PERSPECTIVES ON THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
The gospel of Luke is but one of four gospels, but it is surely one of the great books of the Bible. The events of the early chapters of Luke's gospel shatter a silence which has lasted for 400 years. He commences his gospel with the angelic announcement of Gabriel to Zacharias, an elderly priest, that he and his wife will have a son, a son who will come in the spirit of Elijah the prophet, and who will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and will prepare the way of the Lord.
Before we get into this exciting announcement, however, let us take note of the uniqueness of Luke's gospel, which will greatly enhance our study of this book, especially in helping us to appreciate its uniqueness as compared to the other three gospel accounts. We will begin by pointing out several unique features of Luke, and then go on to consider Luke's unique purpose in writing this gospel, as stated by the author himself in verses 1-4. Once we have considered these introductory matters, we will then turn our attention to the announcement of Gabriel to Zacharias.
The Gospel of Luke and the Other Gospels - Several features of Luke's gospel point out its contribution to biblical revelation:
(1) The gospel of Luke is the longest book in the New Testament. I was surprised to discover this fact from reading Wilcock's commentary,1 but a little investigation will bear out the fact that this is the case.
(2) The gospel of Luke is unique in what is reported.
Over 50 percent of Luke's gospel is unique, containing materials found nowhere else. Without Luke, certain periods of Christ's life and ministry would be unknown to us. Luke alone gives certain important chronological notations (2:1; 3:2; 3:23). Luke has a greater focus on individuals than do the other gospels. For example, Luke mentions thirteen women not found in the other gospels. It can also be said that Luke's gospel has more comprehensive range than the others. It begins with the announcements concerning the births of John the Baptist and Jesus and ends with a reference to the ascension of Christ.2
It is impossible to say how many miracles Jesus Christ performed during His ministry, because many are referred to collectively. There are about a dozen passages in the gospels where miracles are summarized for us. There are thirty-five miracles specifically detailed in the gospels, twenty of which are found in Luke. Of the twenty in Luke, seven are unique to this gospel alone.3
... there are some fifty-one 'parables' spoken by Christ. Needless to say, this number is not fixed, since there is much disagreement as to what constitutes a parable. However, of the fifty-one so classified, thirty-five are found in Luke, and nineteen of those are unique to this gospel.4
On page 13, Benware lists 29 events in the life of Christ which are not included by any other gospel writer, other than Luke.
(3) Luke alone focuses on the artistic in his gospel. It is striking that Luke alone, the educated and artistically disposed Greek, has committed to writing the songs of Elisabeth, Mary, Zacharias and Simeon and the hymn of the angels. 'Luke, the artist, has gathered and collected, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the stories which reveal the fact that when Jesus came into the world poetry expressed itself and music was reborn' (Morgan, in loc.).5
(4) Luke's gospel is unique in portraying intimate information about the thoughts and feelings of the people involved. Luke, for example, informs us that "Mary treasured these things in her heart," (Luke 2:51; cf. 1:29). The innermost thoughts, fears, and reflections of people are reported in this gospel, which are not recorded elsewhere.
From Luke's point of view, it is the uniqueness of his gospel which justifies the effort he has taken to write it. This is explained in his introduction to the book, recorded in verses 1-4:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).
In these verses Luke informs us that he is aware that a good many other gospels have been written. These would include, but not be restricted to, the other three gospel accounts. Luke has not written because others have failed to do so, but because other accounts have not included things which he feels are essential. What are these things which have shaped Luke's gospel, which are missing elsewhere? From his own words, these would include:
(1) Accuracy in accounting the facts and focus of the gospel. We would not in any way suggest that the other gospels included in our New Testament were inaccurate. I suspect that many of the extra-biblical accounts suffered greatly in accuracy. This is one of Luke's stated purposes: to give an accurate, consecutive, account of the gospel. As this relates to the other biblical gospels, Luke includes details that are not included in them, thus providing a more "accurate" account of the life and times of our Lord.
Luke seems intent on presenting a carefully arranged sequence of events, from the very beginning, something which cannot be claimed by other gospel accounts. Furthermore, Luke, as a historian, deals with the "roots" of Jesus' ministry. A comparative chart of the early chapters of the four gospels, included at the conclusion of this message, points out the unique contribution of Luke to the biblical record of the earliest events in the life and ministry of John the Baptist and our Lord.
(2) Luke appears to be a Gentile, and to be writing his gospel to a Gentile, thus making this gospel unique in its Gentile perspective. 6 Theophilus appears to be a Gentile man of some position:
Apparently he was an official of some kind, for he was called most excellent (cf. Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25, which use the same Gr. term, kratiste).7 As Gentile Christians, the gospel of Luke will therefore have a particular interest and importance to us.
(3) Luke's gospel is derived from eye witness accounts. Luke also tells us about his sources. He informs us that while he was not a witness to all these events, he has obtained his information from eye witnesses and "servants of the Word" (v. 2). Eye witnesses would include individuals such as Mary, and the "servants of the Word" would be the apostles, who were God's accredited witnesses (cf. Acts 1:21-22; 2:32; 6:2,4; Heb. 2:3-4).
The Book of Luke is therefore one which can greatly bless and benefit us in our Christian lives. Let us approach our study of Luke with eager anticipation.