The Gospel of Luke

Edward A. McDowell  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 10 - Fall 1967

An interpretation of the Gospel of Luke demands as a primary consideration the unity of the Gospel with the Acts of the Apostles. The Gospel should be considered as Book I and the Acts as Book II of the same work. The Prologue to the Gospel contemplates a second work which would complete the story of “the things which have been accomplished among us,” and the Introduction to the Acts plainly refers to a “first book,” or “former treatise,” which can be none other than the Gospel of Luke.

Clearly the author of the Gospel and the Acts was one and the same person. Acts will tell us much, therefore, about the author and his purpose. It will also shed light upon the controlling ideas and theology of the Gospel.

Luke-Acts is unique among the New Testament writings. Not only is it the only work in two parts, but the author is the lone Gentile among all the authors of the Bible. Furthermore, in space it occupies the largest place in the New Testament, accounting for more than one-fourth of the entire New Testament. The Greek in which it was written is superior to that used in any other New Testament writing except the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The Gospel of Luke has been called the most beautiful book ever written. Its close relationship with the Acts in no sense damages its individuality, but rather enhances it.


The Author, Date, and Readers

The Prologue of the Gospel and the Introduction to Acts provide the first clue to the fact that the author of the Gospel was also the author of the Acts. Theophilus is addressed in both the Prologue and the Introduction. The author of Acts refers to “the first book,” or “The former treatise,” which is unmistakably the Gospel of Luke. The first personal pronoun is used by the author in both the Prologue and the Introduction. The language and style of writing in both books are the same.

The “We” passages in Acts enable us at once to identify the author as a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. These are 16:10-17; 20:6-21:18; 27:1-28:16. If we follow the Bezan text (D) of the Acts at 11:27 we find another “We,” which raises the possibility that this traveling companion of Paul met the Apostle much earlier than the accepted text indicates. This would date their first meeting in A.D. 44-45 at Antioch in Syria and lend credence to one tradition that Luke was a native of Antioch. Relying, however, upon the critical text, the year of the first meeting between the two men was A.D. 49, and the place of meeting was Troas.

The early church fathers assigned the Gospel to Luke. The earliest of these was Irenaeus, born in Asia Minor in the second quarter of the second century, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (now France). He died about A.D. 200. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 190-202), Tertullian (A.D. 190-220), and the Muratorian Fragment (A.D. 170-200), all identify Luke as the author. This tradition of Lukan authorship is very substantial, and there is no reason to question it. It is strongly supported by the fact that Luke was not an apostle and was not prominent in the affairs of the early church, the result being that there would be no cause to attribute a writing to him if he were not its author.

There are three references to Luke in the Epistles of Paul. These are in Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24, and 2 Timothy 4: 11. In Colossians 4:14 he is called by Paul “the beloved physician.” Eusebius (E.H. iii. 4) states that Luke was a physician of Antioch. In Philemon 24 Paul names Luke as one of his “fellow workers.” In 2 Timothy 4:11 he writes, “Luke alone is with me.” Passing by the critical question of the Pauline authorship of 2 Timothy, we may rely upon the statement as preserving the reliable tradition that Luke was with Paul in his final imprisonment and up to the time of his death.

These few references tell us much about the man Luke. They confirm the claim of the “We” sections of Acts that he was a traveling companion of Paul. They reveal the fact that he was highly esteemed by the great Apostle, who bestowed upon him the title “beloved” and the accolade “fellow worker.” The Colossian reference reveals that he was a doctor, and in this confirms the picture of him as a man of education and culture, a picture derived from his command of the Greek language and the broad outlook and exquisite taste shown in his writings.

Luke was a Gentile. This is certainly indicated by the strong emphasis in Luke-Acts upon universalism and his lack of interest in some Jewish interests with which Matthew and Mark are concerned. In Colossians 4:10-14 he is grouped with Epaphras and Demas in contradistinction to Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus. Of the three latter Paul writes, “These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God,” a statement which would certainly imply that the other three were not of “the circumcision,” hence, Gentiles.

