The Expository Files


 Luke's Prologue Close-up

Luke 1:1-4


Lk. 1:1–4:  1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

I’m sure that most Christians have read these four verses countless times.  However, I suspect that most of us tend to read this passage very quickly, without careful consideration, in our eagerness to plunge on ahead to “more important things” in this account of Jesus’ life.  If that has been your modes operandi in the past (and I must confess that it was mine until recently), let me urge you to stop and take a closer look.

Liberal scholars, like Bart Ehrman and others, are telling us that the Gospels can’t be trusted.  In their litany of objections, they tell us: (1) there are no internal indications of authorship; (2) the Gospels were originally written anonymously; (3) their titles were added much later; (4) the attributions of authorship are late; (5) we don’t know who wrote the Gospels; (6) they were not written by eyewitnesses; (7) they were written long after the events they report; (8) they could not have been written by the men to whom they have been attributed.

Obviously, if these charges are correct, it doesn’t take a Solomon to see, that the credibility and authority of the Gospels are seriously undermined, if not completely destroyed.  Therefore, I want to put the prologue of the Third Gospel “under the microscope” to carefully examine and consider its claims.  Just as a microscope reveals a hidden world that is not visible to the naked eye, I believe a careful perusal of the minute details of this prologue will highlight important information that is often overlooked – information that goes a long way in answering many of the objections raised by liberal critics.

Many Accounts:

The writer[1] claims that there were many accounts of Jesus’ life before he wrote this gospel (Lk. 1:1).  In other words, there was already an abundance of resource material for him to draw from when he took his pen in hand.  Now, stop and think about that for a moment.  Does this claim raise a question in your mind?  I hope so, because it really should. It should prompt the thoughtful reader to ask “Why?”  Why would there have been such an interest in a peasant carpenter from Nazareth …. if that’s all He was (cf. Mk. 6:1-3)?  After all, how many “biographies” are written about peasant carpenters?  However, if Jesus was more than a carpenter -- if He lived a perfectly sinless life (Jn. 8:29, 46), if He taught like no one else (Mt. 13:54-56; Mk. 1:27; 6:2-3; Jn. 7:15, 45-46), if He really did perform mighty miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons (Mt. 9:33), raising the dead, calming the storm (Mk. 4:41), walking on water, feeding the multitudes with a few loaves and fish (Mt. 15:33, etc., if Jesus really said and did countless things (Jn. 21:25) that shocked and amazed thousands of people, if Jesus’ fame really spread all throughout Palestine (Mt. 4:24; 9:26, 31; Mk. 1:28; Lk. 4:14, 37; 5:15; 7:17), as the four Gospels tell us, would it be surprising that there would be many accounts of His life?

The writer claims that there were many written accounts of Jesus’ life before he wrote the Third Gospel.  Many had taken in hand to write a “narrative” (diegesis), “an orderly description of facts, events, actions, or words”[2] about Jesus.  It is that term that suggests written documents.  What were these other narratives?  The writer doesn’t say, but the point is there were earlier accounts of Jesus’ life before the Third Gospel was written.  Many, if not most, scholars believe that there must have been some kind of literary dependence among the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) because of: (1) similar content (90% of Mark is in Luke; 50% of Mark is in Matthew); (2) similar outline (the order of individual stories); (3) similar wording (some exact quotations, even of narrative portions); (4) similar parenthetical notes (the same narrative asides in the same location); and (5) similar OT citations and allusions (even when paraphrases and not quotations).[3]

The most popular theory among scholars is that “Mark” was written first, and then “Matthew” and “Luke” used it as a source.  Although we can’t explore this further here, a good case can be made for this view.[4]  If this hypothesis is correct, it means that the writer of the Third Gospel had access to “Mark” and “Matthew” as well as other sources that are no longer extant when he took pen in hand to write his account of Jesus’ life.  Moreover, since the apocryphal gospels (e.g. The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, The Gospel of Judas, etc.), were written much later, as virtually everyone acknowledges, they could not have been among his sources.

Now, the implications of this statement are significant with respect to the common charge that the Gospels were written many years after the time of Christ and therefore suffered corruption from oral accretion.  Before the Third Gospel was written, there were many narratives written about the life of Christ.  Before these many narratives, there was the oral testimony of eyewitnesses (Lk. 1:2).  Before the oral testimony of eyewitnesses, there were the actual words and deeds of Jesus.  So whenever the Third Gospel was written (and we will discuss that later), there was a lot of information about Jesus, both in written and oral form, that was much earlier.

These written narratives were about the things “fulfilled” (ASV; HCSB; ISV; LEB; NAB; NET; NIV; NKJV; NRSV) or “accomplished” (ESV; NASB; RSV) among us.  The content of the Third Gospel certainly indicates that the writer is alluding to the life and ministry of Jesus.  Furthermore, if the book of “Acts” is a sequel to the Third Gospel, and there are excellent reasons to believe it is, its prologue confirms this fact.  It says:  “1The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up…” (Acts 1:1-2).

The word “fulfilled” suggests the fulfillment of prophecy.  This Gospel not only begins and ends with a reference to fulfilled prophecy (Lk. 1:1; 24:44-47), but there are many other references scattered throughout (cf. Lk. 1:20, 45; 4:21; 18:31-32; 21:22, 24; 24:25-27).




