his disciples to  be prepared for the day of his coming, 12:13-53. Sitting at meat in the  house of a Pharisee, He teaches those present true mercy, true  humility, true hospitality, and the fact that they, having refused the  supper of the Lord, will be rejected, 14:1-24. Next the necessity of  self-denial is impressed on those that would follow Jesus, and in three  parables the Pharisees are made acquainted with the real purpose of his  coming, 14: 25-15: 32. The disciples are instructed in the careful use  of their earthly possessions, and to the Pharisees the law of  retribution is explained, 16:1-31. In various ways the Lord impresses  on his followers the necessity of a forgiving spirit, of humility, of  faith and gratitude, of constant prayer with a view to the unexpected  character of his coming, of trusting in God and of selfdenial, all  ending in everlasting salvation, 17:1 18: 30.

 IV. The Sacrifice of the Divine Man for all Mankind, 18:31-23 :49.  Jesus announces once more his future suffering and death, at Jericho  restores the sight of a blind man and calls Zaccheus, and points out to  his followers that his Kingdom would not immediately come, 18: 32-19:  27. Triumphantly He enters Jerusalem, where He cleanses the temple,  answers the questions of the Chief Priests, the Scribes, the Pharisees  and the Sadducees, and instructs his followers regarding his future  coming, 19: 28-21 :38. After eating the passover with his disciples He  was betrayed, condemned and crucified, 22:1 23:56.

 V. The Divine Man Saviour of all Nations, 24. On the morning of the  first day Christ arose; women seek him in the grave; He appears to two  of his disciples on the way to Emmaus, to the eleven, and finally  departs from them with the promise of the Spirit.


 The following are the most important characteristics of the third  Gospel:

 1. In point of completeness it surpasses the other Synoptics,  beginning, as it does, with a detailed narrative of the birth of John  the Baptist and of Christ himself, and ending with a record of the  ascension from the Mount of Olives. In distinction from Matthew and  Mark this Gospel even contains an allusion to the promise of the  Father, 24: 29, and thus points beyond the old dispensation to the new  that would be ushered in by the coming of the Holy Spirit. The detailed  narrative of Christ's going to Jerusalem in 9: 51-18:14 is also  peculiar to this gospel.

 2. Christ is set before us in this Gospel as the perfect Man with wide  sympathies. The genealogy of Jesus is trace back through David and  Abraham to Adam, our common progenitor, thus presenting him as one of  our race. We are told of the truly human development both in body and  spirit of Jesus in 2: 40-52, and of his dependence on prayer in the  most important crises of His life, 3: 21; 9: 29. Those features of the  Lord s miracles of healing are clearly brought out that show his great  sympathy. "Peter's mother-in-law suffers from a great fever; and the  leper is full of leprosy. The hand restored on the sabbath is the right  hand, the centurion s servant is one dear to him, the son of the widow  of Nain, is an only son, the daughter of Jairus an only daughter, the  epileptic boy at the hill of transfiguration is an only child." Bruce,  The Expositor's Greek Testament I p. 47.

 3. Another feature of this gospel is its universality. It comes nearer  than other Gospels to the Pauline doctrine of salvation for all the  world, and of salvation by faith, without the works of the law. In the  synagogue at Nazareth Christ points out that God might again deal with  the Jews as He had done in the days of Elijah and Elishah, 4:25-27; He  declares that the faith of the centurion was greater than any He had  found in Israel, 7: 2-10; sends messengers before his face into  Samaria, 9: 52-56; demands love of Israel even for the Samaritans, 10:  30-37; heals the Samaritan leper as well as the others, 17: 11-19; and  speaks the significant word: "Blessed are they that hear the word of  God and keep it, 11:28.

