I. Introduction and Dating

Luke the Evangelist

Luke the Evangelist

The author we call Luke wrote a sprawling, two part work that covered over a quarter of the New Testament. Each part began with a short address to "Theophilius." The first part or gospel covered the events in the life of Jesus; the second part (known as the "Acts of the Apostles" or "Acts") laid out events in the early Church, focusing on Peter and Paul.

We can date Luke's gospel as early as 80's to as late as 100 CE (see Dating the Synoptics).

II. Structure

A. Gospel Themes

In his series on the historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew, Volume V, Probing the Authenticity of the Parables, John P Meier summarized the Luke's main theme and sub-themes:

"Among the many theological themes and concerns pervading the massive project of Luke-Acts, a basso continou is created by the overarching, global theme of crossing of boundaries, be those boundaries religious, ethnic, social or economic. This global theme finds individualized expression in the more specific themes of (I) concern for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized (including women), (ii) the consequent excoriating of the wealthy and the powerful who do not help the poor, (iii) the power of prayer/petition of the marginalized, (iv) the unearned forgiveness offered to sinners, (v) the danger of neglecting this offer by refusing to repent, and (vi) the encapsulation of the most of these themes within the the them of the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God (previewed in the Gospel and realized in Acts)." (pp. 198, Meier)

While Luke sought to tear down boundaries, he focused his works on the work of the Spirit (Infancy Narratives and the Acts of the Apostles and the person of Jesus (the balance of his Gospel).

B. Chiasmus or Continuous Narrative?

Luke constructed his Infancy Narrative as a prologue to his account about the adult ministry of Jesus and its continuation in the early Church. If we set Luke chapters one through three aside, we can see the shape of a chiasmus written by a Gentile Christian influenced by the Hellenistic form found in an ancient, popular novel. Beginning with chapter four, the chiastic form of Luke-Acts was:

Step A1. Galilee (L 4:14–9:50)

Step B1. Journey to Jerusalem (through Samaria and Judea; L 9:51–19:40)

Step C1. Jerusalem (L 19:41–24:49)

Step D1. Ascension (L 24:50–51)

Step D2. Ascension (A 1:9–11)

Step C2. Jerusalem (A 1:12–8:3)

Step B2. Judea and Samaria (A 8:3–11:18)

Step A2. To the ends of the earth (A 11:19–28:31)

Some scholars base the chiastic construction on ancient drama where the action of ministry built up to the climax of the Ascension then flowed back to the evangelization of Peter and Paul. Certainly, Luke also wrote in a parallel construction that began with the notes to Theophilius, emphasized ministry of teaching and healing, then ended with proclamation. The overall chiasmus of drama and the parallel form of linear narrative need not compete; indeed, they compliment each other as a testament to Luke's efforts as an evangelist.

C. Gospel Sources

In his prologue statement to Theophilius, Luke noted two sources for his gospel: eye witnesses and ministers of the Word. As I mentioned in the section on dating the Synoptics, these two sources could refer to those who passed along oral tradition ("eye witnesses") and charismatic prophets who spoke "in the name of the Lord" ("ministers of the word"). Modern scholars posited three streams of tradition from these two sources: material Luke shared with Mark [M], material Luke shared with Matthew not found in Mark [Q] and materials exclusive to Luke [L].

Marcan material made up about 42 percent of Luke's gospel. It included:

While Luke did rearrange many verses of Mark in his gospel, he placed most of Mark in sequence. However, Luke did change parts of the Passion narrative to smooth out Mark's flow and to punctuate both his themes and dramatic high points.

Luke and Matthew shared some materials independent of Mark in what scholars now call the "Q" source [Q]. Isolated on their own, these passages consist of sayings along with narratives about John the Baptist and the healing of the centurion's servant. Luke concentrated a large portion of the "Q" sayings in Lk 11:1-12:59. The Q materials made up approximately 23 percent of Luke's gospel.

Luke also added material exclusive to his gospel [L]. He included the Infancy narratives (Lk 1:1-2:52), the Resurrection appearances (Lk 24:13-53) and parables (Lk 7:41-43, Lk 10:30-37, Lk 12:16-21, Lk 13:6-9, Lk 15:8-10, Lk 16:19-31, Lk 18:1-8, Lk 18:9-14). He also added verses for smooth transitions. The Luke exclusive verses represented 35 percent of the gospel.

Beyond mentioning these sources, we find difficulty in sensing any overarching forms in Luke. The author certainly had the ability to create chiamus passages and parallel constructions (like the Infancy Narratives) to tie his gospel together. But, beyond the Synoptic structure of Galilee to Jerusalem, he decided to string portions together, sometimes thematically, sometimes chronologically, sometimes for reasons I cannot fathom. No doubt, he wished to honor the "eye witnesses" and "ministers of the Word" (Mark and the Q). But, any attempt to sense an underlying structure beyond this seems artificial, reflecting the reader's bias more than Luke's intent.

D. Work of the Spirit in Infancy Narrative
and the Acts of the Apostles

The evangelist also wrote with a distinctive theme in mind: the initiative of the Spirit. This emphasized 1) charisms and 2) kerygma, then the reaction of people either 3) positively or 4) negatively.

Charisms were gifts of the Spirit meant to speed the spread of the Good News. Theses included the gift of tongues, prophecy, healings and visions. Kerygma was the proclamation of the Good News. In Acts, the preacher tailored his message to his audience; to Jews, he would quote Scripture, to Gentiles, he might quote pagan sources. In either case, the Spirit explicitly or implicitly directed the apostolic mission; those listed like Peter, Philip and Paul were merely divine instruments.

Charisms and kerygma demanded a response, either with faith or with utter rejection. Such a negative could turn violent. For example, Paul persecuted the Church, only to receive beatings and threats of death once he converted. But, those who believed enjoyed the advantages only a charism-filled community could provide.

Luke emphasized the work of the Spirit in his Infancy Narratives, let it fade as the person and ministry of Jesus came to the fore, then revived it in Acts.

Photo Attribution

Luke the Evangelist. Meister des Evangeliars von Echternach [Public domain]