The Gospel of Luke: Introduction
Introductory Remarks: So the adventure begins again, yet another telling of the story of Jesus. In what context was the story told this time and how might that context shape how the story gets told. What is old, what is new, what is borrowed…. You get the point! And who tells this story? The composer/author’s voice is present from the very beginning of Luke. You hear him give some reason for writing and the name of a person to whom he is writing. In both Matthew and Mark, that “voice” is missing. Matthew begins with genealogy and Mark simply with the words, “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” Another interesting feature of this gospel is that it is part one of a two-part work. The Book of Acts is part two (see Acts 1:1). Sometimes scholars and writers will refer to this combined work as Luke-Acts. This combined work covers 27.5% of the New Testament, making Luke its most prolific author.
So what do we know of the author and his context? Tradition identifies the author as a companion of Paul (Philemon 24, II Timothy 4:11, Colossians 4:14), but there is no way to validate such a claim. By the author’s own admission, he was not an eyewitness to the life and ministry of Jesus. The language of the gospel is an excellent Greek, of fine literary quality (or so I am told!). This seems to indicate that the writer was a Gentile Christian, and there are other clues in the narrative which would also support this. Given what the author, who we will continue to call “Luke,” says in the beginning of both parts of his work, the gospel appears to be written for a wider public that has had some brush with Christian faith, either as persons newer to the faith or as outsiders. It may be somewhat less grounded in a particular Christian community than Matthew or Mark, but its purpose would have been, in part, to strengthen the Christian movement in the face of opposition. Luke is writing/composing theological history both for those within the Christian movement and for those outside of it. He expects his audience to be a bit more learned and cultured. It was probably written from 80-100 CE in an unknown location. Again, there is a bit less of a link to a more specific Christian community here than with the other gospels.
Like Matthew, it seems clear that the composer of Luke used material from the Gospel of Mark. His own introduction indicates that he used other materials. As with Matthew, Luke seems also to have used a source of Jesus’ sayings. Most scholars argue that both Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel and a similar “sayings source” (often called “Q” for the German word for “sayings”). In addition, there is significant material that is unique to Luke (about one-fourth of the gospel). In this material we find some of the most beloved and well-known stories about Jesus or told by Jesus – the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the story of Jesus birth in Bethlehem, the walk to Emmaus. As we move along, we will see how Luke uses his material to present the good news about Jesus in his own unique way.
The Gospel of Luke is an old book and there is much in it that will seem strange to someone picking it up for the first time today. Nevertheless, it is impossible to read it without being challenged by the mysterious presence of Jesus. As well as a sense of enormous compassion for the human condition, we find in him a burning anger against all systems, religious or political, that come between God and the poor of the earth. In the furious pity of Jesus, we catch a glimpse of God’s dream for a transformed humanity. (Richard Holloway, Revelations)