Though he never identifies himself in the book, the author of this gospel is almost universally acknowledged to be Luke, the “doctor” (Col. 4:14) and “fellow worker” with Paul (Phlm 24) mentioned in Acts in several places. This sure identification comes from the tight connection between the Gospel of Luke and Acts, both of which are addressed to “most excellent Theophilus” in what is clearly a two-volume set. Because the author of Acts identifies himself in the “we passages” of Acts as one of Paul’s companions on his second missionary journey, there is confidence this is Luke.
Who was Theophilus? The name simply means “lover of God,” so some have posited that this was only a general title for any Christians who would read this book. However, the title “most excellent” suggests this was a specific person and an esteemed one. The dedications at the beginning of Luke and Acts were common in Roman literature as a way to honor the patron and publisher of a work. Thus, Theophilus would not only have been learning from this gospel himself, but also been responsible for duplicating it and spreading it around. The introduction of Luke makes it obvious this is an apologetic:
So, most excellent Theophilus, since I had traced the course of all of it scrupulously from the start, I thought it a good idea to write an orderly account for you, so that you may have secure knowledge about the matters in which you have been instructed. (1:3-4)
Anyone who has read the gospels know that there is much overlap in the books (53% of the book of Mark is in Luke in some form), yet there is always something unique about each. Those unique qualities give us a window into why they were written. The Gospel of Luke is by far the most Gentile gospel of the four. With his Greek name, Luke was likely a Gentile and one associated with Paul’s later work in Achaia and beyond. His gospel was largely written in the most formal, educated Greek style and has a marked order and structure. It is also the most exhaustive, moving from an extensive birth narrative to his ascension. Theophilus is also a Greek name, so he too was likely from the culturally Greek or Roman parts of the Empire.
Luke’s most characteristic trait is the book’s attention to the typically marginalized of the Roman culture. Women are more important in this gospel than the others. The poor are given focus and dignity. Sinners are included in Jesus’ circles more intentionally. Gentiles show up often in Luke, no surprise given the book’s supposed audience.
In these dog days on July, it will be good to walk the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea as we head to Jerusalem with the one who “came to seek and save the lost” (19:10).