Monday, 27 February 2012

The Authorship of Luke-Acts

St. Luke by Simone Martini
     It is generally accepted that the author of the Third Gospel is also responsible for the book of Acts. The respective prologues (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1) show common authorship, in that both are addressed to the same person (Theophilus) and Acts 1:1 makes reference to "the former account." Acts begins with a summary of the material in Luke and takes up where the Gospel leaves off, and the language and style are similar in both books. The writer appears to have been non-Jewish, as he refers to the Aramaic tongue of the Palestinian Jews as "their own language" (Acts 1:18-19), and Aramaic expressions and place-names in the other Gospels do not occur in Luke.
     The author is implicitly included in the first person plural references (or "we" sections) of Acts (16:8-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1–28:16). Accordingly, he arrives in Rome with Paul (Acts 28:16), where in all probability the apostle writes his "prison epistles" (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon) and identifies certain ones who are with him. Excluding those named in Acts (i.e. Timothy, Tychicus, Aristarchus, Mark), the remaining candidates are Luke, Jesus-Justus, Epaphroditus, Onesimus, Epaphras, and Demas. Some of these are further eliminated. Epaphroditus was a messenger of the Philippi church (Philippians 2:25), but the "we" sections in Acts begin before the Christian community in Philippi was started. Demas is disqualified because of his lack of commitment to Paul (2 Timothy 4:10). Onesimus and Jesus-Justus were Jews (Colossians 4:7-14). Epaphras, a fellow prisoner with Paul (Philemon 23), was from Colosse (Colossians 4:12) and therefore probably converted sometime after the "we" sections of Acts begin. This leaves only Luke, who is named in the prison epistles but not in Acts, and combined with the unanimous testimony of the early church, Luke the physician is therefore the most obvious candidate for the authorship of Luke-Acts.
     W. K. Hobart, in his book The Medical Language of St. Luke (1882), argues that the Lukan writings are heavily saturated with medical terminology and thus indicative of having been composed by a doctor. However, H. J. Cadbury has shown that a number of these terms were fairly common in antiquity and not necessarily limited to medical writings (The Book of Acts in History [1955]), although Luke-Acts is still consistent with what a physician may have drafted. In fact, as Alfred Plummer observes: "there still remains a considerable number of words, the occurrence or frequency of which in S. Luke’s writings may very possibly be due to the fact of his being a physician. The argument is a cumulative one. Any two or three instances of coincidence with medical writers may be explained as mere coincidences: but the large number of coincidences renders this explanation unsatisfactory for all of them . . ." (The Gospel According to S. Luke lxiv; cf. lxiii-lxv). Furthermore, Loveday Alexander maintains that the preface of the Third Gospel fits into the mould of "the scientific tradition," involving works on subjects like mathematics, engineering, and medicine ("Luke’s Preface," NovT 28 [1986]: 48-74). The influence of this type of literature on someone educated as a medical doctor would be expected.
     The authorship of Luke is attested very early. The Muratorian Canon (ca. 170) names Luke as the author, demonstrating that the identification was well established at this time. Other early testimonies include Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 115-202), the Anti-Marcionite Prologue (ca. 160-180), and Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 263-339). The Bodmer Papyrus XIV (ca. 200) uses the title, "According to Luke." As a matter of fact, there is no manuscript evidence for the baseless assumption that the Third Gospel ever circulated without Luke’s name.
     The attribution of Lukan authorship, while not unanimously accepted among modern scholars, seems less contested than that of the other Gospels. Nevertheless, a number of critics, for whatever reason, are hesitant to give credit to the historical Luke and prefer instead to speak of the "unknown author" or the "traditional author" or to generically refer to him as "Luke" merely as a matter of convenience. But when the conventional authorship of a biblical document is challenged as an attempt to undermine its credibility, one must wonder what underlying agenda drives the critic to dismiss such weighty evidence. Surely it is reasonable to ask why secular documents are not treated with such cynical scrutiny (see also Authorship of NT Gospels).
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Luke's AudienceLuke's Historical Blunder?


  1. Dear man of God, Holy and Precious Greetings to you in Jesus Our Lord.

    I have Just read your Writings, Really They are Wonderful and Pleasing To God.

    Dear man of God, I am a Preacher from India. If it is God's will and if it is your will, Please Pray for Our Ministries and for the Perishing Millions in Our Country.

    Dear man of God, I and we Pray to God that HE may Bless you Richly.

    In Christ Alone

  2. Are our pastors telling us the truth regarding the authorship of the Gospels and the evidence for the Resurrection?

    Is there really a "mountain of evidence" for the Resurrection as our pastors claim or is the belief in the Resurrection based on nothing more than assumptions, second century hearsay, superstitions, and giant leaps of faith?

    You MUST read this Christian pastor's defense of the Resurrection and a review by one of his former parishioners, a man who lost his faith and is now a nonbeliever primarily due to the lack of good evidence for the Resurrection:

    ---A Review of LCMS Pastor John Bombaro's Defense of the Resurrection---

    (copy and paste this article title into your browser to find and read this fascinating review of the evidence for the Resurrection)

    1. Gary, I've read your review (which is very one-sided and over the top) and responded in my 12 July 2016 post.