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LUKE - Introduction

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Luke - Introduction

Supplemental Commentary:



The Third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles form two sections of what is really one single literary work.  This is clear from the first verses of each book which serve as brief introductions.  The unity of authorship of both Books is clear, and most of the observations which are made by way of introduction to one section of this larger work are equally true of the other.  Since the Acts was written at Rome in the year 63 or 64 A.D., the Third Gospel must have been written before that date.

The Author.  External evidence.  Catholic tradition, from the second century on, is unanimous in attributing this work to St. Luke, the disciple and companion of St. Paul.  Thus the Muratorian Fragment, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, etc., all give explicit testimony to his authorship.  Even on the part of most non-Catholic critics no objections are raised against the Lucan authorship of this work.  Almost all scholars agree that if this very early tradition is so unanimous in attributing so important a document to a relatively unimportant member of the Apostolic Church, the only explanation for this can be that St. Luke is in truth its author.

Internal evidence.  And examination of the Third Gospel tends to confirm this truth.  For its author shows himself to be a Gentile Christian of no mean literary ability and a disciple of St. Paul, whose teaching on the universality of salvation is here presented in a manner that shows unmistakable signs of Pauline influence.  Too much stress, however, should not be placed upon certain indications in this work which are cited as a proof that its author was a physician.  For there is probably no medical term used here that would be so technical that it could not have been employed by another well-educated man who was not a physician.  But knowing, as we do from other sources, that its author was a physician, we are justified in seeing the influence of his medical background in certain passages of this work.

St. Luke.  The name of Luke, which is really an abbreviated form of the Latin name Lucanus, appears only three times in the New Testament.  In all three places it is certainly the same man who is referred to.  From Col. 4, 14 and Philem. 24 we know that Luke was with Paul during the latter's first imprisonment in Rome (61-63 A.D.).  In the first of these passages he is called by St. Paul "our most dear physician," while in the other passage he is numbered among the "fellow-workers" of the Apostle.  From 2 Tim. 4, 11 we know that Luke was Paul's only companion in Rome during a part of his second Roman imprisonment.  It may be purely accidental, yet it is surprising, that in all three passages Luke's name is mentioned in close association with that of Demas, who, "loving this world," finally "deserted" St. Paul.

While St. Luke is not named in the Acts (which is in itself a confirmatory argument of its Lucan authorship), still in several passages of this Book the author speaks of St. Paul and his associates in the first person plural (the so-called "we" sections: Acts 16, 10-17; 20, 5-15; 21, 1-18; 27, 1 -- 28, 16).  From these passages we learn that the author, St. Luke, came in contact with St. Paul at Troas, on the northwest coast of Asia Minor, near the beginning of the Apostle's second missionary journey (51 A.D.).  The two went together to Philippi, where Luke may have remained until Paul returned there towards the end of his third missionary journey (57 A.D.).

According to a fourth century tradition (Eusebius, St. Augustine), St. Luke was a native of Antioch and a member of the Christian community in that city as early as 43 A.D.  But this is perhaps only a conjecture based upon the reading of Codex Bezae and a few other manuscripts of the so-called "Western family" of Acts 11, 27 f, "Now in those days some prophets from Jerusalem came down to Antioch, and there was great rejoicing.  But when we had assembled, one of them named Agabus spoke and revealed," etc.

Characteristics.  Although we know so little of the life of this Evangelist, we are justified in concluding from his writings that he was a peaceful and gentle man with a fine aesthetic temperament.  For one of the outstanding characteristics of this Gospel is the special stress that is laid upon the operations of God's mercy and Christ's compassion for sinners (e.g. the Penitent Woman, 7, 36 ff; the Prodigal Son, 15, 11 ff).  Likewise notable in this Gospel is the reverence shown toward womanhood.  Many types of admirable women are presented to the reader: the Blessed Virgin Mary, Elizabeth, Anna the prophetess, the widow of Naim, the penitent woman, Mary and Martha, the ministering women, Mary Magdalene.

