New Testament Study Helps:
- Comprehensive Range.
Luke's Gospel begins earlier than the others, recording the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus, and includes the fullest infancy narratives. It ends with a reference to the ascension, which is absent from both Mark and Matthew. Its record is longer than the other gospels and is especially detailed regarding Jesus' last journey to Jerusalem. It is in fact the longest book in the New Testament.
Luke brings out the wider implications of the gospel of Christ. The angel's goodwill message is directed to all men (2:14); Simeon foretells that Jesus is to be a Light for the Gentiles (2:32); When John the Baptist is described in the words of Isaiah as a voice crying in the wilderness, Luke continues the quotation to include the words "all mankind will see God's salvation" (Is 40:3-5, cited in Lk 3:4-6); The Samaritans are placed on a level with the Jews (9:54; 10:33; 17:16); Luke records two illustrations which Jesus used from the Old Testament, centering on non-Israelites, the widow of Zarephath and Namaan the Syrian (4:25-27); A significant addition appears in Luke's account of the parable of the great banquet as compared with Matthew's, for he states that the servants were sent into the roads and country lanes to constrain more people to come to fill the banqueting hall (Matthew has "highways"); As in Matthew, the great commission is directed to all nations (24:27).
- Interest in People
- Focus on Individuals.
Most of the parables peculiar to Luke focus attention on people, whereas Matthew's focus is upon the Kingdom of God. His portraits of people are incomparable, and include the priest Zechariah, the cousins Elizabeth and Mary, the sisters Mary and Martha, the tax collector Zaccheus, the mournful Cleopas and his companion, and many others. It is very clear that Luke was deeply impressed by Jesus' estimate of the individual.
- Interest in Social Outcasts.
More than any other gospel Luke portrays the Lord's deep concern for the socially ostracized. He mentions the immoral women in 7:36ff, the transformation of Zaccheus (19:8), the repentance of the robber on the cross (23:29ff), and records three parables illustrating the same gracious attitude: the prodigal son, the two debtors, and the publican.
- Portrayal of Women.
Luke mentions thirteen women not mentioned elsewhere in the gospels, including two who formed the subject of parables. Of particular interest is the inclusion of the story of the widow of Nain, the immoral woman, the women who supported Jesus with their gifts and those who lamented over him on his way to the cross. Women figure prominently in both the birth and resurrection narratives.
- Interest in Children.
Luke alone refers to the childhood of John the Baptist and Jesus. On three occasions he specially mentions "only" children (7:12; 8:42; 9:38). In the account of the children being brought to Jesus, Luke uses the word "infants" [brephae], whereas both Mark and Matthew have a different word, "children" [paidia].
- Poverty and Wealth.
Many of Luke's special parables relate to matters of money, for example, the two debtors, the rich fool, the tower builder, the lost coin, the unjust steward, the rich man and Lazarus, and the two talents. Those who are "poor" and "humble" are often the subjects of the Lord's mercy (6:20,30; 14:11ff). The Pharisees are called "lovers of money" (see 16:14). John the Baptist, in Luke's account, warns tax collectors against extortion and soldiers against discontent with their pay (3:13ff). At Nazareth, Jesus proclaims good tidings to eh "poor" (4:17-21). In the Sermon on the mount, the first Woe is directed against the rich, who are said to have received their comfort (6:24), and the first Beatitude is addressed to the poor, with the qualification "in the spirit" as found in Matthew (cf Lk 6:20; Mt 5:3).
- Special Emphasis: Prayer.
Luke records nine prayers of Jesus, of which all but two are contained in no other gospel. These prayers are associated with important events: at the baptism (3:21), after a day of miracles (5:15-16), before choosing the disciples (6:12), before the first prediction of his death (9:18-22), at the Transfiguration (9:29), on the return of the 70 (10:17-21), before teaching the disciples how to pray (11:1), at Gethsemane (22:39-49), on the cross (23:34,46). Once Jesus withdraws into the desert to pray (5:16), and once he spends the whole night in prayer (6:12). Two of Luke's unique parables deal with prayer: the friend at midnight (11:5ff), and the persistent widow (18:1-8). (see also the Pharisee and the tax collector - 18:9-14.) Luke alone relates that Jesus prayed for Peter (22:31-32), that he exhorted the disciples to pray at Gethsemane (22:40), that he prayed for his enemies (23:34) and for himself (22:41). Jesus' love for quiet places is seen in 4:42 (a lonely place), 9:10 (apart to Bethsaida) and 21:37 (he went out at night and lodged on the Mount of Olives).
Luke himself provides the purpose for his writing: "to write an orderly account... so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught" (1:3-4). Luke writes this gospel to "Theophilus" of whom we can infer is a believer, yet has had no intellectually satisfactory support for his faith. That is to say, Theophilus the Gentile neither saw nor heard Jesus while he was ministering in Israel, nor had Theophilus visited that area after the resurrection. From Theophilus' perspective, the gospel of Christ pertained to things in distant lands regarding people he had never met nor heard of. For this reason, Luke's stated purpose is to provide an historically reliable account whereby Theophilus (and the many Gentile believers in the same situation) may read and familiarize himself with the events surrounding the person and salvation he had come to embrace through sheer faith.
Luke explicitly states that his is an "orderly account" of events. He uses the same general framework as Matthew and Mark, although he has many characteristic variations in his detailed structure. His infancy narratives are much fuller than either Matthew or Mark, and are particular importance due to the emphasis he places on the birth of John the Baptist, to which Luke clearly attached considerable significance. This feature provides one of the main keys to Luke's structure: To him, all events are a part of divine revelation, in a sense quite unlike Matthew's. He does not cite Hebrew prophecy to demonstrate God's providence, but rather demonstrates such providence through the events themselves. Luke's account of the Galilean phase of Jesus' ministry (3:1-9:50) is parallel in structure with Matthew and Mark. However, Luke has what is commonly known as a Travel Narrative from 9:51 to 18:14, depicting the movement of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. This is Luke's special modification of the synoptic structure. In this portion, Luke not only includes much material which is unique to his gospel, but arranges his material in such a way as to focus attention on Jerusalem as a preparation for the passion (death) narrative. The subsequent Judean period and passion narratives follow a similar pattern to that of the other synoptic gospels. The resurrection narratives, however, are mostly unique to Luke and here again one of the most striking features about them is that the appearances of the risen Lord were all set in or near Jerusalem with no references to any Galilean appearances as in the other gospels.