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New Testament: Luke

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Adoration of the Magi

Beginning with angels announcing the conceptions of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, and concluding with the resurrected Jesus being carried up into heaven, the Gospel according to Luke offers an account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Luke presents the story of Jesus as the fulfillment of God's promises. Jesus is Christ, the Lord, the redeemer sent by God to the people of Israel, the one who declares God's salvation to all people. Jesus proclaims God's reign, heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out oppressive spirits, restores people to full participation in society, and teaches his followers through vivid parables.

So What?

A main focus of Luke's Gospel is the nature of the salvation that Jesus Christ provides. Because Jesus encounters a wide variety of people in Luke, this Gospel offers a glimpse into the different facets of salvation--its spiritual, physical, and social dimensions. Because Jesus speaks many parables in Luke, this Gospel also becomes a source for deep reflection about the nature of God's reign and the ways of living faithfully in this world.

Where Do I Find It?

The Gospel according to Luke is the third book in the New Testament. It follows two books that speak about Jesus from a similar perspective, the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.

Who Wrote It?

The Gospel according to Luke is anonymous, yet the author reveals in the opening verses that he was not an eyewitness of the events he describes. Christian writings from the latter half of the second century identify Luke, an associate of the Apostle Paul, as the Gospel's author, but nothing in the Gospel itself can confirm this claim.

When Was It Written?

Like the other Gospels, Luke was written some time after Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The best analyses conclude that it was written after Mark and Matthew, probably between 80 and 90 C.E. However, much material in Luke certainly comes from oral and written sources that had already been in circulation among Christians for some time.

What's It About?

Through his words, deeds, death, and resurrection, Jesus Christ, the Savior that God promised to the people of Israel, proclaims God's good news of deliverance for all peoples.

How Do I Read It?

The author of Luke wrote to reinforce a Christian audience's confidence about what it knew concerning the good news of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Luke aims to instruct and reassure its readers by telling the story of Jesus in an "orderly" manner, meaning that Luke's account is arranged and narrated in a way that attempts to express Jesus' significance. Notice, then, how Luke's story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection makes claims about what God declares through Jesus and about God's purposes for the world.

AUTHOR: Matt Skinner, Associate Professor of New Testament

I. Prologue (Luke 1:1-4)
In a formal preface, the author introduces the book as a meaningful narrative, "an orderly account" meant to build up the faith of a Christian reader.

II. The Births of John and Jesus (Luke 1:5-2:40)
The miraculous births of John the Baptist and Jesus reaffirm God's faithfulness to the people of Israel, for these events declare the coming of Christ the Savior, God's remembrance of the Jewish people, and hope for Gentiles.

A. Angels Announce the Births of John and Jesus (Luke 1:5-56)
An angel tells the aged priest Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will have a son named John, then Mary learns that she will give birth to God's Son. Mary accepts this news and responds with a prophetic hymn that declares God's great deeds.

B. John the Baptist Is Born (Luke 1:57-80)
Elizabeth gives birth to John, then Zechariah speaks a prophecy that declares Jesus to be Israel's Savior and John to be a prophet who will make preparations for the coming of the Lord.

C. Jesus the Messiah Is Born and Circumcised (Luke 2:1-40)
Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, shepherds visit and glorify God, and after eight days Jesus is brought to the Jerusalem temple. In the temple, a righteous man named Simeon and a prophet named Anna praise God with prophetic words about Jesus.

III. Events Prior to Jesus' Public Ministry (Luke 2:41-4:13)
Before Jesus begins his ministry, he grows in wisdom as a child, is baptized, and is tested by the devil in the wilderness. John the Baptist calls the people of Israel to repentance and is imprisoned.

A. Jesus Lost in the Temple at Age Twelve (Luke 2:41-52)
Jesus and his family travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, but when the group of pilgrims returns toward Nazareth, Jesus is missing. He stays in the temple for three days to converse with the teachers of Israel.

B. John the Baptist Calls for Repentance (Luke 3:1-20)
John baptizes people as a sign of repentance and forgiveness. He offers warnings, demands ethical behavior, and declares that one more powerful is coming.

C. Jesus' Baptism (Luke 3:21-22)
Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes upon him, and God declares him to be God's beloved Son.

D. Jesus' Genealogy (Luke 3:23-38)
A genealogy traces Jesus' ancestry from his father Joseph, through David, through Abraham, all the way back to Adam.

