Where was Luke's Gospel written?

Why ask the question of where a gospel was written? If we admit that a gospel is not simply a newspaper report of what Jesus said and did, but rather a catechesis that was addressed to Christian communities of the first century, especially to people who had just been baptized, then we must situate the gospel in the category of a pastoral action. And a true pastoral action takes into account the people to whom it is addressed, the questions and problems that run through the community, the culture and language of the surrounding world.

Thus, knowing the community to which a gospel was first addressed helps to understand its own accents, to explain its way of presenting Jesus and to perceive how certain passages are a response to real problems in the community. Biblical scholars are accustomed to calling the setting in which a gospel was written "Sitz im Leben" (German for "setting in life", first used by Hermann Gunkel in 1906).


We intend to defend the hypothesis that Corinth, in Greece, is a probable place of composition of Luke's gospel. The economic and social context of the third gospel is in many ways similar to that of Paul's letters to the Corinthians.

On the other hand, the major features of Luke's teaching, as well as the Christian life he describes, correspond to the aspects of doctrine and practice found in Corinth through the letters of Paul. Some ancient testimonies corroborate this hypothesis: an anti-Marcionite prologue from the beginning of the 4th century and a Coptic inscription from the 6th or 8th century.



The world of biblical exegesis regularly sees the publication of articles or monographs dealing with the environment in which one or another gospel was written. The subject may seem at first sight to be a simple historian's curiosity, but in fact it makes it possible to understand the hermeneutical effort of the evangelist, to place in context his way of modifying what he receives from tradition. How, in fact, can we explain the specific characteristics of a gospel that the history of its writing gives us, leaving aside the type of community that is the primary recipient of the gospel and the nature of the problems it must face? Moreover, the pastoral value of such a concern is undeniable: we can double check how much a gospel was relevant to its environment.

Today it is customary to place Matthew in Syria, probably in Antioch1, Mark in Rome, John in Ephesus2. But what about Luke? Surprisingly, the proposals on the subject remain vague. For example, R.E. BROWN in his book: The Birth of the Messiah, writes that this is a Gentile church that grew out of Paul's missionary effort, and, in a note, he adds, "I wouldn't try to be more specific than that." Eusebius reports that Luke is from Antioch and some would locate the composition of the Gospel there. But Syria is starting to get a little crowded with alleged New Testament authors: Matthew and John are often located there, and even Mark on occasion3. J.A. FITZMYER, in the introduction to his commentary on Luke, devotes a section to the date and place of composition of the gospel, but he actually speaks only of the date and touches only in a single 7-line paragraph on the question of the place of composition, which could be anywhere but Palestine4. This attitude is all the more surprising given that we often go to the trouble of being more specific about the other gospels. Can we go further than the assertion of a non-Palestinian setting, or even a Greek setting?5

The hypothesis we want to present is to situate the Sitz im Leben of Luke's gospel in Corinth. In all rigor of method, we will begin by outlining some of the main features of the Lucan community as they appear on reading the gospel; we will then try to show the congruence that exists between this community and what we know elsewhere about the Corinthian community; finally, we will present some support provided by tradition.


    The history of the writing reveals a number of characteristics that mark the third gospel. We have selected five that seem important and particularly relevant to our topic.

    1. The economic context

      Luke is very interested in the Christian's relationship to money. He is the only one to present various parables on the relationship between rich and poor: the parable of the foolish rich man (12:13-21), the clever steward (16:1-13), the bad rich man and Lazarus (16:19-32), and Jesus' exhortation to invite the poor rather than the rich to a meal (14:12). Let us also think of the particular coloring of his beatitudes (6:20-26), of his version of the parable of the guests who make excuses and are replaced by the poor (14:15-24), of the story of Zacchaeus, a rich man who gives part of his fortune to the poor (19:18). We may be surprised at such a preoccupation with the poor and the rich-poor relationship. To speak of the particular source of Luke, for example the Proto-Luke, as Mr. É. BOISMARD does, does not answer the question: why such insistence? The orientations of a gospel are not gratuitous, they presuppose a corresponding sensitivity in the first hearers of this word, and thus a particular community situation. The evangelist then acts as a pastor who challenges believers in the very name of the tradition.

