Before resuming Forbidden Bible Verses which opened the Gospel of Luke with an examination of the prologue to Theophilus, now is a good time to explore this Gospel in general and the book which parallels it — Acts — also said to have been written by Luke.
Beware postmodern revisionism
Until the past few decades, the majority of Catholic and Protestant theologians held that Luke the Evangelist — a physician — was the author of both canonical books.
From the late 20th century up to the present, postmodern theologians have been shooting down New Testament authorship with stunning frequency. A compendium of views concerning the authorship of Luke can be found on this Wikipedia page.
For nearly two millenia, whilst there has always been some uncertainty about specific authorship and dating of the New Testament books, a general consensus prevailed. Now, strangely enough, we are subjected to all manner of revisionist thinking.
You are welcome to believe what you like, but I would caution that the ordained who believe the postmodern revisionists are likely to experience emptying of pews. I know a few of these clergy who are scratching their heads, wondering why they are not doing as well as more conservative churches preaching the Bible.
A good measure of whether the revisionists are credible is to check out their personal beliefs. The word ‘theologian’ no longer implies Christian belief when it comes to New Testament study.
the “we” passages are written by someone falsely claiming to have been a travelling companion of Paul, in order to present the untrue idea that the author had firsthand knowledge of Paul’s views and activities, and Acts of the Apostles is thereby shown to be a forgery.
Reading Ehrman’s biography, we find (emphases mine):
Ehrman became an Evangelical Christian as a teen. In his books, he recounts his youthful enthusiasm as a born-again, fundamentalist Christian, certain that God had inspired the wording of the Bible and protected its texts from all error. His desire to understand the original words of the Bible led him to the study of ancient languages and to textual criticism. His graduate studies, however, eventually convinced him that one ought to acknowledge the contradictions in the biblical manuscripts rather than attempt to harmonize or reconcile discrepancies. He remained a liberal Christian for fifteen years but later became an agnostic after struggling with the philosophical problems of evil and suffering.
In the same vein, a group of late 20th century theologians — the Jesus Seminar — are still discussed today. The seminar included a number of people interested in the New Testament. Not all of them are or were theologians. The film director Paul Verhoeven was among their number along with community college instructors. The Seminar is partly responsible for the prominence of the Gospel of Thomas in postmodern Christian discourse as they believe it is more credible than John’s Gospel.
John Dominic Crossan, one of the Seminar’s co-founders, is an ex-Catholic priest. These are some of his beliefs about Christ and the New Testament:
Crossan suggests Jesus was an illiterate “Jewish Cynic“ from a landless peasant background, initially a follower of John the Baptist. Jesus was a healer and man of great wisdom and courage who taught a message of inclusiveness, tolerance, and liberation. “His strategy . . . was the combination of free healing and common eating . . . that negated the hierarchical and patronal normalcies of Jewish religion and Roman power . . . He was neither broker nor mediator but . . . the announcer that neither should exist between humanity and divinity or humanity and itself.”
Out of his study of cross-attestation and strata of the ancient texts, Crossan asserts that many of the gospel stories of Jesus are not factual, including his “nature miracles”, the virgin birth, and the raising of Lazarus. While pointing out the meager attestation and apparent belatedness of the miracles’ appearance in the trajectory of the canon, Crossan takes the opposite view, that Jesus was known during earliest Christianity as a powerful magician, which was “a very problematic and controversial phenomenon not only for his enemies but even for his friends,” who began washing miracles out of the tradition early on.
Those choosing to put their faith in such theories would do well to ask whether this is what early doctors of the Church agreed upon and what faithful Christians have believed for nearly 2,000 years.
Unfortunately, among the aforementioned quasi-agnostic Anglicans of my limited acquaintance is an aged priest who finds The Shack more credible than John’s Gospel. He said that it was hard to believe that Peter could walk on water towards Jesus. Why is that so hard to believe? Sorry, I’ll just never manage this level of Gnostic sophistication. Thank goodness.