E. The Devil Tests Jesus in the Wilderness (Luke 4:1-13)
The Spirit leads Jesus into the wild for forty days where he fasts and resists the devil's attempts to get him to misuse his power as God's Son.

IV. Jesus' Public Ministry in and around Galilee (Luke 4:14-9:50)
In his public ministry Jesus brings salvation and wholeness to many. This ministry proclaims the good news of the reign of God through Jesus' teaching, healing, and exorcisms of unclean spirits.

A. Jesus' Sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30)
In his hometown Jesus declares himself anointed by the Spirit of the Lord to proclaim good news and deliverance. When they learn that Jesus' ministry will have benefits for more than them alone, the people of Nazareth attempt to kill him.

B. Exorcism and Healings (Luke 4:31-44)
Jesus casts demons out of people and heals those who are sick, including Simon's mother-in-law.

C. Jesus Calls Three Fishermen (Luke 5:1-11)
Jesus tells Simon, James, and John how to catch an enormous number of fish, then promises that from this point forward, as his followers, they will be catching people.

D. Healings and Controversies (Luke 5:12-6:11)
Jesus continues his ministry of healing, even as people begin to question what looks to them like his disregard for Jewish law. Jesus replies by asserting his authority from God and disputing his opponents' interpretations of the law.

E. Jesus Selects Apostles and Teaches on a Plain (Luke 6:12-49)
Jesus chooses twelve apostles and teaches people about true blessedness, human relationships, and good character.

F. Jesus Heals, Answers Doubts, and Pronounces Forgiveness (Luke 7:1-50)
In a series of scenes, Jesus heals the slave of a Roman centurion in Capernaum, raises from the dead the only son of a widow in Nain, answers John the Baptist's doubts about his identity, and announces that a grateful woman has had her sins forgiven.

G. The Women Who Follow and Support Jesus (Luke 8:1-3)
As Jesus continues to proclaim and bring the good news of God's reign, the Gospel's narrator introduces readers to three of the many women who travel with Jesus and support his ministry.

H. Jesus Teaches and Performs Astounding Miracles (Luke 8:4-56)
In a series of scenes, Jesus tells a parable about a man sowing seeds and offers more teachings. Then comes a collection of impressive miracles: calming a storm at sea, driving multiple demons out of a tormented man, healing a long-suffering woman, and bringing a young girl back to life.

I. Jesus' Influence Continues to Expand (Luke 9:1-17)
Jesus sends his apostles out to exorcise demons, cure illnesses, and proclaim the kingdom of God, just as he has been doing. After his followers report back to him, he miraculously feeds a group of about five thousand people.

J. Jesus Tells about His Death, and God Confirms His Authority (Luke 9:18-50)
After a conversation about his identity, Jesus announces that he will be rejected, abused, killed, and raised from the dead. On a mountain he is transfigured, and God speaks to Peter, John, and James. An exorcism, another passion prediction, and some teachings follow.

V. Jesus' Ministry Continues as He Journeys to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-19:27)
Jesus continues his ministry of teaching, healing, and exorcising spirits as he travels toward Jerusalem. Many of the stories told in this section (Luke's "travel narrative") are found only in this Gospel.

A. Jesus' Work Continues amid Conflict (Luke 9:51-10:24)
Jesus is not allowed to enter a Samaritan village, a would-be follower is not ready to come with him, and Jesus sends seventy followers to cure the sick and proclaim the good news. The seventy return with news of success, while Jesus speaks about the judgment of cities and the downfall of Satan.

B. The Parable of the Neighborly Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
Jesus responds to a legal expert's questions about love by telling a parable about a Samaritan who helps a wounded traveler.

C. More Scenes of Teaching and Controversy (Luke 10:38-11:36)
In a series of short scenes, Jesus visits Mary and Martha, teaches about prayer, refutes those who accuse him of being empowered by Satan, and continues to teach people.

D. Warnings against False Piety (Luke 11:37-12:12)
Jesus denounces Pharisees and scribes for their hypocrisy. He warns his followers about those who will oppose them, but promises that they will receive guidance from the Holy Spirit.

E. Teachings about Confidence and Preparedness (Luke 12:13-48)
Jesus tells a parable about a rich man seeking security from his possessions, warns against anxiety about the future, and exhorts his followers to be ready and alert.

F. Coming Judgment (Luke 12:49-13:9)
Jesus speaks about the judgment and division that he has come to bring. He calls for repentance before judgment comes.