Returning now to the “We” sections of Acts we find that Luke accompanied Paul on the second missionary journey from Troas to Philippi. (Acts 16:10-12). It is quite probable that Luke was the man seen by Paul in the vision saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” This “We” passage stops at 16:17, so we conclude that Luke remained in Philippi, which may have been his home at this time, until Paul came back to Philippi six years later (A.D. 56) on the final journey to Jerusalem. The “We” section from which this is derived begins at 20:6 and continues through 21:18, showing that Luke was on the trip with Paul to Jerusalem. The “We” passages resume at 27: 1 and end at 28: 16. Paul was a prisoner at Caesarea from A.D. 56 to 58. The absence of the first person plural in the narrative of this period confirms the view that Luke utilized the time to make personal contacts with the apostles and relatives of Jesus and to do the kind of research he claims to have done in the Prologue to the Gospel. The final “We” passage shows that Luke was with Paul on the journey to Rome. It is unreasonable to think that because no “We” appears from 28:17 to the end of Acts Luke left Paul at once after the arrival in Rome. We may surmise that he remained with him a good portion of the period of this first imprisonment. That he was with him in the second imprisonment we have already seen from 2 Timothy 4: 11.

Perhaps the manner of man Luke was is most accurately reflected in that material of his Gospel for which he alone is responsible, and in the changes he makes in the material he shares with Mark and Matthew. This material will be discussed under “Sources of the Gospel,” and the reader will be able to make his own deductions as to Luke’s character and personality from this discussion and also from the treatment of Luke’s ideas. Suffice it to say here that this material and the discussion of the great ideas will reveal Luke as a very warm and human person, who, were he living today, would qualify as an excellent journalist or newspaper man. He had a “nose for news,” as is said of good newspaper reporters today. This accounts in part, I believe, for the many stories and incidents recorded in his Gospel but not found in Mark and Matthew. He was a reporter who wrote his own accounts of what he found by personal investigation and interrogation of witnesses, and this accounts for much of his distinctive contribution to the gospel story, not, as so many scholars hold, to his use of written sources.

In his Introduction to “The Gospel of Luke” Lonsdale Ragg describes Luke in these glowing terms:

What St. Luke was as a man is reflected in his writings. Wide and deep sympathy, love of souls, interest in simple things, in manhood and womanhood, in child­ hood and domesticity, in the joy of life, in prayer, worship, praise, and thanksgiving; historical sense, keen observation, loyalty to fact; gift of narrative, dramatic, and artistic sense, and a certain genial humor; deep enthusiasm for the Saviour, the Divine-Human Christ, and for the first missionary heroes of the Ascended Lord-all these are there, and much more. No wonder his Gospel is described by Renan as ‘the most beautiful book ever written.'[1]Londsdale Ragg, Westminster Commentaries (London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1922), p. xi.

It is probable that Luke was already a Christian when he first met Paul. But it was his association with the great apostle that whetted his curiosity to know all he was able to learn about the beginnings of the gospel, its direction and expansion in the Roman Empire, and its meaning for humanity. What he learned, combined with the instruction and encouragement of Paul, led him to share his story with Theophilus and all others who cared to read it.


The Date

The “We” passages in Acts suggest that Luke began a diary, which became the “travel document,” very soon after he met Paul at Troas in A.D. 49. I suggest that the idea of a story of the beginnings and extension of the Christian movement began to germinate in Luke’s mind during his stay in Philippi, or in the period of his separation from Paul during the years between A.D. 49 (or 50) and 56. Much work in the preparation of his material for publication must have taken place during the two years of Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, A.D. 56-58 (or 59). Luke’s story closes with Paul a prisoner in Rome for two years. It is likely that Paul was released from the first Roman imprisonment in A.D. 61. Paul was executed either in A.D. 64 or 67 during a second imprisonment. The death of his great friend and hero would spur Luke to complete and publish his two-part work. There need not have been any great lapse of time between the publication of the two parts. Naturally the Gospel came first, but Acts was not far behind. If we allow for “Proto-Luke,” in keeping with the hypothesis of B. H. Streeter, Luke first produced a Gospel independently of Mark’s Gospel (Q + L), and later, coming into possession of a copy of Mark, interpolated many sections of it into his Gospel.[2]B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925), pp. 201-22. Mark certainly must have been in circulation not later than A.D. 70 or thereabouts. Allowing, there­ fore, for the use by Luke of Mark, the Gospel of Luke should be dated no later than A.D. 72-75, whereas “Proto-Luke,” if it existed, may be dated as early as A.D. 64 or 67.


