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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

- Luke

by John Dummelow


1. Life of St. Luke. The word ’Luke’ (Loukas) is a contraction of the Latin name Lucanus, often found in inscriptions.

St. Luke was a Gentile, or, as others think, a proselyte, of Antioch in Syria, where he followed the profession of a physician (Colossians 4:14). His connexion with Antioch which tradition affirms, is confirmed by the ’Western’ reading of Acts 11:28, which implies that St. Luke was present when the prophet Agabus delivered his famous prophecy before the Church of Antioch. The same passage proves that he was not a convert of St. Paul, but one of the earliest members of the Church of Antioch, which apparently had from the beginning baptised Gentiles as well as Jews (see on Acts 11:20, where the true reading is ’Greeks’).

He became a follower of St. Paul, and his companion in his missionary journeys. Many facts about his travels with St. Paul can be gathered from the Acts, because, though he does not name himself, he generally speaks of the Apostle’s party as ’we’ when he was present, and ’they’ when he was absent. It thus appears that he joined the apostle at Troas on the Second Missionary journey (about 50 a.d.), and accompanied him to Philippi (Acts 16:10). Here St. Paul left him (Luke 17:1). After this for several years we cannot trace his movements, but he was probably engaged in missionary work in the district, for when St. Paul returned to Philippi some seven years later on his third missionary journey, St. Luke was still there (Acts 20:5). He then accompanied St. Paul on the rest of his travels until they reached Rome about 59 or 60 a.d.

During St. Paul’s first imprisonment St. Luke was with him, though perhaps not continuously (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). He was also a companion of St. Paul during his second imprisonment (about 67 a.d.), when the Apostle was expecting martyrdom (2 Timothy 4:11).

Nothing certain is known of St. Luke’s subsequent life. A third-century authority says, ’Luke, by nation a Syrian of Antioch, a disciple of the apostles, and afterwards a follower of St. Paul, served his master blamelessly till his confession (martyrdom?). For having neither wife nor children he died in Bithynia at the age of 74, filled with the Holy Ghost.’

2. Authorship of the Gospel. The canonical authority and authenticity of St. Luke’s Gospel have never been questioned until quite recent times, and the following considerations seem to set the question beyond doubt.

It is admitted on all hands that Luke and Acts are by the same author. The reference in Acts to the ’former treatise,’ the description of which exactly suits the Gospel (Acts 1:1), the common dedication to Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), the general similarity of style, and the definitely Pauline conception of Christianity which both exhibit, are sufficient proofs of identity of authorship. That this author was St. Luke is proved at length in the Intro, to Acts (q.v.).

St. Luke’s Gospel was used (and abused) by the heretic Marcion, 140 a.d.; copiously quoted by Justin Martyr, 150 a.d.; included by Tatian in his harmony of the four Gospels (Diatessaron), 160 a.d.; used without doubt of its authenticity by Irenæus, 177 a.d.; Theophilus of Antioch, 180 a.d.; Tertullian, 200 a.d.; and included in the Muratorian Canon of Scripture, 200 a.d.

3. Date, etc. The date of composition cannot be certainly determined. It is later than Mark, of which it appears to make use, and earlier than Acts, to which it forms an introduction. If, as seems probable, Acts was written at Rome about 62 a.d., Luke may be assigned to the preceding year, i.e. to the early part of St. Paul’s imprisonment at Rome. Some suppose it to have been written earlier, about 57 a.d., at Cæsarea, and others considerably later, about 74, or even as late as 80 a.d.

4. Sources. When St. Luke wrote, a large number of written accounts of our Lord’s life and work already existed (Luke 1:1), and it is to be supposed that he made diligent use of them. But since during the two years and more of St. Paul’s imprisonment at Cæsarea (Acts 24:27) St. Luke was in Palestine, it is more than likely that he made good use of his opportunities of consulting the eyewitnesses themselves. Of written sources he almost certainly used St. Mark’s Gospel. He is also said by some to have used St. Matthew’s ’Logia,’ i.e. a collection of our Lord’s discourses written by St. Matthew, and now incorporated in the First Gospel. But the differences of wording and arrangement in the sayings of our Lord common to the First and Third Gospels render this supposition somewhat hazardous. For a full discussion of this difficult question, the reader is referred to the article, ’The Synoptic Problem.’ Critics rightly argue from the presence in St. Luke’s Gospel of a long section (Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:28), almost entirely peculiar to himself, that St. Luke must have used some ’special’ source, i.e. some circle of traditions unconnected with those mainly Galilean traditions which underlie Matthew and Mark. The materials for this section were either collected in Judæa, or more probably in Persea, where most of the incidents are located. The birth narratives must also be assigned to a special source, which has been thought, from the nature of the information, to have been the Virgin mother herself. It is quite possible that she was still living when St. Luke was in Palestine. Since St. Luke is well informed about Herod, it is possible that one of his informants was Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward (Luke 8:3).

