Luke and the Old Testament

By Wayne Jackson

Luke was a Gentile and so far as anyone knows, he was the only non-Hebrew to author a book of the Bible — with the possible exception of the book ofJob. (Note in Acts 1:19 that Luke cites an Aramaic word and identifies it as a term in “their [the Jews’] language.”) From a strictly naturalistic viewpoint, therefore, one would hardly expect his Gospel account (designed for Greeks) to appeal significantly to the Old Testament. The careful student soon learns that such is not the case.

  1. Luke quotes from the Old Testament scriptures some 30 times in the 24 chapters of his book. He had saturated his mind with sacred literature. He cites from eight different Old Testament books; three times he is quoting from the Septuagint, and the balance is from the Hebrew text (according to the Aland, Black, et al., Third Edition, of The Greek New Testament, 899).
  2. Luke was familiar with the Old Testament priesthood, the special “orders” (i.e., priestly “classes” assigned to certain duties), the customs associated with the priesthood, temple ritual, etc. (1:5ff).
  3. He was acquainted with Isaiah and Malachi’s prophecies of the mission of John the Immerser who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah (1:17; Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6; cf. 3:4; Isaiah 40:1ff). This latter text he attributes to Isaiah, in contradiction to modern critics. See also 4:17 and compare Isaiah 61:1ff.
  4. He was aware of the genealogical records of both Joseph and Mary (1:27; 3:23ff), and traces Mary’s ancestry back to Adam!
  5. He records the Messianic promise that God would give to his Son the throne of David, that he would reign over the house of Jacob forever, and that his kingdom would be everlasting (1:32-33; cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-13).
  6. He provides the account of Mary’s anthem of praise in which she cites from portions of about 23 Old Testament passages (1:46-55).
  7. Luke records Zachariah’s exclamation of praise at the birth of John the Immerser in an affirmation that is heavily punctuated with phrases from the Old Testament.
  8. He was familiar with the Jewish rites of circumcision and purification (2:21ff).
  9. Luke was aware of the Messianic thrust of the Old Testament, for he tells of the devout Simeon, who was anticipating the “consolation of Israel” (2:25), and the aged Anna of the tribe of Asher, who was looking for the “redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38).
  10. The historian was familiar with the ancient accounts pertaining to the widow of Zarephath (4:25-26; cf. 1 Kings 17:9ff), and the healing of Naaman (4:27; cf. 2 Kings
    5:1ff), as conveyed by Christ. And as a credible scholar, he was convinced of the historicity of these supernatural events.
  11. There are numerous small, seemingly incidental details that are likely to be missed, unless one is looking carefully for such hints of Jewish knowledge and interest. For instance when a ruler of the synagogue criticized Jesus for healing a deformed woman on the Sabbath, Luke comments that the Lord argued it was entirely in order that a “daughter of Abraham” be healed on the Sabbath. Christ’s critics were put to shame by the retort (13:10-16).

Conclusion

It is a remarkable circumstance that a Gentile historian, in recording a mini-biography of Jesus of Nazareth, should be so naturally immersed in Hebrew history and nomenclature — especially is this the case when he is writing principally for a Greek audience.

It certainly is not what one would expect from a forger. This constitutes clear evidence of the unity between the Testaments, and the need for even Gentiles to learn Old Testament history as the preparatory phase for the coming of Christ.

One scholar has observed that though Luke was a very educated Gentile, a physician by profession (Colossians 4:14), and was entirely capable of writing in a “pure” Greek form, nonetheless his Gospel narrative is for the most part penned in a “Hebraic Greek style” (Tasker, 49). This is unanticipated from one of his background.

The more one studies the biblical documents, if he is honest, the more convinced he becomes of the oversight of the Spirit of God in the composition of the Holy Scriptures.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Tasker, R.V.G. (1963), The Old Testament in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.