      This community thus appears to be struggling with a problem of economic disparity. There are rich people ("Woe to you rich people...") and poor people ("Blessed are you poor people"). The rich have difficulty untying their purse strings and sharing: "Fool, this very night they will ask for your soul back. And what you have gathered, who shall have it?" (12: 20) This even leads to conflicts between brothers, since recourse to the courts is necessary: "Master, tell my brother to share our inheritance with me?" (12: 14). Literary criticism reveals that the parable of the rich fool must originally have included only vv. 16-206. What, then, did the editor add? "From the crowd someone said to him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.' Jesus said to him, 'Man, who made me judge or divide over you?' He said to them, 'Take care and beware of greed, for in abundance a man's life is not in dependence on what is his'" (vv. 13-15). It is therefore a question of divergent interests between brothers, concerning an inheritance, which presupposes the possession of a certain quantity of goods. The story of Zacchaeus (19:1-10) could be added to this file: what relevance would this figure of a rich man who knows how to give to the poor and repair the injustices committed have if it did not target a community marked by tensions between rich and poor?

    2. The social context

      Another characteristic of Luke is his concern for the marginalized and sinners. We could call him the evangelist of compassion and conversion. In this respect, chapter 15 is very eloquent with the evocation of the sheep found, the drachma found, the son found. We can integrate in this perspective the story of the forgiven sinner (probably a prostitute) (7:36-50), the parable of the Good Samaritan (10:29-37) as well as that of the Pharisee and the tax collector (18:9-14). Whether it is the son who leaves his father, the prostitute, the Samaritan or the tax collector, each time we are referred to people who are on the margins of Jewish society. What, then, is the evangelist's intention when he offers these unique pericopes in the New Testament? Is it not because some of his audience or readers can relate to them? Also, while Matthew's Jesus invites to be perfect as the heavenly father is perfect, Luke's Jesus says: "Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful" (6:36).

      How to describe the Lucan community? It is easy to imagine a motley crew, bringing together officials (18: 13), upstarts (12: 19), the poor (14: 12), foreigners (10: 33), businessmen (19: 13), prostitutes (7: 37), debauchers (21: 34). The cares (merimna) of life seem to characterize a number of people, since Luke returns to the subject twice (8:14 and 21:34 which is his own).

      Moreover, no other evangelist has given such a large place to women. It is enough to mention some of the great figures in his gospel, such as Mary and Elizabeth, Martha and Mary. He alone mentions female disciples who support Jesus with their possessions (8:1f). On the road to Calvary a group of women follow him, beating their breasts and lamenting over him (23: 27); this last point is all the more interesting since the male disciples are absent. Is the loving and forgiven sinner not a woman? Luke's Jesus even goes so far as to claim a female role: "For which is greater, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? But I am among you instead of the one who serves" (22:27). Luke is even careful to add a parable featuring a woman after the one featuring a man: the mustard seed (13:18) and the leaven in the dough (13:20); the shepherd who lost his sheep (15:1) and the woman who lost her coin (15:8). In the court of the high priest, it is first a woman who challenges Peter and to whom he replies: "Woman, I do not know him" (22:57), then two men to whom Peter replies in turn: "Man, I am not" (22:58,60). How can such a preoccupation be explained if not by the remarkable presence of women in the community and perhaps even by a debate on the place they should occupy. For example, the story of Martha and Mary presents two roles, serving tables and listening to the Word, and thus brings into play two types of community involvement and the debate that surrounds it.

    3. The face of Christ

      In his catechetical presentation, Luke likes to emphasize certain features of Christ's face. Thus he emphasizes more than the other evangelists the prophetic aspect of Jesus' mission7. Invested with the Spirit at his baptism, Jesus inaugurates his preaching by taking on Isaiah's prophecy, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me..." (4: 18ff). Throughout his mission he will identify with the role and fate of the prophets (13:33), especially Elijah (4:25). Similarly, in the third gospel Jesus is perceived by many as a prophet (7:16,39; 9:19). There is obviously on the part of the listener, and therefore of the community, an ability to receive such language, a corresponding sensitivity and experience.

