• • •
Jesus-shaped Christianity will grow out of the soil of a Story-shaped Gospel. The more we immerse ourselves in the Story and get to know the Gospels, the greater the impact the Gospel of King Jesus will have in and through us.
That is the burden of this series, which encourages Christians and churches to make the Gospels (and Acts) the primary documents for forming our Christian identity, theology, and calling. At this point in the series we are giving brief introductions to each Gospel to prime the pump for your individual and congregational study and contemplation.
* * *
Luke’s literary metier is the story. He is, simply, a gifted storyteller. His composition is filled with short, sharply defined vignettes. Each of them summons for the reader an entire imaginative world.
…[But] Luke is more than a miniaturist. He forges these short stories (many of them already circulating in some form) into a single narrative which draws the reader imaginatively from the mists of antiquity all the way to a rented apartment in Rome, and in the short space of 52 chapters communicates an impressive sense of historical movement.
- Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke: Sacra Pagina
INTRODUCTION TO LUKE
Part one of a two-part work
Luke is the only Gospel with a sequel, the Book of Acts. It is clear that the author intended these to be read together as two parts of one continuous history of God’s work—compare Luke 1:1-3 with Acts 1:1-3. Though these books are separated in our New Testaments because of the desire to put the four Gospels together, most Bible scholars today speak of Luke-Acts as a single work. By itself, Luke is the longest book in the NT. When combined with Acts, Luke’s writings make up over 1/4 of its material.
Together, this two-part book shows how God fulfilled his plan of salvation through Jesus and communicated the message of salvation from Jerusalem to Rome, the main city of the civilized world.
- LUKE: What Jesus BEGAN to do and teach. God fulfills his plan by visiting his people in Jesus. Geographical movement = from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.
- ACTS: What Jesus CONTINUED to do and teach. God fulfills his plan by sending his Spirit-filled people to the ends of the earth. Geographical movement = from Jerusalem to Rome.
Prologue states the book’s purpose
Luke and John are the two Gospels with clear statements of the authors’ purposes. While John records his at the end of his book (John 20:30-31), Luke introduces his at the beginning:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4, ESV)
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2, ESV)
- First, Luke addresses his book to Theophilus, an official who was probably the patron who paid for the publication of this Gospel.
- Second, this person probably represented the kinds of people that Luke expected to be the primary readers of his Gospel—either Gentile seekers who were seriously investigating the faith or Gentile believers who needed deeper assurance and certainty in their faith.
- Third, Luke did careful research in order to produce a well-ordered account of Jesus’ story so that those who read it may have certainty about how God fulfilled his plan through the Jesus’ mission.
Luke…sets out to write the continuation of the biblical story, showing how the Gentile Church of his own day emerged in continuity from a faithful and restored Israel, organizing his narrative as a whole into the pattern of the Prophet and the people.- L. T. Johnson
In our next post, we will continue with observations on structures and themes in Luke’s Gospel.