Day 278 Luke: The Most Gentile Gospel

Four Views, One News Part 3

“for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2‬:‭30‬-‭32‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In this series of blog posts, we’ve been talking about the distinctives of each Gospel writer. We’ve talked about Matthew, a Jew writing to Jews about the Jewish Messiah. We’ve talked about Mark, a Roman writing to Romans about Jesus the Perfect Son of Man. In the future, we will look at John’s portrait of Jesus as the Word made flesh.

Today, we are looking at Luke—- a Gentile writing to Gentiles about Jesus, the Light to the Gentiles. We’ll look at two issues: How we know Luke was a Gentile, and how we can tell his audience was.

How Do We Know Luke Was a Gentile?

Luke is only mentioned by name three times in Scripture, all by Paul (Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24). In Colossians 4;10-14, Paul sends greetings on behalf of several people. After the first four are named, Paul clarifies that “these are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God.”

Then, in verse 14, Paul adds, “Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.” So we know Luke wasn’t circumcised, at least not at the time Colossians was written. There is some debate on whether or not he was a Hellenistic Jew–a Greek who had been converted to Judaism and now was a follower of Jesus (similar to the Grecian widows in Acts 6), or whether he was a Gentile Christian. But either way, he was definitely not Jewish by brith.

Another indication that Luke was a Gentile is the vocabulary in his gospel. The Greek vocabulary is a lot more sophisticated and more “classic” in style and construction than what we see in Mark or Matthew. Think of how you can tell the difference between the writings of CS Lewis and John Grisham. They are both writing in English, but you can tell one is from Oxford, England and one is from Oxford, Mississippi. Luke’s writing style and vocabulary indicates a Hellenistic education.

How do we know Luke is writing for Gentiles?

There are several things that suggest Luke wrote for a Gentile Greek audience:

  • We know from Luke 1:2 that Luke is writing to a specific Gentile: the most honorable Theophilus–a Greek name meaning “lover of God.”
  • Throughout his gospel, as well as in the book of Acts, Luke establishes the sequence of events relative to Roman rulers. Of all the New Testament writers, no one else even names a Roman emperor. Luke names three– Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius; and refers to a fourth–Nero, the ‘Caesar’ to whom Paul appealed.
  • In contrast with Matthew’s genealogy back to Abraham (the father of the Jewish people), Luke’s genealogy goes back to Adam (the father of the human race).
  • Luke’s choice of incidents in Jesus’ life feature more Gentiles than the other Gospels, as well as Jesus interest in Gentiles. We all know the story of the Good Samaritan, but Luke is the only one who tells it (Luke 15:30-37). Same with the Samaritan leper who returned to give thanks to Jesus. That story is told in Luke 17. In fact, what almost gets Jesus thrown off a cliff after his first sermon in Nazareth was His reminder that God showed favor to Naaman the Syrian and to the widow of Zaraphath (both Gentiles) back in the day (see Luke 4:24-27). That story is also exclusive to Luke.
  • Luke mentions Roman centurions more than other writers and always in a favorable light.

My favorite distinctive of Luke’s gospel is his emphasis on Jesus as the Savior for all nations. We sometimes gloss over what the angel first said to the shpherds (once again, a story only found in Luke):

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 

Luke 2:10b

When the baby Jesus was brought to the Temple when he was eight days old, notice what the old man Simeon said about Him:

28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant[e] depart in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

Luke 2:28-32

By now, you have probably already guessed that Luke is the only one who tells this story.

I’ll leave you with one more. In Luke 9, we have the story of Jesus sending out the Twelve on their preaching mission. In Matthew’s version of the same story, the disciples are told specifically “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:9). Would you like to guess whether or not Luke mentions that part of the instructions?

One chapter later, Luke adds a story that (surprise!) isn’t found in any of the other gospels. When the Twelve come back, having presumably followed Jesus’ instructions and gone to the Twelve Tribes of Israel, Jesus sends out 70 others (or 72, depending on your translation). These others are sent with essentially the same instructions as the Twelve. But there’s strong internal evidence that they were sent specifically to Gentile towns. Notice, for example, that Jesus condemns the Jewish cities of Chorazin. Bethsaida, and Capernaum for rejecting the gospel, but says that Tyre and Sidon (Gentile cities) would have repented if they had heard the same message.

Why seventy? Well, according to the Talmud, there were seventy Gentile nations on earth. This is the same reason 70 bulls were sacrificed during the Feast of Tebernacles, the only Jewish feast the Gentiles were invited to (Day 051: A Festival for The Rest of Us).1

Take another look at the stained glass window image at the top of this post. The iconographic symbol for the gospel of Luke has always been an ox or a bull to represent his depiction of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice.

The sactifice Jesus made was for all people. Even us Gentiles. Thanks be to God.

  1. Schorsch, Ismar The Seventy Bulls of Sukkot Jewish Theological Seminary (online) accessed 10/05/23. ↩︎


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