Messianic Apologetics

Addressing the Theological and Spiritual Issues of the Broad Messianic Movement

Survey of Luke – Apostolic Scriptures Survey Study

J.K. McKee surveys the Gospel of Luke from a Messianic perspective.

J.K. McKee surveys the Gospel of Luke from a Messianic perspective. Have your study Bible handy, and be prepared to take notes!

For further examination, you are encouraged to purchase a copy of our ministry’s commentary, A Survey of the Apostolic Scriptures for the Practical Messianic

Gospel of Luke

posted 29 September, 2019
reproduced from A Survey of the Apostolic Scriptures for the Practical Messianic

Approximate date: late 50s to early 60s; or late 70s to early 80s
Time period: establishment of a more definitive history of the ministry and teachings of Yeshua
Author: Luke the doctor
Location of author: Rome or Achaia
Target audience and their location: Theophilus, and broad groups of Jews, Greeks, and Romans

Theological Summary: The Gospel of Luke is the longest of the four Gospels, and is also the largest text within the Apostolic Scriptures. The Third Gospel is extremely thorough in its scope and appeal, as the author is very knowledgeable of First Century Judaism and the larger Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean basin. The Gospel of Luke is the first in what turned out to be a two-volume series (Acts 1:1). The author’s appeal is to a broad audience of Jews, Greeks, and Romans, which has led some interpreters in the direction of thinking that he is trying to validate the growing Messianic sect to its Jewish and Roman critics. As Luke 1:4 prefaces much of the contents of this Gospel, “so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”

There is a large quantity of ancient evidence that Luke the physician was the author of this Gospel and the Book of Acts, and that this appeared rather early. An entire array of ancient Christian leaders acknowledged Lukan authorship of this Gospel, including: Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian. The Muratorian Canon and the anti-Mariconite Prologue to Luke also identify Luke as the author.[1] Irenaeus attests in Against Heresies, “Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him” (3.1.1).[2] A wide variety of not only conservative, but also some liberal theologians, accept genuine Lukan authorship of this Gospel.[3] Acceptance of the Gospel of Luke as Scripture, or perhaps an early draft of it, is something possibly seen in the thought of 1 Timothy 5:18,[4] where Luke 10:7 is quoted alongside of Deuteronomy 25:4.

The Apostle Paul refers to his companion Luke as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). While various theories are espoused as to Luke’s place of birth, it is largely agreed that Luke was certainly raised a Greek and later may have become a proselyte to Judaism, or at least a God-fearer who was attracted to the Diaspora Synagogue. Luke being heavily exposed to Judaism would have been required, given the extensive knowledge of the Tanach Scriptures that the author of the Third Gospel demonstrates.[5] The text of Luke’s Gospel “reveal[s] more important characteristics of its author: his stylistic ability, which enables him to use various Greek dictions; his Hellenistic education, shown by his facile use of rhetorical conventions…his wide reading in Torah, manifested in his dense textual allusions and in the structure of his story; his storytelling ability, demonstrated by his striking vignettes and parables” (ABD).[6] Luke was without any doubt, both learned and rather cultural, and he demonstrates an affinity for Philippi, which boasted a medical school in ancient times where he may have been trained (Acts 16:12). Luke likely had some firsthand contact with Mary, as he spends an inornate amount of time writing about the particulars of Yeshua’s birth (ch. 2).

Neither conservative nor liberal scholars are agreed as to the exact dating of Luke’s Gospel, favoring either an early date of 59-63 C.E., sometime in the late 60s C.E., or a later date sometime in the late 70s to early 80s C.E.[7] As Luke ends the Book of Acts abruptly, it is assumed by some that he did not survive long after the martyrdom of Paul in Rome, or at least could have been arrested prior to completing it. The dating of Luke for many interpreters depends on one’s approach toward how Yeshua says, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near” (Luke 21:20). Many interpret this as a reference to Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of Titus. Luke is likely adapting Matthew’s phraseology of “abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15) to a non-Jewish audience, but 21:21, “Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains,” is not realized as the Jewish Believers in 70 C.E. fled to Pella, which is not mountainous.[8] The reference in Luke 21:20 should be viewed as largely futuristic in nature, which allows for a post-70 C.E. composition date, although it is not required by it. It is quite possible that the author of Luke had access to at least Mark’s Gospel, and perhaps even Matthew’s Gospel, and/or the hypothetical “Q” source document.[9]

Luke’s Gospel was written to the “most excellent Theophilus” (1:3), to whom he also directs Acts (1:1). There is not uniform agreement as to who or what “Theophilus” was, as the name Theophilos in Greek means “one who loves God.” Some think that the Gospel of Luke is directed to all lovers of God, but it is employed as a proper name. It is safe to assume that Theophilus was an actual person, possibly a recent Believer when Luke was writing, and most likely even Luke’s patron.[10] It has been speculated that the terminology “most excellent” is an indication that Theophilus was a Roman official or aristocrat,[11] and there is evidence in the Apostolic Scriptures that those in the Imperial Roman hierarchy did receive Yeshua (i.e., Philippians 4:22). Certainly, Luke’s Gospel was not exclusively written to the individual Theophilus, but a broad audience, perhaps including God-fearers in the Synagogue who were reluctant about the emerging group of Messiah followers.[12] Luke’s composition is certainly of a more Jewish character than Mark’s Gospel, but less so than Matthew’s Gospel.

