Luke – Introduction

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The WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired presents The Peoples Bible – Luke, by Victor H. Prange. Published by Northwestern Publishing House, Copyright 1988.

EDITOR’S PREFACE

The People’s Bible is just what the name implies—a Bible for the people. It includes the complete text of the Holy Scriptures in the popular New International Version.
The commentary following the Scripture sections contains personal applications as well as historical background and explanations of the text.

The authors of The People’s Bible are men of scholarship and practical insight, gained from years of experience in the teaching and preaching ministries. They have tried to avoid the technical jargon that limits so many commentary series to professional Bible scholars.

The most important feature of these books is that they are Christ-centered. Speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus himself declared, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John chapter 5, verse 39). Each volume of The People’s Bible directs our attention to Jesus Christ. He is the center of the entire Bible. He is our only Savior.

The commentaries also have maps, illustrations, and archaeological information when appropriate. All the books include running heads to direct the reader to the passage he is looking for.

This commentary series was initiated by the Commission on Christian Literature of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

It is our prayer that this endeavor may continue as it began. We dedicate these volumes to the glory of God and to the good of his people.


INTRODUCTION TO LUKE

Jesus Christ is the heart and center of the Bible. The story of his life, death, and resurrection is told in the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. None of the writings which came to be called “gospels” had titles originally. But as collections of the New Testament books were made, each received a title.

The title “gospel according to Luke” is found at the end of the oldest existing papyrus Greek copy of Luke, dating from A.D. 175–225. Early Christian writers regularly spoke of Luke as the author of this third gospel. His name does not, however, appear in the writing itself.

Luke is named three times in the New Testament, all in letters of Paul. In Philemon verse 24, he is named with three other “fellow workers.” Paul sends greetings to the Christian church at Colosse from “our dear friend Luke, the doctor” (Colossians chapter 4, verse 14). Paul was in prison when he wrote his second letter to Timothy. He mentions that “only Luke is with me” (2nd Timothy chapter 4, verse 11). Luke was obviously one who worked closely with Paul.

In considering the authorship of the third gospel, one must take into account the writing titled “The Acts of the Apostles.” Both of these writings are addressed to Theophilus (Luke chapter 1, verse 3; Acts chapter 1, verse 1). Reference is made in Acts to “my former book.” This can only refer to the third gospel. In Acts there are a number of sections in which the author includes himself as he tells the story, the so-called “we sections” (chapter 16, verses 10-17; chapter 20, verses 5-15; chapter 21, verses 1-18 and chapter 27, verse 1 through chapter 28, verse 16). Here an eyewitness is reporting what he personally experienced with the apostle Paul.

Yet the writer of the third gospel explicitly disclaims his being an eyewitness of the events in the life of Jesus (Luke chapter 1, verse 2). He could not have been one of the twelve apostles. His reports come as a result of his having “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (verse 3). Paul was in this same position of having to hear secondhand about the earthly ministry of Jesus.

Putting these facts together and accepting the universal testimony of the early church, there can be little doubt that Luke was the author of the gospel that bears his name. He likely was a Gentile, though one cannot be certain about this. He was a learned person, gifted as a writer, a physician by profession.

Luke, no doubt, intended his writing especially for the people whom Paul had reached in his mission journeys. These were predominantly Gentiles. Some were quite wealthy; many were women. Early church tradition suggests that Luke did his writing in the large and important city of Antioch, the home base for Paul in his mission journeys. It was in this city that the disciples of Jesus were first called “Christians” (Acts chapter 11, verse 26).

Luke himself does not call his writing a gospel. In his book he speaks of others who have “undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us” (Luke chapter 1, verse 1). The Greek word that the NIV translates as “account” refers to various kinds of writings, especially the narration of historical events. The word literally means “a written composition that leads through to an end.” That is exactly what Luke did: beginning with the birth of Jesus, he leads through to the end, to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Note especially that Luke speaks of “the things that have been fulfilled among us.” When Jesus appeared on Easter Sunday to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (chapter 24, verse 27). Later that evening Jesus told his assembled disciples that “everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (verse 44). Luke’s purpose was to show the early Christians, who “examined the Scriptures every day” like the Bereans (Acts chapter 17, verse 11), that Jesus Christ was truly the fulfillment of the Old Testament. This was a point of controversy for the Jewish religious teachers.

Luke was presenting to the Roman world a person proclaimed by the Christians to be the Savior from sin and yet a person who had been crucified by order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Luke argues the case that Jesus was innocent of all crimes deserving of death and that Jesus’ death was the result of scheming by the Jewish religious leadership. Yet ultimately the death of Jesus was the result of “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts chapter 2, verse 23). The death of Jesus was divinely necessary, “as it has been decreed” (Luke chapter 22, verse 22), though caused by human beings. The Roman world needed to know the real reason for the death of Jesus on a Roman cross.

This gospel was written for a mission church. Luke includes many of the statements of Jesus that detail the responsibilities of those who will carry on the mission of preaching the good news in all the world. Many of the words and actions of Jesus were directed to his own disciples. His earthly ministry was their time of schooling in theology and mission.

Luke’s gospel abounds with familiar stories found nowhere else in the Bible: the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Zacchaeus, and more. Luke takes special note of the importance of women in telling the story of Jesus: Elizabeth, Mary (mother of Jesus), Anna, Mary and Martha, the widow of Nain, and others. The opening chapters resound with songs the church has continued to sing over the centuries: the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Nunc Dimittis.

In presenting a brief outline, the word servant has been chosen to characterize the entire life of Jesus. On the night before his death on the cross, Jesus said to his disciples, “I am among you as one who serves” (chapter 22, verse 27). Jesus trained a body of servants and sent them into the world as his witnesses. Every believer is a servant of the greatest of all servants, Jesus Christ. Reading the gospel of Luke will help one appreciate more fully the service which Jesus rendered. It will help all who follow Jesus to become better servants.

Outline

Theme: Jesus Christ, the Servant of God

I. Preparation for service (chapter 1, verse 1 through chapter 4, verse 13)
A. Preface to Luke’s gospel (chapter 1, verses 1-4)
B. The births of John and Jesus (chapter 1, verse 5 through chapter 2, verse 40)
C. The introduction of God’s Servant (chapter 2, verse 41 through chapter 4, verse 13)
II. The Servant at work, getting people ready for God’s kingdom: preaching, teaching, healing, reaching, training (chapter 4, verse 14 through chapter 19, verse 27)
A. Service in Galilee (chapter 4, verse 14 through chapter 9, verse 50)
B. Service on the way to Jerusalem (chapter 9, verse 51 through chapter 19, verse 27)
1. Jesus urges people to get ready for the coming kingdom (chapter 9, verse 51 through chapter 13, verse 21)
2. Jesus reveals some surprises as to who will inherit the kingdom (chapter 13, verse 22 through chapter 17, verse 10)
3. Jesus wants people to be aware that the work of the kingdom is going on right now (chapter 17, verse 11 through chapter 19, verse 27)
III. The Servant at work, opening the doors of the kingdom: suffering, dying, rising again (chapter 19, verse 28 through chapter 24,  verse 53)
A. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem (chapter 19, verse 28 through chapter 21, verse 38)
B. Jesus suffers and dies (chapter 22, verse 1 through chapter 23, verse 56)
C. Jesus rises and ascends into heaven (chapter 24, verses 1-53)