G. The Coming Kingdom of God (Luke 13:10-35)
A series of scenes illustrates aspects of God's reign. Jesus heals a woman's bent back in an act of deliverance, he describes the kingdom of God as a growing seed, he calls people to enter through "the narrow door," and he laments how Jerusalem responds to God's agents with violence.

H. Teachings about Discipleship (Luke 14:1-35)
After healing a man suffering from dropsy, Jesus teaches about humility and the costly aspects of being his disciple. He also tells a parable that illustrates the wide range of people who are called to share in the kingdom of God.

I. Parables of the Lost (Luke 15:1-32)
In response to people who grumble about Jesus' habit of embracing and eating with "tax collectors and sinners," he tells three parables about the finding of a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son (also this son's brother).

J. The Dangers of Wealth (Luke 16:1-31)
With two parables--one about a dishonest manager, one about a rich man and a poor man--Jesus speaks about wealth's connections to power, the dangers of neglecting the poor, and how wealth competes with God for people's devotion.

K. Teaching and Manifesting the Kingdom of God (Luke 17:1-18:30)
In a series of scenes, Jesus teaches about faithfulness and the kingdom of God, heals ten people afflicted with leprosy, offers parables about God's faithfulness and human humility, blesses children, and warns that the rich exclude themselves from God's reign.

L. Sight, Salvation, and Kingship (Luke 18:31-19:27)
Jesus speaks again about his coming suffering, death, and resurrection. Then, a blind beggar near Jericho receives sight from Jesus, Jesus proclaims the salvation of a rich tax collector who gives generously, and he tells a parable in response to speculation about the appearance of the reign of God.

VI. Jesus in Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-21:38)
Jesus arrives at Jerusalem and laments the city's failure to recognize God's visitation. He criticizes practices conducted in the temple, debates religious authorities, and foretells periods of destruction followed by his return in great glory.

A. Jesus Enters Jerusalem and the Temple (Luke 19:28-48)
Jesus rides toward Jerusalem on a colt as people acclaim him as king, he weeps when he sees the city, then he enters the temple and drives out people who had set up markets there.

B. Debate and Controversy in the Temple (Luke 20:1-21:4)
A number of scenes tell about Jesus as he teaches in the temple, where he condemns Jerusalem's religious leaders for their refusal to acknowledge his authority, their hypocrisy, and their failure to provide spiritual leadership.

C. Jesus Foretells Things to Come (Luke 21:5-38)
Jesus speaks about the destruction of the temple, the persecution that will afflict his followers, the siege of Jerusalem, and his future return as the glorified "Son of Man."

VII. Jesus' Arrest, Trials, and Crucifixion (Luke 22:1-23:56)
Jesus celebrates Passover with his disciples, is arrested, is interrogated by Jewish and Roman authorities, and is executed by crucifixion.

A. The Last Supper (Luke 22:1-23)
Judas, prompted by Satan, secretly offers to betray Jesus. Jesus and his disciples then eat the Passover meal, at which Jesus says that the bread and wine represent his body and blood.

B. Jesus Instructs His Followers (Luke 22:24-38)
Jesus offers final teachings to his disciples and tells Peter that he will deny him three times.

C. Jesus' Arrest (Luke 22:39-54)
At the Mount of Olives, Jesus prays and submits himself to God's will. A group of chief priests, temple officers, and elders arrives to arrest Jesus and take him to the high priest's house.

D. Peter Denies Jesus (Luke 22:55-62)
At the courtyard of the high priest's house, three times Peter denies having any association with the prisoner Jesus.

E. Jesus on Trial (Luke 22:63-23:25)
A council of Jewish leaders interrogates Jesus then accuses him before the Roman governor, Pilate. First Pilate, then Herod Antipas, question Jesus until at last Pilate grants the leaders' and crowd's demands that Jesus be crucified.

F. The Death of Jesus (Luke 23:26-56)
Jesus is crucified between two outlaws, one of whom turns to Jesus and is promised a place in Paradise. Jesus dies quoting Psalm 31:5 ("Into your hands I commend my spirit"), and a Roman centurion declares Jesus' innocence.

VIII. Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension (Luke 24:1-53)
A group of women who were among Jesus' followers discover his tomb empty on the first day of the new week. Jesus appears to groups of his followers and ascends into heaven.