The Gospel of Luke demonstrates some of the highest competency in Greek within the Apostolic Scriptures. This does not mean, though, that there are not any Semitic influences, as the style of Greek composition is largely similar to that witnessed in the Septuagint: “Luke’s Greek is remarkable for its adaptability. The preface is modeled on classical patterns, which gives some insight into his cultural background. But after writing 1:1-4, he drops the literary style for a type of Greek strongly flavoured with Semitisms, which he uses for the infancy narratives. Subsequent to this he generally uses what may be described as good literary Koiné Greek…The strongly Hebraistic character of Luke’s Greek in this section is admirably adapted to link the incarnation of Jesus with the Old Testament history and that may well be the effect that Luke wished to create. By his obvious familiarity with the Septuagint, which he often cites throughout his gospel, Luke’s Greek has become strongly coloured with Hebraisms” (Guthrie).[13]

While some of today’s Messianics might dispute it, without a doubt Luke’s “readers were Greek-speaking, and sufficiently acquainted with scriptural traditions to grasp at least the gist of his allusions” (ABD).[14] Luke’s own name of Loukas is of Greek origin, and modern Hebrew New Testament translations employ the form of Louqas for this Gospel’s title. There have just been too many detailed, scholastic studies into the Gospel of Luke that demonstrate consistencies between the Third Gospel and other ancient classical works, histories, or biographies.[15] Luke’s Gospel was intended to be appreciated by a broad audience of people, not exclusively by Jews who spoke Hebrew or Aramaic.

The place of Luke’s composition is not agreed upon by all expositors, although there are various suggestions that are made. Rome is the first possible place of Luke’s composition, as Luke was a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. It is suggested that Luke traveled with Paul to Rome, and while in Rome read Mark’s Gospel, which he used for the basis of his own Gospel.[16] Another likely possibility is Achaia, as indicated in the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke. Other suggested cities include Ephesus or Caesarea, but it is all dependent on where Theophilus was from.[17]

When compared to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Luke noticeably arranges the events in a slightly different order, likely because the priority he places on the events for his intended audience is different. This would have been especially true if Luke had been written to validate the growing Messianic sect as being legitimate in the eyes of the Jewish community and Rome. His emphasis is summed up in the statement, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (19:20). Luke describes the universal nature of the good news. He relies on eyewitness testimony; he describes the historicity of the narrative; and Luke makes aims to adequately address Yeshua’s Messianic claims.

Theologically, Luke’s Gospel is largely focused around three groups of narrative: events in Galilee (4:14-9:50), events in Judea and Perea (9:51-19:27), and Yeshua’s final week in Jerusalem (19:28-24:53). Unlike Matthew’s Gospel, which largely focuses on the Kingdom of God, Luke focuses much more on individuals, making strides by addressing the situation of women, children, and outsiders to the Jewish community like Samaritans. Those who are oppressed and downtrodden, and generally despised, are given a place in Luke.[18]

In much of contemporary evangelical Christian examination of the Gospel of Luke, it should be obvious that the broad-sweeping narratives of the life and ministry of Yeshua are most important to your average Believers, as well as the call of Yeshua for people to become His disciples.[19] Theological conservatives treat Luke as a work that enables them to treat the message of the good news as historically reliable and trustworthy.[20]

Additional thoughts, joined with the Book of Acts, often relate to how Luke’s two compositions seemingly have a salvation history theme to them, meaning that history was “a course of events following a schedule of times set by God and directed by God toward all people” (IDBSup).[21] Everything occurs at its proper moment. With this in mind, if Bible readers only read the Gospel of Luke, their understanding of its overall theology can be a bit incomplete, especially as it concerns the good news going out into the nations (2:32). There is a definite growing trend in theological studies to treat Luke and Acts together, because of issues of thematic unity.[22] Regardless of whether one is a conservative or a liberal, the need to read Luke-Acts simultaneously is important, even with the canonical order being Luke, John, and then Acts. Even with the advantages, though, of reading Luke as volume I and Acts as volume II, Carson and Moo advise, “we should probably respect the canonical status of the two and consider each on its own when it comes to the question of genre, structure, purpose, and, to some extent, theology.”[23] The Gospel of Luke was written before the Book of Acts, but neither work can be radically separated from the other.

