Luke-Acts Primacy
Luke-Acts Primacy

Luke-Acts Primacy

Introduction to Luke-Acts Primacy

Luke-Acts is a two-volume work written by the same author in the first century after both Mark and Matthew and in view of both. It comprises 27% of the New Testament and is the best foundation for understanding first-century Christianity since it provides the most reliable witness of Christ and his Apostles. It is the only New Testament reference that stands alone as providing continuity between the ministry of Christ and the ministry of his Apostles for gaining a sufficiently broad appreciation of the fundamentals of the Gospel message and Christian doctrine. Accordingly, Luke-Acts is the best reference for understanding the belief and practice of the early Church.

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The Prologues of Luke and Acts

Although the Gospel of Luke actually begins in verse five, it is the first four verses that provide us with evidence of its authenticity. While most of the New Testament was written in the common Koine Greek, Luke 1:1-4 was written in the most beautiful, classical Greek found anywhere in the ancient world. The literary style is indicative of only the most sophisticated Greek writers. A philosopher, educator or historian in the ancient world would compose such a prologue when he wanted the work to be given the greatest respect. Prominent Greek and Roman historians did this. 

In the first four verses of his Gospel, Luke is laying down the express motivation of maintaining the highest level of accuracy. He is warranting that the Gospel is a serious literary and historical volume. He is suggesting that his Gospel should provides a higher level accuracy and reliability above the rest. The motive is to engage the reader not with fable, mythology or fiction. Rater it is to give a orderly account of real people, real events and real places. He wants the reader to know he compiled his Gospel with the highest standard of integrity by providing a facts-based historical narrative evidenced by many points of reference that can withstand the scrutiny that others can’t.

Luke’s gospel is addressed to “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). The name Theophilus can be translated “lover of God.” Many theories have been proposed as to who is being addressed. Many scholars have the view that the Gospel is being addressed to a specific person of high esteem but no one knows for sure. Honorary title (academia) tradition maintains that Theophilus was not a person, but according to Greek meaning of the word Theophilus being “Friend of God” that both Luke and Acts were addressed to anyone who fits that description. In this tradition the author’s targeted audience, were the informed believers of the era. In a general sense it would pertain to one of high integrity having affinity toward God. Accordingly, Theophilus is endearing name for the author to address the reader. This is the kind of reader who would be principally concerned with an accurate account of the truth, as to have certainty (the highest level of confidence) in the things taught. 

Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Acts 1:1-2 (ESV)

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

Paul Attests to Luke-Acts Primacy

Luke is the only Gospel that Paul referred to as Scripture. There are a number of places in which Paul makes reference to the material that is exclusively in Gospel of Luke. He actually references material in Luke which is not found in other Gospels and refers to Luke as “Scripture”. Moreover, Paul relies on the testimony of Luke-Acts for reiterating what are the essentials of the faith – in the same context, twice referring to it as “Scripture.” Paul give the account of the Lord’s Supper in a way that is consistent with Luke, but not with Mark/Matthew. In other places, Paul draws parallels with content that Luke contains not exhibited in the other Gospels.  None of the Gospels match Paul’s teaching on the Law as close a Luke. Moreover are numerous undesigned coincidences with Paul’s remarks in his epistles that attest to the validity of Acts. Accordingly, Paul is the first and chief witness attesting to the primacy of Luke-Acts. Of all the Gospels, he has the most affinity with it Luke.

Historical Reliability of Luke-Acts

The author of Luke-Acts is the first Christian historian and critical scholar who exhibited a high level of integrity and competency in his two-volume work. The author, having followed everything for some time past, endeavored to set the record straight so that believers would have and orderly account and have certainty concerning the things taught by Jesus and his apostles. Luke-Acts can be demonstrated to have the highest level of historical reliability and accuracy as compared to the other Gospels. Based on this and other considerations, Luke-Acts should be our primary reference with respect to the core essentials of the Gospel message.

The author is the only New Testament writer that also wrote the book of the Acts of the Apostles: the historical account of the spread of the early church and what the Apostles preached. The author claims to have traveled with the apostles (Acts 16:11-15). This is a difficult claim to make if it could be disproved at the time. The use of language in Luke is more advanced indicating that the author had a technical/medical background. Luke claims to have investigated everything closely from the beginning. And the level of detail he provides substantiates having more specific historical information than Mathew and Mark. Luke is the only Synoptic gospel that is structured like a historical narrative in which everything is in chronological order. Luke-Acts is also the most detailed of the three with respect to historical references. It’s reliability can be strongly defended against criticism.

The Reliability of Luke-Acts page provides articles, videos and Scholarly book references in support of the reliability of Luke-Acts. The page Answering Luke-Acts Objections addresses critical scholarship aimed at Luke and Acts and provides responses to specific objections. 

