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Gospel of St Luke

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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The third of the four canonical Gospels of the Christian Church.

1. Authorship and Date. - The earliest indication which we possess of the belief that the author was Luke, the companion of the Apostle Paul (Col. iv. 14; Philem. 24; 2 Tim. iv. 11), is found in Justin Martyr, who, in his Dialogue with Trypho (c. 103), when making a statement found only in our Luke, instead of referring for it simply to the "Apostolic Memoirs," his usual formula, says that it is contained in the memoirs composed by "the Apostles and those that followed them." But the first distinct mention of Luke as the author of the Gospel is that by Irenaeus in his famous passage about the Four Gospels ( Adv. Haer. III. i. 2, C. A.D. 180).

This tradition is important in spite of the fact that it first comes clearly before us in a writer belonging to the latter part of the 2nd century, because the prominence and fame of Luke were not such as would of themselves have led to his being singled out to have a Gospel attributed to him. The question of the authorship cannot, however, be decided without considering the internal evidence, the interpretation of which in the case of the Third Gospel and the Acts (the other writing attributed to Luke) is a matter of peculiar interest. It is generally admitted that the same person is the author of both works in their present form. This is intimated at the beginning of the second of them (Acts i. 1); and both are marked, broadly speaking throughout, though in some parts much more strongly than in others, by stylistic characteristics which we may conveniently call "Lucan" without making a premature assumption as to the authorship.

The writer is more versed than any other New Testament writer except the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and very much more than most of them, in the literary Greek of the period of the rise of Christianity; and he has, also, like other writers, his favourite words, turns of expression and thoughts. The variations in the degree to which these appear in different passages are in the main to be accounted for by his having before him in many cases documents or oral reports, which he repro duces with only slight alterations in the language, while at other times he is writing freely.

We have next to observe that there are four sections in Acts (xvi. 9-17, xx. 4-16, xxi. 1-17, xxvii. i - xxviii. 16) in which the first person plural is used. Now it is again generally admitted that in these sections we have the genuine account of one who was a member of Paul's company, who may well have been Luke. But it has been and is still held by many critics that the author of Acts is a different person, and that as in the Third Gospel he has used documents for the Life of Christ, and perhaps also in the earlier half of the Acts for the history of the beginnings of the Christian Church, so in the "we" sections, and possibly in some other portions of this narrative of Paul's missionary life, he has used a kind of travel-diary by one who accompanied the Apostle on some of his journeys. That neither this, nor any other, companion of Paul can have been the author of the whole work is supposed to follow both from its theological temper and from discrepancies between its statements and those of the Pauline Epistles on matters of fact.

A careful examination, however, of the "we" sections shows that words and expressions characteristic of the author of the third Gospel and the Acts are found in them to an extent which is very remarkable, and that in many instances they belong to the very texture of the passages. This linguistic evidence, which is of quite unusual force, has never yet been fairly faced by those who deny Luke's authorship of Acts. Moreover, the difficulties in the way of supposing that the author of Acts could at an earlier period of his life have been a companion of St Paul do not seem to be so serious as some critics think. Indeed it is easier to explain some of the differences between the Acts and St Paul's Epistles on this assumption than on that of authorship by a writer who would have felt more dependent upon the information which might be gathered from those Epistles, and who would have been more likely to have had a collection of them at hand, if his work was composed c. A.D. Ioo, as is commonly assumed by critics who reject the authorship by Luke.

There is then strong reason for believing the tradition that Luke, the companion of the Apostle Paul, was the author of our third Gospel and the Acts. Another argument in support of this belief, upon which much reliance has been placed, is found in the descriptions of diseases, and the words common in Greek medical writers, contained in these two works. These, it is said, point to the author's having been a physician, as Luke (Col. iv. 14) was (see esp. Hobart, The Medical Language of St Luke, 1882). The instances alleged are, many of them at least, not very distinctive. Yet they have some value as confirming the conclusion based on a comparison of the "we" sections of the Acts, with the remainder of the two books.