Isa. 40:3-5

Voice crying in wilderness

Lk. 3:4-6

Isa. 61:1-2; 58:6

Gospel to the poor

Lk. 4:16-21

Isa. 29:18; 35:5-6; 42:18; 26:19; 61:1

Blind See, Lame Walk, Etc.

Lk. 7:22-23

Mal. 3:1

My messenger

Lk. 7:27

Psa. 118:22; Isa. 28:16

Chief cornerstone

Lk. 20:17

Dan. 9:24-27

Destruction of Jerusalem

Lk. 21:20-24

Isa. 53:12

Crucifixion Between
Two Thieves

Lk. 22:37

These other written accounts reported exactly what various eyewitnesses had delivered.  Their accounts were “just as” the eyewitnesses “delivered them to us” (Lk. 1:2).  According to the esteemed scholar A. T. Robertson, the expression “taken in hand” is “[c]ommon in the papyri for undertaking with no idea of failure or blame.”[5]  So this writer is not disparaging these other accounts of Jesus’ life.  He does not mean, “Since others have done such a poor job, I will do better.”  Although the church historian Eusebius (~AD 260/265-339/340) evidently had this opinion,[6] this writer does not say “I will do better than they,” but rather “I will also put my hand to writing a narrative concerning these things.”  Obviously, the Third Gospel would not have been written if there were no need for something further, but this is not necessarily a negative reflection on these earlier accounts.

Eyewitness Testimony:

The writer claims that his gospel was based on eyewitness testimony (Lk. 1:2).  His sources came from the right time – “the beginning,” i.e. the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Jn. 15:27; Acts 1:21-22).  Literally the Greek reads “the from-the-first witnesses.”[7]  His sources came from the right people.  They were eyewitnesses, and that is the very best kind of human testimony there is (2 Pet. 1:16; 1 Jn. 1:1-3).  Every lawyer wants eyewitness testimony to support his case if it exists.  They were also ministers of the word.  They were actively proclaiming what they had seen and heard concerning Jesus (Acts 10:37-42).  Although the writer of the Third Gospel was not an eyewitness himself, he consulted the eyewitnesses.  He interviewed those who personally saw what Jesus did and heard what Jesus said.  His information came through                          --  those in a position to officially hand down the tradition.  The term “delivered” (paradidomi) was “a technical term for the handing down of material, whether orally or in writing, as authoritative teaching”[8] (cf. Mk. 7:13; Acts 6:14; 1 Cor. 11:2, 23; 15:3; 2 Th. 2:15; 2 Pet. 2:21; Jude 3).

Now, if all this talk about other sources and eyewitness testimony has raised a question in your mind about inspiration, if you are wondering if this writer’s use of other sources means that he could not have written this Gospel under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21), let me assure you that it means nothing of the kind.  I know that because “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and books that used other sources are called “Scripture.”  For example, the apostle Paul quotes from the book of 1 Kings (19:10, 14, 18), calling it “Scripture” (Rom. 11:2-4), and that writer evidently consulted other sources in writing his history (cf. 1 Ki. 11:41; 14:19, 29).  Furthermore, Paul quotes from the Third Gospel (Lk. 10:7), calling it “Scripture” (1 Tim. 5:18), and the writer of the Third Gospel used other sources.  So none of this in any way rules out inspiration.

Careful Research:

The writer claims that he carefully researched his subject (Lk. 1:3a).  This statement is basically translated in four different ways in our English versions: (1) “having traced the course of all things accurately from the first” (ASV); (2) “having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first” (KJV; NKJV); (3) “having followed all things closely for some time past” (ESV; LEB; NET; RSV; YLT); (4) “since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first” (HCSB; ISV; NAB; NASB; NIV; NRSV).  Regardless of how this statement is translated, it clearly indicates that this writer investigated what he was going to write about.  His account of Jesus’ life was not something that he just made up.  He investigated carefully.  This was not some kind of haphazard, slipshod investigation.  He paid close attention to the details to make sure that everything he wrote was accurate.  He investigated everything.  He paid close attention to “all things.”  He researched all the details.  He researched from the very first  In the one other place where this writer uses the term (anothen), it clearly means “from the beginning” (Acts 26:5).  He researched everything from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Acts 1:1); but he went further back than that all the way to the beginning of His earthly existence.  The Third Gospel is the only Gospel that gives us “a fully detailed account of the birth of Jesus and John.”[9]  But he goes even further back than that.  In his genealogy of Jesus, Jesus is not just “the son of David” or “the son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1) but “the son of Adam, the son of God” (Lk. 3:38).

More than one scholar, who knows the original language well, has said that the wording and style of this prologue are reminiscent of the prologues of other well-known ancient historical works.[10]  For example, The Believer’s Study Bible says that this prologue “has affinities with the preambles of the historians Herodotus, Polybius, and Thucydides, and incorporates much of the language of the physicians Galen and Hippocrates.”[11]  This similarity, in and of itself, indicates that the Third Gospel is a serious historical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Careful Writing:

The writer claims that he carefully wrote his gospel (Lk. 1:3b).  According to Bob Utley, this writer uses “the most grammatically correct and polished koiné Greek of all the New Testament writers, with the possible exception of the author of Hebrews.”[12]  He wrote an orderly account.  Although the term (kathexes) can refer to chronological order (cf. Acts 1:4; 18:23), it can also refer to some kind of logical order that is not necessarily chronological.[13]  Be that as it may, this was not a haphazard effort, but a carefully written account of Jesus’ life.

