Authorship and Date of Luke's Gospel
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Authorship and Date of Luke's Gospel
There are two main issues to be disscussed when considering authorship
and date of Luke- They are often put under two simple headings,
external evidence and internal evidence. However, the true strory is
much more complicated than this.
It is usually agreed that the writer of Acts is the same person who
wrote Luke. This is because in the preface of both books, they are
adressed to the same person, Theophilus. Also, both books share a
similar style of vocabulary.
Tradition unamimously says Luke as the author. This is sometimes
dismissed as no more than guesswork. Howeve, the point is put across
by many authors, Leon Morris included, that Luke was not an important
enough figure in the early church to have two considerable volumes
attributed to him without good reason- surely if people were guessing
they would be more likely to attribute it to an apostle. This provides
a weighty argument which ois further inforced by Martin Dibelius. He
points out that because of the address to Theophilus there must have
been a desire to circulate the book among the educated and for such
readers the name of the author would have certainly been included. So
it is extremley unlikely for tradition to attribute to Luke a book
which was known from its oublication to be written by someone else.
In Acts there are four passages in which the writer uses the pronoun
"we" (16:10-17; 20:5-10;21:1-18;27:1-28:16). These would appear to
have been taken from the diary of one of Paul's companions. The most
likely explanation of these passages is that a companion of Paul used
extracts from his own diary.
If this idea is accepted, we see the author as somebody who was with
Paul at the times he indicates by the "we" but not named in the
narrative, as the author would include himself in the "we"). When
these extracts are examined a small group is left: Titus, Demos,
Crescans, Jesus Justus, Epapharus, Epaphroditus and Luke. There seems
no reason why anyone else other than Luke could be considered as the
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Another reason why many people consider Luke, who was a physician, to
be the author is that troughout we see medical knowledge and technical
language used. One example of this is when he describes the man of
being in the advanced stage of leporacy, "He was full of leporacy".
However, we have so far only discussed instances which may persuade
the reader that Luke can be the only person considered as the author.
We must realise that there are those who argue otherwise. One of their
most serious objections to the Lukan authorship is that it differs to
the other gospels and so some argue that because of this the writer of
Luke could not have been a close companion of Paul. One example is the
way pentecost and the speaking in tounges in Luke seems different to
what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 14.
However, in my opinion differences of this type may well show that
Luke was written in independence of anything else, however there are
no real contradictions and the evidence for the Lukan authorship
heavily outweighs the evidence against it. The fact that there is very
little evidence for anybody else being the author must also be
considered and so it must be concluded that Luke was the author.
The question of date is little more questionable and three dates have
been suggested with some seriousness. These are, around AD 63, AD 75-
85 and the early second century. the date of Luke is very much linked
to the date in which Acts was written, as Luke clearly must have been
earlier than its sequel. It is now generally argued that the earliest
date is most likely, Fot the following reasons:
· Acts ends with Paul in prision. If Luke knew of Paul's release or
martyrsom he would most likely have mentioned it.
· The Pastoral Letters seem to show that Paul visited Ephesus again.
If Luke wrote after that visit he would surely not have left Paul's
prophecy that the Ephesians would not see him again stand without
· Luke notes the fullfillment of Agabus. If he were writing after AD
70 it is logical to expect him to mention the fulfilment of Jesus'
prophecy that the city would be destroyed- often recently scholars
have likened this to writing a diary entry dated 12 September 2001 and
not mentioning the attacks a day previous and so surely Luke must have
been before the fall of Jerusalem.
· In Acts no event after AD62 is mentioned, for example the death of
James (AD62) or Paul and so it is fair to assume it was written before
There are also certain issues which must be adressesed with the other
two dates. Starting with the second centuary date. There are
dissimilarities with any other material which was written at the time
e.g. 1 Clement and there is no reference to the writing of Paul. With
the 75- 85 date the main problem is the failure to mention the fall of
Jerusalem. Such an important event would have surely been mantioned..
In conclusion, the earliest date seems the most likely. Although the
evidence falls short of complete proof there is certainly more to be
said for this date than any of the others.
Most of the Sunday Gospels during the liturgical year beginning in Advent will be from Luke. We will want to pay careful attention to each passage as they come up Sunday after Sunday. But, as with any work of literature, an overall knowledge of the author’s language, style, themes, genres, favorite symbols, etc. will help our interpretation of individual passages. This brief essay will be an overview of Luke’s gospel with the hope of helping the preacher and reader penetrate and appreciate its richness and depth.