 4. More than the other evangelists Luke relates his narrative to  contemporaneous history and indicates the time of the occurrences. It  was in the days of king Herod that the birth of John the Baptist and  Christ was announced, 1:1, 26; during the reign of Caesar Augustus,  that Christ was born, 2: 1; while Cyrenius was governor of Syria, that  the taxation took place, 2: 2; in the fifteenth year of Tiberias, etc.,  that Christ was baptized and began his public ministry, 3:1, 2. Notice  also the following chronological indications: 1:36, 56, 59; 2:42; 3:23;  9:28, 37, 51; 22:1, 7. We should not infer from the foregoing, however,  that Luke furnishes us with a chronological record of the Lord s public  ministry. Very indefinite expressions of time are found throughout the  Gospel, as: "and it came to pass, when he was in a certain city," 5:12;  "and it came to pass on a certain day," 5:17; "and it came to pass also  on another sabbath," 6: 6, etc.

 5. Luke writes a purer Greek than any of the other evangelists, but  this is evident only, where he does not closely follow his sources. The  Greek of the preface is of remarkable purity, but aside from this the  first and second chapters are full of Hebraisms. Of the rest of the  Gospel some parts approach very closely to classical Greek, while  others are tinged with Hebrew expressions. Plummer says: "The author of  the Third Gospel and of the Acts is the most versatile of all the New  Testament writers. He can be as Hebraistic as the LXX, and as free from  Hebraisms as Plutarch." Comm. on Luke in International Crit. Comm. p.  XLIX. His style is also very picturesque; he tries to make us see  things, just as the eyewitnesses saw them. Moreover his Gospel contains  312 words that are peculiar to him. Several of these are hapax  legomena. There are also five Latin words, viz. denarion,legeon,  soudarion,assarion and modios. Cf. lists in Plummer's Comm. and  Davidson's Introd.


 Though the author speaks of himself explicitly in the preface of his  Gospel, we are dependent on tradition for his name. And here again the  testimony of the fathers is unanimous. Irenaeus asserts that "Luke, the  companion of Paul, put down in a book the Gospel preached by him." With  this agrees the testimony of Origen; Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory,  Nazianze, Jerome, e. a.

 The Gospel itself offers us no direct collateral testimony. Yet there  are certain features that strengthen our belief in the authorship of  Luke. In the first place the writer evidently looks at things with the  eye of a physician. In 1882 Dr. Hobart published a work on, The Medical  Language of St. Luke, showing that in many instances the evangelist  uses the technical language that was also used by Greek medical  writers, as paralelumenos, 5:18, 24 (the other Gospels have  paralutikos);sunechomene pureto megallo 4 :38; este he rhu'sis tou  haimatos 8 :44 (cf. Mt. 5 :29) ; anekathisen, 7 :14, Luke carefully  distinguishes demoniacal possession from disease, 4:18; 13: 32; states  exactly the age of the dying person, 8:42; and the duration of the  affliction in 13:11. He only relates the miracle of the healing of  Malchus ear. All these things point to Luke, "the beloved physician.

 In the second place there is what has been called the Paulinism of  Luke. This has sometimes been emphasized unduly, no doubt, but it  certainly is a characteristic feature of the third Gospel, and is just  what we would expect in a writing of Paul's companion. In the third  place we find great similarity between this Gospel and the Acts of the  Apostles. If Luke wrote the latter, he also composed the former. The  general opinion is expressed by Knowling in his introduction to the  book of Acts, in the Expositor's Greek Testament II p. 3: "Whoever  wrote the Acts wrote also the Gospel which bears the name of Luke." It  is true that there are more Hebraisms in the Gospel than in Acts, but  this is due to the fact that the writer in composing the former was  more dependent on written sources than he was in writing the latter.