This writer indicates his concern for historical accuracy in several different ways.  He names historical figures.  Zechariah’s vision occurred in the reign of Herod, King of Judea (Lk. 1:5).  Jesus was born when Caesar Augustus issued a decree that “all the world” (i.e. the Roman Empire) should be taxed (Lk. 2:1), while Quirinius was governing Syria (Lk. 2:2).  John the Baptist began his ministry in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea, Herod Antipas was the tetrarch of Galilee, Philip was the tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, Lysanius was the tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests (Lk. 3:1-2).

He mentions historical events.  Jesus reports that Pilate mingled the blood of some Galileans with their sacrifices (Lk. 13:1) and that eighteen were killed when a tower in Siloam fell on them (Lk. 13:4).

He refers to crowds of people who heard the words and saw the deeds of Jesus.  According to this writer, crowds of people saw Jesus heal the paralytic (Lk. 5:17-26) and blind Bartemaeus (Lk. 18:35-43).  Five thousand men, not counting women and children, were fed by Jesus with five loaves and two fish (Lk. 9:10-17).  An innumerable multitude heard Jesus warn His disciples about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Lk. 12:1ff).  A multitude of disciples witnessed Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem (Lk. 19:37-40).  Do you see why this significant?  Do you understand how all of this demonstrates this writer’s concern for historical accuracy?  Here’s the point.  If someone were going to make up an account of Jesus’ life and yet present it as a factual, historical account, he wouldn’t refer to events that were allegedly witnessed by crowds of people, if in fact those events never occurred.

He provides a genealogy of Jesus (Lk. 3:23-38), and he describes various family relationships.  Joanna was the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward (Lk. 8:1-3).  Herod married Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife (Lk. 3:19).  Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law (Lk. 4:38).  Peter and Andrew were brothers (Lk. 6:14).  Martha and Mary were sisters (Lk. 10:38-39).  Mary was the mother of James (Lk. 24:10).  These are the kind of things that can be checked and double-checked.  They are not the kind of things you just make up and then present as fact.

It is certainly true that liberal critics have charged this writer with historical inaccuracies, and there are still some unanswered questions; but as we have learned more about the first-century Mediterranean world, this writer’s historical accuracy has been vindicated time and time again.  In fact, wherever it has been possible to check this writer’s statements, his impeccable reliability as an historian has come to light.  The esteemed commentator, William Hendriksen, has said:  “Indeed, the Third Gospel’s seemingly incidental remarks, relating to geography and history, to the extent in which comparison with other sources is possible, are in full agreement with what is known about the Palestinian and surrounding scene.”[14]  Furthermore, the renowned scholar F. F. Bruce has wisely observed:  “A man whose accuracy can be demonstrated in matters where we are able to test it is likely to be accurate even where the means for testing him are not available. Accuracy is a habit of mind, and we know from happy (or unhappy) experience that some people are habitually accurate just as others can be depended upon to be inaccurate. Luke's record entitles him to be regarded as a writer of habitual accuracy.”[15]

Written To Theophilus:

The writer wrote his Gospel to a man named Theophilus.  Since his name means “lover of God” or “loved by God,” some have suggested that “Theophilus” is a symbolic term for any friend of God.  However, it is much more likely that it is the name of a real person.  He is addressed as “most excellent” Theophilus, and that may indicate that he was a man of noble rank.  Claudius Lysias and Tertullus addressed Felix in this way (Acts 23:26; 24:3), and Paul used this address when he made his defense before Festus (Acts 26:25).  However, the term “most excellent” was not limited to Roman officials, so it may have been just a courtesy title.

There have been many speculations about just who Theophilus was.  Some have suggested that he was the writer’s patron (financial backer) or publisher.  Others have suggested that he was a potential convert or a new convert who needed reassurance.  Some have suggested that he was a Roman official who had a distorted, erroneous notion of the Christian faith. [16]  The truth is we just don’t know, and we really can’t know for sure who Theophilus was; but that doesn’t mean this information is insignificant or unimportant.

In fact, this “dedication” to Theophilus is very important, because it indicates that this Gospel and the book of “Acts” were written by the same person; and the significance of that fact is what we ultimately want to explore a little later.  Before we do that, however, let me show you that there are several excellent reasons to believe that the Third Gospel and “Acts” were written by the same individual.  Both begin with a similar preface (Lk. 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-5).  Both are addressed to the same person, Theophilus (Lk. 1:3; Acts 1:1).  “Acts” refers to a “former work” (Acts 1:1).  Acts 1:1 serves as a recapitulation of the material in the Third Gospel.  “Acts” begins where the Third Gospel leaves off (Lk. 24:49-53; Acts 1:4-5, 8-10).  Both books share a common vocabulary, style, structure, and theological concern.[17]  In light of all this evidence, there is just no good reason to doubt that the Third Gospel and “Acts” were written by the same person.