A. Discovery of the Empty Tomb (Luke 24:1-12)
The same women who witnessed Jesus' burial return to his tomb and find it empty. Two angelic beings announce to them that he has risen from the dead.

B. Jesus Appears to Two Followers as They Travel to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
Jesus joins Cleopas and a companion as they journey away from Jerusalem, but they do not recognize him even though he explains to them that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer. As all three of them share a meal in Emmaus, the two travelers recognize Jesus at the moment he blesses and breaks bread.

C. Jesus Appears to His Followers in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36-49)
Jesus appears to his followers, invites them to touch him, eats in their presence, and declares that his death and resurrection are a fulfillment of Scripture. He charges them to remain in Jerusalem until they receive "power from on high."

D. Jesus Is Carried up into Heaven (Luke 24:50-53)
At Bethany, Jesus blesses his followers and is taken into heaven. They return to Jerusalem and worship God in the temple.

AUTHOR: Matt Skinner, Associate Professor of New Testament

The opening verses of this Gospel reveal much about it. They state that the author was familiar with other written accounts of Jesus. Nevertheless, he seems to have regarded those other accounts as deficient or in need of clarification and correction. (Although we cannot know for sure who wrote the Gospel of Luke, the cultural and literary evidence makes it likely that the author was a "he.") The prologue, therefore, mentions his investigatory research and intention to tell Jesus' story in a way that will enhance the Christian reader's understanding of Jesus' significance.

Luke closely resembles Mark and Matthew, the other two Synoptic Gospels. A little more than half of the stories from Mark also appear in Luke, although the author of Luke made adjustments to this material. Luke and Matthew also share between them about 230 verses that recount sayings of Jesus, sayings that are absent from Mark. From the literary relationships among these Gospels it seems clear that the author of Luke drew from Mark as a source, from another source that Matthew also used, and from an unknown number of additional sources.

The author of Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. This author, then, hardly believed that Jesus' significance and impact ended when he ascended into heaven. The story of Jesus literally continues in the story of the earliest Christian communities as they continue Jesus' ministry, proclaiming the message of his salvation in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Luke in several ways looks forward to Acts (for example, in the Gospel's attention to the Holy Spirit, who plays a key role in Acts), and Acts recalls the Gospel (for example, as Peter's and Paul's deeds resemble those of Jesus). Because Acts so clearly presents itself as a sequel to Luke, scholars commonly refer to both books as Luke-Acts, to emphasize their unity as a two-volume literary product.

Luke-Acts reveals that its author was well educated and quite familiar with Israel's traditions and Greek literary conventions. It is unknown whether he was a Jew or a Gentile, whether the Gospel was written for a Jewish or Gentile audience, and where the Gospel was written. Luke's proficiency with the Greek language is perhaps the most sophisticated among all the New Testament authors. Even though some Christian traditions identify this author as the physician named in Colossians 4:14, there is nothing about his writing that suggests he had received medical training or was particularly familiar with specialized medical language.