The Readers

Both the Gospel and the Acts are addressed to a man named Theophilus (Lover of God). He was a Christian be­ cause Luke writes in order that he may “know fully the certainty of the things concerning which you were instructed” (katecheo = to teach, catechize). He must have been a person of some influence, or prominence, to merit the mention he receives both here and in the Introduction to Acts. Luke addresses him as “most excellent Theophilus,” which may or may not indicate that he was a man of rank. It is possible that Theophilus provided the funds for the publication of Luke-Acts, and that Luke dedicated his two-part work to him in gratitude for his beneficence.

It is unreasonable to suppose that Luke-Acts was meant for the eyes of Theophilus alone. Luke’s work was written for readers throughout the Roman Empire, but especially for men and women who, like Theophilus, had become Christians and catechumens of the Christian faith and who yearned to know all that it was possible to know about Jesus and the beginnings of the Christian movement.


The Purpose of the Gospel

The formal statement of the purpose of the Gospel is given in the Prologue (1:1-4). In these verses Luke declares that since many had undertaken to “draw up a narrative concerning the things fulfilled among us,” it seemed good to him also, since he had “followed all things accurately from the be­ ginning,” to write in orderly fashion to Theophilus, in order that he might know fully (epiginosko) the certainty of the things concerning which he had been instructed.

The “all things” that Luke had followed accurately from the beginning would certainly contemplate what happened after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The purpose to continue the story, as indicated in the Introduction to Acts, links the two parts of Luke-Acts in an overall purpose that cannot be revealed by the few words of the Prologue. In the Introduction to Acts Luke begins by saying, “The former work (logos) I produced, Theophilus, concerning all things Jesus began to do and to teach.” The implication is that what is to follow is closely connected with what has been related concerning Jesus in the Gospel.

To get at the deeper purpose of Luke, therefore, we must keep our eyes upon the beginning of Luke’s story with the promise of the birth of John the Baptist (1:5-25), and its conclusion in the last chapter of Acts with Paul’s preaching of the Kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus for two years in Rome (28:30-31). At the same time we must reckon with the controlling ideas and emphases in both the Gospel and the Acts. By beginning with John the Baptist Luke recognizes the God of history and God’s unique relations with the people of Israel, by linking the “holy history” of old with the “holy history” continued through Jesus Christ. John the Baptist provided the link. The pivotal point in the initiation of the new era in “holy history” was the birth of Jesus during the reign of Augustus Caesar in the little Judean town of Bethlehem. Luke shows that Jesus lived, taught, died and rose from the dead, as one who fulfilled prophecy as the Jewish Messiah, but more importantly, as the universal Savior of mankind. His own contributions to the gospel story in his Gospel illustrate vividly this picture of Jesus.

There are two pivotal points in Luke’s continuation of the story in the Acts. The first of these is the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). There is frequent and significant mention of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel, but from Pentecost the Holy Spirit is the universal Spirit who unremittingly projects and impels the gospel as a historical movement of universal proportions in the Roman Empire. The story ends in Rome, not because Paul was the first to. take the gospel to Rome, for a church flourished there before Paul arrived, as testified to by his Epistle to the Romans, and by the fact that he was met by “brethren” from Rome as he was approaching the city (Acts 28: 14-15). The story ends in Rome because it was Luke’s purpose to show how the gospel as the universal gospel, the gospel preached by Paul, reached the capital .of the “universal” empire. With this purpose in mind Luke did not attempt to give a comprehensive history of the early church. Much of the history of the beginnings of Christianity will forever remain unwritten. Luke selected from the material at hand. These materials include those incidents and stories illustrating the inexorable progress of the gospel, under the explosive power of the Holy Spirit, from the confines of Judaism to the limitless stretches of the Roman Empire.

