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by Donald C. Fleming
INTRODUCTION TO LUKE
Luke and Theophilus
The opening words of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts indicate that the two books were written by the same person. Together they form a continuous record of the origins of Christianity, from the birth of its founder to the arrival of its greatest missionary in Rome.
Both books were written for a man named Theophilus, who, from the title by which he is addressed, appears to have been a person of some importance, possibly a high-ranking official in the Roman government (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2). The books do not record the name of the writer, but the common belief from the time of the early church is that it was Luke.
A Gentile historian
It seems certain that Luke was a Gentile, and therefore the only New Testament writer who was not a Jew. Early records suggest that he was born in Antioch in Syria, though at the time of Paul’s missionary travels he seems to have lived in Philippi, in the north of present-day Greece.
By profession Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14), but he became also a skilled historian. He carefully dated the beginning of his story according to well known events (Luke 2:1-2; Luke 3:1-2), and the findings of archaeology have confirmed the exactness of the technical words he used for places and officials (Acts 13:7; Acts 16:12,Acts 16:35; Acts 18:12,Acts 18:16; Acts 19:31,Acts 19:35)
Luke first appears in the biblical record when he joined Paul in north-western Asia Minor and accompanied him on Christianity’s first missionary thrust into Europe. Luke’s movements can, to some extent, be traced by his use of the word ‘we’ when he was with the missionary party and the word ‘they’ when he was not. Paul’s first centre of evangelism in Europe was Philippi (Acts 16:10-12), and Luke remained there when Paul moved on to other parts of Greece (Acts 17:1). He rejoined Paul several years later when, on a subsequent journey, Paul passed through Philippi on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 20:5-6).
It seems that from this time on, Luke remained with Paul as one of his most valued fellow workers. When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and then imprisoned in Caesarea, Luke remained close by. He no doubt used the time to gather information from eye witnesses of the life of Jesus to include in his Gospel (Luke 1:2-3). When, at the end of a two-year imprisonment, Paul was sent to Rome, Luke accompanied him (Acts 27:1; Acts 28:16). He was with Paul during a further two-year imprisonment in Rome, and during this time he finished the writing of his Gospel and Acts (Acts 28:30; Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). (For further details of events in Rome that helped Luke in his writings, see earlier section ‘The Writing of the Gospels’.)
Luke concluded his two-part record at the point he had chosen. Christianity’s greatest ambassador was proclaiming the gospel openly and unhindered in the very heart of the Empire (Acts 28:31). But the end of Luke’s book did not mean the end of Paul’s life. As had happened many times before, Paul was released from his imprisonment and went on further travels. After visiting churches in various countries he was again arrested, then taken to Rome where this time he faced execution. Luke was still with him, and in fact was the only one with him as Paul awaited the executioner (2 Timothy 4:6,2 Timothy 4:11).
Stories with a purpose
Of the four Gospels, Luke is the longest and most orderly. It covers more of the life of Jesus than the other Gospels, though like them it does not attempt to give a biography of Jesus. The writer has gathered and arranged his material with a definite purpose in mind, and with much skill has produced a book that contains more of the well known stories of Jesus than any other.
In writing his account, Luke was concerned with more than providing Theophilus with a record of historical details. He selected and presented his material in a way that defended and promoted Christianity. He wanted to show that God in his love had a plan of salvation for a sinful humanity, and that in accordance with that plan Jesus Christ came to be the Saviour. Those who believed in Jesus received the promised salvation, then spread the message of that salvation worldwide (Luke 1:17; 1:68-73; 2:11; 3:4-6; 4:18,21; 19:10; 24:44-48; cf. Acts 1:8). (Most of the statements and stories represented by the references above, and by those that follow, are found only in Luke.)
A Saviour for all
Luke shows that although Jesus belonged to the Jewish race and grew up in the Jewish religion, the salvation he brought was not in any way tied to the Jews. People did not have to adopt the Jewish religion or the Jewish way of life to be saved. Certainly, the religion of Israel had prepared the way for Jesus, but now that he had come it had fulfilled its purpose. The salvation he brought was for people everywhere, regardless of race. The Jews enjoyed no favoured treatment, and the Gentiles suffered no prejudice against them (Luke 2:32; Luke 3:6-8; cf. Acts 15:6-11). In fact, Jesus was often more appreciated by Gentiles than by Jews, with the result that Gentiles received his salvation, but Jews missed out (Luke 4:25-27; Luke 7:9; Luke 11:31-32; Luke 17:11-18).
Just as there was no distinction on the basis of race or religion, so there was no distinction on the basis of social class. Salvation was available equally to all. Luke illustrates this (and in so doing gives a warning to Theophilus) by showing that often the socially respectable missed out on salvation, but the socially despised received it (Luke 7:29-30; Luke 10:30-37; Luke 16:19-31; Luke 18:9-14; Luke 19:1-9).
In developing this theme, Luke draws attention to the various kinds of socially disadvantaged people who received God’s blessings. Among these were slaves (Luke 7:2-7; Luke 12:37), aliens (Luke 10:30-37; Luke 17:16), the poor (Luke 1:53; Luke 2:7; Luke 6:20; Luke 7:22) and women (Luke 1:28; Luke 2:36-38; Luke 7:37-48; Luke 8:2; Luke 13:11-13), in particular, widows (Luke 4:25; Luke 7:12-15; Luke 18:1-7; Luke 21:1-4).
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29