 The only certain knowledge we have of Luke is derived from the Acts of  the Apostles and from a few passages in the Epistles of Paul. From Col.  4:11,14 it appears that he was not a Jew and that his wordly calling  was that of a physician. Eusebius and Jerome state that he was  originally from Antioch in Syria, which may be true; but it is also  possible that their statement is due to a mistaken derivation of the  name Luke from Lucius (cf. Acts 13: 1) instead of from Lucanus. The  testimony of Origen makes us suspect this. Theophylact and Euthymius  had the mistaken opinion that he was one of the Seventy sent out by our  Lord. This is refuted by the preface of the Gospel, where Luke clearly  distinguishes himself from those that saw and heard the Lord.  Apparently the evangelist joined the company of Paul and his  co-laborers on the second missionary journey at Troas. This may be  inferred from the beginning of the we-sections in Acts 16:10. The first  one of these sections ends at 16:17, so that Luke probably remained at  Philippi. He stayed there, so it seems, until Paul returned from Greece  on his third missionary journey, for in Acts 20: 5 we suddenly come  upon the plural pronoun of the first person again. Then he evidently  accompanied the apostle to Jerusalem, 20: 6, 13, 14, 15; 21:1-17. In  all probability he was with Paul at Qesarea, 27: 1, from where he  accompanied the apostle to Rome, 27:1 28:16. He remained at Rome during  the first imprisonment, Col. 4:14; Philem. 24, and was according to  these passages a beloved friend and fellow-laborer of the apostle. And  when the great missionary of the gentiles was imprisoned for the second  time, Luke was the only one with him, II Tim. 4:11, and thus gave  evidence of his great attachment to Paul. The last part of Luke's life  is involved in obscurity. Nothing certain can be gathered from the  conflicting testimony of the fathers. Some claim that he gained a  martyr's crown; others, that he died a natural death.

 The question must be asked, whether Paul was in any way connected with  the composition of the third Gospel. The testimony of the early Church  is very uncertain on this point. Tertullian says: "Luke's digest is  often ascribed to Paul. And indeed it is easy to take that for the  master's which is published by the disciples." According to Eusebius,  "Luke hath delivered in his Gospel a certain amount of such things as  he had been assured of by his intimate acquaintance and familiarity  with Paul, and his connection with the other apostles." With this the  testimony of Jerome agrees. Athanasius states that the Gospel of Luke  was dictated by the apostle Paul. In view of the preface of the gospel  we may be sure that the Church fathers exaggerate the influence of Paul  in the composition of this Gospel, possibly to give it apostolic  authority. Paul s relation to the third Gospel differs from that of  Peter to the second; it is not so close. Luke did not simply write what  he remembered of the preaching of Paul, much less did he write  according to the dictation of the apostle, for he himself says that he  traced everything from the beginning and speaks of both oral and  written sources that were at his command. Among these oral sources we  must, of course, also reckon the preaching of Paul. That the great  apostle did influence Luke s representation of "the beginning of the  Gospel," is very evident. There are 175 words and expressions in the  gospel that are peculiar to Luke and Paul. Cf. Plummer p. LIV. Besides,  as we have already seen, some of the leading ideas of Paul are found in  the third gospel, such as the universality of the Gospel, the necessity  of faith, and the use of the word diakaioo in a forensic sense, 7:29;  10:29; 16:15; 18:14. A striking resemblance exists also between Luke s  account of the institution of the Lord s supper, 22:19-20. and Paul s  memoir of this in I Cor. 11: 23-25, but this may be due to the use of a  common source.

 The Lukan authorship of the Gospel was generally accepted up to the  time, when Rationalism began its attacks on the books of the Bible. The  Tubingen school, notably F. C. Baur, maintained that the Gospel of  Marcion, who began to teach at Rome in 140 A. D., was the original of  our Gospel. Others followed where Baur led. In later years, however,  critical opinion wheeled about completely and the opinion is generally  held that Marcion's Gospel is a mutilation of Luke's, though in some  parts it may represent another and even an older text. This, of course,  made it possible again to maintain the authorship of Luke. But even now  there are several German scholars who doubt that Luke wrote the Gospel,  and Harnack's protest against their contention seems ineffective. Their  objections to the Lukan authorship are based on the Acts of the  Apostles rather than on the Gospel, but, as has been intimated, the two  stand or fall together. We shall consider these objections, when we  treat of Acts.


