Luke: The Author, His Writings, and His Times-Part II: A First Look at the Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke is one of the so-called “Synoptic Gospels”.  The word ‘synoptic’ means seeing together and is basically a comment that the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, and Luke are very much alike and at the same time these three Gospels are very different from the Gospel of John.  The three Gospels are similar in language, in material included, in their order of sayings of Jesus and in events depicted.   This analysis is bolstered by the fact that 91% of the Gospel of Mark is contained in the Gospel of Mathew and 53% is contained in the Gospel of Luke.

This agreement raises many questions and issues.  First, the repetition of much of the Gospel of Mark to such a high degree in the Gospels of Mathew and Luke raises the issue as to whether the writers all referred to a common written source or a common oral source.  As both Luke and Matthew repeat much of Mark, early on scholars thought that this alone sho9wed that mark must have been written first and was the source for Matthew and Luke.   Some scholars have also speculated that there was a lost Gospel to which all three of these writers referred.  Second, did the writers know of each other and the writings of each other?    On one hand, this seems unlikely in that why then would Matthew and Luke repeat so much of Mark?   But on the other hand, some have though that the Synoptic writers drew upon each other and that is why they are so similar. Third, the dating of the writing of these Gospels is very much in doubt.  The most accepted chronology is that Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke followed, but more on chronology a little later.  But other scholars have suggested that Matthew came first and that Mark and Luke used Matthew as their source.  Possibly the truth lies somewhere in the middle of all of these theories with the writers having used an oral source and written fragments, as well as eye witness testimony and each other’s Gospels to write their own Gospels.  Whatever is the truth; these three Gospels do speak with almost one voice.

Turning to chronology of writing, assuming that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, then the usual view is that Mark was written first, with Matthew written next, and Luke possibly last.  Within that framework there are two competing dating sequences.  The first is that Mark was written in the 50s or the early 60s. Matthew was then written either in the late 50s or the late 60s.  Luke, for reasons which we will review next, was written in the time frame of 59 to 63 AD.  The second sequence is that Mark was written in 65-70 AD with both Matthew and Luke having been written in the 70s AD.

If, however, we do not assume that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, then the dating becomes more wide-ranged in time span, with Mark may have been written anytime during the period 50to 70 AD.  In this context, some scholars see Matthew as having been written possibly first-based upon its Jewish characteristics.  The theory here being that Matthew’s Gospel would have been written early in church history, before Paul and Peter began converting Gentiles to Christianity, and, therefore, was aimed at the largely Jewish audience that comprised the very early church.  Support for this view comes from the book of Acts 11:19, where Luke writes that the message was preached “only to the Jews.”

Where the Gospel of Luke was written is also open to debate.  Because there are detailed designations of places in Palestine, it seems likely that the Gospel was written for people who were unfamiliar with the area.  This has led some scholars to speculate that the Gospel was written in Rome, although several places have been named as possibilities, such as Antioch and Ephesus.





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