The 17th century view of Luke
One of the reasons I enjoy relying on Matthew Henry’s commentary is that we find out what clergy knew and believed in the 17th and 18th centuries. When introducing books of the Bible, Henry included any differences of opinion. Here he is on Luke:
We are now entering into the labours of another evangelist; his name Luke, which some take to be a contraction of Lucilius; born at Antioch, so St. Jerome. Some think that he was the only one of all the penmen of the scripture that was not of the seed of Israel. He was a Jewish proselyte, and, as some conjecture, converted to Christianity by the ministry of St. Paul at Antioch; and after his coming into Macedonia (Acts 16:10) he was his constant companion. He had employed himself in the study and practice of physic; hence, Paul calls him Luke the beloved Physician, Col. 4:14. Some of the pretended ancients tell you that he was a painter, and drew a picture of the virgin Mary. But Dr. Whitby thinks that there is nothing certain to the contrary, and that therefore it is probable that he was one of the seventy disciples, and a follower of Christ when he was here upon earth; and, if so, he was a native Israelite. I see not what can be objected against this, except some uncertain traditions of the ancients, which we can build nothing upon, and against which may be opposed the testimonies of Origen and Epiphanius, who both say that he was one of the seventy disciples. He is supposed to have written this gospel when he was associated with St. Paul in his travels, and by direction from him: and some think that this is the brother whom Paul speaks of (2 Co. 8:18), whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches of Christ; as if the meaning of it were, that he was celebrated in all the churches for writing this gospel; and that St. Paul means this when he speaks sometimes of his gospel, as Rom. 2:16. But there is no ground at all for this. Dr. Cave observes that his way and manner of writing are accurate and exact, his style polite and elegant, sublime and lofty, yet perspicuous; and that he expresses himself in a vein of purer Greek than is to be found in the other writers of the holy story. Thus he relates divers things more copiously than the other evangelists; and thus he especially treats of those things which relate to the priestly office of Christ. It is uncertain when, or about what time, this gospel was written. Some think that it was written in Achaia, during his travels with Paul, seventeen years (twenty-two years, say others) after Christ’s ascension; others, that it was written at Rome, a little before he wrote his history of the Acts of the Apostles (which is a continuation of this), when he was there with Paul, while he was a prisoner, and preaching in his own hired house, with which the history of the Acts concludes; and then Paul saith that only Luke was with him, 2 Tim. 4:11. When he was under that voluntary confinement with Paul, he had leisure to compile these two histories (and many excellent writings the church has been indebted to a prison for): if so, it was written about twenty-seven years after Christ’s ascension, and about the fourth year of Nero. Jerome says, He died when he was eighty-four years of age, and was never married. Some write that he suffered martyrdom; but, if he did, where and when is uncertain. Nor indeed is there much more credit to be given to the Christian traditions concerning the writers of the New Testament than to the Jewish traditions concerning those of the Old Testament.
More on the traditional belief in Luke’s authorship
In 1998, John MacArthur introduced the Gospel of Luke to his congregation:
If I asked you to tell me all you know about Luke, you would probably say…”Well, he was a doctor, a physician.” You’d be right. But there might not be another sentence because we don’t know much about Luke. It is amazing to think about Luke, apart from the Apostle Paul, was the most influential force in writing the New Testament. In fact, the writings of Luke which come in two volumes…volume one is the gospel of Luke, volume two is the book of Acts…add up to 52 chapters. The gospel of Luke is the longest of all the gospel narratives and therefore it’s the most thorough and complete ...
This is real history accurately recorded. It is sound theology logically developed. Luke identifies what he writes in verse 4 of chapter 1 of exact truth…exact truth. It isn’t fantasy, it isn’t his own spiritual musings. It isn’t some effort on his part to concoct a tale or to build a legend. What he is giving is history and theology that is exact.
… Luke is never mentioned in this gospel and he’s never mentioned in the prologue. But we’re going to learn everything we can learn about him, even though he’s not mentioned here. Now if you’re saying, “Well wait a minute, it says it’s the gospel according to Luke right before verse 1,” but that’s not in the actual text of Scripture, that was placed there because of the conviction of the church that in fact he did write this, although nowhere in his gospel and nowhere in the book of Acts does he personally identify himself as the author.
Now that’s an interesting dilemma for us. But it makes for fascinating history to dig into it … you’re going to meet Luke the physician, Luke the historian, Luke the theologian, and Luke the pastor ...
