Luke – the Investigative Reporter
For centuries many have endeavored to prove or disprove the Gospel of Luke’s account about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Some have focused on the integrity of the content, others on the identity of the unnamed author. Debate will continue; however, there is substantial factors to consider.
Among the first to document the identity of the author of the Gospel was Irenaeus, a student of Polycarp who was in turn a pupil of John, one of the original 12 Disciples of Jesus. Irenaeus identified the author as the Gentile doctor named Luke, the inseparable traveling companion of the Apostle Paul mentioned several times in New Testament books. Logic is a big factor – educated as a doctor, a source just one generation removed from the Disciple John, how likely is it that Irenaeus was erroneous?
Credibility of a statement can be determined regardless of the identity of the author. In this case, the Gospel author’s first defining point of credibility is where his investigative letter is addressed to a specific person.
Named as Theophilus, this is the same person to whom was written the Book of Acts establishing both accountability and consistency. Josephus identified Theophilus as the next High Priest after Jonathan circa 37-40 AD. The question is whether these are the same person?
Very clearly the author describes the basis of his investigation:
LK 1:1-4 “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 eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (NIV)
Not himself an eyewitness, instead Luke identifies the sources of his investigation, noted as “many,” being original eyewitnesses and he personally investigated their validity. Evidence can be seen in the quotes and reference parallels found in the older Gospels of Matthew and Mark and corroborating information by John.
From a different perspective, the author’s omissions of certain witness accounts and miracles that are mentioned in the other Gospels. Nearly half of Luke’s content is unique in which 6 miracles are reported, including the resurrection of a dead boy, and 15-17 parables (was it an illustration or a parable?).
Included, too, are the exclusive accounts of the birth circumstances of John the Baptist; the identity of his father, Zachariah and mother, Elizabeth, and her role with Mary during their pregnancies; the angel Gabriel with his messages from God delivered separately to Zachariah and Mary, and Mary’s hymn of praise.
Found only in Luke and Acts are the two Greek words, apographo and apographe – a verb and a noun – cited as the motivation for Joseph to take his nearly 9-month pregnant wife, Mary, to Bethlehem 90 miles away. Neither Greek word translates to the equivalent English word of “census,” often imprecisely used in Matthew’s Christmas Nativity story.
Seven government rulers are identified in Luke, all corroborated in secular history including Caesar Augustus , Tiberius Caesar, Judean King Herod, and Tetrarchs Herod and Philip. Two “governors,” Quirinius and Pilate, were both identified using the exclusive Greek word hegemoneuo, meaning to act with authority as governors, though not necessarily official “governors.”
Two specific crucifixion scenarios are found only in the Luke’s Gospel. Quoted is the conversation between the criminals being crucified with Jesus. Upon his death, distraught witnesses reacted by “beating their breasts” in severe mourning.
Distinctively identified and quoted are Resurrection witnesses. Most notable is Cleopas with his traveling partner heading home to Emmaus after being with some of the Disciples that weekend. Unrecognized, Jesus joined them walking down the road and asked what they were discussing so intently. Cleopas is quoted explaining the sequence of events involving the encounter by the women of Galilee with angels at the empty tomb who proclaimed Jesus was alive and how the empty tomb was confirmed by other unnamed witnesses.
Corroborating John’s eyewitness Gospel account of the gathering of Disciples and followers in the locked room that Sunday evening, Luke adds a distinguishing depiction of events. Cleopas and his partner had rejoined the gathering telling of their encounter with the resurrected Jesus and, in turn, they were told Jesus had also appeared to Simon (Peter).
Terrified is how the excited group encounter is described by Luke when Jesus suddenly appeared in the locked room. Thinking they were seeing a ghost, Jesus calmed their fears saying “Do you have anything here to eat?” Jesus then ate some fish to prove he was not a ghost.
Omitted is key information which could otherwise enhance the Resurrection account if the author had chosen to do so. Missing is Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus and John running with Peter to see the empty tomb, both reported events by other Gospels that astounding morning. One possible reason for the omissions is revealed in Cleopas’ statement.
Cleopas ended his witness statement at the point when he departed for home that Sunday morning – before anyone had reported seeing the resurrected Jesus. Luke had to be aware of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with resurrected Jesus through his investigation, by knowing Paul, contacts with the Disciples and interviews of other witnesses. The omission is a big clue.
Only twice in the entire Gospel of Luke is Mary Magdalene mentioned. She is one of the three named women generally reported to have run back from the empty tomb to tell the Disciples of their experience. Just once previously in Luke, Mary Magdalene was identified as the one from whom Jesus expelled seven demons early in his ministry.
No statements are specifically attributed to Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Luke and therein lies the potential reason for the omission. If Luke did not have direct access to her as an eyewitness source, as such he chose not to include the secondhand account.
Likewise are similar reasons for not identifying the traveling partner of Cleopas and omitting John running with Peter to see the empty tomb – neither were available witnesses to the author. (In his own eyewitness Gospel, John identifies himself as the “other disciple” who joined the race to the tomb.)
Forthright acknowledgements, exclusive specific details, omissions of information seen in other Gospels; corroboration by secular history; named witnesses; quotes; lack of personal opinions or injections; and ignored opportunities to embellish – all are hallmarks of a straightforward, true investigative report. What then do these characteristics say about the validity of Luke’s Gospel authorship and an investigative account?
Updated November 20, 2022.
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