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By Walter L. Liefeld
ZondervanCopyright © 1995 Zondervan
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1. Literary Genre 2. Distinctive Features 3. Authorship 4. Purpose 5. Intended Readership 6. Literary Characteristics 7. Method of Composition 8. Text 9. History and Geography 10. Date 11. Themes and Theology 12. Bibliography 13. Outline
Had modern methods of book publishing been available in the first century, the books of Luke and Acts might have been found standing side by side in paperback editions on a bookseller's shelf. Possibly they would have been bound together in one hardback volume. Though Acts has some characteristics of the ancient novel, this need not be understood as impugning its historical value. One can picture a Gentile reader going from adventure to adventure, delighting in the story of Paul's shipwreck and learning something of the gospel through reading the various speeches. Likewise the Gospel of Luke contains narratives and sayings of Jesus cast in a variety of literary forms. No doubt among its readers would have been the "God-fearers," those Gentiles who had already been convinced of Jewish monotheism and of Jewish ethical standards. They, in turn, would have interested their friends in reading Luke-Acts.
1. Literary Genre
It is difficult for us today to know with what literary genre, if any, the first-century reader would have identified the Gospels. There has been much discussion of this in recent years. R.H. Gundry has evaluated the literature up to the early 1970s in "Recent Investigations into the Literary Genre 'Gospel.'" More recently David E. Aune has provided an excellent discussion of some of the alleged first-century parallels to the Gospels, as well as a critical evaluation of twentieth-century approaches, in his article "The Problem of Genre of the Gospels: A Critique of C.H. Talbert's What Is a Gospel?"
2. Distinctive Features
Before proceeding further it will be helpful at least to recognize some of the distinctive features of Luke's Gospel, especially in comparison with other Gospels. Among these are Jesus' concern for all people, especially those who were social outcasts-the poor, women, and those who were known as "sinners"; Luke's universal scope; his alteration of some of the terminology of Mark to facilitate the understanding of Luke's readers-e.g., the Greek term for "lawyer" (nomikos) instead of the Hebrew term "scribe" (grammateus); an emphasis on Jesus' practical teaching (e.g., chs. 12 and 16 deal with finances); Luke's sense of purpose, fulfillment, and accomplishment; his sense of joy and praise to God for his saving and healing work; Jesus' strong call to discipleship; Jesus' dependence on the Holy Spirit and prayer; and many examples of the power of God.
In the first century, when pagans had not only long since turned from the traditional gods but had also wrestled unsuccessfully with issues of luck and fate and had turned to the false hopes of the so-called Eastern or mystery religions, such a narrative as Luke's doubtless had a genuine appeal. Here was a "Savior" who actually lived and cared about people. He was here among people; he was crucified and actually raised from the dead. And Luke tells all this with a conviction and verisimilitude that brought assurance to Theophilus and continues to bring assurance down to our day.
The unique relation of Luke to Acts sets the authorship of Luke apart from the problem of the authorship of the other Gospels. The following facts are important: (1) both Luke and Acts are addressed to an individual named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1); (2) Acts refers to a previous work (1:1), presumably Luke; (3) certain stylistic and structural characteristics, such as the use of chiasm and the device of focusing on particular individuals, are common to both books and point to a single author; and (4) not only do the two volumes have a number of themes in common, but some of these receive a distinctive emphasis in this third Gospel that are not found elsewhere in the NT. These things point to a common author.
The author of the Gospel indicated that he was a second-generation Christian who was in a position to investigate the traditions about Jesus. As for the Book of Acts, the author associated himself with Paul in the well-known "we passages" (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16). The use of the first person plural in the "we passages" certainly does not prove that Luke was the author of Acts, but it does accord with other data pointing in this direction. Paul mentioned Luke as a companion in Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24, and 2 Timothy 4:11 (assuming a genuine tradition of Paul here).
The tradition of the early church is consistent in attributing the third Gospel to Luke. Thus the Muratorian Canon (c. A.D. 180) says, "The third book of the Gospel, according to Luke, Luke that physician, who after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken him with him as companion of his journey, composed in his own name on the basis of report." But even before this, the heretic Marcion (c. A.D. 135) acknowledged Luke as the author of the third Gospel. This tradition of authorship was continued by Irenaeus and successive writers.