Now, this fact becomes very significant in dating the Third Gospel.  Although there are no clear indications in the Gospel itself of when it might have been written, we know that it was written before “Acts” (Acts 1:1).  Therefore, if we can date the book of “Acts,” we can establish an approximate date for this Gospel.  So when was “Acts” written?  Its conclusion provides a very strong clue.  “Acts” concludes rather abruptly with a reference to Paul’s two-year imprisonment in Rome ca. AD 62 (Acts 28:30-31).  Why?  Why does the book end at this point?  In my opinion, the simplest and best explanation is that this is when the writer finished writing the book.  If Acts were written later, it is very curious that the writer doesn’t say anything about:  the execution of James (AD 62),[18] Nero’s persecution (AD 64), the Jewish-Roman war (AD 66-73), the execution of Peter (AD 64/65), the execution of Paul (AD 67/68), or the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70).  It seems highly unlikely that the writer of “Acts” would have failed to mention at least some of these significant events, if he finished writing this book after these events had occurred.  Since the writer of the Third Gospel records Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, which prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem (Lk. 21:5ff), why would he have omitted any reference to this prophecy’s fulfillment in his sequel to that Gospel if he finished writing it after AD 70?  Finally, Paul quotes Luke 10:7 as “Scripture” in his first epistle to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:18); therefore the Third Gospel must have been written sometime before Paul was executed (ca. AD 67/68).  Therefore, a strong case can be made for dating the book of “Acts” ca. AD 62-64, and since the Third Gospel was written earlier (Acts 1:1), it was likely written ca. AD 60-62.

Now, if the Third Gospel was written about thirty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, this would have been well within the lifespan of the eyewitnesses; so this account of Jesus’ life could have been cross-checked with those who actually walked and talked with Jesus.  If there were “many narratives” about Jesus that were written before the Third Gospel, that narrows the gap between Jesus’ death and the earliest accounts of His life even more.  If the writer of the Third Gospel used “Mark” and/or “Matthew” as sources, as many scholars believe, then they were written even earlier (ca. AD 45-55).  Furthermore, Paul’s early epistles (1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians) written ca. AD 51-55 present the core facts of Jesus’ life, and there are creedal statements mentioned in various NT epistles that predate these written documents (cf. Rom. 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:8; 1 Jn. 4:2).

Paul’s Data On Jesus

·        Prophesied by OT  (Rom. 1:1-2)

·        Seed of David  (Rom. 1:3)

·        Raised from dead  (Rom. 1:4; 4:24; 6:3-4, 9; 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1)

·        Rose third day  (1 Cor. 15:4)

·        Judge all men  (Rom. 2:16; 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10)

·        Died for ungodly  (Rom. 5:6-8)

·        “Lord”  (Rom. 7:25)

·        Ascension to heaven  (Rom. 8:34)

·        Deity  (Rom. 1:4; 9:5)

·        Second Coming  (1 Cor. 1:7-8; 4:5; 1 Th. 1:10; 3:13; 4:14-17; 5:2, 23)

·        Crucifixion  (1 Cor. 2:2, 8)

·        Creator of all things  (1 Cor. 8:6)

·        Brothers of the Lord  (1 Cor. 9:5)

·        Lord’s Supper  (1 Cor. 10:16, 21; 11:23-25)

·        Betrayed  (1 Cor. 11:23)

·        Death, burial, resurrection, appearances  (1 Cor. 15:3-8)

·        Born of a woman  (Gal. 4:4)

·        Killed by Jews  (1 Th. 2:14-15)

·        Preached to Jews  (1 Cor. 1:23)

·        Taught divorce sinful  (1 Cor. 7:10-11)

·        Taught preachers should live of gospel  (1 Cor. 9:14)

What does all of this mean?  It means that there would not have been enough time between Jesus’ death and these accounts of His life for myth and legend to develop, as liberal scholars claim.  So another liberal objection bites the dust!

If the same person wrote the Third Gospel and the book of “Acts,” it means that he was one of Paul’s traveling companions.  The “we” sections in the book of Acts indicate that the writer was with Paul on his Second Missionary Journey when he traveled from Troas to Philippi (Acts 16:10-17).  He traveled with Paul on his Third Missionary Journey from Philippi to Jerusalem (Acts 20-5-15; 21:1-18), and he traveled with Paul on his Journey to Rome (Acts 27:1-28:16).  This necessarily means that as Paul’s traveling companion, this writer would have had several opportunities to interview the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life.  As he journeyed with Paul, he obviously could have talked to Paul on many occasions.  When Paul stopped in Caesarea and spent many days there on his Third Missionary Journey, he could have talked to Philip (Acts 21:8-9) and Agabas (Acts 21:10-14).  When Paul went to Jerusalem at the end of his Third Missionary Journey, he could have talked to James and the apostles (Acts 21:17-18).  While in Jerusalem, he could have talked to several eyewitnesses:  Jesus’ family, the apostles, and the early disciples.  If he traveled in Palestine during Paul’s two-year imprisonment at Caesarea (Acts 24:27), he could have interviewed countless people who heard Jesus teach and preach and witnessed His miracles.  So this writer had abundant opportunities to do what he said he did – namely interview the eyewitnesses.

If the same person wrote the Third Gospel and the book of “Acts,” it means that he wrote more words in the NT than anyone else[19] – more than John or Peter or even Paul.  In fact, about 27-28% of the NT was written by this single writer.[20]  Of course, this means that if the liberal critics are right, a sizeable chunk of the NT is untrustworthy.