Order of the Synoptic Gospels

Luke acknowledges that many had previously attempted to compile a narrative and he felt it necessary to do so in order that believers may know the exact truth about the things they have been taught. (Luke 1:4) Bible Scholarship has demonstrated that Luke was written last and had access to Mark and Matthew when composing his narration (see Order of the Gospels). Luke was written after both Mark and Matthew and the author wrote with Matthew as a reference and made corrections over Matthew and Mark in many respects. Corrections By Luke over Matthew and Mark are documented in later sections.

order of the gospels

Other Considerations for Luke-Acts Primacy

Luke-Acts Primacy is consistent with focusing on the core gospel message (the fundamentals) and for establishing what should be emphasized as essential doctrine. Luke-Acts and Paul’s early writings are not as susceptible to critical scholarship in casting doubts about historical accuracy and authorship but also are sufficient for conveying the essentials for one becoming a believer. We believe this methodology is the most viable approach for defending the Christian faith, defining what is essential doctrine, and for evangelism to atheists and other non-believers in this information age. 

Luke-Acts-Paul primacy represents a balance between traditional and non-traditional forms of Christianity. This core foundation of the apostolic tradition is clearly exhibited within the traditional canon while also being minimally speculative. Luke-Acts stands on its own as being sufficient to convey the core fundamentals of the Christian faith providing a reliable account that gives continuity between the ministry and preaching of Christ and the ministry and preaching of the Apostles. It is the only part of the New Testament that can be taken apart from everything else as providing such a wholistic overview of the essential testimony of Christ and his Apostles. For more indications see Other Considerations for Luke-Acts Primacy.

Issues with John

John’s gospel cannot be regarded as a source for the life and the teaching of Jesus of the same order as the Synoptics.  John cannot be regarded as historically accurate as it exhibits striking contrasts with the Synoptic Gospels, and has numerous issues associated with embellishments, contradictions, Authorship, dating, philosophical subordinate aims, and dislocations that calls it into question as a foundational witness of Apostolic Christianity in contrast to Luke-Acts.  John, as well as the Johannine epistles, belong to the post-apostolic period (90-145 AD) and are likely a product of the early 2nd century.

An overview of the issues of the Fourth Gospel in contrast to the synoptic gospels is given in John vs the Synoptics. Major embellishments of John with respect to the Synoptic Gospels are documented in Embellishments of John. There are numerous contradictions with John and the Synoptics that are listed and shown in Contradictions of John. Origen’s Commentary on John shows explicitly how John is more symbolic than historic. Devised Literary Structure of John, reveals how John is carefully designed. The rationale as to why John has been the cause of endless confusion is provided in Confusion Caused by John. Critical Scholarship is provided on John and Philosophy, Dislocations of John, Authorship of John, Dating of John, the Error of using P52 in Dating of John p52 Error, Issues with Dating John before 100 AD, and Contested Status of John, which addresses the contested status of John in the second century. Key references of Critical Scholarship are provided with quotes or as book links with extensive excerpts in Critical Scholarship of John.

Issues with Matthew

Matthew has a number of issues that calls its credibility into question. First, introductory notes about Matthew are provided relating to the source material, authorship, and structure. The Farrer theory provides additional rational for holding Matthew with increased skepticism considering the likelihood that Luke excluded much of the content from Matthew. Corrections by Luke over Matthew documents places where Luke makes a correction or clarification to Matthew. Contradictions of Matthew are those most blatantly obvious contradictions of Matthew with other Gospels. Embellishments of Matthew are also documented corresponding to historical claims, prophecy claims, and other verses having doctrinal significance that are not attested anywhere else in the New Testament. Additionally, evidence is provided against the traditional wording of Matthew 28:19 regarding the trinitarian baptismal formula indicating it may have been added later. Critical Scholarship of Matthew provides key references of critical scholarship with quotes or extensive book excerpts.

Issues with Mark

Luke incorporated most of Mark and made corrections and clarifications where necessary. Mark doesn’t exhibit nearly as many issues as John and Matthew. Mark is not a chronological historical account that is intended to be a historiography the way Luke is. During copying and transmission many variants were added to Mark harmonize it with Matthew. Mark was copied less frequently than Matthew and Luke in the first two centuries and there are few Greek manuscripts that attest to the original text. Versions of Mark also have different endings.  Scholars use early Latin texts of Mark to get a better indication as to the original reading of Mark. Corrections by Luke over Mark documents instances where Luke made numerous corrects and clarifications with respect to Mark. Critical Scholarship with quotes, references, and excerpts are also provided regarding Critical Scholarship of Mark