Who wrote Luke-Acts?

A couple of weeks ago we looked at who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and before that we looked at who wrote Matthew’s Gospel.

Now we will take up Luke’s Gospel.

Who wrote Luke? Was the person in a position to record what he recorded? Can we know anything about this author? Did this person have contact with any of the apostles?

External Support that Luke wrote Luke

Irenaeus of France (120–190 A.D.)

Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these…That according to Luke, as having a priestly character, began with the priest Zacharias offering incense to God. For the fatted calf was already being prepared which was to be sacrificed for the finding of the younger son.1

Clement of Alexandria (150–215 AD)

In Clement’s Hypotyposes, he gives the tradition of the earliest church leaders, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner:

“The Gospels containing the genealogies [i.e. Matt and Luke], he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.” This is the account of Clement.2

Muratorian Canon (around 190 A.D.)

In the earliest orthodox list of books dated to around A.D. 190 known as the “Muratorian Canon” we read:

“The third book of the gospel is according to Luke. This Luke was a physician who Paul had taken after the ascension of Christ to be a legal expert. Yet he had not seen the Lord in the flesh. So, as far as he could, he begins his story with the birth of John.”3

Tertullian in Carthage (160-220 A.D.)

“The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage–I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew–whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters.”4

Origen (185-254 A.D.)

“And the third by Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, and composed for Gentile converts. Last of all that by John.”5

Internal Evidence

Reasons for Common Authorship between Acts and Luke

Some scholars believe that it was Luke’s intention to write two books from the beginning when he first penned the Third Gospel,6 while some others will go so far as to say that they were originally a single unit—one book7

Whether Luke had Acts in mind from the beginning or not, there is a strong case to be made that he was the author of both works.  The connection is important because if Luke was also the author of Acts it would establish that Luke was a companion of Paul and other apostles.  Here are a few solid reasons for the belief that Luke wrote both works:

(1) Both books are dedicated to the same man, Theophilus.

(2) Acts refers to the first treatise, which is most naturally understood as the gospel (of Luke).

(3) The books contain strong similarities of language and style.

Evidence that the Author was a companion of Paul

The “we” passages in Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1–28:16), prima facie, suggest a companion of Paul.

Internal Reasons a Physician wrote Luke-Acts:

First, Colossians 4:14 calls Luke ‘the beloved physician.’ In 1882 W. K. Hobart wrote his celebrated The Medical Language of St. Luke in which he argued that where Matthew and Mark use common, everyday terms, Luke often used medical terms in describing Jesus’ healings. This perspective was challenged by H. J. Cadbury three decades later (1920), who pointed out that Luke’s language was no different than that of any educated person.  As Caird quips, if we should now appeal to Hobart’s tome: This would make doctors of almost all the writers of antiquity.  Nevertheless, one should admit that Luke’s terminology is compatible with an educated person and that a physician would fit this picture well. In his New Testament Introduction the German scholar Alfred Wikenhauser notes that: “… the author displays familiarity with medical terminology,”8 and he undisputedly describes maladies and cures from the point of view of a medical man.9

Second, Luke has more healing and exorcist stories than all the other Gospel writers.10 At the same time, there tends to be more unique healing and exorcist stories in Luke than in the other Gospels.11

Third, when one compares Mark 5:26 with Luke 8:43, it is interesting that whereas Mark mentions that the woman had spent her life’s savings on doctors and only grew worse under their care, Luke omits the jab at physicians…probably because he was a physician.

Fourth, the only Gospel to mention of Jesus quoting a proverb “Physician, heal yourself.”12 Fifth,  Luke is the only Gospel to mention the healing of Malchus’ ear when Peter chopped it off.13  These slivers make sense if Luke the physician is the author.

Sixth, Luke is the only Gospel writer to mention why the disciples kept falling asleep. It was because of exhaustion from grief that they fell asleep.14 Leave it to a physician to diagnose people’s physiological condition.

With additional information from external testimony from the early church leaders as well as the what we know from Scripture,15 Luke seems to be the most likely person behind the composition of Luke-Acts.