Relation to St. John. There are some curiously close parallels between St. Luke’s Gospel and St. John’s. Both allude to the ministry in Judæa (Luke 4:44; Luke 13:34). Both mention the visit of Peter to the sepulchre (Luke 24:12), the sisters Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38), the appearance on Easter Eve (Luke 24:36). Both place the prediction of Peter’s denial at the last supper (Luke 22:54), and the denial itself before the trial (Luke 22:54). Yet St. John’s Gospel is probably quite independent of St. Luke’s.

Relation to St. Paul. Ancient tradition exaggerated the influence of St. Paul upon St. Luke’s Gospel. St. Paul’s expression, ’according to my gospel’ (Romans 16:25), was understood to mean ’according to St. Luke’s Gospel.’ Irenæus says, ’Luke, the companion of Paul, put down in a book the gospel preached by him (Paul),’ whereas St. Luke himself says that he compiled his Gospel from the narratives of eyewitnesses. Yet the Pauline influence is real. Religious universalism is a more marked feature of this than of the other synoptic Gospels, and so is the doctrine of salvation by faith. The account of the Lord’s Supper (at least in the usual text) is nearer to St. Paul’s than to the synoptic account.

Relation to Mardon. The heretic Marcion issued about 140 a.d., an edition of St. Luke which began with Christ’s teaching at Capernaum, and omitted many important passages. Some modern critics, at the risk of discrediting the authority of the Third Gospel, have maintained that Marcion’s version of it is the only genuine one. It is, however, now generally recognised that the existing version of St. Luke is the older, and that Marcion altered it to suit his peculiar doctrinal views.

5. Style. Although not written in pure Attic Greek, St. Luke’s Gospel and Acts have greater pretensions to style than any other NT. documents. St. Jerome says, ’his style is more polished, and savours of secular eloquence.’ This is specially true of his preface, which follows classical models. But St. Luke varies his style to suit his subject-matter. Sometimes, as in the chapters describing the Nativity, he is intensely Hebraic, imitating the LXX. Sometimes, especially when describing our Lord’s actions and words, he falls into the common unadorned style of the synoptic evangelists, But everywhere his style has its own distinctive marks, by which it can be readily recognised. He shows a considerable knowledge of the technical vocabulary of the Greek physicians, which harmonises with St. Paul’s statement that he was a medical man (Colossians 4:14).

6. Aim and Character. The Gospel is intended primarily for the edification of a single individual, Theophilus, a man of high position living at Rome, and apparently a convert of St. Luke. Yet there can be no doubt that it was intended to reach a large circle of Gentile readers. St. Luke claims for his narrative fulness, accuracy, order, and exhaustive research. In pursuance of his plan of writing ’in order,’ he attempts to fix the chronology, and to place the gospel history in its true connexion with contemporary secular events. It is clear, that, like St. Paul, his sympathies were cosmopolitan, and that he was interested in the wider life and culture of the great empire. Of special dogmatic or party purpose the Gospel shows little trace. The writer is frankly a Paulinist, laying stress on the universal character of Christianity, but there is scarcely a trace of bias against the Twelve, or Jewish Christianity. This is especially clear in the Acts, where the exploits of Peter are as sympathetically recorded as those of Paul. St. Luke’s universalism is. shown by the pedigree from Adam (Luke 3:23), by the praise accorded to Samaritans (Luke 10:33), by the rebuke of Jewish intolerance against that people (Luke 9:52.; Luke 17:11.), and by the appointment of the 70 disciples whose mission was to carry the gospel to the Gentiles (Luke 10). Universalism characterises our Lord’s first-recorded discourse (Luke 4:24.) and is emphasised in the discourses after the Resurrection (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). Equally characteristic is the idea of free grace, not by the works of the Law, but by faith. St. Luke is full of the spirit of the Christian missionary, and delights in those words and acts of Jesus which offer salvation to the poor, the outcast, and the abandoned criminal. This sentiment is also found in Mt, who has the parable of the Lost Sheep, and the saying, ’the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost’; but in St. Luke it is much more prominent. He alone records the touching parable of the Prodigal Son, and the conversion of the penitent thief.

