Dating the Gospel of Luke (part 5)

Summary: Is Luke the authentic author of the two New Testament books attributed to him?

Here are just a few external and internal evidences for a dating of not later than 63 AD for the Gospel of Luke.

1. External Testimony: The Church Fathers

Irenaeus explained that Luke wrote under the direction, if not at the dictation, of Paul. This would place the Gospel of Luke as having been written before the Acts, whose date of the composition is generally fixed prior to 64 AD for a variety of reasons. One common view is that this Gospel was written about 62 or 63, when Luke was at Caesarea in attendance on Paul, who was then a prisoner prior to his second imprisonment in Rome. On the other hand, if the tradition related by Jerome is correct, that it was written at Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment, then it would date earlier, prior to 60 AD.

Here is Irenaeus (c. 185) concerning the authorship of the four Gospels:

Indeed Matthew, among the Hebrews in their own dialect, also bore forth a writing of the gospel, Peter and Paul evangelizing in Rome and founding the church. But after the exodus of these men Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also delivered to us in writing the things preached by Peter, and Luke also, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by that man. Afterward John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned upon his breast, himself also published the gospel, passing his time in Ephesus of Asia (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1).

But that Paul taught with simplicity what he knew, not only to those who were with him but also to those who heard him, he does himself make manifest. For, when the bishops and presbyters who came from Ephesus and the other cities adjoining had assembled in Miletus, since he was himself hastening to Jerusalem to observe Pentecost, after testifying many things to them and declaring what must happen to him at Jerusalem he added: I know that you shall see my face no more. Therefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed, therefore, both to yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishops, to rule the church of the Lord which he has acquired for himself through His own blood. Then, referring to the evil teachers who should arise, he said: I know that after my departure shall grievous wolves come to you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. I have not shunned, he says, to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Thus did the apostles simply, and without respect of persons, deliver to all what they had themselves learned from the Lord. Thus also does Luke, without respect of persons, deliver to us what he had learned from them, as he has himself testified, saying: Even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.14.2-4).

The Muratorian canon (c. 175) has:

The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. Yet he himself had not  seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John.

Jerome (c. 375) has a more detailed history of Luke, claiming that the Evangelist was born in Antioch, and finally buried in Constantinople. According to Jerome, Acts was composed in Rome, and chronicles the events until “the fourth year of Nero,” which is according to our modern reckoning 58 AD.

Luke, an Antiochene doctor, as his writings indicate, was not ignorant of the Greek speech. A follower of the apostle Paul and companion on all his journeying, he wrote a gospel about which this same Paul says: “We have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and to the Colossians: Luke the dearest doctor salutes you, and to Timothy: Luke alone is with me.” He also published another distinguished volume which is known by the title Acts of the Apostles, whose story comes down to the two years of the remaining of Paul in Rome, that is, until the fourth year of Nero, from which we understand that the book was composed in the same city…. Certain people suspect that, whenever Paul in his epistles says: According to my gospel, he means the volume of Luke, and that Luke was taught the gospel, not only by Paul, who had not been with the Lord in the flesh, but also by the other apostles. As he himself also declared in the beginning of his volume: Just as they who themselves from the beginning saw and were ministers of the speech delivered to us. Therefore, he wrote the gospel just as he heard; the Acts of the Apostles he composed just as he himself saw. He was buried in Constantinople, into which city, in the twentieth year of Constantius, his bones with the relics of Andrew the apostle were translated (Jerome, On Illustrious Men).

John Chrysostom (c. 375) has:

But the greater part of this work is occupied with the acts of Paul, who labored more abundantly than them all. And the reason is that the author of this book, that is, the blessed Luke, was his companion, a man whose high qualities, sufficiently visible in many other instances, are especially shown in his firm adherence to his teacher, whom he constantly followed. Thus, at a time when all had forsaken him, one gone into Galatia, another into Dalmatia, hear what he says of this disciple: Only Luke is with me. And, giving the Corinthians a charge concerning him, he says: Whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches. Again, when he says: He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve, and: According to the gospel which you received, he means the gospel of this Luke, so that there can be no mistake in attributing this work to him; and when I say to him, I mean to Christ. And why then did he not relate everything, seeing he was with Paul to the end? We may answer, that what is here written was sufficient for those who would attend, and that the sacred writers ever addressed themselves to the matter of immediate importance, whatever it might be at the time; it was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which they have delivered by unwritten tradition (On the Acts of the Apostles).

