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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Luke the Evangelist.


Luke's preface suggests that the evangelist writes himself firmly into his narrative. Other gospels do not point to their authors in this way and, though perhaps each leaves a hint of his presence, search for the gospel's setting and the reasons for its production focus primarily upon the community with which it is related. Though some interpreters have approached our gospel in this way, reading it as something of a mirror-image of the community with which it is thought to be associated, the gospel itself does not obviously suggest this approach (though see Esler 1987 ). It must, of course, make contact with a community of some sort, but it is addressed to it and is the author's response to a situation which is perceived through his own eyes rather than through those of the community itself. Luke's is a personal offering and the address to a person, whatever that may mean (see LK 1:4 ), suggests that it is the person of the author which determines what is included and the stance which is adopted. His gospel has something of the character of an epistle.


The author does not give his name but, from the second century, our gospel has been attributed to Luke who, in Philem 24 , is called Paul's ‘fellow-worker’ and in Col 4:14 is described as ‘the beloved physician’. The author of the gospel also wrote Acts and the most obvious reading of his use of the first person plural at various points in the second half of that volume ( 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1–28:16 ) would seem to be that on these occasions he was a companion of Paul.


Recent years, however, have seen a widespread questioning of this relationship (Vielhauer 1968 ). The picture of Paul in Acts differs appreciably from what Paul says about himself. Not only is it hard to fit Acts' biographical details into what Paul maintains, but it suggests a different approach to some of the issues that were at the heart of Paul's beliefs. The author's obvious enthusiasm for Paul is not felt to be equalled by his understanding of him.


Luke's description of Paul in Acts has sometimes been defended on the grounds that the apostle's was not always such a rigorous position as his more polemical utterances suggest (Marshall 1980 ). It is hard, however, to resist the conclusion that it is an interpretation of Paul's own outlook (Wilson 1973 ). The question is whether it is an illegitimate interpretation or whether it represents a legitimate one by someone who knew Paul, who had learned from his deepest insights, but who did not fully share the implications Paul himself drew from these. He presents Paul as he himself had learned from him, and writes his gospel to reflect this understanding (Franklin 1994 ).


From Paul, Luke learned of God's wide outreach in Jesus, and he received from him his wonder at the gracious inclusion of Gentile outsiders within the people of God. Whereas Paul, however, emphasized the newness of God's act in Christ and saw its otherness from his earlier dealings with both Jews and Gentiles, Luke saw it as continuous with his earlier and, indeed, his wider actions. Luke himself was almost certainly a Gentile and was most probably one of that group of Gentiles—the Godfearers—who, though greatly honouring the Jewish faith, shrank from circumcision and therefore remained excluded from the covenantal people of God. In Christ he found that inclusiveness which had previously been denied him, and it was this that determined his own picture of God's redemption in Jesus. A student of the Scriptures, he presented Jesus as the fulfilment of their promises.


Luke probably wrote his gospel around 80–5 CE, not far from the time Matthew produced his work. They responded to a common situation when the vast majority of the Jewish people had rejected the gospel and when its future seemed to lie with the Gentiles. Jewish refusal raised real problems for anyone who saw Jesus as the fulfilment of the promises contained in the Scriptures. These were probably compounded by the continuing hiddenness of Jesus and the indifference, issuing in occasional hostility, on the part of the Roman power. It was this situation, and probably also some local tensions which are now beyond our ability to describe, that caused Luke to put pen to paper. But his gospel transcends these immediate issues to present to his fellow-Christians a proclamation of God's strange work in Jesus which is set to raise their sights and justify a faith in him as both Christ and Lord (Maddox 1982 ).


Tradition associates Luke with Antioch, and Acts at any rate could suggest connections with that city. He might have written there under the patronage of Theophilus who could as a private person have been impressed by him and have commissioned his work. On the other hand, he could have written, perhaps to that city, from Rome. Luke's work is best understood as written from faith to faith. Directed in the first place at those who were already Christians, it addressed outsiders only indirectly. It set out to give his fellow-Christians a firm foundation for the hope that was in them.

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