Let me make one last observation before moving on.  The fact that this gospel is written or dedicated to Theophilus does not mean that it was intended just for him.  Other ancient writers, like the Jewish historian Josephus, for example, dedicated their works to individuals knowing full well that they were writing for a larger audience.[21]

Written To Establish Certainty:

This writer claims that he wrote his gospel to establish certainty (Lk. 1:4).  He wrote so that Theophilus would “know.”  In this context, the word “know” (epignosko) means to “know exactly, completely, through and through.”[22]  He wrote so that Theophilus would know the “certainty” of what he had already been instructed.  The word “certainty” (asphaleia) means “stability of idea or statement, certainty, truth.”[23]  The verb form of this term (asphallo) literally means not making someone fall or trip.  He wrote so that Theophilus would know the certainty of those things in which he had been “instructed.”  So before this Gospel was written, Theophilus had already been instructed about Jesus.  The term “instructed” (katecheo), from which our English words catechize, catechism, and catechumen are derived, can mean either instructed (Acts 18:25; Rom. 2:18) or merely informed (Acts 21:21, 24). So this term doesn’t really tell us whether Theophilus was a non-Christian who was considering conversion or a new convert who needed reassurance in the faith.  Regardless, this Gospel was written to confirm what Theophilus had already been taught about Jesus.  It was written for the same reason that the Fourth Gospel was written (Jn. 20:30-31).

Who Wrote The Third Gospel?:

The writer says “it seemed good to write to you an orderly account….” (Lk. 1:3).  Up to this point, I have not tried to identify the writer of this Gospel (in fact, I’ve tried very hard not to), nor have I taken it for granted that Luke wrote it simply because it has traditionally been attributed to him.  Now, it is time to address the question of authorship.  Now, it is time to identify the “me” if we can.

Although there is nothing in this Gospel or the book of “Acts” that identifies the writer by name, the internal evidence in these books reveals several things about him.  First, he was an educated man.  His literary skills are among the best in the NT.  Second, he was not an eyewitness; therefore he could not have been an apostle or an early disciple of Jesus (Lk. 1:2).  Third, he must have been known by Theophilus (Lk. 1:3).  It is just inconceivable that Theophilus would not have known who wrote the Gospel that was addressed to him.  So this gospel was not really anonymous, as Bart Ehrman and others claim.  At the very least, Theophilus knew who wrote it.  Fourth, as we’ve already demonstrated, he was the writer of “Acts” (Acts 1:1-3).  Fifth, he was, therefore, one of Paul’s traveling companions.  Once again, the “we” sections in the book of Acts indicate that this writer traveled with Paul: (1) on his Second Missionary Journey from Troas to Philippi (Acts 16:10-17); (2) on his Third Missionary Journey from Philippi to Jerusalem (Acts 20:5-15; 21:1-18); and (3) on his Fourth Journey from Caesarea to Rome (Acts 27:1-28:16).

So with all of this information before us, what can we deduce about this writer’s identity?  We know he was one of Paul’s traveling companions, but which one?  There were many men who traveled with Paul at various times.  Can this long list of names be whittled down to one?  Can we use the process of elimination to deduce the identity of the Third Gospel’s writer?  Although the process is a bit tedious, let’s try it and see what we learn.

We can immediately exclude Paul and all of his traveling companions that are mentioned by name in the “we” sections of the book of “Acts,” because the writer distinguishes himself from them (cf. Acts 20:4-6).  So that eliminates twelve names.

Paul & His Fellow Travelers

Paul (Acts 16:17)

Secundus (Acts 20:4)

Silas (Acts 16:19)

Gaius (Acts 19:29; 20:4)

Aquila (Acts 18:18; 1 Cor. 16:19)

Timothy (Acts 20:4)

Priscilla (Acts 18:18; 1 Cor. 16:19)

Tychicus (Acts 20:4)

Sopater (Acts 20:4)

Trophimus (Acts 20:4; 21:29)

Aristarchus (Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2)

Gaius (Acts 19:29; 20:4)

Since the writer accompanied Paul to Rome (Acts 27:1-28:16), it is reasonable to assume that he was one of Paul’s companions mentioned in either the Prison Epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, & Philemon) or 2 Timothy.  That leaves us with ten names that have not already been eliminated.

Paul’s Companions In Rome

Aristarchus (Col. 4:10; Phile. 24)

Titus (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6; 2 Tim. 4:10)

Epaphras (Col. 4:12; Phile. 23)

Tychicus (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:12)

Justus (Col. 4:11)

Demas (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24; 2 Tim. 4:10)

Luke (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11)

Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25; 4:18)

Mark (Col. 4:10; Phile. 24)

Artemas (Tit. 3:12)

Onesimus (Col. 4:9; Phile. 10)

Crescens (2 Tim. 4:10)

Timothy (Phil. 1:1; 2:19; Col. 1:1; Phile. 1)