AUTHOR: Matt Skinner, Associate Professor of New Testament

  • The Acts of the Apostles. Because the same author is responsible for both Luke and Acts and because the two books share many literary and thematic connections, it is profitable to read them together as a two-part narrative about Jesus and his earliest followers. It is customary to speak of "Luke-Acts," referring to both books as a unified literary creation. Interpreters have speculated about the author's motives for writing both books, sometimes wondering whether the book of Acts may subtly diminish Jesus' importance by making the Christian church appear too important in its own right. However, both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles clearly situate Jesus and the good news on center stage. Both books proclaim Jesus as God's means of salvation for Israel and the whole world and as the Messiah who will come again. Acts helps readers appreciate how Jesus and the message about him continue to impact the world and its different cultures, even after Jesus' physical departure from the earth.
  • Almsgiving and solidarity. Luke's Gospel has much to say about wealth and possessions, including two instances where Jesus commends almsgiving (Luke 11:41; 12:33). The giving of alms entails more than simply handing over money and walking away; it implies creating a real association with the poor. Jesus' world, like today's, was one of radical inequalities among its socioeconomic classes. Conventions of patronage regulated that society, meaning that the wealthy (patrons) would give money or political favors to others (clients) in exchange for loyalty, honor, or political support. When Jesus praises almsgiving, he calls for people to give to the poor without expecting any kind of recognition or reciprocity. To give alms is to refuse to insist upon the privileges that society grants to those with status and power; to give alms is to create relationships of solidarity in authentic community.
  • The death of Jesus. This Gospel describes Jesus' death in a unique way, emphasizing his innocence and faithfulness. At the crucifixion, Luke mentions the presence of many who support Jesus and grieve his death (23:27, 48). There is no description of the general public deriding him. A criminal turns to Jesus, defends him, and is promised a place with him in Paradise (23:39-43). Jesus dies with an expression of trust on his lips, quoting Psalm 31:5. The Roman centurion who witnesses the execution praises God and declares Jesus' innocence (23:47).
  • Jesus and jubilee. The first main scene of Jesus' public ministry in Luke has him speaking to the people of his hometown, Nazareth, in Luke 4:14-37. In the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus cites two passages from Isaiah, both of which use language of "release." This language relates to laws about a "year of release" or "year of jubilee" in Leviticus 25:8-55. In this important scene, as well as in others throughout Luke, Jesus characterizes the reign of God as release from all forms of oppression and injustice and as liberation from sin and the ways that sin results in people's subjugation to spiritual and social evils.
  • Jesus' Jewish opponents. Although Luke's Gospel describes Jesus encountering opposition from a wide array of people, it offers more clarity about which people are involved in Jesus' arrest and prosecution. When Jesus predicts his death in Luke 9:21-22, he names members of the Jerusalem elite--specifically, the elders, chief priests, and scribes--as the ones who will reject him. Also, Herod Antipas's violent intentions become clear in Luke 13:31. Once Jesus reaches Jerusalem, Luke consistently names the chief priests, scribes, and sometimes the elders as those who oppose Jesus most vehemently. Pharisees are not named as part of the opposition in Jerusalem. Indeed, the last time Luke mentions any Pharisees is in Luke 19:39, just before Jesus enters Jerusalem.
  • Luke's historical style. The first four verses of the Gospel of Luke resemble prologues in certain historical writings from the ancient world. This resemblance suggests that the author was familiar with conventions of history-writing, but this does not mean that Luke transmits history as if it were raw chronological data presented from a disinterested perspective. Like all who wrote history in his time (and in modern times), the author of Luke wrote to shape readers' perspectives on a historical figure. The Gospel of Luke interprets the history it tells through a theological lens, amplifying the theological significance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Luke's "infancy narratives." The first two chapters of Luke speak about the conceptions and births of John the Baptizer and Jesus. The stories told there, in what are sometimes called "the Lukan infancy narratives," are unique to this Gospel. These accounts create a powerful introduction to Luke and to its sequel, Acts. Even though people often have treated these stories with excessive sentimentality, in Luke they serve an important function, anchoring Jesus' history firmly in Israel's history. They declare that the same God who has been faithful to the people of Israel is again being true to God's people in sending Jesus and his forerunner, John. They introduce important themes that will recur throughout Luke and Acts, including prophecy, liberation, conflict, and the salvation of God extending to Gentiles.
