Study Guide

Gospel of Luke Themes

  • Family

    When you think about Christian values, you'd probably say family would be at the top of the list, right? Well, for Luke's Jesus, family is not one of the supreme values—familial duties are actually obstacles to becoming his disciple. Following Jesus quite simply increases the likelihood of familial conflict and strife. There is no way to make this less prickly of a fact. It's as hard to swallow now as it was two millennia years ago.

    Questions About Family

    1. How does following Jesus conflict with familial obligations? How can we reconcile this today?
    2. How would the abandoned family feel about their loved one following Jesus? Does Luke anywhere recognize the family's point of view?
    3. What are the rewards for disciples who ignore their familial duties in favor of following Jesus? Why do they do it?
    4. How is the break from family an imitation of Jesus himself?
    5. Does this demand apply only in select cases or are there examples in Luke of disciples who still maintain their family connections? 
    6. Is there any sense in Luke that the requirement to abandon family for following Jesus is valid only during the lifetime of Jesus? Or is it in any other way limited in scope?
  • Love

    Let's face it: Luke is a hippie. "All you need is love." "Make love, not war." Doesn't sound too different from Luke, right?

    There are at least three types of love worth tracking throughout Luke's story: love among people, God's love for mortals, and people's love for various non-human things, like honors, wealth, or God. The common thread here is the Greek word agape, which we see at least twelve times in Luke's gospel. It might be Greek to you, but that doesn't let you off the hook. Track it through the English and see how Luke interprets the oh-so-abstract concept.

    Questions About Love

    1. If you really love someone, what actions would Luke say you should be performing?
    2. Why do people love God in Luke and what are the consequences?
    3. What does it mean for God to love mortals in Luke's gospel? How is this different from mortals' love for God?
    4. Define love, Tweet-Style. That's right, 140 characters or less. Now do it again, using Luke's definition. What's the same? What's different?
  • Women and Femininity

    Women? In the gospels?! Yep, that's right. Luke gives women a pretty prominent role in his story. He names several female followers of Jesus (8:1-3), makes them the first witnesses of the empty tomb (24:1-8), and affirms that they, too, should attend to the teachings of Jesus (10:38-42). Luke is living in a Greco-Roman cultural world, where there are plenty of debates about whether women even have the capacity to learn at all and whether they can properly hold a job like, say, philosopher. It's pretty easy to see which side Luke seems to have come down on.

    But let's not get ahead of ourselves; this isn't the stuff of Women's Lib. Luke is not re-writing the cultural expectations men hold about women or the cultural roles men assign to women. The trick is to tease out just how far Luke goes without losing sight of the fact that he's still working within the confines of a very male-centered world.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. Does Luke give women the same treatment he gives other social outcasts?
    2. What does Luke see as women's proper work and role?
    3. Imagine a scale with Women's Lib on one side and patriarchy on the other. Where would you place Luke on this scale? Is he always consistent? 
    4. Does Luke take up any of the stereotypical female roles found throughout world literature, like the femme fatale, the chaste maiden, the lovesick woman, or the bad girl?
  • Poverty

    Luke's Jesus is a passionate advocate on behalf of the poor, and he's convinced that God is on their side. He also tells his disciples to get their butts busy meeting the needs of the people who don't have anything. This guy isn't talking about puny acts of charity that leave your own comforts and securities totally intact. No, these are big, life-altering efforts on behalf of the poor, like selling all your possessions. That's what people are chattering about when they speak of Luke's monumental humanity (check out more in "Why Should I Care?").

    Questions About Poverty

    1. What exactly is God's role in reducing the rate of poverty?
    2. What are people who are relatively well-off supposed to do in the face of the poverty-challenge?
    3. Is there any demand placed on the poor themselves in Luke's gospel? How are they supposed to help themselves?
    4. Can you think of examples of contemporary initiatives on behalf of the poor that live up to the high bar set by Luke? Can you think of examples that fall short?
    5. Which poverty-problems are absent from Luke's view? How can his analysis and the solutions he offers be improved upon?
  • Wealth

    No matter how it seems, Luke's Jesus isn't just a belligerent rich-guy hater. He's more interested in what chasing after wealth does to people. Money makes people want things, and according to Luke, it dictates their actions, closes them to certain realities, and leaves them short-changed at the end of their lives. How are we supposed to reconcile these concepts in a world where everything is market-this and economy-that? Man, the Bible can be one tough nut to crack.

    Questions About Wealth

    1. What are people supposed to do with their money in Luke's gospel? Why? What do they get in return?
    2. Is Luke basically just saying, "you can't take it with you"?
    3. What hope do the wealthy have in Luke's gospel?
    4. How is wealth used as a tool of characterization in this story?
  • Sin and Forgiveness

    Luke's Jesus is serious about sin and the need for people to turn their lives around. But he doesn't seem judgmental. In fact, he makes friends with the "sinners," eating, drinking and, well, partying with them. Plus, he gets a lot of heat for doing so. Think you're safe from the sinner club? You're wrong, says Jesus. People who consider themselves immune to sin are actually part of the club. Better to be self-aware and understand your sinful tendencies.

    And how about forgiveness? The Greek word in question here may also be translated as "release," "remission" or "liberation." That means, the concept of "atonement" (i.e., being forgiven for sins by means of Jesus's sacrifice or spilled blood) is not as prominent an idea in Luke as it is in the letters of Paul or even the Gospel of Mark. So how does Luke suggest you liberate yourself from sin? Through baptism, confession in prayer to God, commitment to repentance, and Jesus's own bestowal of forgiveness.

    Questions About Sin and Forgiveness

    1. What acts are "sinful" in Luke's gospel?
    2. Why is sin bad?
    3. From Luke's perspective, what happens to people who sin? 
    4. Who is portrayed with more sympathy in Luke's gospel, people called "sinners" or religious leaders? Why?
  • Fate and Free Will

    One of Luke's major concerns is to show that the work, passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus are the fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures (i.e., Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms). This is Luke's main way of coming to terms with the fact that Jesus—the Messiah, for crying out loud—gets crucified. God's will has been accomplished precisely through and in spite of all of those acts of opposition, betrayal, and rejection.

    It's a pretty hefty concept of divine fate, necessity, determination, or even destiny. And the pesky conundrum arises: are the people who betrayed, rejected, and condemned Jesus responsible for their actions? One thing's certain. Within Luke's text they are held responsible and their punishment is expected (Judas is a case in point; see 22:22). But it's a tough line. Work through the texts for yourself and see if you can toe it.

    Questions About Fate and Free Will

    1. Which of the Jewish scriptures in particular are the sources for knowledge about fate?
    2. At what point in the story do the disciples finally understand that God has predetermined certain events and that the authors of the Jewish scriptures have written of them beforehand?
    3. How much scope is given to free will in Luke? And what can it possibly mean for humans to be free in light of such a hefty concept of divine necessity? It's a toughie, we know.