According to early tradition the gospel, the third gospel, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the third gospel has always been attributed to Luke…always called Luke, never called anything else, never was there a suggestion of any other author …
The oldest Greek manuscript of the gospel, a second-century manuscript, the oldest Greek manuscript in existence goes back to the second century titles this “The gospel according to Luke.” Very, very likely accurate that early. There is a canon…when we say a canon we’re talking about a compilation of the scriptures. The earliest compilation of New Testament scriptures where it was all brought together is called the Muriturian Canon, it’s 170 to 180 A.D. and it calls this third gospel the gospel according to Luke. And there are many other ancient sources that I won’t take you in to that affirm that Luke is the author.
Very little reason to be suspicious of that from the traditional side. But let’s look at the textual side, okay?
In this gospel we notice something interesting. It is addressed in verse 3 to a man named Theophilus. Verse 3 it says, “I’m going to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus.” So this is addressed to Theophilus.
Look at Acts now. Turn over to the book of Acts chapter 1 verse 1. In Acts chapter 1 verse 1 it says, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach and I composed it all the way till the day He was ascended into heaven when He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.” Well, what is he saying? He’s saying I wrote the third gospel…right?…to Theophilus. Again he says, “Theophilus, the first account I composed and it was all about what Jesus began to do and teach,” and then the writer goes on to write the book of Acts. So the conclusion is this, whoever wrote Acts wrote the third gospel. Whoever wrote the first account to Theophilus refers to himself as having written that first account to Theophilus and then proceeds to write the book of Acts.
Throughout the book of Acts we come across the author identifying himself with what’s going on. He’s not even…he’s not writing as a…as a historian looking back at something he didn’t experience. He wasn’t there during the life of Christ. He was not an apostle. He was not an eye witness to those events. But he is an eye witness to the things he’s writing about in the book of Acts and the reason we know that is because starting in chapter 16 he starts to use the plural pronoun “we” and he’s right involved in the ministry of the apostle Paul which, as you know, starts in Acts 14 and goes to the end of the [book]. And we keep reading “we did this and we went there and we were here and we did this and that,” and the “we” sections have become very famous because the author is saying I was there, I went where Paul went, I went where Mark and Aristarchus and these others who were with Paul went…we were doing this and we were doing that. The “we” sections start in chapter 16 and run all the way to the end of the book. He’s there all the way from Paul’s second journey to the very end of the book of Acts where Paul is a prisoner in Rome in his first Roman imprisonment.
So whoever the author of Acts is he was Paul’s traveling companion from chapter 16, his second journey when he had a vision from God to go to Macedonia and preach the gospel. He’s there from that time all the way up to the end of the book of Acts. He’s there when Paul was a prisoner in his first imprisonment in Rome, and follow this, later on, Paul years after that had a second imprisonment in Rome referred to in 2 Timothy and there he was beheaded and martyred. And at that point 2 Timothy chapter 4 at the very end of Paul’s life during his second imprisonment after the first one, the first one’s at the end of Acts, a later imprisonment referred to and indicated in 2 Timothy, Luke is also there. So really Luke was with Paul from the time of his second missionary journey, the time when he was at Philippi and Troas, the time recorded in Acts 16, to the end of his life…to the end of his life. Long-term companion of Paul who was even there in Paul’s final imprisonment and martyrdom.
So in much of what is recorded in the book of Acts, certainly the dominant part of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul, he was a witness to a lot of it. While not an eyewitness to the gospel account, he was an eye witness to much of what he is recording in the book of Acts ...
Matthew and John then were apostles. The gospel of Matthew, the gospel of John written by apostles. Luke and Mark were not apostles but they were companions of the apostles. Luke was Paul’s companion and Mark was Peter’s companion. And all four of those accounts God inspired to give us the fullest and richest understanding of the glory of the life of Jesus Christ.
Luke as a person
MacArthur went on to explain more about Luke as a person:
We don’t know anything about what he did. All those years traveling with Paul never tells us what he did, doesn’t tell us whether he preached a sermon or taught a class or arranged travel arrangements … we would just have to speculate on that because there’s nothing there. But in Colossians 4 and verse 14 this is the only…this is the only real personal characteristic that we know about. It just says this, “Luke the beloved physician sends you his greetings.” So all we know about him in terms of his own life is that he was a physician…he was a physician, not just a physician but a beloved physician.
