If one is to understand the importance of the Gospel of Luke one must take into consideration to whom it was written, why it was written, and when it was written. If the who is of little import, how then could its content be significant? If the why is unknown, how could its content be properly interpreted? If the when is mistakenly placed in the wrong era, Luke’s content, no matter how important, couldn’t ever be received with much authority. I hope to address each of these questions properly in their proper places in this study.
The author of this Gospel narrative claims to be writing to a man named Theophilus. Some have thought this person was a beloved or important gentile believer, perhaps a sponsor of the writing of the narrative (i.e. he paid the expenses etc.), a lawyer defending Paul at Rome or maybe someone I’ve overlooked. It should be clear that the meaning of the content of Luke, as well as its importance to others, would be affected by knowing the identity of Luke’s addressee. If Theophilus were a president, for example, it would be important to know whether he was the leader of a country or of a local club. The content of Luke would be received accordingly. I’ll be discussing the identity of Theophilus in later blog-posts.
Secondly, the writer of Luke’s Gospel narrative says the purpose of his writing to Theophilus was so he would recognize the certainty of those things concerning which he was informed. Most believers think Theophilus was taught matters about Christ, but this is not necessarily so. Clearly, Acts 21:21, 24 speak of Jewish believers being wrongly informed about Paul’s activities. These believers weren’t formerly taught about Paul, as though they were schooled, but were informed about his activities by Paul’s enemies. Therefore, how we understand this Greek word (G2727) depends to some extent upon how we understand the identity of Theophilus. Was he an insider (believer) who was taught or an outsider (unbeliever) who was informed? In either case, however, Luke’s purpose was that he would recognize the certainty of what he was told, so the author of Luke intends his thesis to be somewhat apologetic.
Finally, when was this Gospel narrative written? If it was written after Rome defeated the Jews and destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 AD, then many questions must be asked concerning authorship, historical veracity, the author’s ability to conduct effective research for the project and whether or not eyewitnesses to Jesus’ sayings and works were still living. If it was written before the Jewish / Roman War, how much before that event should we consider it to be? Many scholars believe no one penned anything in the New Testament until late because of Jewish oral culture. However, it wasn’t only Jewish oral culture that needs to be kept in mind, but the availability and expense of writing materials would put the whole world at that time in an oral culture. Yet this doesn’t mean that no one ever wrote anything down about anything they considered important. Consider the following which concerns what we would expect a person to do with what was written down in an oral culture:
“But I disapprove of the advice given by Laenas, that we should set down in our note-books, duly tabulated under the appropriate headings, summaries of what we propose to say, even in cases where we have already written it out in full. For reliance on such notes as these makes us careless in learning what we have written and mutilates and deforms our style. For my own part I think that we should never write out anything which we do not intend to commit to memory.” [Quintilian; Institutio Oratoria, Book 10, chapter 7, section 32].
At least according to Marcus Quintilianus, a Roman rhetorician of the 1st century AD, what one wrote was written for the purpose of committing to memory. It would be wrong, therefore, to imply the Apostles wrote nothing down until late in their ministry. The fact is, writing down Jesus’ words and his history very early for the purpose of memorization by new believers would be imperative. Moreover, copies of their narratives could be taken by pilgrims back to their respective synagogues throughout the Roman Empire, thus spreading the good news around the world without the Apostles ever leaving Jerusalem. Such is not only logically sound, but it is probable in light of the above quotation.
Therefore, I submit for consideration that the Gospel of Luke was written very early, probably in the 30s AD (the when), because, according to above quotation of Quintilian, there is absolutely no logical reason for the Apostles or Luke to refrain from writing down what they hoped to deliver to the whole world from the one they worshiped as God. I hope to strengthen this argument when I come to the why Luke’s Gospel was written to Theophilus. I’ll present my argument when I come to identifying Luke’s immediate recipient in history; thereby addressing why, when and whom at the same time, because the logic of and replies to all three questions are to some degree interdependent.
 Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (cir. 35 – cir. 100 AD) was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, Institutio Oratoria (English: Institutes of Oratory) is a twelve-volume textbook on the theory and practice of rhetoric by Roman rhetorician Quintilian. It was published around year 95 AD.