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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes


- Luke

by Thomas Constable


Several factors indicate that the writer of this Gospel was the same person who wrote the Book of Acts. First, a man named Theophilus was the recipient of both books (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). Second, Acts refers to a previous work by the same writer. Third, both books have several common themes, some of which do not receive the same emphasis elsewhere in the New Testament. Fourth, there are general structural and stylistic similarities, including the use of chiasms and the tendency to focus on specific individuals.

The writer also acquired his knowledge of Jesus’ life and ministry from research rather than from eyewitness observations (Luke 1:1-4). Therefore he was not one of the disciples who traveled with Jesus.

The early church identified the writer as Luke. The heretic Marcion is the earliest witness we have to Luke’s authorship (ca. A.D. 135). The Muratorian Canon (ca. A.D. 180) mentioned Luke as the writer too. It described him as the physician who accompanied Paul on his journey (cf. Acts 16:10-17; Acts 20:5-15; Acts 21:1-18; Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:16; Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11). Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 180-185) also believed Luke wrote this Gospel and called him the "inseparable" companion of Paul. [Note: Against Heresies, 3:14:1.] Later church fathers likewise referred to Luke as the writer of this Gospel.

Luke was evidently a Gentile (cf. Colossians 4:10-14). However some scholars believed that Colossians 4:11; Colossians 4:14 do not necessarily mean that Luke was a Gentile and that he may have been a Hellenistic Jew. [Note: E.g., R. P. Martin, Colossians: The Church’s Lord and the Christian’s Liberty, p. 146; and John Wenham, "The Identification of Luke," Evangelical Quarterly 63:1 (1991):16.] Church tradition identified Antioch of Syria as Luke’s hometown, but this is has not been validated.


The main doctrines of systematic theology that Luke stressed were Christology, soteriology (especially redemption), pneumatology, angelology, and eschatology.

"Luke is the only synoptic evangelist to use the noun ’salvation’ (soteria four times [Luke 1:69; Luke 1:71; Luke 1:77, Luke 19:9]; soterion twice [Luke 2:30; Luke 3:6]) and ’savior’ (soter [Luke 1:47; Luke 2:11]), and he used the verb ’save’ (sodzo) more than any other book in the New testament (although this is mainly because of Luke’s greater length)." [Note: Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 220.]

There is also much emphasis on the glory of God, prayer, miracles, the divine plan that Jesus fulfilled, Israel, believing, discipleship, forgiveness, and God’s Word. About 20 of Jesus’ parables are unique to this Gospel. Luke also related certain events in Jesus’ life to secular history, and he emphasized Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem. [Note: For an excellent summary of Luke’s theology, see Darrell L. Bock, "A Theology of Luke-Acts," in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, pp. 87-166.]

Luke stressed Jesus’ concern for all people, especially for individuals that Jewish society of His day despised such as Gentiles, the poor, women, children, and "sinners." He used the Greek term nomikos, which means "lawyer," rather than the Hebrew term grammateus, meaning "scribe." He emphasized Jesus’ practical teachings, such as what He taught about money (cf. chs. 12 and 16).

"In terms of its worldview, its theology, and its practical presentation of principles, this Gospel explains how we can serve God better." [Note: Idem, Luke, p. 26.]

Luke showed interest in purpose, fulfillment, and accomplishment. He documented the joy that resulted from Jesus’ saving and healing works. He stressed Jesus’ call for people to become His disciples. He portrayed Jesus as dependent on the Holy Spirit and on the Father through prayer. Finally, Luke recorded many examples of Jesus’ power. Muslims respect the Gospels, and probably more Muslims have been brought to faith in Christ through Luke’s Gospel than any other, because of its emphases.

"Luke’s Gospel gives a reader a more comprehensive grasp of the history of the period than the other Gospels. He presented more facts about the earthly life of Jesus than did Matthew, Mark, or John." [Note: John A. Martin, "Luke," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 201.]

Luke is the longest book in the New Testament, Matthew is second, and Acts is third, but only slightly shorter than Matthew. Together with Acts, Luke comprises about 27 percent of the Greek New Testament. Furthermore Luke wrote more verses in the New Testament than anyone else: 2157 in Luke and Acts. Paul wrote the second largest number of verses (2032), then John (1416), then Matthew (1071), then Mark (678), and finally the lesser contributors. [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 17.]


The Gospel of Luke is one of the books of the Bible that states the purpose of the writer. Luke said that he wrote to inform Theophilus about the truthfulness of the gospel that Theophilus had heard (Luke 1:4).

In Acts, Luke said he had written previously about the things that Jesus began to do and teach before His ascension (Acts 1:1-2). He then proceeded to record the things Jesus continued to do and teach after His ascension through His apostles in Acts. Presumably Luke wrote both his Gospel and Acts with a larger audience than just Theophilus in view.

The distinctive emphases of the Gospel help us to identify secondary purposes. Luke demonstrated zeal to convince his readers of the reliability of the facts that he recorded so they would believe in Jesus and become Christians, as well as the significance of what God had done in Christ. [Note: Carson and Moo, p. 212.] . These concerns are also clear in Acts. [Note: See I. Howard Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian.] Obviously he wrote to preserve the record of events that happened during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but few ancient writers wrote simply to narrate a chronicle of events. [Note: Walter L. Liefeld, "Luke," in Matthew-Luke, vol. 8 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 800.] They wrote to convince their readers of something, and they used history to do that. Notwithstanding historical accuracy was important to them. [Note: See A. W. Mosley, "Historical Reporting in the Ancient World," New Testament Studies 12 (1965-66):10-26.] We believe that Luke’s Gospel is an accurate continuation of biblical history that God preserved in Scripture. This Gospel constitutes an apologetic for Christianity that would have been of special interest to Greeks because of Luke’s selection of material, vocabulary, and style. [Note: See William J. Larkin Jr., "The Recovery of Luke-Acts as ’Grand Narrative’ for the Church’s Evangelistic and Edification Tasks in a Postmodern Age," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:3 (September 2000):405-15, for suggestions for using Luke-Acts in a postmodern age.] It would give them a reason for the hope that was in them (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).


