The Gospels, part 8: The Gospel of Luke (1)
A book of ascent
Among the Gospels, that ascribed to Luke stands out literarily. For one thing, it isn’t a stand-alone book, but the first half of a two-part work: “Luke-Acts.” The New Testament canon breaks this work in two by inserting John’s Gospel between the first half and the second – the book of Acts. Luke-Acts also stands out in that it is clearly the work of an erudite man, conversant with the narrative style of his age, and exhibiting a thoroughgoing acquaintance with the Septuagint (LXX) – the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible used in Hellenistic synagogues. The tradition maintains that it is the work of Luke, “the beloved physician” and a companion of Paul (Col. 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Tim. 4:11); Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and the “Muratorian Canon” all credit it to him. From at least the time of Irenaeus (late second century), it has been claimed that its place of origin was Achaea in southern Greece, where the city of Corinth was dominant. Many modern scholars challenge the claim that Luke was the author and that Achaea was where it was composed. However, if Luke had been a Greek convert and a physician (quite often, physicians were slaves in the Greco-Roman world, although Luke had evidently gained his freedom if he had ever previously been a slave), and an educated man with literary abilities, there’s very little reason to dismiss out of hand the tradition of his authorship. There’s nothing wildly implausible in the idea, in other words. Whether he was or wasn’t the author, though, Luke-Acts seems most likely to have been written in the 80s. But our chief concern here isn’t with the theories and occasional wrangling of New Testament scholars (an argumentative lot, as it happens, especially when it comes to questions that are beyond any hope of resolution this side of the Parousia), but with some aspects of the text that indicate the overall meaning of the work for its readers.
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