 1. Readers and Purpose. The Gospel of Luke was first of all intended  for Theophilus, who is addressed as "most excellent Theophilus" in 1:  3, and is also mentioned in Acts 1:1. We have no means of determining  who this Theophilus was. It has been supposed by some that the name was  a general one, applied to every Christian, as a beloved one or a friend  of God. But the general opinion now is, and rightly so, that it is the  name of an individual, probably a Greek. The fact that he is addressed  by Luke in the same manner as Felix, 23: 26, 24: 3, and Festus, 26: 25  are addressed, led to the conclusion that he was a person of high  station. Baljon thinks he was undoubtedly a Gentile Christian, while  Zahn regards him as a Gentile who had not yet accepted Christ, since  Luke would have addressed a brother differently. It is generally  agreed, however, that the Gospel was not intended for Theophilus only,  but was simply addressed to him as the representative of a large circle  of readers. Who were these first readers of the gospel? Origen says  that the third gospel was composed "for the sake of the Gentile  converts ;" Gregory Nazianze, more definitely: "Luke wrote for the  Greeks." Now it is quite evident from the gospel itself that the  evangelist is not writing for the Jews. He never gives the words of  Jesus in the Aramaeic language; instead of amen lego he has alethos  lego, 9:27; 12 :44; 21:3; for grammateis he uses nomikoi, didaskalos,  2:46; 7:30; 10:25; 11:45; and of many places in Palestine he gives a  nearer definition. It is very probable that that Gospel of Luke was  intended for the Greeks, because Paul labored primarily among them,  Theophilus was in all probability a Greek, the preface of the gospel is  in many respects like those found in Greek historians, and the whole  Gospel is remarkably adjusted to the needs of the Greeks. Cf. for this  last point especially Gregory, Why Four Gospels p. 207 if.

 The purpose of Luke is clearly stated in the preface, viz. 98 that  Theophilus and the Gentile readers in general might know the certainty  of those things, wherein they had been instructed, 1: 4. It is his  desire to present clearly the truth of all Gospel facts. In order to do  this, he aims at fulness of treatment; traces all things from the  beginning; writes an orderly account of all that has happened,  recording the sayings of the Lord in their original setting more than  the other evangelists do, thus promoting definiteness and strengthening  his representation of the reality of things; mentions the names not  only of the principal actors in the Gospel history, but also those of  others that were in any way connected with it, 2:1, 2; 3:1, 2; 7:40;  8:3; brings the Gospel facts in relation with secular history, 2:1, 2;  3:1, 2; and describes carefully the impression which the teachings of  Christ made, 4:15, 22, 36; 5:8, 25; 6:11; 7:29; 8:37; 18:43; 19:37.  From the contents of the Gospel we may further gather that it was the  author s nearer purpose to present Christ in a very acceptable way to  the Greeks, viz, as the perfect man (cf. p. 91 above), as the  sympathetic friend of the afflicted and the poor, 1: 52; 2:7; 4:18;  6:20; 12:15 ff. 16:19, etc., and as the Saviour of the world, seeking  those that are lost, 7: 36-50; 15:1-32; 18:9-14; 19: 1-10;23:43.

 2. Time and Place. Tradition tells us very little regarding the time,  when Luke wrote his Gospel. According to Eusebius Clement of Alexandria  received a tradition from presbyters of more ancient times "that the  Gospels containing the genealogies were written first." Theophylact  says: "Luke wrote fifteen years after Christ's ascension. The testimony  of Euthymius is to the same effect, while Eutichius states that Luke  wrote his Gospel in the time of Nero. According to these testimonies  the evangelist composed his Gospel possibly as early as 54, and  certainly not later than 68 A. D.

