The gospel of Luke is the only gospel account addressed to an individual. The name, Theophilus, is Greek, so we can assume he is either a Gentile or a Jew with a Greek name. We will not be surprised, therefore, to find that this gospel seems to be written for readers who are at home in the Greek culture that dominated urban life in the Roman Empire in the first century. Because the author notes that many accounts of the ministry of Jesus have been "handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses and servants of the gospel," it is clear that the author is not an eyewitness but is living at least a generation later.
As we will see, the gospel of Luke uses much of the gospel of Mark and also has material in common with the gospel of Matthew, as well as stories, parables, and teachings not found in any other gospel of the New Testament. All the gospels were originally unnamed accounts. It is also interesting that these testimonies are not called "gospels" until after they are well known in the life of the early church. The word "gospel" is first used by Paul to describe the proclamation of the early church and only later applied to these stories after they have become effective proclamations.
The gospel of Luke begins with stories of women and birth, and includes references to more women who cared for Jesus than any other gospel. In addition to Elizabeth and Mary, we meet Mary and Martha, Joanna, and Susanna, as well as Mary of Magdala, who plays a prominent role in all four New Testament gospels. Certainly, the gospel of Luke would have been welcomed into churches where the leaders included women as well as men. As we know of such churches from the letters of Paul, we can be sure that congregations in Gentile cities of the Roman Empire turned to the gospel of Luke for encouragement.
The author of the gospel of Luke freely rearranges material in the gospel of Mark with additional material. The author deletes some comments from the gospel of Mark that would offend Jewish Christians, but also deletes some of the criticism of Gentiles we find in the gospel of Matthew. The author of this gospel presents the disciples as weak in their faith, but has the risen Christ teach them after his resurrection in order to prepare them for their responsibilities as apostles.
The parables of the good Samaritan and the prodigal son prepare us for the climax of the story. All those with faith and love are offered the kingdom of God. In the gospel of Luke Jewish leaders, who do not understand the true identity of Jesus, arrange for his death. An innocent man is killed, but this is necessary for the reign of the Son of Man. The resurrection of Jesus marks the beginning of that reign, and the rehabilitation of the disciples reveals the forgiving love of God. The good news is that all those with faith will be saved.
The author of the gospel of Luke not only used the gospel of Mark and other materials but also knew at least some of the writings of Paul. Moreover, the author was familiar with the issues that Paul faced throughout his ministry. In the Acts of the Apostles the author of the gospel of Luke presents an account of the story of the early church, and in the gospel of Luke lays the groundwork for the Acts of the Apostles. This gospel, more clearly than any other, was written to present the church to the people of the Roman Empire. The gospel of Luke is a testimony to the innocence of Jesus and his followers, but also a witness to the love of God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.