Some critics detect in St. Luke an Ebionite, i.e. a socialistic or communistic tendency. He certainly shows a special sympathy with the poor (Luke 4:18; Luke 14:18; Luke 19:8; Luke 21:3), and records many warnings of our Lord against wealth (Luke 6:24, etc.). He even regards community of goods as preferable to private property (Acts 2:44, etc.), but it must be remembered that the apostolic communism was voluntary (Acts 5:4). Other examples of this tendency are the parables of Dives and Lazarus, of the Rich Fool, and of the Unjust Steward. Another possible example is the beatitude, ’Blessed are ye poor’ (Luke 6:20), where St. Matthew has ’poor in spirit.’ In speaking of our Lord, St. Luke, like St. John, is careful to notice the effect of His words and works on those who witnessed them: ’He was glorified of all’ (Luke 4:15); ’they were all astonished at the majesty of God’ (Luke 9:48); ’and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God’ (Luke 18:43). He also records carefully our Lord’s prayers, being alone in mentioning that our Lord prayed on six distinct and memorable occasions: (1) At His baptism, Luke 3:21; (2) after cleansing the leper, Luke 5:16; (3) before calling the Twelve apostles, Luke 6:12; (4) at His Transfiguration, Luke 9:29; (5) on the cross for His murderers, Luke 23:34; (6) with His last breath, Luke 23:34; St. Luke, like St. Matthew, is specially interested in our Lord’s discourses. He preserves more often than St. Matthew, a record of the circumstances in which the words were actually spoken, whereas St. Matthew collects and arranges them according to subject-matter. Hence St. Luke seems to scatter what St. Matthew has collected.

7. Matter peculiar to St. Luke. A proof of St. Luke’s diligence in collecting materials is that about half of his Gospel consists of matter peculiar to himself. He alone mentions the parables of the Two Debtors (Luke 7:41), of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30), of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5), of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16), of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6), of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8), of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11), of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1), of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19), of the Unjust Judge (__Judges 18:1), of the Pharisee and Publican (Luke 18:9); also the following miracles: the miraculous draught of fishes (Luke 5:1), the raising of the widow’s son (Luke 7:11), the cure of a woman with a spirit of infirmity (Luke 13:10), of a dropsical man (Luke 14:1), of ten lepers (Luke 17:11), of Malchus’s ear (Luke 22:51).

Besides these, much other important matter is peculiar to him, e.g. the first two chs., the questions put to John the Baptist by the people (Luke 3:10, Luke 3:14), the topic of conversation at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:31), the conversion of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1), the weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), the promise to Simon that his faith should not fail (Luke 22:31), the bloody sweat (Luke 22:44), the trial before Herod (Luke 23:7), the words addressed to the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27), the incident of the penitent thief (Luke 23:40); the words on the Cross, ’Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,’ and ’Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke 23:34, Luke 23:46); the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:12), and most of the details of the appearance on the evening of Easter Day (Luke 24:36). It should be observed that almost the whole of the long section (Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:28) consists of matter peculiar to St. Luke. Some of the sayings in it are found also in Mt, but generally in a different connexion.

8. Analysis of the Gospel.

1.    The preface, Luke 1:1-4.

2.    The infancy and boyhood, 1- Luke 2:52.

3.    Ministry of the Forerunner, Luke 3:1-20.

4.    The preparation for the ministry, Christ’s baptism, pedigree, and temptation, Luke 3:21 to Luke 4:13.

5.    The Galilean ministry, Luke 4:14 to Luke 9:50.

6.    The later ministry, mainly in Peræa, Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:28. Many of the incidents recorded in this section really belong to other periods of the ministry. Marks of locality and date are vague and rare.

7.    The last visit to Jerusalem and the Passion, Luke 19:29; Luke 23.

8.    The Resurrection (and Ascension?) Luke 24.

9. The Text. Besides the two ordinary types of text, viz. that used by the Authorised Version and that used by the Revisers, there is another interesting type of text, generally called ’Western,’ of very great antiquity. It is characterised by omissions, additions, and sometimes by changes. Some chief omissions are in Luke 10:41; Luke 12:39; Luke 23:34; Luke 24:36, Luke 24:40, Luke 24:51. The chief addition is after Luke 6:4. The most interesting change of text is in the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, which, in its ’Western’ form, has no affinity with St. Paul’s account of that event. Several of the ’Western’ readings are discussed in the commentary, and as they are now regarded as of considerable importance, the student is recommended to make himself acquainted with them. In the Acts the ’Western’ text is a still more important and interesting problem.

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