 Internal evidence is even more uncertain. Some infer from 21: 24 that  Luke realized that a certain time was to elapse between the destruction  of Jerusalem and the final judgment, and therefore wrote after the  destruction of the Holy City, a very inconclusive argument indeed,  since this is a prophetic word of Christ. We might argue in favor of a  date after the destruction of Jerusalem from the absence of the warning  note that is found in both Matthew and Mark, but being an argument from  silence even that does not prove the point. Several scholars,  especially of the Tubingen school, date the Gospel near the end of the  first or in the beginning of the second century. The main argument for  this date is the supposed fact that Luke is in some parts of his Gospel  dependent on the Antiquities of Josephus, a rather chimerical idea.  Both Zahn and Weiss are of the opinion that Luke wrote after the  destruction of Jerusalem, but not later than the year 80 A. D. Zahn  settled on this terminus ad quem, because he considers it likely that  Luke was a member of the Antiochian congregation as early as the year  40 A. D., and would therefore be very old in the year 80 A. D.; Weiss,  since the evangelist evidently expected the second coming of Christ in  his time, which was characteristic of the first generation after  Christ. The great majority of conservative scholars place the  composition of this Gospel somewhere between 58 and 63 A. D. The main  arguments for this date are: (1) it is in harmony with ancient  tradition; (2) it best explains the total silence of Luke regarding the  destruction of Jerusalem; and (3) it is most in harmony with the dating  of Acts in 63 A. D., which offers a good explanation of Luke s silence  with respect to the death of Paul.

 As to the place, where the Gospel of Luke was written tradition points  to Achaia and Boeotia. We have no means of controlling this testimony,  however, so that it really leaves us in ignorance. Some of the modern  guesses are, Rome, Caesarea, Asia Minor, Ephesus, and Corinth.

 3. Method. In view of the preface of Luke's Gospel we have reason to  believe that in the composition of it the evangelist depended on both  oral tradition and written sources. In present day theories the  emphasis is mainly placed on written sources, and the most prevalent  hypothesis is that he employed the Gospel of Mark, either in the  present form or in an earlier recension; the apostolic source Q or some  diegesis containing this (from which two sources he derived mainly the  matter that he has in common with Matthew and Mark); and a third main  source of unknown character and authorship, from which he drew the  narrative of the nativity, chs. 1, 2, and the account of the last  journey to Jerusalem, contained in 9: 51 18:14. Zahn also believes that  Luke employed Mark as one of his sources, but does not attempt to give  a nearer definition of the other sources used. The opinion that he drew  part of his material from Josephus deserves but a passing notice. It  seems to us that it is impossible to determine exactly what sources  Luke used; all we can say is: (1) Having been an associate of Paul for  several years, part of which he spent in Palestine, where he had  abundant opportunity to meet other apostles and eyewitnesses of the  Lord's works, he must have gathered a large store of knowledge from  oral tradition, which he utilized in the composition of his gospel.  This accounts for a great deal of the matter which he has in common  with Matthew and Mark. (2) During the time of his research in Palestine  he also became acquainted with a goodly number of diegeseis narratives  of the Gospel facts, of which we can no more determine the exact  nature, and drew on them for a part of his material. One of these  probably contained the matter found in chs. 1 and 2, and in 9: 51  18:14. (3) It does not seem likely that Luke read either the Gospel of  Matthew or that of Mark, and classed them or either one of them with  the previous attempts, on which he desired to improve. Oral tradition  in connection with the guidance of the Holy Spirit is quite sufficient  to explain the resemblance between these Gospels and that of Luke.


 The canonicity of this Gospel is well attested. Says Alexander in his  work on the Canon p. 177: "The same arguments by which the canonical  authority of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark was established, apply  with their full force to the Gospel of Luke. It was universally  received as canonical by the whole primitive Church has a place in  every catalogue of the books of the New Testament, which was ever  published is constantly referred to and cited by the Fathers as a part  of sacred Scripture and was one of the books constantly read in the  churches, as a part of the rule of faith and practice for all  believers." There are in all 16 witnesses before the end of the second  century that testify to its use and general acceptance in the Church.

 The gospel of Luke presents to us Christ especially as one of the human  race, the Seed of the woman, in his saving work not only for Israel,  but also for the Gentiles. Hence it pictures him as the friend of the  poor and as seeking sinners, emphasizes the universality of the Gospel  blessings, and distinctly bespeaks a friendly relation to the  Samaritans. Its permanent spiritual value is that it reminds the Church  of all ages that in every nation he that feareth God, and worketh  righteousness, is accepted with him; and that we have a great High  Priest that was touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and was in  all parts tempted like as we are, yet without sin.