Authorship of Luke-Acts
The authorship of the Gospel of Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

 and the Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles , usually referred to simply as Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; Acts outlines the history of the Apostolic Age...

 is an important issue for biblical exegetes
Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term "Biblical exegesis" is used...

 who are attempting to produce critical scholarship on the origins of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

. Tradition holds that the text was written by Luke the companion of Paul
Luke the Evangelist
Luke the Evangelist was an Early Christian writer whom Church Fathers such as Jerome and Eusebius said was the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles...

 (named in Colossians ) and this traditional view of Lukan authorship is “widely held as the view which most satisfactorily explains all the data.” The list of scholars maintaining authorship by Luke the physician is lengthy, and represents scholars from a wide range of theological opinion. However, there is no consensus, and according to Raymond E. Brown
Raymond E. Brown
The Reverend Raymond Edward Brown, S.S. , was an American Roman Catholic priest, a member of the Sulpician Fathers and a major Biblical scholar of his era...

, the current opinion concerning Lukan authorship is ‘about evenly divided’.

Common authorship of Luke and Acts

There is substantial evidence to indicate that the author of The Gospel of Luke also wrote the Book of Acts. These connections are linked by repeating themes that both of these books share. The most direct evidence comes from the prefaces of each book. Both prefaces are addressed to Theophilus
Theophilus (Biblical)
Theophilus is the name or honorary title of the person to whom the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are addressed...

, the author's patron—and perhaps a label for a Christian community as a whole as the name means "Lover of God". Furthermore, the preface of Acts explicitly references "my former book" about the life of Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

—almost certainly the work we know as The Gospel of Luke.

Furthermore, there are linguistic and theological similarities between the Luke and Acts. As one scholar writes,"the extensive linguistic and theological agreements and cross-references between the Gospel of Luke and the Acts indicate that both works derive from the same author" Because of their common authorship, the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles are often jointly referred to simply as Luke-Acts. Similarly, the author of Luke-Acts is often known as "Luke"—even among scholars who doubt that the author was actually named Luke.

Specific theories of identity

Theories concerning the author of Luke-Acts typically take the following forms:
  • Luke the physician as author: the traditional view that both works were written by Luke
    Luke the Evangelist
    Luke the Evangelist was an Early Christian writer whom Church Fathers such as Jerome and Eusebius said was the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles...

    , physician and companion of Paul

  • Anonymous non-eye witness: the view that both works were written by an anonymous writer who was not an eye witness of any of the events he described, and who had no eye witness sources

  • Redaction authorship: the view that Acts in particular was written (either by an anonymous writer or the traditional Luke), using existing written sources such as a travelogue by an eye witness

  • A female writer: the view that both works were written by a woman

Luke the physician as author

The traditional view is that the Gospel of Luke and Acts were written by the physician Luke
Luke the Evangelist
Luke the Evangelist was an Early Christian writer whom Church Fathers such as Jerome and Eusebius said was the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles...

, a companion of Paul
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

. This Luke is mentioned in Paul's Epistle to Philemon
Epistle to Philemon
Paul's Epistle to Philemon, usually referred to simply as Philemon, is a prison letter to Philemon from Paul of Tarsus. Philemon was a leader in the Colossian church. This letter, which is one of the books of the New Testament, deals with forgiveness.Philemon was a wealthy Christian of the house...

 (v.24), and in two other epistles which are traditionally ascribed to Paul (Colossians 4:14 and 2 Timothy 4:11).

The view that Luke-Acts was written by the physician Luke was nearly unanimous in the early Christian church. The Papyrus Bodmer
Bodmer Papyri
The Bodmer Papyri are a group of twenty-two papyri discovered in Egypt in 1952. They are named after Martin Bodmer who purchased them. The papyri contain segments from the Old and New Testaments, early Christian literature, Homer and Menander. The oldest, P66 dates to c. 200. The papyri are kept at...

XIV, which is the oldest known manuscript
Biblical manuscript
A biblical manuscript is any handwritten copy of a portion of the text of the Bible. The word Bible comes from the Greek biblia ; manuscript comes from Latin manu and scriptum...

 containing the start of the gospel (dating to around 200 AD), uses the title "The Gospel According to Luke". Nearly all ancient sources also shared this theory of authorship—Irenaeus, Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

, Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

, Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

, and the Muratorian Canon all regarded Luke as the author of the Luke-Acts. Neither Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

 nor any other ancient writer mentions another tradition about authorship.

In addition to the authorship evidence provided by the ancient sources, some feel the text of Luke-Acts supports the conclusion that its author was a companion of Paul. First among such internal evidence are portions of the book which have come to be called the "'we' passages". Although the bulk of Acts is written in the third person
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...