It is therefore understandable that the second pivot in Luke’s story of the extension of the Gospel is the working of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the liberation of the gospel from the chains that bound it to Judaism. The story of the great liberation is given in Acts 15. From Pentecost to the Council of Jerusalem the story is of the steady progress of the gospel toward the realization of its inherent universalism. From the Council to the end it is the story of how Paul took the gospel to Rome as the universal gospel.

How then does the more restricted purpose of Luke fit into this overall purpose of Luke-Acts? Luke’s purpose in his Gospel is to paint the picture of Jesus of Nazareth as the one of God and universal Savior whose life, work, and teaching brought the universal gospel into being, and made necessary its proclamation in the Roman Empire as the universal gospel.


Sources of the Gospel

Luke implies in the Prologue that he made use of sources in preparing the Gospel. He begins by saying, “Since many took in hand to draw up a narrative concerning the things fulfilled among us, even as those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word from the beginning passed on tradition (paradidomi) to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things accurately from the beginning, to write in orderly fashion to you, Excellent Theophilus, in order that you might know fully the certainty of the things concerning which you were instructed.”

We detect Luke’s respect for history here, and for the gospel tradition as it was preserved in and handed down by the early Christian community. This tradition would be preserved in both oral and written form, and in his following of “all things accurately from the beginning” Luke would examine the written sources and listen carefully to the oral tradition wherever he found it. The oral tradition was much more important, it should be said, than Western scholars make it. To the Western mind all things must be “written down” to qualify as authentic sources. Not so among the Jews and other peoples of the East. From early childhood in their synagogue schools the men around Jesus were taught by rote long passages from the Law and the Prophets. The memories of these men became living repositories of the words and deeds of Jesus. The tradition they preserved would soon become fixed in form and content. Mark was the first to gather many of the elements of this tradition and put them in written form as a Gospel.

It is plain that Matthew and Luke used the greater portion of Mark in the composition of their gospels. But there is much that Matthew and Luke have in common that is not contained in Mark. Scholars have called this material the Q document. B. H. Streeter includes it among the four documents that he believed made up the bulk of the Synoptic Gospels.[3]Ibid.

But there is much in Luke that is not to be found in either Mark or Matthew. Streeter calls the greater portion of this material, found largely between 9:51 and 18:14, L.[4]Ibid. For a study of this section and comparisons of certain parts of it with similar material in Mark and Matthew see Gospel Parallels, A Synopsis of the First Three Gospels, Edited by Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr. (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1949), pp. 101-27. I suggest the L material, plus Luke’s infancy stories, plus his accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, as well as his distinctive touches in the passion story, were derived by Luke as a result of his own personal contacts with “eye witnesses.” I suggest further that he employed his own remarkable gifts as a writer and story teller to describe in his own words what he found. In a few instances he preserved intact the oral or written pericopae as he found them. Jesus was crucified in A.D. 29 or 30, if we allow that it was from Caesarea that Luke worked while Paul was a prisoner A.D. 56-58 (or 59), some 26 or 27 years had passed since Pentecost. At this time Mary the mother of Jesus would have been about eighty years of age, Peter perhaps sixty. The Apostle John was likely younger. There would be multitudes of people living who had seen and heard Jesus. Luke might have interviewed numbers of them. And, of course, he had the benefit of Paul’s knowledge of the early days of the church in Jerusalem.

Luke’s distinctive contributions to the gospel story bear the mark of the writer’s personal report and retelling of what he heard and learned.


