- Jesus' background and early life (1:1 - 2:52)
- The ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-20)
- The opening events of Jesus' ministry (3:21- 4:13)
- Jesus in Galilee (4:14 - 9:50)
- The journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (9:51 - 19:44)
- Jesus' last week in Jerusalem (19:45 - 23:56)
- The resurrection and later appearances of Jesus (24:1-53)
Authorship, date, and background
The Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were obviously written by the same person. The unvarying tradition of the early church assigned the authorship to Luke, called the beloved physician (Col 4:14) by the Apostle Paul. Luke was not an apostle nor did he personally witness most of the events he wrote about. At the time of the writing there were already in existence many garbled accounts of the life of Jesus, both oral and perhaps written. Luke intended to write about Jesus only after having carefully checked the sources to make sure of their accuracy. He was a companion of Paul and had the benefit not only of the witness of other apostles who were with Jesus from the beginning, but from Paul, who had received his knowledge of the gospel by special revelation directly from God.
Luke was a Gentile Christian converted in Antioch less than fifteen years after the Pentecost. The "we" of Acts 16:10 indicates that Luke joined Paul at Troas. He may have been a leader of the church of Philippi, rejoining Paul when he returned to that city on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:6). Luke was well-educated, wrote flawless Greek, was a physician, and was well versed in the culture of the Roman world. He was with Paul when the latter wrote 2 Timothy, for he wrote, "Only Luke is with me" (2 Tim 4:11). Luke was no armchair historian. He was a missionary as well as the church's first historian, for Luke's Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles are peerless historical works.
The place where this Gospel was composed is unknown, although it was somewhere in the Hellenic world outside Palestine. The date is also uncertain. Some scholars think it was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and others during the period from A.D. 80 to 90. Probably A.D. 60 is the best approximate date for the writing of the book. It was addressed to Theophilus, a wealthy citizen of Antioch who also held a government position. He may or may not have been a Christian at this point, for the Gospel seems directed to convince him of the truth of Jesus' messiahship and His divinity. Apparently Luke expected Theophilus to distribute this writing widely. In any event, it was indebted for all people everywhere, even though specifically directed to Theophilus.
Luke's Gospel has been called "the most beautiful book ever written." In its pages Luke traces the ancestry of Jesus back to Adam, who is a son of God. He has all humanity in view and makes clear God's interest in all men everywhere. He writes in an orderly and precise fashion, but behind the human author lies the Holy Spirit who inspired Luke to put on paper what God wanted written. Thus, while Luke uses some material similar to that found in Mark and Matthew, his purpose is different; each Gospel fills a need not met by the others. Non-Jews in particular would find Luke's Gospel best suited to their needs.
Luke contains materials not found in any other Gospel. The stories of the rich man and Lazarus and of the lost son are told with great skill. The account of Jesus' post-resurrection appearance at Emmaus is one of the enthralling stories. The birth of Christ is beatified by hymns which are well known in the Church: the Magnificat of Mary (1:46-55) the Benedictus of John's father Zacharias (1:67-79), the Gloria in Excelsis chanted by the angels (2:14), and the Nunc Dimittis spoken by Simeon when he cradled Jesus in his arms (2:25-32).
Luke writes doctrinally to show that Jesus is God incarnate, that He came to seek and to save the lost. More references to the person and work of the Holy Spirit appear in Luke's book than there are in the first two Gospels together. He supplies more information about faithful women believers than any other Gospel writer and praises them without demeaning them in any sense. Luke identifies himself with the lower classes, even though he himself was of upper class origin. He says a great deal about poverty and wealth and pictures Jesus as a champion of the poor and distressed. Luke also writes about a number of persons whose names do not appear elsewhere in the Gospels: Zacharias, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, Zacchaeus, and Cleopas. The good Samaritan, the rich man who gloated over his wealth, and the sharp accountant who looked after himself, as well as the self-righteous Pharisee who pointed to the tax collector and thanked God he was not like him, are part of the larger canvas, in the middle of which stands the God-man Jesus, who is the Savior of the world.