Some introductory remarks about Luke’s gospel

The gospel is titled “τὸ εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Λουκᾶν,” a title that was added later. The author never identifies himself in the text. But attestation of Lukan authorship is found in the Muratorian Canon, the anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, and Jerome, so let’s play along. When Luke died in Bithinia (~74 A.D.) Matthew and Mark had already written their gospels. Some believe Luke wrote from Achaia (Greece) for a Greek-speaking world. His is the best Greek in the New Testament. Others, who recognize his excellent Greek and his familiarity with Asia Minor, combined with his lack of familiarity with Palestine, believe he is a Jewish-Christian, urban dweller writing from a city in Western Asia Minor (Turkey), such as Ephesus. 

Luke sets the events of Jesus’ life in historical context. Luke 3:1-2 (NRSV) says, 

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Coleman Baker (“Identity, Memory and Narrative in Early Christianity”) helps us here. Tiberius Caesar ruled 14-37 AD. Pilate was governor of Judea 26-37 AD. Herod Antipas ruled Judea as a client king 4 BC-29 AD. Anna’s was high priest 6-15 AD. Caiaphas was high priest 18-37 AD. This dates John’s proclamation to 26-29 AD. 

Luke did something the other gospel writers did not. He added a 28 chapter “Volume 2” to his gospel: The Acts of the Apostles. Luke is a two volume set: The Gospel According to St. Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. “The story in Acts is essential in understanding who Jesus of Nazareth was, and what he means,” said Dr. Ed Krentz as he lectured us in Houston, Brenham and New Orleans in 2009. He encouraged us to use Acts for the second reading during this Lukan year.

Luke tells us that he is inspired by some eye-witnesses. He has Mark’s gospel in front of him, but he has his own sources too. 41% is copied from Mark. 23% is from the Sayings Source (Q) that Matthew also uses. 35% is Luke’s own material. Indeed, without Luke’s gospel, we would not know the stories of The Good Samaritan (July 7, Luke 10) or The Prodigal Son (March 10, Luke 15).

Luke is the only gospel that mentions any Roman Emperors. Without –Luke we couldn’t date anything.

  • Caesar Augustus
  • Tiberius
  • Claudius (Acts 18)

Luke is the only one who coordinates the gospel with secular history.

Luke is very aware of status in the empire. According to James Malcolm Arlandson (the Lensky model), it is a 7-level, top-to-bottom hierarchy that one must grasp if one is to understand Luke’s message:

  1. Emperor
  2. Governing Classes/Urban Elite (wealth, status, power)
  3. Merchants and Traders (urban) and freeholders (rural)
    Upper-level small freeholders (15-50 acres) – you could live on what you grow
    Lower-level small freeholders (4-15 acres) – if you had a good crop you could exist. With a drought you would lose your land and move down into the tenant farmer (below).
  4. Artisans (urban), like Paul who was a leather worker making saddles and tents, and Tenant Farmers (rural). Luke has a number of stories about tenant farmers and day laborers (below)
  5. Day Laborers and Landless Peasants
  6. Slaves
  7. Expendable people (prostitutes, gladiators, actors)

Luke’s gospel turns the social order upside down, elevating children, women, slaves and all those toward the bottom of the social ladder, while bringing low those at the top, as is so clear in the Magnificat. In the Kingdom, the first become the last, and the last become first.

A rough outline of Luke’s gospel:

I. Prologue 1:1-4
II. The Birth and Childhood of Jesus 1:5-2:52
III. Preparation for the Public Ministry of Jesus 3:1-4:13
IV. The Ministry of Jesus in Galilee 4:14-9:50
V. The Journey to Jerusalem 9:51-19:48
VI. Teaching in Jerusalem 20:1-21:38
VII. The Suffering and Death of Jesus 21:1-23:56
VIII. The Resurrection 24:1-5


Baker, Coleman A. Identity, Memory, and Narrative in Early Christianity: Peter, Paul, and Recategorization in the Book of Acts. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2011.

Jeffrey, David Lyle. Luke (Brazos Theological Commentary On the Bible). Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012.
Parsons, Mikeal C. Luke (Paideia: Commentaries On the New Testament). Grand Rapids, USA.: Baker Academic, 2015.