      Luke favors another title of Jesus: Lord (kurios). We will not enter here into the debate about the origin of the attribution of this title. But we simply note that, statistically, Luke uses this expression the most (Mt: 28 / Mk: 4 / Lk: 40 / Jn: 33 / Acts: 50: explicit references to Jesus, excluding scriptural citations). Why? Because he received this vocabulary from tradition? No doubt. But the common use of the title "the Lord" to refer to Jesus in the pre-resurrection narratives is unique to Luke8. Here again, the hermeneutical effort detects the familiar language that the listener could hear.

      The same idea applies to another title of Jesus, that of Savior. Need we remind you that Luke is the only one among the synoptics to give this title to Jesus and to use the word "salvation"? As for the verb "to save", he is the one who uses it the most (Mt: 15 / Mk: 13 / Lk: 17 / Jn: 6 / Acts: 13), even if it is not by much compared to Matthew. We can therefore guess a context in which there is a desire for salvation or, at least, a context in which saviors were proposed.

      "Was it not necessary for Christ to suffer this in order to enter into his glory?" (24: 26), Jesus says to the two disciples of Emmaus. Behind these words we perceive a particular orientation of Luke's catechesis. Not only does he use the word suffer a little more than the others (Mt: 4 / Mk: 3 / Lk: 6 / Jn: 0 / Acts: 5), but he is the only one to use it absolutely, without any complement or adverb, as at the beginning of the account of the Last Supper: "I have so desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (22:15; 24:46; Acts 1:3; 3:18; 9:16; 17:3)9. This theme of suffering as an obligatory path to glory will recur in his gospel like a refrain; it allows us to grasp the character of Jesus there. This insistence even leads Luke to eliminate the mention of the resurrection in the second announcement of the passion. He paints this portrait of Jesus by drawing on the image of the suffering servant, as we can see from this explicit mention: "For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me: He was numbered among the criminals" (22:37).

      One final point about Luke's Christ deserves to be emphasized, and that is the presentation of Christ's death. We know that Luke does not use sacrificial vocabulary and does not offer parallels to phrases like this one from Matthew: "So the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45)10. Rather, Jesus appears as the innocent righteous one who died a martyr out of faithfulness to his mission. Such an elimination of categories related to the Jerusalem temple sacrifices and their atoning value is explained by a non-Jewish context, where the experience of a sacrifice for the sins of the people does not exist. Luke has thus been able to adapt to the mentality of the ecclesial milieu and to reformulate the meaning of Christ's death.

    4. The Holy Spirit

      As for the Holy Spirit, Luke is the evangelist who gives him the most space. The great actor of the Acts of the Apostles is the Holy Spirit. Even if we consider only the gospels, it should be noted that the third gospel is the one that mentions him the most: Mt: 11 / Mk: 7 / Lk: 17 / Jn: 14. The Holy Spirit is at the origin of the mission of Jesus and the Church; he inspires Elizabeth, Zechariah and Simeon to prophesy; he is the gift that must be asked for in prayer (11: 13). The Acts of the Apostles attests even more strongly to the charismatic atmosphere: there is the speaking in tongues and the extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit during the three Pentecost days (2:13; 8:18; 10:46) and during the laying on of hands by Paul on the Baptists of Ephesus (19:6). Beyond Luke's catechesis, are we not referred to a community situation?

    5. The Christian life

      On the Christian life, we will highlight only a few points. First of all, the 3rd gospel could be defined as the gospel of constancy and perseverance (hupomonē). It is from day to day that the Christian faith is lived out: "Give us the bread we need for each day" (11:3)11; "If anyone wants to come after me, let him... take up his cross every day... " (9:23); "But stay awake and pray at all times... " (21: 36); it was "for forty days" that Jesus was tempted by the devil (4: 2). Similarly, the Christian is invited to persevere despite the obstacles: "Jesus told them a parable about the need for them to pray constantly and not to be discouraged" (18: 1); "It is by your perseverance that you will gain life" (21: 19). Such insistence signals the existence of a problem.