For Messianic Believers encountering the Gospel of Luke, questions are undeniably asked of us by various interpreters and theologians, such as how Luke “explains how Jews and Gentiles could become equals in a community planted by God, even though that community was rooted in a promise to Israel” (Bock).[24] There are discussions about Luke’s approach to the Torah[25] and ecclesiology.[26] Messianic difficulties with the Gospel of Luke are not likely going to be seen from the text of Luke, as much as they are going to be seen with varied theological approaches to Luke. That the Gospel of Luke has a very inclusive message for all people cannot be denied, but whether this inclusive message represents the emergence of a new assembly of elect or an Israel entering into its fullness in the Messiah, can surely be debated. Luke 24:44 presents a definite mission for all Messianic Believers, as they approach the Tanach Scriptures: “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Balch, David L. “Luke,” in ECB, pp 1104-1160.
Blaiklock, Edward M. “Luke,” in NIDB, 604.
__________________. “Luke, Gospel of,” in NIDB, pp 604-606.
Blair, E.P. “Luke, Evangelist,” in IDB, 3:179-180.
Bock, D.L. “Luke, Gospel of,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, pp 495-510.
Carson, D.A., and Douglas J. Moo. “Luke,” in An Introduction to the New Testament, pp 198-224.
Ellis, E.E. “Luke, Gospel According to, “in ISBE, 3:180-186.
Green, Joel B. “Luke, Gospel of,” in EDB, pp 828-830.
Gundry, Robert H. “Luke: A Promotion of Christianity in the Greco-Roman World at Large,” in A Survey of the New Testament, pp 205-251.
Guthrie, Donald. “Luke’s Gospel,” in New Testament Introduction, pp 102-135.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. “Luke-Acts, Book of,” in ABD, 4:403-420.
Liefield, Walter L. “Luke,” in EXP, 8:797-1059.
Robinson, Jr., W.C. “Luke, Gospel of,” in IDBSup, pp 558-560.
Taylor, V. “Luke, Gospel of,” in IDB, 3:180-188.


[1] E.E. Ellis, “Luke, Gospel According to, “in ISBE, 3:180; Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 114; D.L. Bock, “Luke, Gospel of,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 496; Carson and Moo, pp 205-206.

[2] BibleWorks 8.0: Schaff, Early Church Fathers.

[3] V. Taylor, “Luke, Gospel of,” in IDB, 3:180; Ellis, “Luke, Gospel According to, “in ISBE, 3:185.

[4] “For the Scripture says, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’”

[5] Cf. Bock, “Luke, Gospel of,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 496; Carson and Moo, 206.

[6] Luke Timothy Johnson, “Luke-Acts, Book of,” in ABD, 4:404-405.

[7] Taylor, “Luke, Gospel of,” in IDB, 3:185-186; Ellis, “Luke, Gospel According to, “in ISBE, 3:183; Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, pp 128-131; Bock, “Luke, Gospel of,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 498-500; Joel B. Green, “Luke, Gospel of,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 828; Carson and Moo, pp 207-210.

[8] Robert H. Gundry, “Luke: A Promotion of Christianity in the Greco-Roman World at Large,” in A Survey of the New Testament, third edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 209.

[9] Cf. Bock, “Luke, Gospel of,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 496-497; Carson and Moo, pp 212-214.

[10] Cf. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, pp 108-109.

[11] Carson and Moo, 210.

[12] Gundry, in A Survey of the New Testament, 206.

[13] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, pp 131-132; cf. Taylor, “Luke, Gospel of,” in IDB, 3:181-182; Johnson, “Luke-Acts, Book of,” in ABD, 4:405.

[14] Johnson, “Luke-Acts, Book of,” in ABD, 4:405.

[15] Ibid., 4:406.

[16] Taylor, “Luke, Gospel of,” in IDB, 3:186.

[17] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 110.

[18] Taylor, “Luke, Gospel of,” in IDB, 3:183; Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, pp 102-104; Bock, “Luke, Gospel of,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 506; cf. Johnson, “Luke-Acts, Book of,” in ABD, 4:415-417.

[19] Green, “Luke, Gospel of,” in EDB, 830.

[20] Cf. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, pp 105-107.

[21] W.C. Robinson, Jr., “Luke, Gospel of,” in IDBSup, 560.

[22] Johnson, “Luke-Acts, Book of,” in ABD, 4:404; Carson and Moo, pp 201-203, 211-212.

[23] Carson and Moo, 203.

[24] Bock, “Luke, Gospel of,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 506, 495.

[25] Ibid., pp 507-508.

[26] Ibid., pp 508-509.