Luke’s Controlling Ideas

We have already seen that Luke’s purpose in Luke-Acts is to show how the gospel was projected into the Roman Empire as the universal gospel in keeping with the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth as the universal Savior. In the consideration of the controlling ideas of Luke’s Gospel we shall keep in mind the fact that the note and theme of universalism pervades the entire Gospel, whatever may be said concerning other controlling ideas. This becomes very evident early in the Gospel when Luke traces the ancestry of Jesus to Adam, the father of the human race (3:38).

The Holy Spirit

There are seventy-two references to the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, this including seventeen uses of “Spirit” when clearly the Holy Spirit is intended. Once the “Spirit of Jesus” is used (Acts 16:7), an illustration of how closely both Luke and Paul identified the work of the Holy Spirit with Jesus. In the preceding verse the Holy Spirit appears in precisely the same role (forbidding the missionaries to enter certain territory) as the role enacted by the “Spirit of Jesus.”

We have seen that the descent of the Holy Spirit is one of the two great pivots upon which the story in Acts swings, the other being the work of the Holy Spirit in liberating the gospel from the chains of Judaism at the Council of Jerusalem. Considering Luke-Acts as one, we may say that Pentecost 1s the pivot upon which the action of the entire story swings. The universal nature of the Holy Spirit and his work is dramatized in the presence in Jerusalem of “devout men from every nation under heaven” (2:5). Furthermore, in his sermon Peter quotes from a prophecy of Joel which foreshadows the universal nature and work of the Spirit: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (2:17). Peter believed that “the last days” had begun, but not necessarily that the end of the world was imminent.

The work of the Holy Spirit as seen in the Gospel is to be interpreted in the light of his work in Acts. Space does not permit extensive elaboration of the point, but certain strategic appearances of the Spirit should be mentioned. The forerunner of Jesus “would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (1:15) . The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive because, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (1:35). Of Jesus John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water . . . he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (3:16). The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus “in bodily form, as a dove” at his baptism (3:22), and led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (4:1-2). Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (10:21), and declared that the unforgiveable sin was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (12: 10). One of the most significant “additions” made by Luke to parallel material in Matthew is in 11:13, where the Holy Spirit is made the supreme gift of the Father’s good gifts (Matthew 7: 11 has “good things”).

And we should not overlook the very important claim of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth, as he stepped out on the stage of history to inaugurate his public ministry. The very first words of his inaugural declaration were from the prophecy of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (4:18).

God in History

Reference has been made to Luke’s interest in and concern with history, especially with that element of history within history that we called “holy history.” As we have seen, John the Baptist was the link that united the history of Israel with the history of Jesus, the early church, and the resulting extension of the gospel as a historical movement in the Roman Empire. We have seen how in his declaration at Nazareth Jesus identified his ministry with the prophecy of Isaiah. In so doing he revealed that he had adopted the pattern of the Suffering Servant of the Lord, pictured by Isaiah, as the pattern of his messiahship. He went on to claim that he was fulfilling the prophecy concerning “the acceptable year of the Lord” (4:19, 21). As Jonah became a sign to the men of Ninevah, Jesus declared that he, as Son of Man, would be a sign “to this generation” (11:30). His most poignant lament was concerning the fate that awaited his people because of their rejection of him. On the way to the cross he turned to the weeping women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (23:28).

