Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Gospel Of Luke: Introduction and Preface

Luke is widely held as the author of The Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. Both tradition and internal evidence upholds this view. Though neither book names its author, the author places himself in the story in Acts as a companion to Paul, and three of Paul’s letters, Colossians, Philemon and II Timothy refer to him as his companion.

There is a wide range of thought as to when the Gospel of Luke was written, most within the range of 60 – 90 AD. I hold to a date around the early to mid 60’s for two reasons: Neither the death of Paul nor his letters, (they were more widely distributed in the latter years), are mentioned in Luke’s account. Luke also sees the need to give a defense of the gentiles place in God’s plan, which there would be little need for if it had been written at a later date.

Lucas, or Luke, is probably an abbreviation of the name Lucanus. From this name and the fact that he was a physician, it is thought by some that he may have been a slave.  Slaves at this time in the Roman Empire were sometimes given a shortened or nickname of their master, and in wealthy families, a slave was often chosen to be educated in medicine to be the family doctor.

That Luke was educated is obvious from his writings.  Both the Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles are written in a higher literary style than the other New Testament books. The allusions to the Septuagint in his gospel and the Hellenistic narrative form both of his books take testify to his intelligence and education.

His grasp of the Septuagint is so great, that it is assumed that he was either a Gentile proselyte or a God-fearer like Cornelius or the Centurion from Luke 7. He was not likely born a Jew, as Paul lists him among the uncircumcised in his letter to the Colossians.

Tradition holds that Luke was from Antioch in Syria. He enters the story in Acts when Paul, Silas and Timothy reach Troas, 50. From there he goes with them to Philippi, 50-57, and remains there. He then journeys with Paul to Jerusalem, 57-61, and then onto Rome, 61.

He is referred to in Acts 16:11-18, 17:1, 20:5-21:18, 27:1, 28:1, 12-16, and by Paul in Colossians 4:14, II Timothy 4:11, and Philemon vs.23&24.

History – Luke’s gospel is often viewed as historic narrative. His style, particularly in the preface of the gospel follows Hellenistic form for the historic narrative in this general time period, similar to Josephus.

Theology – Luke tells the story not only to be accurate and to convey facts, but to place them in an order to comprehend their meaning better. There are major strands woven throughout this gospel: God’s sovereignty and faithfulness, mission of Jesus as he comes against cosmic forces which are opposed to God, Christ as messiah, servant, prophet, king, son of man, and Lord, Holy Spirit, cross, etc.

Narrative theology - This is a term used by Michael Travers to describe the genre Luke uses.It is truth told. The reason to use the narrative, to tell the stories, is to bridge the head and the heart using the imagination. Luke’s writing style weaves history, prophecy, teachings, drama and parables in order to cause the reader to understand their meaning, not just to know the facts.

The purpose in understanding the genre is because it tells us what to expect.If we see Luke as simply a history book, we will look for facts, places, dates, etc. If we look at it as simply theology, we will likely look for doctrinal propositions and categories. If we look at it as a story, a true story, but a story none the less, we can then become part of it. A reader is always a part of the story. We can identify with characters, we can imagine the settings, we can be there, and in doing so, we can meet Jesus and let his words and actions change us.

The Uniqueness of Luke
Luke is considered one of the synoptic gospels because of its similarity to both Matthew and Mark, but it is also quite unique.  It is the longest gospel, with twenty four chapters. Along with Acts, Luke’s writings are a full ¼ of the New Testament. There are at least nine parables, five teachings, and seventeen narrative accounts which are in Luke alone. He also emphasizes feasts/food, women, the poor, the outcast, children, gentiles, the Temple /Jerusalem, prayer and God’s sovereignty.

Luke also serves as a bridge, between Jews and Gentiles and Jesus ministry and the church.
It is the only gospel written by a gentile and the only gospel with a sequel. 

Luke 1:1-4

Luke’s preface follows closely the form of a Hellenistic historic narrative.Accuracy was important in such endevours, but so was good writing and storytelling to keep the reader engaged and aid in understanding.The preface set the tone.

Luke begins with acknowledging that others have attempted writing narratives of the things that have happened, perhaps Mark or Matthew. He mentions eyewitnesses who have delivered the accounts to them. This need not be limited to written accounts. Luke spent a few years in Jerusalem, where there must have been many who had been with Jesus. It would make sense that he gained much from female witnesses since his later accounts of the Nativity and details of Herod’s household would likely have been informed by Mary and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Chuza. Most New Testament scholars have attempted to explain the differences between the synoptic gospels by suggesting a possible earlier source, Q (for quelle, or source), or for Matthew, another source called M, or for Luke, another source called L. These sources have often been thought of as written documents, but could very well have been the eyewitnesses or stories and traditions that had been relayed.

Luke sees it fitting that he should also make the attempt, perhaps one more orderly or for a wider audience.He addresses the letter to, most excellent Theophilus, a common name in that time, meaning God adorer or lover of God, who must have been of high rank or status by the way he is addressed and perhaps was Luke’s patron, commissioning this work. Luke states that his purpose in writing is to give an orderly, accurate account. This does not necessarily mean chronological order, but one that conveys the meaning and importance of the events which took place. He wants Theophilus and others who would hear or read what he has written to understand and be assured of the accuracy of what they have already been taught, so Theophilus must already be a believer.

References are:  Luke by Darrel Bock, The Gospel of Luke,Sacra Pagina by Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Joel B. Green, and of course, the Gospel of Luke.

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