New Book: Luke

by Alys Tarr

Have you ever wondered why we have four separate accounts of the life, ministry and death & resurrection of Jesus which are accepted as being inspired by the Holy Spirit? Why not five? Why not eight? Why not one? Surely one gospel would help clear up any confusion arising when the four gospels paint slightly different strokes as they build up their picture of Jesus?

Well, I don’t know why there’s four of them, but it is clear that each gospel writer paints a unique portrait of the same character, like four artists painting a model from four different angles. Each of our four gospel writers has an agenda; a specific thing or things which they are concerned that we, the readers, understand.

So what is Luke’s unique angle on this character called Jesus? We get a strong hint in the opening couple of verses:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Firstly, we know that Luke – a doctor by profession – has deliberately set out to compile a written account of Jesus’ life, based on the testimony of those who spent time with Jesus and passed from person to person, presumably by word-of-mouth. He seems to be writing to an audience of one; ‘most excellent Theophilus’ in order that Theophilus might be certain of the things he has already been taught. Luke’s gospel therefore has an apologetic edge to its purpose – it is intended to be a defence of the truth of the gospel by means of historical account. As you read Luke, you might well encounter other episodes which seem to have apologetic usefulness, for instance think about Luke’s inclusion of the women as the first witnesses to the resurrection in chapter 24.

Luke speaks of “the things that have been fulfilled among us”. This is no mere historical character or event; the picture Luke paints of Jesus is as the one who fulfils the whole story of what God’s been doing in the world. Luke’s focus isn’t just on Jesus’ role within Israel (Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam, whereas Matthew is content to just show that Jesus is descended from Abraham), but Jesus as the Messianic King for the whole world, Jew and Gentile, bringing the good news of God’s kingdom to all.