One of the most significant links of the new stream of “holy history” with the old is Luke’s mention of two cups at the Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Misunderstanding of Luke’s intention, and confusion in the text, have played havoc with correct interpretation here. Notwithstanding overwhelming textual evidence to the contrary,[5]The following manuscripts and versions support the traditional reading for 19b-20, adding “‘which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ and likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood'”…: Aleph, A, B, C, W, Theta, Lambda, Phi, the Textus Receptus, Vulgate, Peshitta Syriac, Sahidic, Bohairic, Confirming the elimination of the above words are only D, the Old Latin, the Curetonian and the Sinaitic Syriac. the Revised Standard Version has eliminated verse 20 of Chapter 22 from the accepted text, the result being that the cup of the Lord’s Supper is made to precede the giving of the bread. By this Luke is made to contradict Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts of the Supper. The whole point of Luke’s intent is lost by this erroneous procedure. The first cup is the last cup of the Passover Feast. The second cup, “the cup after supper,”[6]It should be noted that in 1 Corinthians 11:25 Paul uses preciseley the expression used by Luke: “the cup, after supper” (meta to deipnesai). This might indicate that Luke copied what he found written in 1 Corinthians, but it suggests that Paul and Luke followed the same primitive tradition of the Lord’s Supper. is the cup of the Lord’s Supper, the giving of the bread intervening between the giving of the two cups and thereby coming first in the Lord’s Supper in agreement with the order in Mark and Matthew. Jesus had said (Luke 22: 18), with the giving of the first cup (the last cup of the Passover), “from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” But shortly he gave another cup, “the cup, after supper” (v. 20). It was Luke’s intent to dramatize as a “coming” of the Kingdom of God the institution of the Lord’s Supper, so that with the drinking of the wine of the second cup Jesus and the twelve were drinking of “the fruit of the vine,” as Mark says: “New in the Kingdom of God” (14:25). Thus the Passover, by Luke’s interpretation, “became a channel through which “holy history” flowed from the old to the new dispensation of the Kingdom of God.

Luke was not only conscious of “holy history,” but he was quite alert to secular history as the context of “holy history.” It was as a result of a decree of Caesar Augustus that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, “the city of David,” Joseph being “of the house and lineage of David” (2:1-5) . See how carefully Luke endeavors to date and give a historical setting to the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, the mention of the secular rulers, along with the reigning high priests (3:1-2). Luke makes frequent mention of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, and in one passage (13:31-33) records that Jesus called him a fox. Only Luke records the appearance of Jesus before Herod during his trials (23:6-16).

Luke adds his own special touches to the passion story, among them the record of the charge of sedition and insurrection against Jesus 23:2-5), the only charge that would have any validity before the Roman procurator. In the eyes of Luke it was ironical that Jesus would be charged by the religious leaders with sedition and insurrection when he man whose release they asked of Pilate was Barabbas, an insurrectionist (23:18-25).

In his resurrection narrative Luke takes pains to show that the resurrection of Jesus was an historical event. It is interesting to observe how the educated physician went further than Matthew and Mark to show that the risen Jesus was an historical being, the same Jesus the disciples had companied with before his crucifixion. Luke represents Jesus as saying to the disciples, “it is I myself; handle me, and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (24:39). And then Luke tells how he was given a piece of broiled fish which he took “and ate before them.” Luke did not undertake to explain the mystery of the glorified body of Jesus; he accepted and reported the tradition as he found it. There is no place in Luke’s Gospel for a mythological, psychological, or non-historical explanation of the resurrection of Jesus. He reported it as an historical event.

In the resurrection stories Luke preserves the words of Jesus that emphasize the continuing stream of “holy history” from the Old Testament dispensation into the age of the Messiah and the Holy Spirit. “’Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (24:26-27). “‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead’” (24:44-46). And now, projecting the gospel of the risen and universal Savior into the era of the universal Spirit and the gospel’s extension in the world (the final link of the Gospel of Luke with the Acts), Jesus continues, according to Luke: “‘and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until yon be clothed with power from on high.'” (24:47-49).

It is amazing how expertly Luke the Gentile linked the gospel of the universal Savior with the history of Israel! He was a careful reader of the Septuagint, he was a faithful student of Paul’s theology, and he reported with vividness the tradition he found among the early believers.

The Kingdom of God

Closely related to the controlling idea of God in history is Luke’s concept of the Kingdom of God. As we have seen by the discussion of Luke’s use of the two cups in 22:17-20, Luke conceived of the institution of the Lord’s Supper as a “coming” of the Kingdom of God. We may add to this the immediately preceding statement concerning the Passover (22:16): “I shall not eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” The statement means, “I shall not eat of it until when (heos etou) it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” The Passover is thus placed in such close juxtaposition with the coming of the Kingdom in the Lord’s Supper that it functions as a channel of the fulfilling process through which the old dispensation is merged into the new era of the Kingdom of God. We see, therefore, that in Luke’s view the Kingdom of God was an historical reality.