End Notes


  1.  Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.11.8.
  2.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.5-7
  3.  Muratorian Canon quoted in Alister E. McGrath, The Christian Theology    Reader, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2006), p. 77.
  4.  Tertullian Against Marcion, 4.5, 207 AD.
  5.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.6.
  6. D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo in their An Introduction to the New Testament state “Luke almost certainly had both books in mind when he began to write…” (An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 203); I. H. Marshall in his New Testament Theology says, “Luke, unlike the other evangelists, saw his Gospel as the earlier part of a two-volume work.  This verdict stands firm regardless of whether Luke had the second volume in mind at the time he compiled the first (as I believe to be the case) or decided later that the Gospel needed to be complemented” (New Testament Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 155); Werner Georg Kummel in his Introduction to the New Testament, asserts: “Acts is not a literary work that can stand on its own: as the dedication to Theophilus shows, it constitutes the carrying forward of Luke and belongs with it as the second part of a complete historical work (Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon, 1975), 156.
  7. Robert Maddox states in The Purpose of Luke-Acts “By phrasing the subject of our inquiry as ‘the purpose of Luke-Acts,’ we imply that the two volumes are indeed a single work, which therefore can be regarded as sharing a common purpose…” (The Purpose of Luke-Acts (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982), 3); David A. DeSilva, says “The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are two volumes of a single written work…” (An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 298).
  8.  Luke 4:38; 5:12; 8,44; Acts 5:5 10; 9:40.
  9. Luke 4:35; 3:11; Acts 3:7; 9:18.
  10.  Luke-14, Matthew-12, Mark-11, John-4.
  11.  Luke-4, Matthew-1, Mark-0.
  12.  Luke 4:23.
  13.  Luke 22:51.
  14.  Luke 22:45.
  15.  Colossians 4:14 – “Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.” 2 Timothy 4:11 – “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” Philemon 1:24 – “as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers.”.

Did Jesus Appear to the Apostles?

Did Jesus’ disciples claim that he rose from the dead? If they did, were they sincere in this proclamation? This area is something else that many critics of the resurrection of Jesus often attack and it is an area I will address in this post. Do we have reasons to think that the disciples claimed Jesus rose from the dead and do we have reasons to think that they believed it?

They Claimed It

In order to figure whether they claimed it we will look at nine early and independent sources that fall into three categories: the testimony of Paul about the disciples; the oral tradition that passed through the early church; and the written works of the early church.

Paul’s Testimony

Why should we trust the apostle Paul? Paul claims that his own authority in the church was equal to that of the other apostles.1 That authority was acknowledged by a number of the apostolic fathers soon after the completion of the New Testament.2 Paul reported that he knew at least some of the other disciples, even the big three, Peter, James, and John.3

Acts reports that the disciples and Paul knew and fellowshipped with one another.4 It’s because of all this that we should take Paul seriously on what he says about the other disciples.

After writing on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul said he worked harder than all of the other apostles, but that whether “it was I or they, this [i.e., Jesus’ resurrection appearances] is what we preach.” Thus, Paul knew the apostles personally and reports that they claimed that Jesus rose from the dead.

Oral Tradition

Throughout the New Testament, specifically in the letters of Paul, are oral creeds or summaries that predate Paul’s letters. One that is of special interest is 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

There are many factors scholars have noted why this is an oral creed and that it predates Paul’s letter. In addition, many critical scholars believe that Paul received this creed from the disciples Peter and James when he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion. If true, we have source material within 5 years of the resurrection showing that the disciples experienced appearances of Jesus.

Since tape recorders were unavailable in the first century, recorded dialogues, such as the sermons of Jesus and his apostles, had to have been summaries prepared after the fact by those who had heard them. Most sermons last longer than five minutes. Yet most of the sermons of the New Testament can be read in that amount of time or less. For these reasons and others, most scholars agree that many of the sermons in Acts contain oral summaries included in the text that can be traced to the earliest teachings of the church and possibly to the disciples themselves.

At minimum, these appear to have been standard sermons preached during the earliest times of the church, that are contemporary with the apostles, attributed to the apostles, and in agreement with Paul’s eyewitness testimony that this is what they were preaching. Admittedly, this does not prove that these sermons proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and appearances were coming from the apostles. But if we are not there then we’re awfully close.

Written Tradition

In regards to written sources, we have to consider the Gospels. No matter what you think of them, they are ancient biographies written within the first century and attests to the resurrection of Jesus as well.

In addition we must consider the writings of the apostolic fathers, Clement, Bishop of Rome (c. 30-100 AD) and Polycarp (c. 69-155). These two specifically taught that the apostles were dramatically impacted by Jesus’ resurrection.

In regards to Clement of Rome, he wrote 1 Clement which is dated to 95AD but probably written earlier than that. Irenaeus5 (185 AD) and Tertullian6 (200 AD) mention in their own letters that Clement had seen the apostles and had fellowshipped with them, particularly Peter. This should render great historical value to Clement’s writings concerning the apostles and their teachings. In 1 Clement, Clement wrote that they were assured of Jesus’ resurrection and went out and spread the news of it.7

In regards to Polycarp, Irenaeus tells us that Polycarp was taught by the apostles, taught others what he had learned from them, appointed by the apostles as bishop of the church in Smyrna, and had talked with many who had seen Jesus.8 Tertullian further wrote that it was the apostle John who appointed Polycarp as bishop in Smyrna.9 Similarly with Clement, Polycarp talks about in his own letters about Jesus’ resurrection and the apostles witnessing Jesus after his crucifixion.10

So in conclusion we have nine early eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims of witnessing the risen Jesus. The late New Testament critic of the University of Chicago, Norman Perrin (who rejected Jesus’ resurrection), wrote, “The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based.”11

The Believed It

Well how do we know that the disciples’ were willing to suffer and even die for their proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead for the forgiveness of their sins. This blog post is running long already so I’ll keep everything in the end notes for those interested. We have the accounts in Acts and the testimonies of Polycarp,12 Tertullian13 (200 AD), Clement of Rome14 (95 AD), Ignatius15 (110 AD), Origen16 (185-254 AD), and Dionysius of Corinth17 (writing about 170 AD but cited by Eusebius around 325 AD).