Evidently Theophilus was a real person. [Note: See my comment on 1:3.] His name is Greek and means "lover of God." He appears to have been a fairly recent convert to Christianity from Greek paganism. Consequently it appears that Luke wrote for people such as Theophilus originally. Before his conversion, Theophilus may have been one of the Gentile God-fearers to which Luke referred several times in Acts. The God-fearers were Gentiles who had a certain respect for and who wanted to learn more about the God of the Jews. They came to the Jewish synagogues and listened to the Jewish Scriptures read there. Luke’s orientation of his Gospel to the secular world and his references to Judaism also suggest that he wrote his Gospel with these people in mind. His use of the Septuagint version and his interest in the God-fearers suggest this too. The God-fearers had turned from Greek polytheism to Jewish monotheism, but many of them were not familiar with Palestinian geography and culture. Luke clarified these matters for his readers when necessary. The God-fearers were the Gentiles whom Paul found to be the most receptive soil for the gospel seed. Luke himself may have been one of this group, though there is no way to prove or to disprove that possibility.

"[Luke] writes to reassure the Christians of his day that their faith in Jesus is no aberration, but the authentic goal towards which God’s ancient dealings with Israel were driving." [Note: Robert Maddox, The Purpose of Luke-Acts, p. 187.]

By the first century most of the pagan Greeks had stopped believing in the gods and goddesses of their mythology and had abandoned fatalism. Many of them were following Eastern "mystery" religions that competed with Christianity for their allegiance. Both beliefs offered saviors, but the Savior of Christianity was a personal resurrected Lord whereas the savior of the mystery religions was impersonal and ideal. Luke evidently wrote to persuade these people to believe in Jesus and to give them a solid factual basis for their faith.

"That he wrote for an urban church community in the Hellenistic world is fairly certain." [Note: I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, p. 33.]


Experts in Greek literary styles acknowledge Luke’s style and structure as superb. [Note: See Henry J. Cadbury, The Style and Literary Method of Luke.] No one knows Luke’s educational background, but clearly he had training in Greek composition as well as medicine and a talent for writing. Luke used many words that the other Gospel writers did not, and many of them show a wide literary background. He also used several medical and theological terms that are unique. Luke’s use of Semitisms shows that he knew the Hebrew Old Testament well. However, his preference for the Septuagint suggests that it was the version his readers used most. Perhaps Luke was a Gentile who had much exposure to Semitic idioms from Paul and other Jews. He was a skillful enough writer to use chiasms as a major structural device. [Note: See Charles H. Talbert, Literary Patterns, Theological Themes and the Genre of Luke-Acts.] Chiasms were both Jewish and Greek literary devices that gave unity to a composition or section of text. Acts also contains them. Luke also repeated similar stories with variations (cf. Luke 1:80; Luke 2:40; Luke 2:52). This literary device aids learning while giving additional new insights. He also tended to use a particular term frequently in one or more passages and then rarely or never after that. This makes the term stand out and calls attention to it where it occurs. [Note: See Henry J. Cadbury, "Four Features of Lucan Style," in Studies in Luke-Acts, ed. Leander Keck and J. Louis Martyn (New York: Abingdon Press, 1966), pp. 87-102.]


Practically all scholars believe that Luke wrote his Gospel before he wrote Acts. Many conservative scholars hold that he wrote Acts during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment during which the book ends (A.D. 60-62). Luke accompanied Paul during much of that apostle’s missionary ministry. At times Luke was not with Paul, but he was ministering as Paul’s representative in one or another of the churches that Paul had founded. Evidently Paul was Luke’s primary source of information for his Gospel and Acts, as Peter was Mark’s primary source for the second Gospel. Luke may have written his Gospel during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome along with Acts. However, it seems more likely in view of how Luke introduced these two books that he wrote the Gospel sometime earlier than Acts. Luke had the most time to write this Gospel during Paul’s Caesarean imprisonment (A.D. 57-59, cf. Acts 24:1 to Acts 26:32). This seems to me and some other writers to be the most probable date of writing. [Note: E.g., Mark L. Bailey, in The New Testament Explorer, p. 102. For additional introductory information, see Earle E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke; and Carson and Moo, pp. 198-224.]


I.    Introduction Luke 1:1-4

II.    The birth and childhood of Jesus Luke 1:5 to Luke 2:52

D.    The birth and early life of Jesus ch. 2

III.    The preparation for Jesus’ ministry Luke 3:1 to Luke 4:13

IV.    Jesus’ ministry in and around Galilee Luke 4:14 to Luke 9:50

D.    Jesus’ compassion for people ch. 7

6.    The exorcism of an epileptic boy Luke 9:37-43 a

V.    Jesus’ ministry on the way to Jerusalem Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:27

F.    God’s attitude toward sinners ch. 15

G.    Jesus’ warnings about riches ch. 16

H.    Jesus’ warning about disciples’ actions and attitudes Luke 17:1-19

VI.    Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem Luke 19:28 to Luke 21:38

VII.    Jesus’ passion, resurrection, and ascension chs. 22-24




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