  • Luke's "travel narrative." Concerning Jesus, Luke 9:51 says, "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." From that point, through the middle of Luke 19, Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem. This large section of text, which interpreters commonly refer to as the "travel narrative," is composed mostly of stories that appear only in Luke's Gospel. Disagreement exists over the degree to which the travel narrative might possess a sense of coherence or clear thematic purpose. Some see in the design of the narrative an attempt to make Jesus' story resonate with memories of Moses and the exodus journeys of the Hebrew people. Others conclude that in these chapters the Gospel author presents material about Jesus loosely grouped according to a few themes but with no comprehensive arrangement.
  • Meals. This Gospel is famous for its scenes that involve people eating. Frequently banquets serve as settings for Jesus' parables in Luke. In Jesus' culture, sharing food and offering hospitality to others were ways of forging and demonstrating strong ties and obligations among people. A meal could create and represent binding communal relationships and commitments. Jesus' desire to eat with others reflects God's promises to provide for people's needs, emphasizes the image of the kingdom of God as a banquet (13:29), and indicates his willingness to associate closely with particular people, including tax collectors and those known for their sinful behavior (5:29-32; 7:33-34; 15:1-2; 19:5-7).
  • Parables. Much of the material that is unique to Luke's Gospel consists of parables from Jesus. A parable is usually a short story used to illustrate an aspect of the kingdom of God in a way that invites hearers or readers to probe the connections on their own. Parables function as metaphors, fleshing out spiritual ideas through the power of potent suggestions rather than precise descriptions. Many of Jesus' parables emphasize how different God's ways are from humanity's standards of fairness, piety, status, and prudence.
  • The prosecution of Jesus. Luke's Gospel emphasizes that, despite many opportunities to find Jesus guilty of a crime, the legal proceedings against him consistently yield no definitive verdict. Pontius Pilate is unconvinced by the testimony against Jesus (23:4, 20) and finally capitulates to a crowd of Jesus' insistent opponents (23:23-25). Luke includes an additional hearing before Herod Antipas, a ruler of Galilee, who also cannot find reason to convict Jesus (23:6-15). Through these trial scenes the Gospel highlights that Jesus dies on the cross as an innocent man.
  • Resurrection appearances. Luke presents Jesus' resurrection as something other than death's reversal or a reentry into his former manner of living. When the resurrected Jesus appears to his followers in Luke 24, they experience him as both hidden and recognizable. He certainly is real, an embodied person, but his friends' minds need to be opened before they can realize who he is. Jesus is resurrected to a new kind of reality. His resurrection brings his followers to a point of new understanding.
  • Satan's role. Luke, like Mark and Matthew, describes Jesus encountering Satan in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry. Yet only Luke's account of this scene concludes with the ominous statement that the devil went away from Jesus "until an opportune time" (Luke 4:13). In Luke, this opportune time is Jesus' passion. By introducing the Passion Narrative with the haunting line, "Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot" (Luke 22:3), Luke depicts the story of Jesus' arrest, suffering, and death as part of the ongoing struggle with Satan.
  • Similarities with Matthew. About 230 verses in Luke, most of which consist of sayings attributed to Jesus, appear in identical or similar form in Matthew and nowhere else among the biblical Gospels. Hardly any of these sayings, however, appear in the same place in the different orders of events given by Matthew and Luke. This suggests that each author knew about certain sayings attributed to Jesus, but determined independently where to place those sayings within the broader presentation of Jesus' story. Many scholars conclude that these two Gospel authors were familiar with a written collection of Jesus' sayings but made use of that collection in different ways, weaving various sayings into each of their narratives so as to lend particular perspectives on Jesus' life and teachings.
  • Who was Theophilus? In Luke's prologue (1:1-4) the author addresses a person named Theophilus. Some people think that this Theophilus was an actual historical figure for whom the author prepared a new Gospel. The designation "most excellent Theophilus" may indicate that he was powerful, perhaps a wealthy patron who commissioned the writing of the book. Others suggest, because this common name from the ancient world means either "lover of God" or "beloved by God," that Theophilus could be the author's generic designation for any reader. Whether the prologue indicates a real or symbolic reader cannot be known, yet clearly it reflects the author's purpose for the book--that it was meant to fortify the faith of people who already had been instructed about Jesus Christ.

