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A Reader’s Introduction to the Gospel according to Luke
Gary E. Schnittjer
Copyright © 2012
Purpose and Function
The Gospel according to Luke is unique among the Gospels, and exceptional among all of the long narratives of the Christian Bible. Luke is the only canonical Gospel to have a sequel which tells the story of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem and through the empire. The preface to Luke’s Gospel reveals the most self-conscious explanation of developing historical narrative in the entire Bible. Yet, Luke has also resisted “voiceover narration” to explain the meaning of the story. The storymakers of scriptural narratives routinely express meaning and causality or offer other explicit interpretation. Biblical narrators frequently say things like “God tested Abraham,” “God was with Joseph,” “[so and so] did evil in the eyes of the Lord,” “[so and so] said in his heart,” “this was to fulfill what was said through the prophet,” and so forth. This sort of narrative commentary is absent from Luke’s Gospel. Luke does offer narrative asides or description, on occasion which functions as mild commentary (see a list in Lee 1999, 344-346). The minor amount and degree makes the commentary subtle and invisible. Luke’s style creates the illusion that he lets the story speak for itself. While Luke does not offer heavy voiceover narration, he has crafted his story as much as any of the great biblical narratives.
The introductions to both Luke and Acts offer a remarkable explanation of assembling historical narratives. They also offer broad reflection of the propose of these stories (from NRSV).
“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:1-4)
“In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2)
Luke explains that he investigated everything carefully and arranged his account in an orderly manner. This does not infer that it is chronological. Since none of the four Gospels present their narratives in strict chronological sequence it is hard to assess. Yet, it is safe to see that John being arrested before Jesus is baptized in Luke points to “orderly” not including chronological sequence. The stated purpose is to clarify the truth of the gospel of Christ about which Theophilus has already been instructed, to some degree.
Interpreting the Gospel according to Luke is challenging because Luke is reticent to offer explicit commentary as noted above. Luke’s view accords with the teachings of Christ. This offers great help, especially when the Lord says “‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:26-27 NRSV) This begins to explain why Luke’s narrative is so strongly allusive using the imagery and language of the Hebrew scriptures.
The final words of Christ in Luke’s Gospel may offer the most comprehensive interpretation of his identity and the will of God.
“And he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” (24:46-47)
The several element s of Jesus’ interpretation are necessity, scriptural continuity with his death and resurrection, the gospel message of repentance and forgiveness, and the gospel mission of bearing witness to all people.
The speeches in Acts offer significant interpretation. The common structure, overlapping messages, and similar themes of the gospel sermons in Acts infers that Luke is speaking through these preachers Acts (see comparison of the evangelistic speeches in Acts). This does not take away from the historical veracity of the sermons, but points toward Luke’s editorial emphases in presenting the sermons in a way to fulfill the purposes of his narrative. Consider the common rationale for Chris’s death as well as common implications of the gospel of Christ spelled out by Peter and Paul in Acts.
Peter said, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (2:23-24).
Paul said, “The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. … But God raised him from the dead” (13:27, 30).
Peter said, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:43).
Paul said, “ I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (13:38-39).
The commonalities between the sermons runs through Acts. This makes a strong case for seeing these as offering interpretation to the function and implications of Luke’s narrative. Moreover, the gospel sermons in Acts reinforce Jesus’ own explanation of the implications of his life, death, and resurrection cited above.
Another significant matter is the gospel going to all nations, as Jesus explains in the passage quoted above. The centrality of this issue runs through Acts (notably in Acts 10; 15; 28). One way to point to the significance of the gospel going to the gentiles is considering Jesus’ first and Paul’s last teachings. The Nazareth synagogue-goers may have been sarcastic when Jesus spoke of fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies, but they tried to kill him when he used Elijah and Elisha to infer that salvation should go to the gentiles (see Luke 4). When many of the Judaic leaders in Rome had rejected the gospel Paul quoted Isaiah 6 against them and told them the gospel would now go to the gentiles (see Acts 28). Paul’s turning from the rejecting Jews to the gospel mission to the nations is a reoccurring theme throughout Acts.
In sum, the gospel sermons in Acts and Jesus' own explanations tell readers what Luke is trying to accomplish. The death and resurrection of Christ is in continuity with and part of the work of God taught in the scriptures. The necessity of the death and resurrection of the Lord is rooted in the will of God and scriptural expectations. Faith in the Christ is the basis for repentance and forgiveness, and the responsibility to bear witness of the gospel to all nations. The gospel of Christ, according to Luke’s Gospel, stands as the central and determinative work of God in his mission to bring salvation to every people.
