The Genre of Luke’s Gospel

If Pitts is right that Luke-Acts presents itself as history, then we’ll better understand Luke-Acts if we focus on what that two-volume work says about the Christian movement.

What difference does it make whether Luke is biography or history? Simply that we’ll better observe Luke’s focus, which enables us to focus there with him. Since Matthew, Mark, and John are biographies of Jesus, we read them rightly when we focus on the person of Jesus. Of course, we can’t ignore what Jesus did or what resulted from his work. But with the emphasis on who he was, the other things fall into place as implications of the main idea (Jesus himself).

 

I’ve been studying Luke these days, to prepare for a new sermon series at our church. And this Sunday, I’ll kick off the series with a book overview.

To help me grasp background matters, I’ve been working my way through a course with Logos Bible Software on Luke’s gospel, taught by Dr. Andrew Pitts. The course has been outstanding, and Pitts’s comments on the genre of Luke have been particularly stimulating.

Overall Genre

Certainly, Luke belongs to the genre of historical narrative. However, there are many sub-categories of genre that fall under the umbrella of historical narrative. On a large scale, there are epics, histories, and biographies. On a small scale, there are miracle stories, confrontation stories, healings, teaching, parables, and origin stories.

Regarding Luke, Pitts argues that there is a difference between ancient biography and ancient history. Biographies focus on one individual, the subject, who is praised or lifted up in some way, and readers are called to imitate or follow that figure. Histories, however, focus more on events than on any particular person, and they are concerned with explaining why something is the way it is, or with making a political or social point in light of the relevant history.

Comparing the Four Gospels

I have always presumed Luke to be the same genre as the other gospels. Of course, it’s closer to Matthew and Mark, which is why those three are often referred to as the “synoptic” (similar perspective) gospels. 

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