If we may assume that the writer who uses the first person plural in Acts xvi. Io sqq. was the author of the two works, they can hardly have been composed later than A.D. 96; he would then have been about 65 years old, even if he was a very young man when he first joined the Apostle. An earlier date than A.D. 96 cannot be assigned if it is held that his writings show acquaintance with the Antiquities of the Jewish People by Josephus. The grounds for supposing this appear, however, to be wholly insufficient (see article on Acts by Bishop Lightfoot in 2nd ed. of Smith's Dict. of Bible, p. 39) and it is not easy to see why he should have deferred writing so long. On the other hand, a comparison of Luke xxi. 20-24 with Mark xiii. 14 seq. seems to show that in using his document Luke here mingled with the prophecy the interpretation which events had suggested and that the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and dispersion of its inhabitants had already taken place some little time before. Circa A.D. 80 may with probability be given as the time of the composition of his Gospel.

2. Contents, Sources and Arrangement. - In the preface to his Gospel, i. 1-4, Luke alludes to other Gospel-records which preceded his own. He does not say whether he made any use of them, but he seems to imply that his own was more complete. And this was true in regard to the two which, from a comparison of his Gospel with the other two Synoptics, we know that he did use. These we may call his Marcan and his Logian document. Luke also claims that he has written "in order." The instances in which he has departed from the Marcan order, and the manner in which he has introduced his additional matter into the Marcan outline, do not suggest the idea that he had any independent knowledge of an exact kind of the chronological sequence of events. By the phrase "in order" he may himself have intended chiefly to contrast the orderliness and consecutiveness of his account with the necessarily fragmentary character of the catechetical instruction which Theophilus had received. He may, also, have had in view the fact that he has prefixed a narrative of the birth and infancy of Jesus and of John and so begun the history at what he considered to be its true point of departure; to this he plainly alludes when he says that he has "traced the course of all things accurately from the first." He may, also, in part be thinking of those indications which he - and he alone among the evangelists - has given of the points in the course of secular history at which Jesus was born and the Baptist began to preach (ii. 1-3, iii. I, 2), though it may be doubted whether these are in all respects accurate.

Chap. i. 5 - ii. 52. The Birth and Infancy of John and of Jesus. - This portion of the Gospel differs in style and character from all the remainder. Its source may be an Aramaic or a Hebrew document. Some critics, however, hold that it is wholly Luke's own composition, and that the Hebraic style - in which he was able to write in consequence of his familiarity with the LXX. - has been adopted by him as suitable to the subject in hand. Perhaps an intermediate view may be the most probable one; he may have obtained part of his materials, especially the hymns, from some source, and have skilfully worked these into his narrative.

Chap. iii. I - iv. 13. From the Commencement of the Preaching of the Baptist to the End of the Temptation in the Wilderness. - The accounts of the Baptist's preaching and of the temptation are taken from the Logian document. The genealogy of Jesus here given is peculiar to this Gospel.

Chap. iv. 14 - vi. 16. From the Commencement of the Ministry of Jesus in Galilee to the Appointment of the Twelve. - In the main Luke here follows his Marcan document. He has, however, independent narratives of the visit of Jesus to Nazareth (iv. 16-30) and the call of the first disciples (v. 1-II). The former, which in Mark is placed some way on in the Galilean ministry (vi. 1-6a), is given by Luke at the very beginning of it, perhaps because of the previous connexion of Jesus with Nazareth. But that it is not in its right position here, before any mention of the work in Capernaum, appears from verse 23. Luke has also slightly altered the position of the call of the first disciples in the sequence of events.

Chap. vi. 17 - viii. 3. - This is an insertion into the Marcan outline of matter chiefly taken from the Logian document (the Address, Luke vi. 20-49, corresponds with portions of the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. v.-vii.; the healing of the centurion's servant, Luke vii. I-Io=Matt. viii. 5-13; the message of the Baptist and the discourse for which it gave occasion, Luke vii. 18-35 =Matt. xi. 2-19). He includes besides, a few pieces peculiar to this Gospel which Luke had probably himself collected.

