dating the writing of Luke and why it matters

Dating the Writing of Luke and Why it Matters

In the last devotional blog Luke’s authorship of the Gospel bearing his name was established. In this month’s blog I want to affirm the early dating of Luke’s Gospel and present the purpose of Luke’s Gospel as provided in his own prologue (1: 1-4). In the Book of Acts Luke does not mention the persecution of Christians instituted by Nero (64 AD), the deaths of James, Peter, Paul (early-mid 60’s AD), the siege of Jerusalem or the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (70 AD).

This indicates the Book of Acts was written in the late 50’s or early 60’s AD. Since the Book of Acts was written after the Gospel of Luke (cf. Acts 1:1) then the Gospel of Luke must have been written sometime in the 50’s AD. This is a very early date for the composition of Luke’s Gospel and thus puts the writing of the Gospel very soon after the events it describes.

Another important indicator of the early date of Luke’s Gospel is that Paul quotes it as Scripture in his second letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:17-18; cf. Luke 10:7). Some have argued that Paul is actually quoting Luke in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11: 23-25; cf. Luke 22: 19-20). Since 1 Corinthians is considered one of the earliest if not the earliest New Testament writings, if this is correct, it would then place the Gospel of Luke even earlier. Thus we have a very early, accurate and authoritative account of the life and ministry of Jesus from Luke.

With the authorship and dating of the Gospel of Luke firmly established I want to now get into the text itself. Luke provides us with a prologue in which he presents his method, purpose, and audience. Both Luke’s Gospel and his second-volume Acts, were written to the same person, a man named Theophilus, which means “lover of God” (Luke 1:1; Acts 1:1).

Luke is providing Theophilus with an “orderly account” of the life and ministry of Jesus for the purpose of giving him “certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1). Luke uses the phrase “most excellent” in reference to Theophilus indicating that he was a Roman official of some rank (cf. Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25).

It is possible that Theophilus was one of the Gentile “God-fearers” and that he was a wealthy convert who supported Luke financially in the composition of both the Gospel and Acts. Luke explains that he has embarked on a careful investigation of the facts and interviewed eyewitnesses which definitely included the original apostles.

He also used previous written sources that most likely included the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. The prologue of Luke (1:1-4) is written in very formal Greek and is similar to other ancient historical prologues (e.g., Josephus, Philo, Lucian). Thus we have a very well researched, accurate and authoritative historical narrative of the life and ministry of Jesus.

Not only was the Gospel directed to Theophilus but Luke certainly understood that it would be read by a larger audience. A primary theme of the Gospel of Luke is that the Gospel was to be proclaimed to the entire world (Jew and Gentile) and that Jesus was the Lord and Savior to all mankind.

Next time we will look at Luke 1:5-10 and meet the infamous Herod, and the pious couple Zechariah and Elizabeth who were blessed to be the parents of John the Baptist and why Luke begins with his birth narrative.

The Glory of God changes everything


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