As seen in the above quotation from the Muratorian Canon, tradition also held that Luke was a physician (cf. 4:14). In 1882 Hobart attempted to prove that Luke and Acts "were written by the same person, and that the writer was a medical man" (p. xxix). His study of the alleged medical language is informed, rich, and still useful; but it does not necessarily prove his point. Cadbury argued that though the terminology cited by Hobart was used by medical writers in the ancient world, others who were by no means physicians also used it. Cadbury's work does not, of course, disprove that Luke was a physician, much less that he wrote Luke and Acts; but it does weaken the linguistic evidence for the former assumption.
Irenaeus not only attested to Luke's authorship of the Gospel but also said that Luke was Paul's "inseparable" companion (Adversus Haereses 3.14.1). While there were periods of time when Luke was not with Paul, their relationship was deep and lasting. Taking 2 Timothy 4:11 as a genuine comment of Paul's, only Luke was with him during his final imprisonment. Paul's comment in Colossians 4 leads us to assume Luke was a Gentile, because in vv.10-11 Paul listed several friends and said, "These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God." Then he mentioned Luke (v.14). This, however, falls short of a direct statement that Luke was a Gentile. Some have held that he was a Jewish Christian, even (according to an early church tradition) one of the seventy-two disciples in Luke 10:1. The Semitic elements of style in Luke, especially in chapters 1-2 and in the Jerusalem narrative in Acts (chs. 1-15), might also suggest that he was a Jewish Christian. But as we shall note below, there are other possible reasons for these stylistic traits. There is a church tradition that Luke came from Antioch in Syria. It is generally accepted, not on its own authority, but because of Luke's involvement with the church in Antioch. This would mean, of course, that Luke was not (as some think) the "man of Macedonia" Paul saw in his vision at Troas (Acts 16:8-9).
Can we discern a single purpose for the Gospel of Luke? The answer must be based on a consideration of the prologue to the Gospel (1:1-4), of the apparent purposes of Acts (cf. Longenecker, "Acts," EBC, 9:216-21), of the major themes and theology of the book, and of its life situation. The following proposals are worth weighing.
The centrality of the theme and theology of salvation and the frequent proclamation of Good News, both in Luke and in Acts, make the evangelization of non-Christians a possible purpose for Luke-Acts.
b. Confirmation of the factual basis for faith
This is supported by the prologue (Luke 1:1-4), the historical references throughout the two books, the references to eyewitnesses (e.g., Luke 1:2; Acts 10:39), and the apologetic value of proof from prophecy (e.g., Acts 10:43).
c. Personal assurance
Confirmation of the factual basis for faith is not sufficient unless it brings a corresponding conviction and assurance within the reader. Luke 1:4 says that Luke wrote so that Theophilus might "know the certainty of the things" he had "been taught."
d. Narration of history
Did Luke write simply because he sensed the need of preserving the record of the origin and growth of the early church? Few, if any, ancient writers wrote history simply to preserve a chronicle of events. Also, it would be difficult to explain the disproportionate space given to early events and figures in the life of the church if Luke were merely doing a historical chronicle. Fitzmyer (Gospel of Luke, p. 9) sees value in Nils Dahl's proposal that this is a "continuation of biblical history" in that it shows the validity of apostolic tradition as part of that continuity and locus of salvation truth. But see further at "f" below.
e. An apologetic
One version of this purpose, which was occasionally proposed in an earlier generation, was that Luke wrote Acts as a brief for Paul's trial at Rome. The contents are too broad for that purpose, and it does not explain the Gospel of Luke. A more likely proposal is that the Gospel is an apologetic for Christianity as a religious sect. Jews had certain rights under the Roman Empire, and Luke may have written to demonstrate that Christianity should also have such rights as a religio licita ("legitimate religion") along with Pharisaism and the other sects of Judaism. At his trials Paul tried to identify himself with Judaism, especially Pharisaism. He himself called Christianity a "sect" in Acts 24:14, a term used in the accusation against him in v.5.
Excerpted from Luke by Walter L. Liefeld Copyright © 1995 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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