, several brief sections of the book are written from a first-person perspective. These "we" sections are written from the point of view of a traveling companion of Paul: e.g. "After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia", "We put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace" Such passages would appear to have been written by someone who traveled with Paul during some portions of his ministry. Accordingly, some have used this evidence to support the conclusion that these passages, and therefore the entire text of the Luke-Acts, were written by a traveling companion of Paul's. The physician Luke would be one such person.

It has also been argued that level of detail used in the narrative describing Paul's travels suggests an eyewitness source. In 1882 Hobart claimed that the vocabulary used in Luke-Acts suggests its author may have had medical training, but this assertion was contradicted by an influential study by Cadbury in 1926, and has since been abandoned.

An anonymous, non-eyewitness author

Many modern scholars have expressed doubt that the author of Luke-Acts was the physician Luke, and opinion on the subject is evenly divided. Instead, they believe Luke-Acts was written by an anonymous Christian author who may not have been an eyewitness to any of the events recorded within the text.

Some of the evidence cited comes from the text of Luke-Acts itself. In the preface to Luke, the author refers to having eyewitness testimony "handed down to us" and to having undertaken a "careful investigation", but the author does not mention his own name or explicitly claim to be an eyewitness to any of the events, except for the we passages. And in the we passages, the narrative is written in the first person plural— the author never refers to himself as "I" or "me". To those who are skeptical of an eyewitness author, the we passages are usually regarded as fragments of a second document, part of some earlier account, which was later incorporated into Acts by the later author of Luke-Acts, or simply a Greek rhetorical device used for sea voyages, as proposed by Robbins. However, more recent scholars have since written on the incoherence of Robbins' sea voyages literary device theory by arguing that contemporary first-person accounts were the exception rather than the rule, that Robbins' cited literature is too broad in both linguistic range (Egyptian, Greek, and Latin) and its temporal extent (1800 BC to third century AD), many of the literary sea voyages cited represented the author's actual presence and were not literary devices at all, many of his examples use the third-person throughout and not just during sea voyages, etc.

A female author of Luke-Acts?

Most scholars understand the evangelist's self-referential use of a masculine participle in Luke to mean that the evangelist was male, but the prominence of women throughout Luke has led a small number of scholars, such as Randel McCraw Helms, to suggest that the author of Luke-Acts may have been female. In particular, compared to the other canonical gospels, Luke devotes significantly more attention to women; prominent discussion is given in particular to the lives of Elizabeth
Elizabeth (Biblical person)
Elizabeth is also spelled Elisabeth or Elisheva...

, John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

's mother (ch. ), and Mary, the mother of Jesus (ch. ).

Interpretation of the "we" passages in authorship discussions

Formally known as the "we" passages, a number of verses in Acts are written in the first person plural ("we"), apparently indicating that the writer is participating in the events he is describing. These were first interpreted by Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus , was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire . He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology...

 as evidence that the writer was a personal eye witness of these events, and a companion of Paul on his travels; the traditional Luke. This interpretation had come under sustained criticism by the middle of the twentieth century.

Although there currently exists no scholarly consensus on the "we" passages, three interpretations in particular have become dominant: a) the writer was a genuine historical eye witness, b), the writer was redacting existing written material or oral sources, whether by genuine eye witnesses or not, c) use of the second person plural is a deliberate stylistic device which was common to the genre of the work, but which was not intended to indicate a historical eye witness.

Historical eye witness

The interpretation of the "we" passages as indicative that the writer was a historical eye witness (whether Luke the evangelist or not), remains the most influential in current biblical studies. Objections to this viewpoint mainly take the form of the following two interpretations, but also include the claim that Luke-Acts contains differences in theology and historical narrative which are irreconcilable with the authentic letters of Paul the apostle.


The interpretation of the "we" passages as an earlier written source incorporated into Acts by a later redactor (whether Luke the evangelist or not), acknowledges the apparent historicity of these texts whilst viewing them as distinct from the main work. This view has been criticized for failing to provide sufficient evidence of a distinction between the source text and the document into which it was incorporated.

Stylistic convention

Noting the use of the "we" passages in the context of travel by ship, some scholars have view the "we" passages as a literary convention typical to shipboard voyages in travel romance literature of this period. This view has been criticized for failing to find appropriate parallels, and for failing to establish the existence of such a stylistic convention. Distinctive differences between Acts and the works of a fictional genre have also been noted, indicating that Acts does not belong to this genre.
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