  1. 2 Corinthians 10:8; 11:5; 13:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:6; 4:2; Philemon 1:21; 2 Thessalonians 3:4.
  2. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 51.
  3. Galatians 1:18-19; 2:2-20.
  4. Acts 9:26-30; 15:1-35.
  5. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.3.
  6. Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 32.
  7. Clement, First Clement, 42:3.
  8. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.4.
  9. Tertullian, Prescription Against Heresies, 32.
  10. Polycarp, To the Philippians 9:2.
  11. Norman Perrin, The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark and Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 80.
  12. To the Philippians 9:2.
  13. Scorpiace, 15.
  14. 1 Clement 5:2-7.
  15. To the Smyrnaeans 3:2.
  16. Origen, Contra Celsum, 2:56.
  17. Ecclesiastical History 2.25.8; 3.1.

What Do Extraordinary Claims Require?

Closeup portrait beautiful young woman, lady looking at you camera over glasses gesture skeptically, isolated very green background. Negative human emotions, facial expression, feeling, body language

Some skeptics like to claim that the resurrection and other miracles by Jesus are possible but it would require extraordinary amount of evidence to believe it. If the New Testament makes extraordinary claims of miracles, as the skeptic would tell us, we must have extraordinary evidence in order to believe those claims. The objection, on face value, seems reasonable until you ask, “What does ‘extraordinary’ mean?”

If by “extraordinary” the skeptic means “beyond the natural,” then the skeptic is asking the Resurrection to be confirmed by another miracle (a “beyond the natural” event). How is that supposed to work? In order to believe in the first miracle (the Resurrection), the skeptic would then need a second miracle to support it. He would then demand a third to support the second, and this would go on to infinity. So by this criteria, the skeptic would never believe in the Resurrection even if it really happened. There’s something wrong with a standard of proof that makes it impossible for you to believe what actually has occurred.

If “extraordinary” means repeatable as in a laboratory, then no event from history can be believed because historical events cannot be repeated. The believability of historical events can only be confirmed by looking at the quality of the eyewitness evidence and the nature of the forensic evidence in the light of the principles of uniformity and causality.

If “extraordinary” means more than usual, then that’s exactly what we have to support the Resurrection. We have more eyewitness documents and earlier documents for the Resurrection than for anything else from the ancient world. Moreover, these documents include more historical details and figures that have been corroborated by more independent and external sources than anything else from the ancient world.

Finally, the skeptic’s presupposition can be challenged. We don’t need “extraordinary” evidence to believe something. Atheists affirm that from their own worldview. They believe in the Big Bang not because they have “extraordinary” evidence for it but because there is good evidence that the universe exploded into being out of nothing. Good evidence is all you need to believe something.

Furthermore, skeptics don’t demand “extraordinary” evidence for other “extraordinary” events from history. For example, few events from ancient history are more “extraordinary” than the accomplishments of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). Despite living only 33 years, Alexander achieved unparalleled success. He conquered much of the civilized world at the time, from Greece, east to India and south to Egypt. Yet how do we know this about Alexander? We have no sources from his lifetime or soon after his death. The truth is, we base virtually everything we know about the “extraordinary” life of Alexander the Great from historians who wrote 300 to 500 years after his death! In light of the robust evidence for the life of Christ, anyone who doubts Christ’s historicity should also doubt the historicity of Alexander the Great. In fact, to be consistent, such a skeptic would have to doubt all of ancient history.

Why do skeptics demand “extraordinary” evidence for the life of Christ but not the life of Alexander the Great? Because they’re hung up on miracles again. Despite the fact that miracles are possible if God exists—and despite the fact that miracles were predicted [in the Old Testament] and then witnessed [in the Gospels and Acts]—skeptics can’t bear to admit that miracles have actually occurred. So they set the bar for believability too high. It’s as if some skeptics are saying, “I won’t believe in miracles because I haven’t seen one. If the resurrected Jesus were to appear to me, then I would believe in him.” Now that would be extraordinary evidence.