AUTHOR: Matt Skinner, Associate Professor of New Testament

  • The ascension of Jesus. Luke is the only Gospel that includes a description of Jesus' ascent into heaven (24:50-51), an event that Acts 1:6-11 also narrates but with differing details. At the ascension Jesus' followers worship him (Luke 24:52), indicating that they understand his coming as God's own visitation (see 1:68, 78; 19:44). In Acts the ascension is connected with Jesus' glorification by God and his role in sending the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:33-36; 3:19-21).
  • The Holy Spirit. Luke mentions the role of the Holy Spirit in connection to Jesus' coming and his public ministry. The Spirit is active in the stories of Jesus' and John's births in Luke 1-2. Jesus' ministry begins with announcements that the Spirit has ordained him to do the things he does (4:14-19).
  • Jerusalem and the temple. Jerusalem occupies an important position in Luke's geography. The Gospel begins and concludes with scenes of people at worship in the Jerusalem temple, and Jesus laments the unfaithfulness that characterizes the city (13:33-35; 19:41-44). While Matthew and Mark emphasize Galilee as the place for Jesus' followers to meet him after his resurrection, in Luke they encounter the risen Lord in and near Jerusalem, where they are instructed to remain until the Holy Spirit comes.
  • Jesus the Lord. Luke frequently refers to Jesus as "the Lord." Almost every time this title appears, it is spoken by the voice of the Gospel's narrator. The same word is typically used to denote God in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
  • Jesus the Messiah/Christ. "Messiah" (Hebrew) and "Christ" (Greek) mean "anointed one" and so refer to Jesus' identity as one anointed by God. Calling Jesus by this title identifies him as a deliverer sent by God to the people of Israel. The Gospel of Luke frequently ascribes this title to Jesus but describes Jesus using it in reference to himself only after his resurrection.
  • Jesus the Savior. Using terms that do not appear in Matthew or Mark (and hardly at all in John), Luke speaks of Jesus as the "Savior" who brings God's "salvation" to the world. Salvation is not merely a synonym for forgiveness; it refers to a broader idea of rescue and deliverance. Throughout his life Jesus saves people in a variety of ways: he brings healing, forgiveness, wholeness, and restoration.
  • Jesus the Son of God. In the Gospels, references to Jesus as "Son of God" refer to his divinely sanctioned authority. In Luke, no human being definitively identifies Jesus by this name. Only supernatural beings (God, angels, demons, and the devil) do so.
  • Jesus the Son of Man. Jesus frequently uses the expression "the Son of Man" to indicate himself; no other character calls him by this name. In Luke, Jesus employs the title in contexts that clarify his identity and role, specifically as one who will suffer, one who has authority to conduct his ministry, and one who will be vindicated when he returns in glory.
  • Judaism. Many aspects of Luke and Acts suggest that these books attempt to make sense of the Gospel's implications for Judaism and God's relationship with the Jewish people. Although Jesus does make very severe statements about certain Jews (see, for example, Luke 11:48-51; 13:34-35), in no way does Luke suggest that a Gentile Christianity is meant to displace an obstinate Judaism. Luke recognizes Jesus as a divisive figure who speaks harsh criticisms (see 2:34-35; 12:49-53), but Jesus himself is also an expression of God's commitment to the people and traditions of ancient Israel (see 1:67-73; 16:17).
  • The kingdom (reign) of God. All four Gospels describe Jesus talking about the kingdom (or "reign") of God, which was probably the dominant topic in Jesus' teaching and preaching. The expression reflects language from the Old Testament declaring God's royal authority and ruling activity. When Jesus announces the coming of God's kingdom, he indicates that God's rule extends throughout human society, transforming it and defeating any other powers that might claim to govern or control human lives and hearts.
  • Money and possessions. Several of Jesus' parables and teachings in this Gospel warn against wealth's potential to corrupt a person. Luke recognizes God's concern for the poor, as famously illustrated in the words of Mary, Jesus' mother, in 1:52-53.
  • Outsiders. Of the four Gospels, Luke gives the most attention to Jesus' significance for people who were not part of dominant society. Some of these people on the margins of Jesus' culture include those afflicted with diseases, the handicapped, aliens, refugees, children, women, the poor, slaves, prostitutes, widows, the elderly, shepherds, tax collectors, Samaritans, and Gentiles. These kinds of people figure positively in the Gospel and benefit from Jesus' ministry.
  • Prayer. Luke frequently portrays Jesus engaged in prayer or encouraging his followers to pray (see 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1-4; 18:1; 21:36; 22:32). This emphasizes Jesus' reliance upon his Father and foreshadows the importance of prayer among believers in the book of Acts.
  • Promise and fulfillment. Luke situates Jesus' coming as an expression of God's fidelity to the people of Israel. The Gospel's first two chapters extol God's faithfulness to promises, especially as Jesus' mother and John the Baptist's father speak about God's remembering (1:54-55, 72-75). Luke also interprets Jesus' death and resurrection as a fulfillment of the Scriptures.
  • Prophets. Luke's Gospel speaks very positively about ancient prophets and reports the rejections they suffered. Several people identify Jesus as a prophet, which is correct insofar as he enacts and declares God's ways and, as a result, becomes the target of opposition.
  • Repentance. While Matthew and Mark also depict John the Baptist and Jesus calling people to repent, Luke mentions this more frequently. To repent is to adopt a new way of thinking, to take on a new or renewed disposition toward God. Some parables in Luke describe a person's repentance, using images of something being found by its owner, a situation that unleashes great joy in heavenly places (15:1-10).
  • Universal scope of the gospel. Although Jesus is God's Messiah sent to the people of Israel, the salvation he brings is something that happens "in the presence of all peoples" (2:31). The Gospel of Luke is keenly aware of the wider world of the Roman Empire (see 2:1-2; 3:1-2), and the next part of the story told in the book of Acts describes the word of God moving out into this world.

AUTHOR: Matt Skinner, Associate Professor of New Testament

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