The Gospel according to Luke
Who is the Author?
There are three main sources to establish authorship, the first of which is the church fathers. These are basically the Christians who recorded testimony and history of what was passed onto them from around the Roman world. Second was heretics who chose to manipulate what was known and in this case Marcion on the Gospel of Luke. The other insightful method of identifying the author is internal evidence. There has been much investigating that the author of Luke is given away by internal evidence.
Since the Gospel of Luke was written by a Gentile, Marcion, the ancient heretic, only allowed an abbreviated form of Luke’s Gospel in his canon. Irenaus notes that “
Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains.”Irenaeus against Heresies,” 3.11.7, 428.
Justin martyr 150 AD
Justin Martyr (c. 100-165), before quoting from the Gospel of Luke and the other Gospels, notes that
“the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them.”Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin” 66, in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 185
Some of the passages Justin quotes are the visit of the Magi at Jesus’ birth and the agony in Gethsemane. This scene in Gethsemane is only in Luke.
As well as this, in his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin speaks of Luke as the companion of Paul.
Dialogue With Trypho 103.19
Irenaeus tells us that Mark, the disciple of Peter handed to us the preaching of Peter and that Luke a follower of Paul set forth a Gospel and then later John wrote while residing in Ephesus. Irenaeus writes,
“Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.”Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies” 3.1.1.,
Often, Irenaeus will add
“Luke also, the follower and disciple of the apostles”Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” 3.10.1., 423.
before quoting Luke’s Gospel.
Tertullian around 200AD tells us “…that the documents of the Gospels were written by the Apostles Matthew and John and Apostolic men of Luke and Mark.”Against Marcion 4.2.1-2
Muratorian Fragment 170AD
The first canonical list coming out of the Christian movement not involving a heretic was the Muratorian Fragment (or at least the earliest we’ve dug up). The first page of this document is lost (although the internal evidence of the document suggests Matthew and Mark are talked about on this first page) however, the second page starts with “…at which nevertheless he was present, and so he placed [them in his narrative’.” Which scholars believe refers to Mark. For for the context of this article the next line of text is what intrigues us. “The third book of the Gospel Is that according to Luke. Luke, the well known physician…” This does two things 1. His name is Luke, 2. He is a physician.
From the evidence by the early church, canonical lists and heretics, we see that Luke the physician is the only valid candidate for authorship of the Third Gospel from external historical authors.
With Matthew you could argue financial features point toward him being the author, with Mark you can see the identity of Peter, with John you can also identify with how he uses the name John to figure out the author’s name also. But with Luke, it is slightly different. In the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters, we see two things happening. 1. Luke entering into the narrative with Paul 2. Paul identifying himself with Luke in the same scenarios allowing us to determine through careful examination who the author is through undesigned coincidences in the text.
So let’s go through these internal markers.
The author of the Third Gospel writes to one “Theophilus” (Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:3) and seeks to provide an “orderly sequence” (Luke 1:1-4,Acts 1:3) of the life of Jesus, after having had “carefully investigated everything from the very first” (Luke 1:3) according to what the “original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down” (Acts 1:2). From this information, we can gather that the author was not an eyewitness of the events of Jesus’s life but, the author had access to those who had.
The author of the Third Gospel also authored the book of Acts. The level of detail and precision, writing style, the similar address to Theophilus, as well as the connective clause in the first of Acts connects the two works to the same author.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach”.Acts 1:1
Luke is known to Paul
In Philemon 24, 2 Timothy 4:11 we hear Paul sending his greetings and stating whom is with him when he sends them and calls them “co-workers”. Colossians 4:14 gives us a bit more, we are told Luke is the physician. Some have made a connection between Paul’s thorn in the flesh and Luke being his physician and this was why the relationship was established and how Luke could record many of his experiences with very firsthand knowledge (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). This is a stretch however, and there is nothing concrete to accept as such.
- The author is addressing Theophilus in both Luke 1:1‐4; Acts 1:1‐5 making it the same author
- The author moves into the text himself in Acts 16:10‐17; 20:5‐15; 21:1‐18; 27:1‐28:16 with Paul
- Luke is known to Paul Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11
Here are some additional internal signals we can discover from the text that supports the case for Luke’s authorship:
The level of Greek used in both the Third Gospel and the book of Acts is highly advanced. Due to the high degree of Greek employed in the Third Gospel and the book of Acts, one can deduce that the author is quite advanced in his education.