Luke’s gospel (followed by its sequel The Acts of the Apostles) is a sophisticated literary work suggesting the author was educated (he wrote in Greek) and aware of the literature of his day – including the Jewish Scriptures. At the beginning of his gospel he suggests he was not an eyewitness, but is handing on the witnesses’ accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry (1:1 – 4). While he draws from his predecessors Mark and Matthew, Luke’s account is distinctively his own: as he says in his opening lines, he is writing an "orderly account" – it’s Luke’s unique "ordering." Luke’s Gospel and Acts are intertwined: the Gospel prepares us for Acts; while much in Acts harkens back to the gospel. For example, prayer, the Holy Spirit, Mary, the journey to Jerusalem, and the Temple are prominent in both narratives. What Jesus prefigured and promised in the gospel is fulfilled in the infant Church.
AN "ORDERLY ACCOUNT"
Luke opens his gospel with a salutation to Theophilus , a name which means "Beloved of God," or "God’s Friend." Thus, the gospel is addressed to people who already know the story and are "Friends of God." We are like those original readers whom Luke wants to guide and deepen in "the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed" (1:4). As we read the gospel we sense that the original audience consisted mostly of Gentile Christians. Thus, unlike Matthew, whose opening genealogy traces Jesus’ roots back to Abraham (1:1-16), Luke’s genealogy goes back to Adam (3:23-38). There are also references to the church’s outreach to the Gentiles in both the Gospel and Acts. Nevertheless, Luke makes frequent reference to God’s promises in the Hebrew texts, showing the roots of the Christian faith in Judaism.
While Luke’s message seems primarily geared to Gentile converts, the preacher should feel free to show in Christianity the continuity of God’s promises originally revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. What God did for Israel, Luke shows God now does for us: continues to free us from slavery; sends us prophets; inspires us by the Holy Spirit and raises us to new life. With that convincing awareness of God’s past and abiding presence, we Christians, oppressed by worldly powers and cares, can raise our heads and look with hope to the promise of future victory.
Luke follows the basic structure of Mark’s gospel, but with his own additions and modifications. Unlike Mark, he has an extended infancy narrative of the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus (1:5 – 2:52). Mark portrays Jesus as "rough and ready." Luke softens the picture making Jesus especially attractive to the fragile, elderly, infirmed, sinners and women. In his inaugural preaching (4:17-19) he announces "liberty to captives" – which the gospel reveals to be not only a freeing of people imprisoned by sin, but also those under society’s restrictions, religion’s exclusion, physical and mental afflictions and the power of death itself.
The recurrent themes in Luke are familiar to Gospel readers, but just to review....
In this gospel Jesus calls his followers to a strict discipleship which involves embracing poverty and the cross. Luke wrote for second-generation Christians so, rather than emphasize Jesus’ imminent return, he places more emphasis on the present manifestations of the kingdom of God (17:20). Still, Jesus will return and the disciples are warned to be vigilant.
Throughout the gospel Luke makes explicit mention of the Holy Spirit and at decisive moments of his life Jesus, filled with the Spirit, is at prayer. His followers are to welcome the sinner and outsider, imitating their master, who crossed borders to reach out to the marginalized and religious outcasts. So, for example, we frequently find Jesus among the tax collectors, a whole class of despised people. But Jesus also eats and talks with the Pharisees. He crosses all sorts of boundaries to invite people to listen to the Good News.
Discipleship in Luke’s gospel has many forms, so the preacher needs to be cautious not to expound one form over others. Jesus wanted to form a community where all were cared for and accepted, especially the vulnerable and the poor. While Jesus continually reaches out to the poor and warns his hearers about the dangers of wealth, still people of means followed him and supported his ministry.
There are many stories which include women throughout this gospel and so it has been used to stress women’s equality with men among Jesus’ followers. But a closer look, aided by recent biblical commentators, shows that Luke’s portrait of women is limited. Women are not given voice in the narratives, frequently remaining silent and docile. Even when Mary Magdalene brings the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the huddled, fearful disciples, her message is called "nonsense" (24:11). Women, the witnesses to the same events as the men, are not commissioned and sent forth to proclaim the gospel. So the preacher needs to be careful not to translate the culture of Luke’s time to the present by extolling the passive, docile roles of women in his gospel.
THE JOURNEY WITH CHRIST
A significant part of this gospel, (9:5 1-19:44 – starting with the 13th Sunday) is taken up with the journey narrative, as Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem. Those who preach regularly in the same setting can use the episodes in the journey narrative as opportunities to highlight the various aspects of discipleship, for the disciples traveling with Jesus hear his teachings and observe his ways. And so do we. On the journey with Jesus and his disciples we too learn what it means to respond to Jesus’ invitation, "Come follow me.
LUKE’S WORLD AND OURS
Luke is a very "worldly" gospel, with its allusions to contemporary political and religious events. We learn, for example, that Jesus was born during Herod’s reign (1:5) and that he began his ministry during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas (3:1-2). God took flesh in a particular time and place, during a specific cultural, political and religious period. The preacher will re–learn from Luke what we were taught in our first preaching class, "Keep the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other."
Jude Siciliano, OP
Promoter of Preaching
Southern Dominican Province, USA
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