Luke’s Gospel sports several distinct features. Most striking are the numerous Jesus traditions not found in any of the other Gospels. The longest section is the Lukan travel narrative, with Jesus going through Judea and Samaria from 9:51 until the triumphal entry in chapter 19. Luke also uses biblical idiom, ringing the notes of the Septuagint. Luke also emphasizes financial matters and represents the socially challenged. Notable examples include Zacchaeus, the parable of the rich fool, and the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Also, consider the striking difference between “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are the poor” of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew versus Luke.
Overview of Luke-Acts
Out There––Galilee; the Arrival of the Savior (Luke 1:1-9:50)
Luke 4:18-19 = Isaiah 61:1-2On the Way to Jerusalem—through
“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51); “Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem” (13:22); “On his way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee” (17:11)Jerusalem (19:28-Acts 7:60)
The Going up of the Savior (19:28-24:53)Proclaiming the Gospel (8:1-28:31)
The Arrival of the Spirit (Acts 1:1-7:60)
To the Jews—through Judea and Samaria (8:1-9:43)
To the Gentiles—in the diaspora (10:1-15:35)
To all people (165:36-28:31)
in the diaspora (15:36-19:20)
to Jerusalem (19:21-23:10; esp. 19:21)
“Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, ‘After I have gone there, I must also see Rome.’” (19:21)to Rome (23:11-28:31; esp. 23:11)
“That night the Lord stood near him and said, ‘Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’” (23:11)
Acts 28:26-27 = Isaiah 6:9-10
Outline of Luke
Out There––Galilee; the Arrival of the Savior (Luke 1:1-9:50)
A The arrival (1:1-2:52)
B The rejection at home (3:1-4:44)
1 John in the desert and at the
2 Jesus at the
Luke 4:18-19 = Isaiah 61:1-2
4C Preaching and miracles with the poor and powerful (5:1-6:49)
1 Jesus and the authorities (5:1-26)D Healing for the poor and weak (7:1-8:56)
2 Principles for the sick (-39)
3 Christ and the authorities (6:1-19)
4 Principles for the well––Sermon on the Plain (-49)
E The Christ revealed (9:1-50)
On the Way to Jerusalem—through
F The path to his ascension ()
“When the days drew near for him to e taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51)
1 The costs of following (-62)
2 The journey of the seventy (10:1-16)
3 Satan’s fall like lightening (-20)
4 The association with the Son (-24)
5 The good Samaritan (-37)
6 Mary and Martha (-42)
7 Lessons on prayer (11:1-13)
8 The opposition defeated (-28)
9 The people seek a sign (-36)
10 Woes on religious leaders––(-52)
11 Overcoming the fear of opposition ()
12 The rich fool (-21)
13 Blessings on true servants (-48)
14 Provoking the opposition (-53)
15 Assessing the times (
16 The narrow door (-14:6)
“Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem” (13:22)
17 The Messiah’s banquet (14:7-14:35)
18 Lost sheep, lost coin, lost sons (15:1-32)
19 The unjust servant (16:1-18)
20 The rich man and Lazarus (-31)
21 Instructions to disciples (17:1-10)
22 The lepers (-19)
“On his way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee” (17:11)
23 The coming of the kingdom (-37)
24 The widow and the unjust judge (18:1-8)
25 The Pharisee and the tax-collector (18:9-14)
26 The blessing of the infants (-17)
27 The rich young ruler (-34)
28 A Blind Beggar (-43)
29 Zaccheus (19:1-10)
30 The parable of money investments (-27)
Jerusalem—the Going Up of the Savior (19:28-24:53)
G The entry of the King (-44)
H Disputes with the King in the temple (-21:4)
I Teaching concerning the return of the King (21:5-38)
J The supper (22:1-38)
K The garden (-65)
L The trials (22:66-25)
M The death (-56)
N The resurrection (24:1-12)
O the appearances (24:13-53)
Also see detailed outline of Luke 1-2, and see outline of Acts.
For further reading, and full details of sources cited in notes see New Testament bibliography. Also see bibliography on the use of scripture in scripture.
Copyright © 2012
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