Ministry to the gentiles
The author focuses on Jesus’s ministry to the Gentiles and to the outcasts of society. The Sermon on the Plain is preserved in the Third Gospel. There the author notes that people came to hear Jesus from all around. The author notes that many of the people who heard Jesus were Gentiles from the region of Tyre and Sidon (Luke 6:17).
The author describes medical matters far more and to a greater degree than the other Gospels. In Luke 4:38, Luke is sure to note that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law suffered from a high fever. In Luke 14:2, the author describes a man’s body that had “swollen with fluid.” Such details indicate a man who has an eye for medical matters.
Sixth, because of the author’s involvement with the book of Acts, one can deduct from the “we passages” that the author was a close associate of the apostle Paul. For instance, the author of Acts writes that “When it was decided that we were to sail to Italy, they handed over Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion named Julius, of the Imperial Regiment” (Acts 27:1).
Access to eyewitnesses
The author had access to a great wealth of Jesus’s teachings that are not found in the other Gospels. For instance, it is only in the Gospel of Luke that one reads the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Lost Son. The author would have needed to have access to multiple eyewitnesses to be able to possess such knowledge and to be able to construct the orderly account that he did.
So what we have is
- Historical data
- Heretical affirmation
- Church father affirmation
- Internal evidence
- Authorship deduced from connecting passages
- Authorship technique linking the style and method to someone of a prestige such as Luke
Luke is by far, and the standalone candidate.
Audience, location & purpose
The early church believed Luke was a gentile. They associated with him by the man by that name who appears in the greetings at the end of a couple of Paul’s letters, especially in Colossians described by Paul as his “beloved physician”. Suggestions from ancient church suggests he came from Achaia in south Greece, Philippi in north Greece or Antioch in Syria, but we don’t completely know.
Theophilus appears to be a new Christian who seeks assurance in the faith and in Luke 1:1-4 Luke makes his intentions clear to him. Those referred to as “Most Excellent” were of noble prestige like a Prefect or perhaps Centurion. Luke’s audience is clearly gentile in nature and encompasses not just Theophilus, but many believers. The name Theophilus ironically means “Ones who God loves” and so it’s very fitting that God would send a man to compile evidence to show the ones He loves to reassure us in what we believe.
The Gospels do not come with particular dates rubber stamped onto them, though some Christian traditions (by tradition we mean church father documentation) do give them specific dates — all (except for some traditions about the Gospel of John) dating the Gospels before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The Table 2.4 shows here the date ranges proposed by some non-Christian scholars: (1) By some Jewish scholars, (2) by a Jewish historian, Shaye Cohen, and (3) by a prominent agnostic scholar, Bart Ehrman.
Table 2.4. Proposed dates of Gospel composition
These dates are rather typical among scholars, but we should note that if the traditional view of authorship of the Gospels is correct, Matthew and John were written by people already active as disciples of Jesus in AD 33, Mark was by someone who was able to be an assist to Barnabas and Paul no later than about 50, and Luke was by someone who accompanied Paul in the 50s and early 60s on journeys to Turkey, Greece, Judaea, and Rome.
Peter J Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels?
Arguments for the traditional authors are therefore likely to provide indirect support for significantly earlier dates, unless one is inclined to suppose that the authors wrote toward the ends of unusually long lives, especially when life expectancy was shorter than now. The sorts of dates given by the scholars above are often based in part on Gospel references, from the lips of Jesus, to the destruction of Jerusalem or the temple in AD 70. However, if we allow that Jesus could predict future events, a major objection to earlier dates is removed. Most forms of modern Judaism or agnosticism are belief systems that, by definition, deny the Gospels’ presentation of Jesus as the long-prophesied, miracle-performing Son of God, who was ultimately raised from the dead. They’d deny the destruction of the temple, virgin birth, the resurrection and so on anyway.
However, the dates given above show that mainstream scholars who disbelieve that Jesus was the Messiah nevertheless date the Gospels within the time limits of reliable memory. If one is open to the possibility that the portrait of Jesus’s identity in the Gospels is actually true, there are few strong reasons why the Gospels could be considerably earlier. Earlier dates are much more appealing over all those given above.