This interpretation of Jesus’ teaching concerning the Kingdom of God is maintained by Luke throughout his Gospel. His references to the Kingdom of God show plainly that he believed that Jesus taught that the Kingdom was a transcendent and spiritual reality present in the person and ministry of Jesus, to be realized as a force in history through the passion of Jesus. Luke took pains to show that the Kingdom was not to be reduced to an eschatological Kingdom and was not to be confused with the Parousia. This is the clear teaching of the well-known passage 17:20-37. When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees, “When comes the Kingdom of God?” his reply was that the Kingdom comes not with “observation” but is “within you” (entos human). The preposition entos likely means “within,” but whether it means “within” or “among,” the teaching of Jesus, according to Luke, is that the Kingdom is a present reality, either in the person and ministry of Jesus (among), or as a transcendent spiritual realm (in), to be realized as such in the lives of believers. Having said this concerning the Kingdom, Jesus turned to the disciples to teach them concerning the Parousia of the Son of Man. Thus Luke’s report of Jesus’ teaching shows that the Kingdom is not dependent upon the Parousia for its realization in history. (Compare Luke 9:27 with Matthew 16:28). This interpretation is reinforced by the parable that Jesus told (Parable of the Pounds) “because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (19: 11).

To Luke the preaching and teaching of the Kingdom was highly important. See these references: 4:43; 8:1; 9:2, 11, 60; 16:16 (the good news of the Kingdom was being preached since John the Baptist brought the era of the Law and the Prophets to a close). This same emphasis upon preaching and teaching the Kingdom is carried over into Acts, appearing significantly at the beginning and the ending of the book. During the forty days between his resurrection and ascension Jesus was “speaking of the kingdom of God” (1:3), and for two years after his arrival in Rome as a prisoner Paul was “preaching the Kingdom of God” (28:30-31).

In Luke’s interpretation the Kingdom of God was near in the person and ministry of Jesus. The seventy were to pro­ claim that the Kingdom of God had come near (engiken) to those who heard the preaching (10:9, 11). The fact that Jesus was casting out demons by the finger of God was evidence that the Kingdom of God had “come upon” the people who were accusing him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub (11:18-20). The disciples were to know that the Kingdom of God was near (engus) in the midst of tribulations connected with the destruction of Jerusalem (21:31). Mark and Matthew have in the corresponding passages (Mark 13:29, Matthew 24:33) “he is near.” Again Luke distinguishes between the Kingdom of God and the Parousia. (See the mention of the Parousia in 21:27). It seems that Luke is stressing the reality of the Kingdom for the disciples as an antidote to the suffering attendant upon the tribulations they would experience.


The Journey to Jerusalem

In Luke’s view a great portion of the ministry of Jesus is governed by his final journey to Jerusalem to be rejected and to arise from the dead. The journey encompasses the story of Jesus’ ministry beginning at 9:51 and ending at 19:37-38. Within these limits we have “Luke’s Special Section”[7]”Luke’s Special section” actually ends at 18:14, since there is much material parallel to Mark and Matthew in what follows 18:14. containing almost all of Luke’s distinctive contribution to the gospel story. At 9:51 we read, “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” At 13:22 we find that Jesus “went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.” In the statement in 17:11 it appears that Jesus was actually headed northward, since Samaria is mentioned before Galilee; nevertheless, he was “On the way to Jerusalem.” He is still on the way to Jerusalem, according to 18:31, 19:11, and 19:28.

What is the significance of this final journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s interpretation of the ministry of Jesus? It is that the determination of Jesus to go to Jerusalem, knowing that he would be rejected and crucified, accounts for and illuminates the character of his ministry and teaching that follows the final decision to accept the cross. The announcement of this final decision is made after he is confessed by Peter as “The Christ of God” (9:20) and is accompanied by the prediction of his coming death and resurrection (9:21-22). From this point on there is emphasis upon the cost of discipleship as involving unreserved commitment to Jesus and to the demands of the Kingdom of God. Likewise the centrality of the cross in the universal gospel is emphasized.


