The book is anonymous, though the uniform belief of ancient writers is that the author is Luke, the physician whom Paul mentions as his companion and colleague (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philem. 24). Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome all support Lucan authorship. The second-century Muratorian Canon, which lists the books that are received as Scripture in Rome, declares Luke the physician to be the author of both the third Gospel and Acts. The Anti-Marcionite Prologue, an introduction to Luke found in a number of Latin manuscripts, ascribes the book to the physician and companion of Paul and supplies this additional information, which is open to question: he was a native of Antioch, he wrote his Gospel in Achaia, and he died unmarried and childless in Boeotia at the age of eighty-four.
From his writings (Luke and Acts) the author appears to be a second-generation Christian who is closely associated with eyewitnesses of the beginning of Christianity. From the “we” passages in Acts (Acts 16:1–17; 20:5–21:18; 27:1–28:16), it appears that he is a missionary associate of Paul’s. His education is considerable; he writes excellent Greek, both classical and biblical, and demonstrates a literary ability that approaches a poetic quality at times. The question of whether Luke was a Jew or a Gentile must remain open. Traditionally he has been viewed as a Gentile, though it is never so stated in Scripture. One of the major reasons for this is that Luke writes a form of Greek superior to that of most of the New Testament. However, his Greek shows Semitic influence as well (e.g., in 1:5–2:52). He takes a great interest in the city of Jerusalem and the temple, with more references to each than any other gospel writer. In some ways Luke’s Gospel is more Jewish than Matthew’s, though this fact alone does not prove he was Jewish.
DATE: A.D. 59–61
Biblical evidence points to A.D. 58–63 as the likely time of writing. Luke was written earlier than Acts, its companion volume. The last chapter of Acts recounts events that are c. A.D. 63, and probably concludes as it does because events are contemporary. Perhaps Luke began his first volume at Caesarea and finished it in Rome, having accompanied Paul the prisoner. A date of A.D. 59–61 is most probable.
Both Luke and Acts are dedicated to Theophilus, which means “lover of God” and may be the name of an actual person or a figurative representation of any Christian. Some believe that Theophilus is a discreet pseudonym to protect a highly placed Christian. Theophilus is an informed person, a statement probably referring to his Christian instruction (1:4; Acts 18:25). The title “most excellent” (1:3) could indicate a Roman of high rank (Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25) before whom the truth of Christianity is to be defended. Speculation identifies Theophilus with Titus Flavius Clemens, cousin of the Emperor Domitian. His wife Domitilla was a Christian and he himself was to fall from the emperor’s favor and be executed on the charge of “atheism.” The Romans used the term “atheists” to describe Christians because they refused to worship idols. But the term “most excellent” was not limited to Roman officials, and there is really no way of knowing the identity of Luke’s named reader. Modern scholarship is divided over whether Luke wrote for Gentiles, Jews, or a combination of both groups. In addition, the prologue (1:1–4) can be interpreted to mean that Theophilus was not yet a Christian (hence Luke’s purpose would be evangelistic), or that he was a new Christian who needed to be strengthened in the faith (hence Luke would have a didactic purpose).
THEME: Jesus as Savior of All
Jesus, the Savior of all, is the theme. Men of all races are the objects of God’s redeeming love in Christ (2:32; 4:21–30; 7:1–10; 13:29; 14:16–24; 24:44–49). Socially there is no distinction; Christ has come to save all (5:29–32; 9:51–56; 10:29–37; 17:11; 19:1–10; 23:43). Economically there is no distinction; Luke reveals Christ’s love for the rich and poor (2:24; 7:22; 16:19–31). Luke is exceedingly careful to emphasize the truth that there is no limit to the love of God.
LUKE AND THE OTHER SYNOPTIC GOSPELS:
There are about 200 verses, mostly teaching material, which Luke and Matthew have in common. There are also many verses that Mark and Luke have in common, but about half of Luke’s material is exclusively his own. Luke includes more events of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem than do the other Gospels. This special section, often called “the travelogue” (9:51–19:27), contains many parables not otherwise recorded. (See also “The Synoptic Gospels,” p. 1326.)
W. A. Criswell et al., eds., Believer’s Study Bible, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), Lk 1:1.