So rather than just presuming what the dates would be based on presuppositions, what evidence for the dates can be discovered from the witnesses and are there any internal features in the text that would suggest a rough date? And what signals are there that Luke was written before 70AD (which is where the real battle is)
So as we’ve seen Some sceptical scholars date the gospels Matthew & Luke to around 85AD. There are some assumptions as to why critics date Mark earlier than them but is itself dated 65-70AD (Around the time Nero began is persecution and when Jerusalem became under siege).
The earliest quote of Luke outside of the New Testament is by the disciple of the Apostle John, Polycarp in his Letter to the Philippians (~108) “
Blessed are the poor and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”Luke 6:20
What’s amazing about this is Polycarp takes us right into the first century reassuring us Luke being of first century authorship.
The Church Fathers who use Luke’s Gospel that we know of are Ignatius, Polycarp, Marcion, Valentinus, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Muratorian Canon, Origen, Eusebius and so on. There doesn’t seem a time when Luke wasn’t considered as a scriptual author and he enjoyed early usage. But what date can we deduce from the historical sources?
Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his epistle to the Romans
Eusebius preserved the words of Dionysius a Bishop in Corinth who speaks of Peter and Pauls activity in their town and ultimately their fate. It couldn’t be any clearer.
“It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day….And that they both suffered martyrdom at the same time is stated by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his epistle to the Romans, in the following words: “You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time.”Book II, Chapter 25 of “Church History” written by Eusebius of Caesaria (A.D. 265-340)
What do we glean from this?
- Paul and Peter were killed in Rome
- It was under Emperor Nero
Internal text signals
The last year of Emperor Nero’s reign was 68AD, persecution began in 64AD, so Paul’s death can reasonably be assumed to be between 64-68AD. Now Paul is on trial in Rome.
We read in Acts 28, Luke’s final written chapter that Paul is under house arrest awaiting trial. What surprises us is we never hear the result of this trial. There are two possible outcomes: 1. Paul is indeed executed under Emperor Nero or 2. Paul is freed to go out and preach the Gospel once again before being killed by Nero. 1. Would allow for a 68AD death or earlier, 2. Would grant you a few more years prior to 68AD or even prior to 64AD as Nero would obviously take out the ringleaders. Luke is giving us a live broadcast of Paul’s life and ends rather abruptly. Rather than continuing the story Luke in Acts 28:28-31 wraps up the story while Paul is still in prison. What reasons would he have for this? Well potentially this is the end of Luke’s life but potentially also Pauls too or just the end of writing. The conclusion Luke gives seems rather quick “And then he did X for 2 years welcoming all…”. Many think also the persecution was the end of Paul’s life also and it could well have been. But there are signs Paul did go to Spain in the church fathers. 1 Clement 5:7 says he reached “the extreme limit of the west”
And the Muratorian Canon refers to “the journey of St. Paul to Spain”. So some possible conclusions can be made from this:
- Paul was beheaded between 64-68AD
- Luke does not write beyond Paul’s trial
- Due to either Luke or Paul’s death
- There are external texts implying Paul continued his journey with external links to visiting “far west” of Spain without Luke’s recording
- If Paul had time after Acts to go to such places, then Luke would likely be written closer to the beginning/prior to 64AD rather than toward 68AD giving Paul time to go out, preach, come back to Rome (his planned base) and be killed by Nero
This argument could push Luke back to the beginning of the 60’s, perhaps 50’s.
(Here is someone’s attempt to timeline Paul’s lifetime and other Christian works http://www.generationword.com/bible_school_notes/Timeline%20of%20Acts.htm)
Luke is almost certainly not a resident of Israel during Jesus lifetime, but a follower of Paul and someone who was free and in Israel in 57-59AD while Paul awaited the outcome of his imprisonment in Israel even before appealing to the emperor (Acts 24:27). Luke was free during those two years with the opportunity to interview anybody who would have been alive during Jesus’ lifetime.
Luke begins his gospel by telling us he received his information from eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Luke 1:1-2). Luke uses the Greek word huperetus which is the Hebrew word word for Hazzan. the Hazzan in Judea were responsible for keeping the scrolls in the synagogue. So in Luke it says he received his information from the Hazzans of the word. The usage of the single definite article in Luke makes it likely that these were carefully selected eyewitnesses who were trusted with keeping the oral tradition and checked. Therefore we have evidence the tradition was protected and preserved by designated authoritative eyewitnesses and potentially had Jesus’ words preserved in the synagogue! This again was likely done while Paul was in prison and had access to the Hazzan.
