Doctor’s Notes: Tips for Reading Luke and Acts
Daniel K. Eng | DECEMBER 19, 2018 | 5 MIN READ
Editor’s note: In light of people starting Bible reading plans next month, we wanted to highlight two books of the Bible that have an important link. We hope this will help you to see more clearly the thread of the good news of Jesus Christ as you study the Scriptures.
The books of Luke & Acts have always fascinated me. Luke's Gospel is framed as an "orderly account" (1:3) that receives a sequel in Acts. Some Christians are surprised that Luke the physician, not Paul or John, has written the largest portion of the New Testament.
Here are some helpful guidelines for reading the two-volume narrative.
1. Luke contains the bulk of Jesus's parables
Many of the parables of Jesus are only found in Luke, including some of the most well-known ones, like “The Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Rich Man and Lazarus.
2. Luke displays a concern for historicity
In addition to the stated objective in 1:3, throughout Luke-Acts there are markers for time and place. For example, let's look at the beginning of Luke 2 (ESV):
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria...4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David…
Why is this important? The concern for historicity and concrete settings allows us to situate the narrative in a particular place and time.
3. Luke was a physician
Paul refers to Luke as a physician in Colossians 4:14. Thus, he was trained in the study of life and the human body. It helps to keep that in mind as you read his accounts of miraculous healings and the resurrection.
4. The inclusion of the outcasts
In both his Gospel account and the book of Acts, Luke makes it clear that the message of Jesus Christ is for everyone. This includes those who were considered outcasts or second-class in Jesus's world: the poor, women, children, the sick and lame, and tax-collectors and sinners. Luke’s Gospel contains the narratives about Mary and Martha, Zacchaeus, and Jesus telling the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee. As the narrative continues in Acts, Hellenistic Jews, looked down upon by Hebraic Jews, are included in the church. Finally, even Gentiles, excluded from Israel, are incorporated in the church.
5. Towards Jerusalem and out from Jerusalem
The Gospel of Luke traces Jesus' journey towards Jerusalem, the location for the cross and the empty tomb. The major turning point in Luke is 9:51: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
After this point, Jesus resolutely moves closer and closer to the city, interacting with people along the way, until his triumphal entry.
After following Jesus's death, resurrection, and ascension, the book of Acts traces the gospel message's spreading out from Jerusalem, to the ends of the earth. It eventually makes it to Rome, the center of the Gentile world. Thus with his two-volume narrative, Luke chronicles the movement of Jesus to the center of the Jewish world and then to the center of the Gentile world, demonstrating that the gospel message for the church is for all nations.
6. The centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
In the accounts of the apostles' preaching in the book of Acts, the focus is not on Jesus' teaching nor his miracles. Time and time again when the gospel message is preached, it includes the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without these events, there is no good news. Salvation is found in no one else! Furthermore, notice that the essential part of the message does not change when the gospel is preached to Jews (for see Acts 2:14ff, 3:11ff, 4:12, and 10:34-48) and then to Gentiles (see Acts 13:26-43, 17:22ff, and 24:2-21).
7. See 1:8 for an outline of Luke's narrative in Acts
After Jesus's ascension and before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells his disciples (Acts 1:8): “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
This verse functions as an outline for Acts, as the message starts to spread from Jerusalem (Chapters 1-7), Judea and Samaria (8-9), the ends of the earth (10-28).
I hope these tips are helpful to you as you read Luke’s account! Enjoy the word of God.
After a decade in pastoral ministry in California and Texas, Daniel is now pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament at the University of Cambridge. He lives in the United Kingdom with his wife and their three little girls. He has a D.Min. in Asian American Ministry and is constantly discussing concepts at the intersection of faith and culture. He enjoys following baseball, playing board games, and trying different types of cheese.