Of these, we can exclude anyone who was not with Paul when the writer of “Acts” was with Paul (i.e. within each of the “we” sections).  So this rules out Mark, because he didn’t travel with Paul on his Second Missionary Journey at all (Acts 15:36-41).  This rules out Epaphroditus, because he was from Philippi, but the writer of “Acts” was with Paul in Troas, before he received the “Macedonian Call” and went to Philippi (Acts 16:8-12).  This rules out Titus because there is no evidence that he accompanied Paul on his Second Missionary Journey.  He is first mentioned in 2 Corinthians, and Paul wrote that letter from Macedonia on his Third Missionary Journey (2 Cor. 7:5; 8:1; 9:2-4).  This rules out Epaphras, because the writer of “Acts” was left behind at Philippi before Paul could possibly have met Epaphras.  When Paul stopped briefly in Ephesus on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:19-21), after he had left Philippi, it’s barely possible that he might have met Epaphras, who was from nearby Colossae (Col. 4:12); but it’s much more likely that Epaphras became acquainted with Paul during his extended stay in Ephesus on his Third Missionary Journey when “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:10).  Either way, the writer of “Acts” was with Paul before he ever met Epaphras.  This rules out Onesimus, because he didn’t travel with Paul on any of his journeys.  He was converted by Paul after Paul was imprisoned in Rome (Phile. 10).  This rules out Artemas, because there is no indication that Artemas was one of Paul’s companions before his release from his first Roman imprisonment.  This rules out Crescens, because there is no indication that Crescens was one of Paul’s companions before his second Roman imprisonment.

Paul’s Companions In Rome

Aristarchus (Col. 4:10; Phile. 24)

Titus (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6; 2 Tim. 4:10)

Epaphras (Col. 4:12; Phile. 23)

Tychicus (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:12)

Justus (Col. 4:11)

Demas (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24; 2 Tim. 4:10)

Luke (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11)

Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25; 4:18)

Mark (Col. 4:10; Phile. 24)

Artemas (Tit. 3:12)

Onesimus (Col. 4:9; Phile. 10)

Crescens (2 Tim. 4:10)

Timothy (Phil. 1:1; 2:19; Col. 1:1; Phile. 1)


So by this process of elimination, we are left with just three names:  Justus (Col. 4:11); Luke (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11); and Demas (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24; 2 Tim. 4:10).  However, it seems highly unlikely that the writer of the Third Gospel would be Demas who eventually apostatized (2 Tim. 4:10).  It also seems highly unlikely that Justus (Col. 4:11), who is only mentioned once, would be the writer of the Third Gospel.  That narrows the possibilities down to one:  Luke (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11).

Could Luke be the writer?  What do we know about him?  We know he was a Gentile, because Paul distinguishes him from his Jewish co-workers (Col. 4:10-14).  He was beloved by Paul and others (Col. 4:14).  He was a physician (Col. 4:14).  He was one of Paul’s fellow laborers (Phile. 24).  He was a preacher (Acts 16:10, 13, 17).  He was Paul’s companion during his first and second Roman imprisonments (Col. 4:3, 10, 14, 18; Phile. 1, 9-10, 13, 23-24; 2 Tim. 4:11).  There is nothing that we are told about Luke that would disqualify him as the writer of the Third Gospel and “Acts” and much to commend him.  It’s certainly reasonable to believe that the polished Greek of the Third Gospel’s Prologue could have been written by a Gentile physician.  It’s reasonable to believe that a man, who was beloved by Paul and others, who remained with Paul to the very end, would write a well-researched and carefully written account of Jesus’ life.

From the internal evidence alone, I believe a strong case can be made for Lucan authorship of the Third Gospel.  However, when this is coupled with the external evidence, it seems to me that Lucan authorship is established beyond a reasonable doubt.  The external evidence, evidence outside the NT, concerning the authorship of the Third Gospel and “Acts” clearly identifies Luke as the writer.  Let me briefly summarize that evidence.

First, the Gospel titles in the Greek MSS are uniform.  For example, P75 in the Bodmer Papyrus collection (ca. AD 175-225), the oldest extant MS of the Third Gospel, contains the words “gospel according to Luke” at the end of the MS.  Although some argue that the titles were added much later, there is no evidence to support this objection.  Since the “autographs” are no longer extant, no one knows whether they had titles or not.  Furthermore, there is no textual evidence to support this claim like an obvious copy of “Luke” attributed to someone else or to no one at all.  The titles on the extant Greek MSS of the Third Gospel unanimously and unequivocally attribute it to Luke.

Second, the early attributions of authorship in the writings of the “Church Fathers” are unanimous and unequivocal.  They tell us that the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and no other candidates are proposed.[24]  Furthermore, the “Apostolic Fathers,” men who wrote in the last half of the first century and the first half of the second, were in a position to know the facts because they either knew some of the apostles or those who had known them.  Clement of Rome (AD 30-100) knew Peter and Paul.[25]  Ignatius of Antioch (AD 30-107), Polycarp of Smyrna (AD 65-155), and Papias (AD 70-155) knew the apostle John.[26]  Irenaeus (AD 120-302) knew Papias.[27]  Additionally, their testimony is all the more believable because it is geographically widespread throughout the Roman Empire:  Clement (~AD 180) in Alexandria, Egypt; Papias (~AD 125) in Hieropolis, Phrygia (southwest Turkey); Tertullian (~AD 180) in Carthage, North Africa; and Irenaeus (~AD 180) in Lyons, Gaul (modern France).

