Now what makes a tradition valid or invalid generally is how old the tradition is. If the tradition is about the time the actual events happened, it is likely an accurate tradition. You’ll travel the land of israel and somebody will say, “Well, this is the traditional place where Jesus fell down under the weight of His cross and the cross was therefore handed over to Simon of Cyrene.” And you ask, “Well how do they know this is the stone in which…or this is the very place where Jesus fell?”
“Well it’s a tradition.”
“Well, when did that tradition develop?”
“Well it developed in the thirteenth century.”
Probably not accurate. There was probably some way that the church could make some money out of that tradition at the time. Or some person could gain some spiritual favor or some spiritual accolades by having come to that great conclusion. the fact of the matter is if the tradition isn’t nearly at the very time of the event, you probably shouldn’t trust it as being absolutely accurate. But when you go back in the gospel of Luke, you go all the way back to the first century, all the way back to the second century which would just be one generation past the writing of the gospel of Luke and they’re all saying Luke wrote it and they would know because they were there. There isn’t any time passing here. Always this has been attributed to this man Luke. Even the heretic Marcion, M-a-r-c-i-o-n, in 135, this would be 70 years after this gospel was written, the heretic Marcion acknowledged Luke as the author of the third gospel. So did the early church unanimously. As I said, there was never any other suggestion. The oldest Greek manuscript of the gospel, a second-century manuscript, the oldest Greek manuscript in existence goes back to the second century titles this “The gospel according to Luke.” Very, very likely accurate that early. There is a canon…when we say a canon we’re talking about a compilation of the scriptures. The earliest compilation of New Testament scriptures where it was all brought together is called the Mooriturian(?) Canon, it’s 170 to 180 A.D. and it calls this third gospel the gospel according to Luke. And there are many other ancient sources that I won’t take you in to that affirm that Luke is the author.
Very little reason to be suspicious of that from the traditional side. But let’s look at the textual side, okay?
In this gospel we notice something interesting. It is addressed in verse 3 to a man named Theophilus. Verse 3 it says, “I’m going to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus.” So this is addressed to Theophilus.
Look at Acts now. Turn over to the book of Acts chapter 1 verse 1. In Acts chapter 1 verse 1 it says, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach and I composed it all the way till the day He was ascended into heaven when He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.” Well, what is he saying? He’s saying I wrote the third gospel…right?…to Theophilus. Again he says, “Theophilus, the first account I composed and it was all about what Jesus began to do and teach,” and then the writer goes on to write the book of Acts. So the conclusion is this, whoever wrote Acts wrote the third gospel. Whoever wrote the first account to Theophilus refers to himself as having written that first account to Theophilus and then proceeds to write the book of Acts.
So this much we know. Whoever wrote Acts wrote Luke. Now we also know, going back to Luke chapter 1, that the writer was not an apostle. He was not one of the apostles because he refers to those in verse 2 “Who from the beginning were eye witnesses.” And there was one characteristic of an apostle, what did an apostle have to be? An eye witness of what? Of the resurrection of Jesus. So he says there were those who from the beginning were eye witnesses and servants of the Word and have handed them down to us. So he does not write as an apostle. The apostles and other eye witnesses were his sources. In verse 1 he says, “Many have undertaken to compile an account, among them would be those who from the beginning were eye witnesses and servants of the Word and they’ve handed those accounts down to us.” So he says, “I’m beholding to the accounts that have already been put together. And he says in verse 3, “I’ve investigated everything carefully from the beginning in those accounts.” So he is not an apostle. And he was not an eye witness.
Now the fact that he is the author of Luke is established then if we can establish that he is the author of Acts. How can we establish that he is the author of Acts if it never mentions him there? Well, first of all, tradition affirms that he is the author of Acts as it does of the gospel of Luke. But there’s something else that I think we can follow, a little path and you put your concentration in high gear here and follow this thought.
Throughout the book of Acts we come across the author identifying himself with what’s going on. He’s not even…he’s not writing as a…as a historian looking back at something he didn’t experience. He wasn’t there during the life of Christ. He was not an apostle. He was not an eye witness to those events. But he is an eye witness to the things he’s writing about in the book of Acts and the reason we know that is because starting in chapter 16 he starts to use the plural pronoun “we” and he’s right involved in the ministry of the apostle Paul which, as you know, starts in Acts 14 and goes to the end of the chapter. And we keep reading “we did this and we went there and we were here and we did this and that,” and the “we” sections have become very famous because the author is saying I was there, I went where Paul went, I went where Mark and Aristarchus and these others who were with Paul went…we were doing this and we were doing that. The “we” sections start in chapter 16 and run all the way to the end of the book. He’s there all the way from Paul’s second journey to the very end of the book of Acts where Paul is a prisoner in Rome in his first Roman imprisonment.
So whoever the author of Acts is he was Paul’s traveling companion from chapter 16, his second journey when he had a vision from God to go to Macedonia and preach the gospel. He’s there from that time all the way up to the end of the book of Acts. He’s there when Paul was a prisoner in his first imprisonment in Rome, and follow this, later on, Paul years after that had a second imprisonment in Rome referred to in 2 Timothy and there he was beheaded and martyred. And at that point 2 Timothy chapter 4 at the very end of Paul’s life during his second imprisonment after the first one, the first one’s at the end of Acts, a later imprisonment referred to and indicated in 2 Timothy, Luke is also there. So really Luke was with Paul from the time of his second missionary journey, the time when he was at Philippi and Troas, the time recorded in Acts 16, to the end of his life…to the end of his life. Long-term companion of Paul who was even there in Paul’s final imprisonment and martyrdom.
So in much of what is recorded in the book of Acts, certainly the dominant part of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul, he was a witness to a lot of it. While not an eye witness to the gospel account, he was an eye witness to much of what he is recording in the book of Acts.
Now, you say, “Well okay, we agree, he’s a companion of Paul and he was with Paul, but Paul had a lot of companions. How do we know that out of all those companions Luke is the writer?” Well let’s follow it a little bit further. There’s a list of Paul’s companions given throughout the book of Acts. They are Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Timothy, Titus, Silas, Epaphras, Barnabas, Sopater, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus and Trophimus. And all those names will be on the quiz. Okay, those are the names, those are the names of all the people who ministered alongside Paul. But listen to this, all of those names are given in the book of Acts by the author, all but three. So any that he mentions and identifies would not qualify…right?…they won’t qualify. So any of those that the writer of Acts mentions would be other than himself. So all of those names are mentioned with the exception of three. Demas, Demas is not mentioned in Acts but he couldn’t have written the gospel of Luke because remember what he did? He forsook the apostle Paul having loved the present world and abandoned the faith. Epaphras and Titus are the only two not mentioned in the book of Acts out of that whole list that would possibly qualify. But neither Epaphras nor Titus fit the pattern of having been with Paul from the Macedonian vision in Acts 16 all the way to the end of his life. There’s only one who fits that and it’s Luke…and it’s Luke.
So when you sift through, sort out all of Paul’s companions, Luke is left as the only one who really does fit. The early church knew Luke wrote it and the story in Acts support it. And if Luke wrote Acts then he also wrote Luke because in Acts he says, “The first account I composed to you, Theophilus,” that has to refer to Luke. So he wrote the third gospel and he wrote the book of Acts.
Matthew and John then were apostles. The gospel of Matthew, the gospel of John written by apostles. Luke and Mark were not apostles but they were companions of the apostles. Luke was Paul’s companion and Mark was Peter’s companion. And all four of those accounts God inspired to give us the fullest and richest understanding of the glory of the life of Jesus Christ.