If you go back to verse 11, we’ll take it a little further cause we’re going to dig into his medical background, at least as far as we can. Back in to verse 11 of Colossians 4 it mentions in the middle of the verse “those who are from the circumcision…those who are from the circumcision.” Paul had some companions who were Jewish. He names them, verse 10, Aristarchus, Mark, a man in verse 11 named Jesus Justus, but he says there, “These are the only fellow workers for the Kingdom of God who are from the circumcision.” That is they were the only Jewish ones, so we therefore conclude that the rest are … Gentiles. And he names them, verse 12 is Epaphras who would have been a Gentile, and verse 14, Luke the beloved physician. He set apart from those that were Jewish of the circumcision as a Gentile. So we know this, he was a physician, he was a Gentile physician.
He was a Gentile physician. There are four other indications of that. His name is Lucas which is a Greek word indicating his Greek origin, his Gentile origin. He writing language and style, as I told you, is distinctively Greek and it is that of a Greek with a high level of education, it is a vocabulary similar to classic Greek writers. Furthermore in writing his gospel Luke does something very interesting, we’ll see it as we go through it. He avoids common semitic or Hebraic expressions and substitutes for them expressions out of the Septuagint which is a Greek translation. So he’s much more at home with Greek than he is with Hebrew. And even when there is a Hebrew or semitic expression, Matthew, Mark and John would use the Hebraic version where Luke would use the Greek version of that same expression.
Also, he makes a major point out of showing how God’s salvation reaches Gentiles…both in the book of Luke and the book of Acts. He reveals his concern for his people, the Gentile people. So we conclude then that he was a Gentile, he was therefore a Gentile physician trained in some Gentile environment. We don’t know where he came from although there are some traditions back to Eusebius and Jerome, early church fathers, that he came from Antioch…Antioch and Syria, Antioch in the north and Syria …
The beloved aspect just indicates to us that he was an endearing man, that he was a man who had charmed, as it were, the heart of the apostle Paul and come to be to him a beloved man. Obviously if he left his practice to be a missionary and travel all those years with the apostle Paul, we can assume that he continued to be Paul’s personal private physician. And for the oft ill and oft injured Paul, that was some luxury. And to have a man who was not only a physician but beloved was a double blessing. And isn’t it interesting that as often as Luke must have ministered to Paul, he never ever mentions that he did that? Again you see the heart of this man is a heart of humility. So he was a beloved physician. And we can surmise that he may have come from training in Antioch, he may even have heard the gospel and been converted to Christ in that place. He became the beloved physician of the apostle Paul.
Though he left his medical practice, when you study the gospel of Luke you see Luke’s interest in those matters that are physical, those healings that Jesus did. Those miracles that Jesus did in the physical real he views them uniquely. In fact, just one illustration and I won’t get in to too many of these, just one I’ll give you. There was a woman who came to Jesus with a disease and it says, one of the other gospel writers says, “She had suffered many things at the hands of many physicians.” Luke leaves that line out. So that will give you the idea that he viewed things maybe a little uniquely. But he gives high profile to Jesus’ healing ministry and how he viewed that. And as I said, he must have been a marvelous help to the apostle Paul.