The language of the Luke’s Gospel and Acts indicates they were written in a pre-persecution time. 64AD is when the first great Christian persecution began. In this period Christians were fed to wild animals, tortured and crucified. Later works like the Apocalypse (Revelation) of John and the forged Apocalypse of Peter which were produced put the Romans in a bad light. Scholars note these documents represent the anguish Christians were feeling during and after Great persecutions (read them and it’ll make sense). However what we do see in the Gospels and Acts, we don’t see the same attitude to Romans. Luke often paints romans in a good like such as: Paul being rescued by Romans in Acts 21:28 from dying at the hands of Jews, then later in Acts 27:23 you have Romans treating Paul kindly. Also in Luke 7:1-10 you have the centurion who comes to Jesus for help. This is a time period before Jewish sects loose their power (70AD) and before Roman persecution got into full swing (64-68AD).
Luke’s Gospel predates Acts
Luke wrote both the book of Acts and the gospel of Luke. These two texts contain introductions that tie them together in history. In the introduction to the book of Acts, Luke wrote: The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. (Acts 1: 1–2) It’s clear that Luke’s gospel (his “first account”) was written prior to the book of Acts….
Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in the letter to Timothy
Paul appeared to be aware of Luke’s gospel and wrote as though it was common knowledge in about AD 63–64, when Paul penned his first letter to Timothy. Note the following passage:
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”1 Tim. 5: 17–18
Paul quoted two passages as “scripture” here—one in the Old Testament and one of the New Testament. “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” refers to Deuteronomy 25:4, and “The laborer is worthy of his wages” refers to Luke 10: 7. It is clear that Luke’s gospel was already known knowledge and this is accepted as scripture by the time this letter was written. To be fair, a number of critics (like Bart Ehrman) have argued that Paul was not actually the author of 1 Timothy and maintain that this letter was written much later in history. The majority of scholars, however, recognize the fact that the earliest leaders of the church were familiar with 1 Timothy at a very early date. [GET SOURCE 38]
Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in the letter to the Corinthians
Paul also seems to have been familiar with the gospel of Luke when he wrote to the Corinthian church (nearly ten years earlier than his letter to Timothy). Notice the similarity between Paul’s description of the Lord’s Supper and Luke’s gospel:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.”1 Cor. 11: 23–25
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”Luke 22: 19–20
Paul appears to be quoting Luke’s gospel—the only gospel that has Jesus saying that the disciples are to “do this in remembrance of Me.” If Paul is trying to use a description of the meal that was already well known at the time, this account must have been circulating for a period of time prior to Paul’s letter.
Paul shared the same claims as the Gospel writers
While some modern critics challenge the authorship of Paul’s pastoral letters, even the most sCeptical scholars agree that Paul is the author of the letters written to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians. These letters are dated between AD 48 and AD 60. The letter to the Romans (typically dated at AD 50) reveals something important. Paul began the letter by proclaiming that Jesus is the resurrected “Son of God.” Throughout the letter, Paul accepted the view of Jesus that the gospel eyewitnesses described in their own accounts. Just seventeen years after the resurrection, Jesus was described as divine. He is God incarnate, just as the gospel eyewitnesses described in their own accounts. In fact, Paul’s outline of Jesus’s life matches that of the Gospels. In 1 Corinthians 15 (written from AD 53 to 57), Paul summarized the gospel message and reinforced the fact that the apostles described the eyewitness accounts to him:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also”.1 Cor. 15: 3–8
In his letter to the Galatians (also written in the mid-50s), Paul described his interaction with these apostles (Peter and James) and said that their meeting occurred at least 14 years prior to the writing of his letter:
“But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother”.Galatians 1: 15–19
Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.Galatians 2: 1
This means that Paul saw the risen Christ and learned about the gospel accounts from the eyewitnesses (Peter and James) within five years of the crucifixion (most scholars place Paul’s conversion from AD 33 to 36, and he visited Peter and James within three years of his conversion, according to Gal. 1: 19). This is why Paul was able to tell the Corinthians that there were still “more than five hundred brethren” who could confirm the resurrection accounts (1 Cor. 15: 6). That’s a brave claim to make in AD 53–57, when his readers could easily have accepted his challenge and called him out as a liar if the claim was untrue.