Luke’s Special Interests

Because of limitations in space it is impossible to discuss Luke’s special interest in several of the major topics in the teaching of Jesus. The reader will do well to study these for himself as they are indicated below.

On love and the love of God: 7:36-50; 10:25-37 (the Good Samaritan); 11:42; 12:32 (“it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”); Chapter 15; 17:3-4; 19:1-10 (Zacchaeus); 22:61-62; 23:34 (“Father, forgive them”); 23:43 (“Today you will be with me in Paradise”); 23:46 (“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!”).

On prayer: Jesus is described as praying—at his baptism (3:21); when he withdrew into the wilderness (5:16); when he went up into the hills (6:12); when he was alone (9:18); at the Transfiguration (9:28-29); when he was in a certain place and the disciples asked him to teach them to pray (11:1); in the Garden of Gethsemane when he himself prayed and urged his disciples to pray (22:39-46); on the cross (23:34, 46). Jesus taught his disciples to pray (11:2-4), and he illustrated in three remarkable parables how men ought and ought not to pray (11:5-13; 18:1-14).

On the peril of riches: 6:24; the Parable of the Rich Fool (12: 13-21); making friends by the right use of money (16:1-15); the Rich Man and Lazarus (16: 19-31); the Rich Young Man (18:18-29).

On the importance of women: the widow’s son at Nain (7:11-17); the sinful woman in the house of Simon (7:36-50); the women who ministered to Jesus (8:1-3); Mary and Martha (10:38-42); healing of the woman who had a spirit of infirmity (13: 10-17 ) ; the “Daughters of Jerusalem” (23:26-32); the women of Galilee at the cross and at the tomb (23:49, 55-56; 24:1-10) .


A Selected Bibliography


Barclay, William. The Gospel of Luke (“The Daily Study Bible.”) Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953.

Burnside, W. F. The Gospel According to St. Luke (“The Cambridge Series.”) The Greek text. Cambridge: University Press, 1913.

Creed, John Martin. The Gospel According to St. Luke: The Greek text. London: Macmillan and Co., 1930.

Geldenhuys, Norval. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (“The New International Commentary on the New Testament.”) Grand Rapids:

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951.


Plummer, Alfred. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke (“The International Critical

Commentary Eighth Edition.”) Greek Text. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907.

Ragg, Lonsdale. St. Luke (“Westminster Commentaries.”) London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1922.


Beck, Dwight M. Through the Gospels to Jesus. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954.

Connick, C. Milo. Jesus, the M an, The Mission, and the Message. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963.

Grant, Frederick C. The Gospels: Their Origin and Their Growth. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957.

Grant, Robert M. A Historical Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.

McNeile, A. H. An Introduction to the Stud y of the New Testament. Second Edition Revised by C. S. C. Williams. Oxford:

Clarendon Press, 1927 and 1953.

Other Works

Cadbury, Henry J. The Making of Luke-Acts. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927.

Carpenter, S .C. Christianity According to St. Luke. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1919.

Conzelmann, Hans. The Theology of St. Luke. Translated by G. Buswell. New York: Harper & Row, 1961.

Filson, Floyd V. Origins of the Gospels. New York: Abingdon Press, 1938.

Johnson, Sherman E. Jesus in His Homeland. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957.

Ramsey, W. M. St. Paul The Traveller and Roman Citizen. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1909. Reprinted as paperback by Baker

Book House, Grand Rapids, 1960.

Robertson, A. T. A Translation of Luke’s Gospel with Grammatical Notes. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1923.

Robertson, A. T. Luke the Historian in the Light of Research. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920.

Scott, E. F. The Purpose of the Gospels. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1949.

Simkhovitch, Vladimir. Toward the Understanding of Jesus. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1923 (New Edition).

Streeter, B. H. The Four Gospels, a Stud y of Origins. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925.


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