Although liberal critics like Bart Ehrman dismiss this evidence because of the 100-year gap between the “autographs” and the earliest attributions of authorship, this objection is not as weighty as it might at first appear to be.  First, not much documentary evidence has survived from the first century.  Papyrus was very fragile and deteriorated quickly unless it was preserved in a very dry climate (e.g. Egypt).  Second, as we’ve already mentioned, the “Apostolic Fathers” knew the apostles or knew those who had known them, so this narrows the gap significantly.  Third, the Gospels were quoted or used as authoritative sources in churches all over the Roman empire long before the earliest extant attributions of authorship.  For example, Justin Martyr (~AD 150-160) reports that every Sunday the “memoirs of the apostles,” which he identifies as the Gospels, were read in church assemblies.[28]  He also reports that these “memoirs” were written by the apostles and those who followed them.[29]  Furthermore, he quotes or alludes to material from the four canonical Gospels and no others.  Although he does not identify these writers by name, his statements do suggest that the Gospels were widely available, well known, and accepted as authoritative.  All of this strongly suggests that these early Christians knew who wrote the Gospels; otherwise, how could they have accepted them as authoritative?  If the men who later attributed the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John got it wrong, why didn’t someone who was still living from that earlier age set them straight?  Fourth, there is also a significant elapse of time between the “autographs” of ancient secular works and their earliest attribution(s) of authorship; yet historians do not doubt the authorship of these works.  For example, Plutarch (~AD 70-120) wrote more biographies that have survived than anyone else (50:60+); yet his name never appears in his biographies.  That is not really unusual because most classical authors did not include their names.  Furthermore, there is a significant gap between his “autographs” and the earliest attributions of authorship; yet no one questions whether he wrote these biographies.[30]  It really smacks of chronological snobbery to think that liberal scholars, living two thousand years later, know more than those who lived within a 150 years of Jesus and His apostles, especially since these men had a vested interest in getting the facts right because of persecution.

Third, the Muratorian Fragment/Canon, the oldest extant list of NT books, attributes the Third Gospel to Luke.  This list is so named because it was discovered by Ludovico Antonio Muratori in a manuscript in the Ambrosian Library in Milan, and published by him in 1740.  Although the manuscript in which it appears was copied during the seventh century, the list itself is dated to about AD 170 because its author refers to the episcopate of Pius I of Rome (who died ~AD 157) as recent.[31]

Fourth, the Diatessaron (“through four,” ~AD 160-175) compiled by Tatian, a pupil of Justin Martyr, was a harmony of the four canonical Gospels, and only those Gospels, into a single narrative.  In the mid-19th century, German critics argued that Tatian’s Diatessaron could not possibly have included “John,” because, according to these critics, John was not written until ~AD 170.  Their argument could not be refuted at that time because there were no extant copies of the Diatessaron.  However, in 1888 a copy of the Diatessaron was rediscovered, and lo and behold, its opening words were:  “In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God, and the word was God…” (Jn. 1:1).

Fifth, the early enemies of Christianity launched their attacks against it by criticizing our four canonical Gospels and only those Gospels.  For example, the second century Greek philosopher Celsus wrote the earliest comprehensive attack on Christianity, entitled A True Discourse (~AD 177).  This work has not survived, except in Origen’s quotations from it in his work Against Celsus (~AD 248); but in this work, Celsus mocks Christianity by drawing from the four canonical Gospels and only those Gospels.

Finally, if there was no evidence or inconclusive evidence for Lukan authorship, there are several questions that need to be answered.  Why are the titles of the Gospels uniform?  Why are the attributions of authorship of the “Church Fathers” unanimous and unequivocal?  Why are three of the Gospels attributed to such unlikely characters?  Matthew was a tax collector.  Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas on the First Missionary Journey (Acts 13:13; 15:36-41).  Luke is only mentioned by name three times in the NT (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Phile. 24).  Since Luke was such a minor character, why would the Third Gospel have been attributed to him if he didn’t really write it?  “There is no competing tradition of authorship in the early church, as one might expect if Luke’s name were attached to the Gospel on conjecture. Luke is a minor character in the NT. Had there been any doubt that he was author of this Gospel and the Acts, it would likely have shown up in other traditions regarding authorship of these two key documents.”[32]  The esteemed commentator, Leon Morris, has cogently observed:

“Sometimes this tradition is dismissed as no more than guesswork, but this is too cavalier. Luke was not, as far as we know, a person of such prominence in the early church as to have two such considerable volumes as these fathered on to him without reason. If people were guessing, would they not be much more likely to come up with an apostle? Or Epaphras? Or Mark? The fact that a non-apostolic man of no known prominence is universally held in antiquity to have been the author must be given weight.”[33]


Although the prologue of Luke’s Gospel is very brief (just four verses), when you put it “under the microscope,” many important and significant facts with far-reaching implications are revealed.  What does this mean in a practical way for us today?  It means that we can have great confidence in this Gospel’s account of Jesus’ life.



ANF:  The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

BDAG:  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.

ASV:  American Standard Version.

HCSB:  Holman Christian Standard Bible.

ISV:  International Standard Version.

LEB:  Lexham English Bible.

MS(S):  Manuscript(s).

NAB:  New American Bible.

NET:  The NET Bible.

NIV:  New International Version.

NKJV:  New King James Version.

NRSV:  New Revised Standard Version.

ESV:  English Standard Version.

NASB:  New American Standard Bible.

NPNF:  A Select Library of the Nicene And Post-Nicene Fathers Of The Christian Church.

RSV:  Revised Standard Version.


Works Cited

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000).  A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Barry, J. D., & Wentz, L. (Eds.). (2012).The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Bruce, F. F.  The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable?, Fifth Edition.  (Free PDF download).

Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Lk 1:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Geisler, N. L., & Nix, W. E. (1986). A General Introduction to the Bible (Rev. and expanded.). Chicago: Moody Press.

Guthrie, D. (1996). New Testament Introduction. The Master Reference Collection (4th rev. ed.). Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke. New Testament Commentary (Vol. 11). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Hoehner, H. W. (1985). Ephesians. (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Eds.)  The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson.

Longman, T., III, & Garland, D. E. (Eds.). (2007). The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 10: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: a Commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Exeter: Paternoster Press.

Moore, M. E. (2011). The Chronological Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company.

Morris, L. (1988). Luke: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Vol. 3). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Paschall, F. H., & Hobbs, H. H. (Eds.). (1972). The Teacher’s Bible Commentary. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (Eds.). (1885). The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke. The New American Commentary (Vol. 24). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Thucydides. (1910). The Peloponnesian War. Medford, MA: London, J. M. Dent.

Utley, R. J. (2004). The Gospel According to Luke. Study Guide Commentary Series (Vol. 3A). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.

Walvoord, John F., & Zuck, R. B., Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


[1] I will not assume that Luke wrote the Third Gospel until the evidence for that conclusion is presented later in this chapter.

[2] BDAG, 245.

[3] Robert H. Stein:  “Such close verbal agreements, as we find in [Luke] 18:15-17; 20:27-40; 21:7-11 and the parallel accounts in Mark and Matthew (and in Luke 10:21-22; 11:9-13; 13:34-35; 16:13 and the parallels in Matthew) reveal that some sort of literary source lies behind these agreements. Along with these verbal agreements we also find agreements in the order of the material (cf. Luke 4:31-6:19; 9:18-50; 18:15-43 with the parallel accounts in Mark and Matthew) and even in the presence of common parenthetical material (cf. Luke 5:24; 8:29 and parallels). From all this it is clear that Luke in writing his Gospel made use of various written sources.” (The New American Commentary:  Luke, 24:28)

[4] See Douglas S. Huffman, “Luke, Gospel of,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary.

[5] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 2:3

[6] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III:24:15, NPNF, 2:1:153-154.

[7]  Walter L. Liefeld, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., 10:50.

[8] I. Howard Marshall, “Luke,” NIGTC, 41-42.  Compare A. T. Robertson’s comment on “tradition” in Word Pictures in the New Testament, 2:5.

[9] Mark E. Moore, Chronological Life Of Christ, 15.

[10] Cf. Josephus, Against Apion, 1:1; 2:1; The Wars Of The Jews, Preface, 1; Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 1:22:2-3.

[11] Comment on Luke 1:1.

[12]  Bob Utley, The Gospel According To Luke, Logos Edition, n.p.

[13] The imprisonment of John the Baptist is obviously mentioned out of chronological order (Lk. 3:20).

[14] William Hendriksen,  Baker New Testament Commentary:  Luke,  40-41.

[15] F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable?, Fifth Edition, 47.

[16] The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, 635.

[17]  Robert H. Stein, The New American Commentary:  Luke, 24:21.

[18] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:9:1:(200).

[19] Luke & Acts:  37,965 words; Romans - Philemon:  32,440 words; Romans - Hebrews:  37,396 words (The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Logos Edition, n.p.

[20] Chronological Life Of Christ, 15; The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2:198.

[21] Josephus, Against Apion, 1:1:1-5.

[22] BDAG, 369.

[23] BDAG, 147.

[24] Jerome, (~AD 398):  Commentary on Matthew (NPNF, 2.6:495); (~AD ???):  Lives of Illustrious Men, Chap. 7 (NPNF, 2.3:363); Eusebius, (~AD 323-325):  Ecclesiastical History, 3:4:7-8; 6:25:3 (NPNF, 2.1:136-137, 273);  Origen, (~AD 246-248):  Commentary on Matthew (ANF, 9:412); Tertullian, (~AD 207-2??):  Against Marcion, 4:2, 5 (ANF, 3:347-348, 350); Clement of Alexandria, (~AD 193): The Stromata, 1:21 (ANF, 2:333); (~AD ???): Fragments: (ANF, 2:573); Irenaeus, (~AD 182-188):  Against Heresies, 3:1:1; 14:1-2 (ANF, 1:414, 437-438).

[25] Ignatius (AD 30-107), “Epistle to Mary,” 4, (ANF, 1:122); Irenaeus (AD 120-202), “Against Heresies,” 3:3:3, (ANF, 1:416).

[26] Ignatius (AD 30-107), “The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle,” (ANF, 1:124); “A Second Epistle of Ignatius to St. John, (ANF, 1:125); “The Martyrdom Of Ignatius,” 1, (ANF, 1:129); Irenaeus (AD 120-202), “Against Heresies,” 3:3:4; 5:33:4, (ANF, 1:416,  563); “Fragments of Papias,” (ANF, 1:153).

[27] Jerome (AD 492), Letter LXXV, (NPNF, 2.6, 156).

[28] Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66-67, (ANF, 1:185-186).

[29] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 103, (ANF, 1:251).

[30] Mike Licona, Review of Bart Ehrman’s book “Forged:  Writing in the Name of God…” .

[32]  The Apologetics Study Bible, 1507.

[33] Leon Morris, “Luke:  An Introduction and Commentary, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 3:20.



By Kevin Kay
From Expository Files 20.8; August 2013