Now Luke is mentioned there in Colossians. That is…that’s the first time he is mentioned in our little look at this. Go to Philemon, the little book, Philemon. This is the second time he’s mentioned and there’s only three … verse 23 he mentions Epaphras, he always had these guys with him, Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers. That’s all we know. That’s it. He was a fellow worker …
The third and the only other time he is mentioned in Scripture is in 2 Timothy 4 … and this is at the end of Paul’s life. This is the last thing Paul ever wrote. He was about to be martyred for the cause of Christ. He was executed in Rome. And this is wonderful, verse 11 of chapter 4, “Only Luke is with me.” Boy, that’s sad. Down in verse 16 he said everybody deserted him, everybody. Why? Nero had cranked up the persecution to a high level and Christians were paying with their lives. And frankly, many believers had fled from Rome. And, you know, they might have had a reasonable motive to do that, to carry on the preaching of the gospel. It’s not that they were all just cowards. But Luke didn’t go. Everybody left. And there was a lot of desertion. Demas left him because he loved the present world, verse 10 says. And you do get the idea that some of the rest left in desertion from verse 16, but he says, “May it not be counted against them.” But not Luke…loyal, faithful, brave, long-term friend, fellow worker, companion to Paul, been with Paul over years and years and years, been with Paul over hundreds and probably thousands of miles of walking …
But secondly, and I’m just going to introduce this, I want you to look at Luke the historian. We don’t know all about the features of that part of his life. We don’t know much about Luke the physician. We know a lot about Luke the historian because of the two volumes of history that he wrote. He was an exceptional historian with a brilliant mind…careful, thoughtful. Verse 1 of this gospel that we now know he wrote, it says, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us…”
What’s he doing here? He’s saying, “Look, folks, I’m speaking to you as a historian. I’m writing as a historian.” He uses, as I told you, that high-level classical literary Greek to establish the fact that this belongs on the library shelf with the classics. I am writing a true and legitimate history. And he starts by identifying his sources. This is sort of like putting your footnotes in general at the beginning rather than at the bottom of the page or at the end. The events of Jesus’ life, he said, have become the subject for many writers. Many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us …
There may have been many, myriads of things that had been written about Jesus and, of course, Matthew and Mark were both most likely written before Luke’s gospel. They were likely among the many sources that Luke had carefully, carefully investigated. So perhaps…and because he knew Mark…Mark also was a close companion of Paul. Mark traveled with Paul. Luke traveled with Paul. Mark and Luke must have discussed many times the issues in the life of Jesus. And, of course, Mark knew Matthew because Matthew was a part of the early church as an apostle, and the early church it says met in Mark’s home. So Matthew and Mark knew each other, and Mark and Luke knew each other. And Matthew and Luke likely met and got acquainted in the two years that…that Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea when Luke would have had easy access to go to Jerusalem and there, no doubt, would have met Matthew. And they perhaps shared their accounts and shared their experiences with the life of Jesus. And he was exposed to many sources.
This is very important so that people realize, the reader realizes this is not a fanciful thing. But he is basing this on other written narratives, as well oral stories and accounts that have been passed down to his time. But Luke was personally acquainted with apostles, personally acquainted with firsthand eye witnesses of the events of Christ’s life.
Now it’s important to say at this juncture that Luke is not critical of these other attempts. He’s not saying where there’s a lot of phoney baloney floating around about Jesus, I’m going to write the straight stuff. This is not…this is not pejorative here, this is not some polemic against the others. Not at all. The reason … he talks about his sources is twofold.
One, to show he’s a credible historian, to show that he is not inventing something, to show that this is history he is writing, this is actual fact and he has gone back to carefully thought-out accounts and various memoirs and things that have been written by people who were eye witnesses and this is a very careful thing on his part. He has talked to the eye witnesses and the servants of the Word who have handed this down to him. He wants to establish himself as the writer of a credible history based upon credible sources.
Secondly, this is very important, he is showing that he’s not writing outside the tradition. He is not writing outside the tradition. He is not writing another gospel that tells some kind of a strange story. Boy, there were some of those that appeared, really strange things were being written about Jesus even in ancient times, very strange things…heretical things, apocryphal things. He is not doing that …
When were Luke and Acts written?
Here, too, we find that even traditional theologians differ as to an exact year. However, all would agree that both — as were the other two Synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Mark) — were written before the Destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.
CARM has a good article discussing the authorship and dates of the Gospels. Of Luke, they say:
Luke was written before the book of Acts and Acts does not mention “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65).”8 Therefore, we can conclude that Luke was written before A.D. 62. “Luke’s Gospel comes (Acts 1:1) before the Acts. The date of Acts is still in dispute, but the early date (about A.D. 63) is gaining support constantly.”9
I hope that this exploration of St Luke gives you greater insight into his Gospel as well as the Book of Acts.
Forbidden Bible Verses resumes tomorrow with more about what happened prior to Jesus’s birth according to Luke.