It certainly would be extraordinary, but is it really necessary? Does Jesus have to appear to every person in the world to make his claim credible? Why would he? We don’t have to witness every event firsthand in order to believe the event actually occurred. In fact, it would be physically impossible to do so. We believe the testimony of others if they are trustworthy individuals, and especially if their testimony is corroborated by other data. This is exactly the case with the testimony of the New Testament writers.

Furthermore, if God were too overt because of frequent miraculous displays, then he might, in some cases, infringe on our free will. If the purpose of this life is to allow us to freely make choices that will prepare us for eternity, then God will give us convincing evidence but not compelling evidence of his existence and purposes. Therefore, those who want to follow God can do so with confidence, and those who do not can suppress or ignore the evidence and live as if he didn’t exist.


David Hume v Miracles

spring blossoms

David Hume (1711-1776) has been a celebrated skeptic since he put forth his argument against miracles. In this blog post, I plan on refuting it. Here is the argument in syllogistic form:

Premise 1: Natural law is by definition a description of a regular occurrence.

Premise 2: A miracle is by definition a rare occurrence.

Premise 3: The evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare.

Premise 4: A wise man always bases his belief on the greater evidence.

Conclusion: Therefore, a wise man should never believe in miracles.

If the four premises are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows—the wise man should never believe in miracles. Unfortunately for Hume and for those over the years who have believed him, the argument has a false premise. Premise 3 is not necessarily true. The evidence for the regular is not always greater than that for the rare.

In the age of instant replay, premise 3 seems to make sense. For example in football, a referee sees a play from one angle at full speed, while we (the audience sitting at home) get to see it from several angles in slow motion. We have greater evidence seeing a play over and over again (the regular) than does the referee who only sees it once (rare).

But what may be true for a videotaped football game is not necessarily true for every event in life. To disprove premise 3, we only need to come up with at least one counterexample:

The origin of the universe happened once. It was a rare, unrepeatable event, yet virtually every naturalist believes that the Big Bang proves that the universe exploded into being because of the mathematical and scientific evidence.

David Hume’s birth happened only once but he didn’t disbelieve in that rare event.

So we know by one of these counterexamples that Hume’s third premise is false and thus his entire argument is invalid. But to go a little further with this…what are some of the problems with Hume’s argument even if all the premises is true?

First, it confuses believability with possibility. Even if the argument goes through, it would not disprove the possibility of miracles; it would only question their believability. So even if you personally witnessed Jesus Christ rising from the dead as he predicted, Hume’s argument says that you (a “wise” person witnessing a rare occurrence) shouldn’t believe it. There’s something wrong with an argument that tells you to disbelieve what you have verified to be true.

Second, Hume confuses probability with evidence. He doesn’t weigh the evidence for each rare event; rather, he adds the evidence for all regular events and suggests that this somehow makes all rare events unworthy of belief. But this is flawed reasoning. There are many improbable events in life that we believe when we have good evidence for them. For example, a hole-in-one is a rare event, but when we witness one we have no trouble believing it. We certainly don’t say to the golfer: Since the evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare, I’m not going to believe your shot unless you can tee it up and do it five times in a row! Likewise, we certainly don’t tell a lottery winner who beat 76-million-to-one odds that he’s not going to get his money until he can win it five times in a row! No, in these cases, the evidence for the rare is greater than that for the regular. Sober, sane eyewitnesses provide greater evidence for a rare hole-in-one no matter how regularly that golfer had missed the hole in the past. Likewise, a winning ticket provides greater evidence that a certain person improbably won the lottery no matter how regularly that person had failed to win in the past.

So the issue is not whether an event is regular or rare—the issue is whether we have good evidence for the event. We must weigh evidence for the event in question, not add evidence for all previous events.

Third, Hume is actually arguing in a circle. Instead of evaluating the veracity of the evidence for each miracle claim, Hume rules out belief in miracles in advance because he believes there is uniform experience against them. As usual, C.S. Lewis has great insight on this:

“Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely ‘uniform experience’ against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.” 1

His false presupposition is that all human experiences have been against miracles. How can he know that? He can’t, so he presupposes it.

Finally, although Hume defines a miracle as a rare event, he then punishes it for being a rare event! It’s as if Hume is saying: If only miracles happened more often, then we could believe them. But if miracles happened more often, then they would cease being miracles (i.e., rare events), and we might consider them natural laws or part of unexplained natural phenomena. But as soon as we consider them natural in origin, then they would no longer get our attention as special acts of God. Its rarity is one of the characteristics that distinguishes a miracle from everything else!

So by Hume’s logic, even if there is a God who performs miracles, we shouldn’t believe any miracles he performs because they are not regular events. Again, there’s something wrong with an argument that tells you to disbelieve what has actually occurred. And there’s something wrong with an argument that requires that miracles not be miracles to be believed. 2

  1. C. S. Lewis, “Miracles,” p. 105.
  2. Much of the information comes from the book Normal Geisler and Frank Turek, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist” which I highly recommend reading.