The siege of Jerusalem os simply not mentioned
Even before the temple was destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was under siege for years. Titus surrounded the city with four large groups of soldiers and eventually broke through the city’s “Third Wall” with a battering ram. After lengthy battles and skirmishes, the Roman soldiers eventually set fire to the city’s walls, and the temple was destroyed as a result. [SOURCE 35] No aspect of this three-year siege is described in any New Testament document, in spite of the fact that the gospel writers could certainly have pointed to the suffering that resulted from the siege as a powerful reference for the many passages of Scripture that extensively address the issue of suffering and persecution.
What was the acceptance rate of Luke’s Gospel as canonical? The Heretic Marcion
Actually uses it but slices out what he doesn’t like because Luke was a gentile, it was the best Gospel he could alter and keep the most in it for what he wanted to portray.
See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)
It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
- Ig = Ignatius
- Po = Polycarp
- M = Marcion
- Va = Valentinus
- JM = Justin Martyr
- IR = Irenaeus
- C = Clement of Alexandria
- T = Tertullian
- MC = Muratorian Canon
- O = Origen
- E = Eusebius
- CS = Codex Sinaiticus
- A = Athanasius
- D = Didymus the Blind
- P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
- V = Latin vulgate
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml
Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.2 Peter 1:16
2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrectionActs 1:21-22
One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)John 19:34-35
“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.Acts 2:32
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!Acts 3:15
We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”Acts 5:32
“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”Acts 10:39-43
[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.Romans 9:1
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.1 Corinthians 15:3-9
And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:1 Peter 5:1
Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name.
“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.Caius, Church leader
How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected.
So these summarised standards are these:
- Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
- Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
- Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
- Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
- Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?
So does the Gospel of Luke fit the criteria of apostolicity? Yes he does as a colleague of Paul, a later witness to the glorified resurrected Jesus. If he gets his sources from Mark also who recorded the words of disciple Peter, then he has a witness of the resurrection within those 40 days (Not to mention Peter being the lead disciple). So Luke himself, accredited at least three times by Paul in his letters, and having a source like Peter puts him in a very good position for this criteria which leads to the unquestionable acceptance by the early church.
Another argument for Luke can be made in the fact that why not call the Gospel according to Luke the Gospel according to one of the main apostles? Luke isn’t a disciple and didn’t witness the event, Luke’s eyewitness testimony is not as strong in that regard but he does state he collects source evidence that corroborates often with the eyewitnesses of Matthew and John. But by keeping the author as Luke adds authenticity, it makes it clear it was about being honest to whom the author was rather than just picking a famous name like the Gnostic books do in the second century.
Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Yes, Luke records Jesus’ life, ministry, acts that all correlate with the other Gospels, correlate with what Paul says of Jesus. It preserves the Jewishness of Jesus but focus’ more on his power, presence and impact on history as Luke’s audience was likely gentile. It is consistent with what we know to be the Christian teaching.
Was Luke widely agreed upon? If you see the chart above you can see there is an overwhelming acceptance rate! Paul quotes him in the mid-second century, Ignatius and Polycarp use him on the turn of the first century. Then we have firmer affirmations by Justin Martyr (150AD), Irenaeus (180AD), Tertullian (200AD), the Muratorian Fragment (170AD) and even heretics like Marcion (125AD) have affirmed the Gospel of Luke (Even though Marcion mutilated this Gospel). Church fathers have never had any issue with Luke at any stage.
Luke’s gospel is a biography of eyewitness testimonies on the activities, teachings, miracles and predictions of Jesus. What Luke has to say is very relevant to the base needs of the of the church morally. We know later Paul gives clear instructions for church organisation, but like with all the gospels, there is an absolute relevance on the historical life of the founder of the Christian movement.
So how does Luke count as inspired? This is one of the wonderful things by God’s intentions. If God is supervisional, then God knew to whom Luke would speak to and would source material from to form this perfect testimony about him. These words and sayings form the inspired word of God and have transformed millions if not billions of lives to this day. The Didache, Shepherd of Hermas or the forged Apocalypse of Peter never had such an impact.