Did Luke Write the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts by Bart Ehrman


Acts mentions Luke as a traveling companion with Paul. And in areas where it appears the Luke joined Paul, Acts point-of-view changes from “he” to “we”, and then at points where it seems that Luke may have left Paul or stayed behind, point-of-view then reverts back from “we” to “he.”

Some historians believe this is a good indication of when Luke was with Paul, when speaking of “we”. This happens several times and must be significant.

Luke writing as “we” tells me that he is probably taking notes during their travels, or perhaps writing those segments of Acts while on the road, and then filling in the “he” blanks when speaking with Paul and others of his travelers.

What is your opinion regarding the curious viewpoint changes, and might this indicate that Luke really is the author of both Gospel of Luke and Acts?


I made an off the cuff comment in a previous post that there was a certain logic that has led readers over the years to identify “Luke” as the author of the Third Gospel.

Let me stress again that the book itself is written anonymously; the author never identifies himself in any way. Moreover, we do not have the identification of the author as Luke until some 100 years after he wrote, in a statement by Irenaeus in his book Against Heresies, where he names the four Gospels as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

So why Luke?

Irenaeus doesn’t tell us, but there appears to be a kind of “exegetical logic” that led to this decision. The way it works is a bit complicated, but it goes like this:

I mentioned in the previous post that the author of this Gospel also wrote the book of Acts. It too is anonymous. But in four passages in the book of Acts, when the author is describing some of the journeys and activities of the apostle Paul, he moves from third person narrative (what “they” were doing) to first-person narrative (what “we” were doing).

These are called the “we passages” of Acts, and it appears on first reading that the author is including himself as Paul’s companion at these points.  The passages – you can look them up – are Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; and 27:1-28:16.

There have been lots of theories over the years about why the author suddenly moves into first person narrative at these points; in my book on Forgery and Counterforgery I give an extensive discussion and show why most of the theories are highly problematic.

The most obvious theory (which happens to be one that I think is highly problematic!) is that the author starts speaking in the first person at these points because he has joined Paul for some of his travels, left, joined again, left again, etc. That means that the author of Acts was a one-time traveling companion of Paul.  And since the Gospel of Luke was written by the same person who wrote Acts, it too was written by this companion of Paul.

So why think it was Luke in particular?

Almost everyone would concede that the book of Acts has as one of its overarching themes the idea that the gospel is meant not for Jews only, but also for gentiles. The Gentile mission takes up most of the book of Acts, and one could argue that its leitmotiv is the idea that gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be followers of Jesus. Since that seems to be an issue that would principally be of concern precisely to a gentile, then the question is narrowed down to this: which of Paul’s traveling companions do we know of who was a gentile?

There are only three gentile companions of Paul explicitly mentioned in the surviving Pauline letters. The passage is Colossians  4:7-14, where Paul first mentions Tychichus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, Barnabas, and “Jesus who is called Justus”–-indicating that these “are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers” (i.e. they are the only Jews he works with).

He then names three other men, Epaphras, “Luke the beloved physician,” and Demas. Since these are not “of the circumcision,” they must be Gentiles.

So, of these three Gentile possibilities, why think Luke is the one who wrote Luke-Acts?

Some readers have noticed that there is a lot of medical terminology and interest found in the books of Luke and Acts (e.g., in the healing stories of Luke and of Acts 3, the story of Paul’s blindness in Acts 9, and so on–a lot of concern for body parts and such). This would suggest that the author was medically oriented. And that suggests that he was a physician. And Luke, the gentile companion of Paul, was the one who was a physician.

And so the result: the author of Acts was probably a gentile physician, and none other than the one that Paul mentions in his letters, Luke. Among other things this means that the accounts of Paul in Acts are quite likely to be highly accurate historically (so the theory goes), because they were written by an eyewitness.

And the Gospel of Luke can be expected, on this basis, to be more oriented toward gentiles than Jews, but also to have been written by someone who was near the time of the events that are described. So that is the exegetical logic that leads to the view that Luke was the author of the third Gospel.