Chap. viii. 4 - ix. 50. From the Adoption of Parabolic Teaching to the End of the Ministry in Galilee. - He begins again to follow his Marcan document for what he gives. Many sections, however, contained in the corresponding part of Mark have no parallel in Luke, while the parallel to one of them is placed later and differs considerably in form. Possibly this fact points to his Marcan document having been briefer than our Mark, and to its having afterwards received interpolations (see Mark, Gospel Of St).

Chap. ix. 51 - xviii. 14. Incidents and Teaching connected with Journey towards Jerusalem. - This is another insertion into the Marcan outline, much longer than the previous one, and consisting partly of matter taken from the Logian document (warnings to men who offer to become disciples, Luke ix. 57-60 = Matt. viii. 19-22; a missioncharge, Luke x. 2-16=Matt. ix. 37 and x. 7-16, 40; thanksgiving that the Father reveals to the simple that which is hidden from the wise, Luke x. 21-24=Matt. xi. 25-27 and xiii. 16, 17, &c., &c.) and partly of sections peculiar to Luke, about which the same remark may be made as before.

Chap. xviii. 15 - xxii. 13. From the Bringing of young Children to Jesus to the Preparation for the Passover. - Luke again takes up his Marcan document, nearly at the point at which he left it, and follows it in the main, though he adds the story of Zacchaeus and the parable of the Minae (the Ten Pieces of Money), and omits the withering of the fig-tree and some matter at the end of the discourse on the Last Things, which are given in Mark.

Chap. xxii. 14 to end. The Last Supper, Passion and Resurrection. - Though in this portion of his Gospel signs of use of Mark are not wanting, he also has much that is peculiar to himself. It is supposed by some that he here made use of another document. It seems more likely that he had a good many distinct oral traditions for this part of the history and that he used them freely, sometimes substituting them for passages of the Marcan document, sometimes altering the latter in accordance therewith.

3. Doctrinal, Ethical and Literary Characteristics

The thought of divine forgiveness, as set forth in the teaching of Jesus and manifested in His own attitude towards, and power over, the hearts of the outcasts among the people, is peculiarly prominent in this Gospel. This feature of Christ's ministry appears only in one passage of Mark; some other illustrations of it are mentioned in Matthew, but in Luke there are several more which are peculiar to himself (see the three individual cases vii. 36 sqq.; xix. 1 sqq., xxiii. 40 sqq.; also the description at xv. 1, and the three parables that follow). These were "lost sheep of the house of Israel"; but Christ's freedom from Jewish exclusiveness is also brought out (I) as regards Samaritans, by the rebuke administered to the disciples at ix.52 sqq., the parable in x. 3 o sqq., and the incident at xvii. 15-19; whereas they are not mentioned in Mark, and in Matthew only in the saying (x. 5) in which the Twelve are forbidden to enter any village of theirs; (2) as regards Gentiles, by the words of Jesus at iv. 25-27, not to mention sayings which h aiv e parallels in the other Gospels. The promises of Old Testament prophets that the Gentiles would share in the blessing of the coming of Christ are also recalled, ii. 32-iii. 6. Once more the word € ary ycWeVBat ("to proclaim good tidings") is a favourite one with Luke. These are all traits which we should expect to find in one who was a companion of Paul and a Gentile (Col. iv. 11, £4).

With the breadth and depth of the Saviour's sympathy, which are so fully exhibited in this Gospel, we may connect the clearness with which His true humanity is here portrayed. An incident of His boyhood is related in which His sense of vocation is revealed, and this is followed by the years of quiet growth that succeeded (ii. 41-52). Further, during the years of His public ministry more glimpses of His inner life are given us than in either Matthew or Mark. His being engaged in prayer is mentioned several times where there is no parallel in those Gospels (iii. 21, V. 16, vi. 12, ix. 18, 28, 29, xi. 1). Again, besides narrating the Temptation in the Wilderness and the Agony in the Garden, this evangelist gives a saying which implies that Jesus had undergone many temptations, or rather a life of temptation (xxii. 28). Once more he records a saying that shows Christ's sense of the intense painfulness of the work He was sent into the world to do, arising from the divisions which caused (xii. 49 sqq.).

