Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


8. Luke

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of Luke’s Gospel, followed by discussion of historical background, distinctive features, and major themes.

In terms of historical background, Luke’s Gospel is usually thought to have been written for a general audience of diverse Christian readers a decade or two after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (70 CE). The author also wrote the book of Acts and may have been a companion of Paul; he is usually thought to have used the Gospel of Mark and the Q document as sources and to have supplemented these through personal research.

The Gospel of Luke contains a great deal of material not found anywhere else in the New Testament, including material in which attention is paid to women, Samaritans, riches and poverty, and the city of Jerusalem. Luke appears to have edited his sources in ways that were intended to improve the linguistic or literary style and to enhance the portraits of Jesus, his disciples, and his family members. Luke also arranged his Gospel structurally, so that it begins with a dramatic and poignant overture (regarding the births of John the Baptist and Jesus) and also features a long central section presenting a journey to Jerusalem as the occasion for much of Jesus’s teaching and ministry.

Worship and prayer receive special attention in Luke’s Gospel. Likewise, an emphasis on food motifs may be suggestive of church contexts in which those stories would be read. Luke shows special concern for outcasts and disadvantaged people and describes the role of Jesus in terms that would be accessible to readers familiar with a wide variety of Jewish and pagan models. Finally, Luke’s Gospel emphasizes the present availability of salvation, claiming the gospel of God liberates people from things that prevent them from experiencing life as God intends.

Study Questions

  1. Identify the basis for the tradition that Luke’s Gospel was written by “Luke the physician, a companion of Paul” and indicate how scholars would evaluate that tradition today.

  2. List at least half a dozen stories that are found nowhere in the New Testament except Luke’s Gospel. What do these stories indicate about Luke’s particular interests and concerns?

  3. Discuss (a) the literary effect of the “infancy narrative” of Luke’s Gospel and (b) the literary effect of the “travel narrative” (that is, the journey to Jerusalem) in Luke’s Gospel. In each case, indicate how Luke has organized his material in a distinctive way and what the purpose of such a scheme might be.

  4. Describe what is meant by “the food motif” in Luke’s Gospel. What might account for such a motif?

  5. Describe (a) the attention given to women in Luke’s Gospel and (b) the attention given to the poor in Luke’s Gospel. What might account for the prominence given to such people in this particular book?

  6. List at least six different images from Jewish or Greco-Roman history that Luke draws upon as “models” for understanding the figure of Jesus. Why does Luke use such a panoply of diverse images?

  7. Discuss the concept of salvation evident in the Gospel of Luke and indicate how this understanding of salvation might have influenced Luke’s narrative of Jesus’s crucifixion.

Explore Readings

These readings provide a chance for you to explore the New Testament in more depth. The boxes from the text are included here, as well as bibliographies and outlines for the books of the New Testament.

All the Explore readings can also be downloaded as PDFs here.

Video: Salvation Here and Now in Luke