2. External Testimony: Manuscript Evidence

Manuscript evidence from the second century onward has the following inscriptions:

Matthew: ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΘΘΑΙΟΝ (Gospel according to Matthew).

Mark: ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ (Gospel according to Mark).

Luke: ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝ (Gospel according to Luke).

John: ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ (Gospel according to John).

The earliest is the beautiful manuscript, P75, from the second century showing the end of Luke and the beginning of John. These say clearly in Greek, “Gospel according to Luke” and “Gospel according to John.”

You will see near the top of the page.



A full-page photo of the manuscript may be found at:

There are no earlier Gospel manuscripts with endings and beginnings that have no title and author.

2. Internal Testimony

The internal evidence of this text consists of the use of the first person “we” and “I,” which is an eyewitness claim. Luke claims to be a companion of Paul, and Paul claims that Luke is his companion. The eyewitness claims in John’s writings are even stronger. We have to only establish genuine authorship and eyewitness credibility in Luke and John, to surmise that Matthew and Mark, likely written earlier or around the same time, were also genuine and credible.

Luke is said in Colossians 4.14 to have been a physician and an associate of the apostle Paul.

Luke is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4.11 and Philemon 24.

The Acts of the Apostles claims by its preface (Acts 1:1-2) to have been written by the same individual as the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:1-4) and the style is undoubtedly the same.

The narrative of Acts shifts to the first person first person when Paul comes to Troas and leaves from there to Macedonia (Acts 16.9-18; 20.4-16; 21.1-18; 27.1-28.16) this use of “we” suggests that Acts was written by a travelling companion of Paul. Since Luke is the traditional author, it “fits” that Paul picks up with the author of Acts either at or before arriving in Troas, since Luke is elsewhere associated with Asia Minor. Troas is a region of Asia Minor between Colossae and Ephesus (the location of Philemon and Timothy) and Macedonia. In other words, independent accounts show Luke being at the right place at the right time.

A seldom used argument is the very nature of the diēgēsis as being self-contained and self-authenticating. The Gospel of Luke comprises a self-contained universe that assumes the corroboration of his audience. In other words, the narrative is addressed to a person who is already familiar with the Gospel by a narrator who places himself within the story through the use of the first person pronoun, “I” and “we.” In other words, Luke is not simply a third-person narrator, but places himself within the framework of the story as it opens, claiming to be the same person who composed the previous Gospel and therefore intimately familiar with the characters in the story, and also claiming to be part of the narrative in the last few chapters.

Additionally, the book of Acts not only purports to be a historical narrative, but it addresses and was delivered to people in cities that were at the center of much of the same narrative. Some of the hearers were people who would have been at Pentecost or who had parents or older church acquaintances who were at Pentecost. The story begins by claiming that the miracle was witnesses by Jews and God-fearers were “from every nation under heaven … Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:5,9-11).

These people would have corroborated the miracle or they would have rejected it. Luke writes at the beginning of his Gospel that it is “a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.”

Throughout the book of Acts, he assumes that his audience can attest to many of the events because they lived in cities that Peter, Paul and Luke would have ministered and preached. In other words, he describes events to some hearers who could have been present in the narrative itself – or who would undoubtedly would have known those who were able to corroborate the story.

Without going into further detail here, I’ll use my novel analogy once again. Suppose I gave a copy of The Acts of Ronald Reagan to my father, who still lived near Washington, D.C. where I was born in 1962. Suppose the copy of my book was then delivered into the hands of my brothers, sisters, children, nephews and nieces. Even if they were ignorant of who wrote the book and didn’t have access to newspapers, media and other historical accounts, they would know that the story was a fantasy based on the numerous anachronisms and fictitious additions. They would already know the correct versions of the events they would have heard undoubtedly from their parents and grandparents.

On the contrary, the account of Luke and Acts had the strength of self-authenticating corroboration due to the eyewitness status of its immediate audience.

My challenge to liberals and skeptics:

1. Where is the external evidence showing that the Gospel of Luke and Acts were anonymous, pseudonymous or written late?

2. Where is the manuscript evidence showing these books without authors attached to the title?

3. Where is the internal evidence that Luke was not claiming both to have interviewed eyewitnesses of Jesus and to have been himself an eyewitnesses to some events in Acts?

For further reading:

Your comments are welcome

Use Textile help to style your comments

Suggested products



The Model of Christian Liberty. This DVD includes “Dawn’s Early Light: A Brief History of America’s Christian Foundations” and bonus features.

Read more