Among practical duties, the stress laid on that of almsgiving is remarkable (see especially xi. 41, xii. 33, xvi. 9 sqq., which are peculiar to this Gospel). In the second of these passages the disciples are exhorted to choose a life of voluntary poverty; the nearest parallel is the ideal set before the rich young man at Mark x. 21 = Matt. xix. 21 = Luke xviii. 22. In the Beatitudes in Luke vi. 20, 21 a condition of physical want is contemplated, not, as in Matt. v. 3, 6, poverty of spirit and spiritual hunger, while woes are denounced against the rich and the full (vi. 24, 25). The folly of absorption in the amassing and enjoyment of wealth is also shown (xii. 15 sqq. and xvi. 19 sqq.). But it would be an exaggeration to say, as some have done, that the poor are represented as being the heirs of a blessed hereafter, simply on the ground that they are now poor. In the Beatitudes Christ's own disciples are addressed, who were blessed though poor, whereas the rich as a class were opposed or indifferent to the kingdom of God. Again, the contrast between Lazarus and Dives in the future state pictures vividly the reversals that are in store; but it is unreasonable to take it as implying that every poor man, whatever his moral character, will be blessed.

But while there is in Luke's Gospel this strain of asceticism -as to many in modern times it will appear to be-the prevailing spirit is gentle and tender, and there is in it a note of spiritual gladness, which is begun by the song and the messages of angels and the hymns and rejoicing of holy men and women, accompanying the birth of the Christ (chaps. i. and ii., passim ), and prolonged by the expressions of joy, the ascriptions of thanksgiving and praise, called forth by the words and works of Christ and the wonders of the cross and resurrection, which are peculiarly frequent and full (iv. 15, v. 25, 26, Vii. 16, x. 17, xiii. 13, 17, xvii. 15-18, xviii. 43, xix. 6, 37, 38, xxiii. 47, xxiv. 4 1, 5 2, 53. Cf. also xv. 5, 7, 10, 32).

The peculiar charm which this Gospel has been generally felt to possess is largely due to the spiritual and ethical traits which have been noted. But from a purely literary point of view, also, it is distinguished by great excellences. The evangelist's phraseology is indeed affected to some extent by the rhetorical style of the period when he wrote. Nevertheless his mode of narration is simple and direct. And the many fascinating character-sketches, which he has added to the portrait gallery of Scripture, are drawn clearly and without signs of effort. In some cases he has skilfully suggested parallelisms and contrasts. The chief instance is his careful interweaving of the accounts of the births and early years of John the Baptist and of Jesus. Later examples are the two sisters, Martha and Mary (x. 38-42), and the penitent and the impenitent thief (xxiii. 39-4 8). That he was a man of great versatility appears in the Acts from the speeches introduced on various occasions, if (as is probable) they were in part, at least, his own composition. In the Gospel he had no opportunity for showing his power in a manner strictly analogous. But if the hymns in the two introductory chapters owe even their Greek form in any measure to him, he was a poet of no mean order. His style varies grea ly; at times, as in i. 1-4, it is Hellenistic; at others, as in i. 5 to end of ii., it is strongly Hebraic. Such differences are largely due, no doubt, to the degree in which he was in various parts independent of, or dependent upon, sources. But he would seem in some degree to have adapted his manner of writing to the subjectmatter in hand. And at all events it is worthy of note that we pass without any sense of jar from passages in one style to those in another.

See Godet, Commentaire sur l'evangile de S. Luc (Eng. trans., 1875); Plummer's Comm. on St Luke (in international Series, 4th ed., 1906); W. Ramsay, Was Christ born in Bethlehem ? (3rd ed., 1905); A. Harnack, Lukas der Arzt (1906); B. Weiss, Die Quellen des Lukas-evangeliums (1907); also books on the Four Gospels, or the Synoptic Gospels, mentioned at end of article Gospel.

(V. H. S.)

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Gospel of St Luke'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​g/gospel-of-st-luke.html. 1910.
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