Luke often emphasizes the social aspects of Christ's teaching; contrast, for example, the Beatitudes and Woes as recorded in his Gospel with the Beatitudes as recorded by Matthew.  Greater prominence is given in this Gospel than in the others to Christ's love for the poor and to His teaching concerning earthly wealth.

This Gospel may also be termed the Gospel of prayer, since the subject of prayer is mentioned so frequently.  St. Luke carefully notes the example of Christ Himself in this matter, and on several occasions he is the only Evangelist to record that Christ then prayed.  Similarly we find Christ's instructions on prayer recorded here at greater length.  The Third Gospel alone has preserved the three hymns that the Church uses in her daily liturgy: the Magnificat, the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis [(1, 46-55.68-79; 2, 29-32)].

This whole Gospel breathes a spirit of holy joy, the gift, no doubt, of that Holy Spirit of whom St. Luke speaks so often in the Acts.  In fact, "the great joy to all the people" that overflows the hearts of the faithful every Christmastide, owes more than is usually realized to Luke's simple yet marvelously touching story of the birth of the Savior.

Even though the rather late tradition which makes St. Luke a painter may be very doubtful, still this Evangelist certainly shows that he was an artist in the more general sense of the word.  With a few skillful strokes he delineates his brief biographical sketches and makes his portraits stand out as living beings.  He is able to make the story that he is telling grip the very soul of his readers.  He proves himself a master in portraying tenderness and sympathy for man's afflictions.  This often reaches a climax of genuine pathos; note, for example, the manner in which he says that a sick or dead child was an only child (7, 12; 8, 42; 9, 38).

Luke is more of a "literary" man than are the other Evangelists.  It is true that the language of his Gospel, much more so than that of the Acts, shows frequent traces of Semitisms, but its author apparently retained this Hebrew tone intentionally, either in order to remain faithful to his source or in order to produce a conscious imitation of the "Biblical" Greek of the Septuagint.  But when the occasion allows, Luke shows that he can write as pure and faultless a literary Greek as any profane author of his time.  In him genuine spirituality is not incompatible with secular learning.  He alone of all the Evangelists links his Gospel account with the history of Syria and the Roman Empire.  He is conscious of his responsibility as an historian and, even though he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he employs all human diligence "to follow up all things carefully from the very first," so that his reader "may understand the certainty" of the Gospel (1, 3 f).

Sources.  In his Prologue the author says that many have undertaken to draw up a narrative concerning the things that have been fulfilled among us.  These "many" who preceded him in writing an account of Christ's life and teachings would seem to include more than the authors of the first two Gospels.  In fact, it is not entirely certain that he meant to include Matthew and Mark among them.  In any case he does not state that he intends to base his account on these previously written accounts.  On the contrary, he says he followed up all things carefully from the very first, i.e., he investigated his sources to their very fountainhead.  No doubt in this regard he followed the example of the other writers of Gospel accounts who preceded him and who, he says, drew up their accounts even as they who from the beginning were the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have handed them down to us.  From the Latin word that is used to translate this last expression we get our word "tradition."  This, then, is Luke's primary source of information, the oral tradition handed down by the Apostles.  By the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word the Evangelist means above all the Apostles.  From Acts 21, 17 f; 27, 1 f it seems fairly certain that Luke remained with Paul during the latter's two years' imprisonment in Palestine.  Probably it was especially during this time that Luke followed up this oral tradition to its original sources.  For his first two chapters on the birth and childhood of Jesus Luke seems to be indebted either directly or indirectly to the Blessed Virgin Mary herself (cf. 2, 19.51b).  On the literary relationship between this Gospel and Matthew and Mark, see the article on the Literary Relations of the First Three Gospels.

Scope.  Luke's purpose in writing his Gospel is stated in his words to Theophilus, to whom he dedicates this work.  This, he says, is that thou mayest understand the certainty of the words in which thou hast been instructed; that is, his primary scope is to draw up in writing an entirely trustworthy account of Christ's life and teachings concerning which Theophilus had already received oral instruction.  Luke's principal aim is therefore to confirm the faith of Theophilus and his other readers.  In the Third Gospel there are some characteristic features in the life and teaching of Christ that are more accentuated than in the other Gospels.  Many of these are traceable to the spirit and influence of St. Paul.  Prominent in this regard is Luke's emphasis on the universality of salvation.  The teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles was that Christ is accessible to all men, regardless of color, race or previous relationship to the Mosaic Law.  "It is not astonishing that this should go straight to the heart of Luke, the Gentile convert, the companion of Paul in his apostolate.  And when he formed the plan of writing a Gospel, this doctrine of universal salvation shone before him as the guiding light of his work" (J. Huby, The Church and the Gospels, p. 131).  This message is proclaimed throughout Christ's life: at His birth (2, 14), presentation in the temple (2, 32), at the beginning (3, 6) as well as at the end of His public life (19, 10).  Divine forgiveness and salvation are offered to all: Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, publicans and sinners.

Structure.  In the general outline and development of his Gospel Luke does not differ greatly from Matthew and Mark.  In this regard he undoubtedly shows his fidelity to his sources.  Where his order of the events narrated is different from that in the Second Gospel, commentators are not of one mind as to which of these two Evangelists is to be followed to arrive at the original chronological order of the events.  Luke indeed states in his Prologue that he intends to write an orderly account (1, 3).  This Greek expression is in fact substantially the same as that which Papias used when he said that Mark did not write "an orderly account"; but the only "order" that is obviously missing from the Second Gospel is the artistic arrangement of its narrative.  Luke, on the contrary, shows at least in a few places, that he has abandoned the strictly chronological order; e.g., in 1, 80 and 3, 19 f.  The steady movement of events from Nazareth to Jerusalem, which can be noted in this Gospel, corresponding to a similar movement of events from Jerusalem to Rome in the Acts, points to an artistic arrangement of the contents of the book.



Prologue 1, 1-4

Prelude: The Coming of the Savior 1, 5 -- 2, 52

I. The Public Ministry of Jesus 3-21
1. The Preparation 3, 1 -- 4, 14

2. The Inauguration of the Ministry in Galilee 4, 14 -- 6, 16

3. Second Period of the Ministry in Galilee and Across Its Lake 6, 17 -- 9, 17

4. Ministry Mostly in the Regions Bordering on Galilee 9, 18-50

5. Ministry on the Journey to Jerusalem 9, 51 -- 18, 34

6. Last Ministry at Jerusalem 18, 35 -- 21, 38
II. The Passion, Death and Resurrection 22-24
1. The Last Supper 22, 1-38

2. The Passion and Death of Jesus 22, 39 -- 23, 56

3. The Resurrection of Jesus 24, 1-49

4. The Ascension of Jesus 24, 50-53

Confraternity Bible:



The unanimous tradition of the Church ascribes the third Gospel to St. Luke.  The Gospel itself shows that its author was a person of literary powers, a physician and a companion of St. Paul.

This Gospel was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70, for it does not refer to the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy.  Since the Acts of the Apostles closes its narrative with the year A.D. 63 or 64, the Gospel of St. Luke, his first book, must have been written prior to A.D. 63.

The Gospel is addressed to a certain Theophilus, a man of conspicuous rank or office.  Indirectly, however, this Sacred Writing was intended for the Gentile converts.  The purpose of the Gospel is clearly indicated in the prologue (1, 1-4).  These converts from paganism had received instruction before Baptism.  St. Luke wishes now to give them a deeper and more accurate knowledge of the truths of their religion, and at the same time to show them on what a firm basis their faith is founded.  The theme of the universality of salvation can be considered as running through the Gospel.  Divine forgiveness and salvation are offered to all.

The Gospel also sharply contrasts the position of the pagan and Jewish womanhood, and presents many types of womanhood to its readers.  The subject of prayer is also stressed.  Not only does the evangelist record more frequently than the others Christ as an example of prayer, but also His instructions on prayer.  As an artist St. Luke shows his skill in portraying living characters and he has remained an inspiration to painters for centuries.  As a historian he is comparable with the great Greek and Latin writers.  In his Gospel there is a steady movement of events from Nazareth to Jerusalem, where as in the Acts it is from Jerusalem to Rome.