      We also know Luke's radicalism about the demands of following Christ. He is the only one to say that it is necessary to leave everything, to renounce everything: "Then the disciples took the boats ashore and left everything and followed him" (5:11; 5:28; 18:22). This renunciation concerns first of all material possessions: "Whoever among you does not renounce everything that belongs to him cannot be my disciple" (14:33).

      All this gives Luke's gospel a rather ascetic look. The renunciation of women, which he alone mentions, is usually interpreted in this light: "If anyone comes to me and does not prefer me to his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even to his own life, he cannot be my disciple"12 (14:26; 18:29). BOISMARD writes: "In a world of increasing moral corruption, Luke stood up for virginity13"


    Let us now consider what we know about the Corinthian community. Much of our information comes from Paul's epistles to the Corinthians, which we place between 55 and 57. One might object to the connection we are trying to make between the Lucan community and that of Corinth, alleging that at least 25 years separate these Pauline letters from the final writing of the gospel, around 80 or 85. We reply, on the one hand, that the writing of a gospel is spread out over time and that it certainly took several years before it was completed. On the other hand, the characteristic features of a community have been etched by time and do not suddenly vanish; social changes take place only slowly. We need look no further than the problem of divisions which begins the first epistle (1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21) and which will be found again in the letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, dated 96.

    1. The economic context

      Corinth is a city with two seaports, Cenchrea to the east, located on the Ionian Sea and open to ships arriving from Egypt or Asia, and Lechaeon to the northwest, on the Adriatic, welcoming ships from Italy, Spain and the western Mediterranean14. It is a prosperous city. Sailors pass through while boats are pulled on logs or carts to get them across the four miles separating the two seas. The commercial exchanges are intense. It is a young city (it was rebuilt in 44 BC), offering multiple possibilities. Many adventurers arrived from Asia or Egypt to get rich quickly. It is the California of the time.

      What was the economic situation of the Christians? The evidence we have suggests that a number were wealthy15. Thus, Erastus, the city treasurer: according to an inscription found in Corinth, the paving around the theater is due to the generosity of this man. Crispus, head of the synagogue, must have been well off to hold such a position. Gaius, who could accommodate the entire Corinthian community, must have owned a very large house, which implies significant financial means. The same can be said of Stephanas and Jason. Priscilla and Aquila can probably be placed in the same condition, because not only will they receive Christians in their homes, but they will travel quite easily, which suggests certain financial capacities. As for Phoebe, she could be put in the same category, if she travels for business and can be patroness of the Christians. We have a confirmation of this financial situation of part of the community by the initiative it took in the collection for the poor of Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:10); this project is financed out of the superfluous.

      At the same time, this community has difficulty in loosening the purse strings and following through with its project. Paul has to come back to shake off their torpor and tell them: "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap, and whoever sows widely will also reap" (2 Cor 9:6). Similarly, tensions between rich and poor were one of the great problems of this community. The splits that Paul noted in the Eucharistic gatherings involved above all two economic classes: there are those who can arrive early, offer abundant food (but which they shared only with people from their social background), and those who have to toil until sundown and bring only their meager provisions for the common meal (1 Cor 11:17-34); true sharing is not experienced16.

      Do we not find here the economic environment of the Church of Luke? Doesn't the parable of the poor rich man and Lazarus take on an interesting relief in the context of the scandal of the Eucharistic gatherings that Paul denounces? 17 Similarly, Jesus' words, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or rich neighbors..., but invite the poor, the crippled..." (14:12), becomes very challenging in the Corinthian context. Zacchaeus is certainly for Luke the model of the Christian who knows how to use his wealth well.

      Many other pericopes of the Gospel take on a striking relief if we place them in Corinth. Let us compare the request for a judge to settle a dispute over an inheritance (Lk 12:13) with the recourse to the courts for disputes, apparently of an economic nature, between brothers (1 Cor 6:1-8).

      The evangelist appears as the pastor who challenges and questions the behavior of many Christians. Some words, which belong to the editorial layer, must have been perceived as harsh by members of the community: "Woe to you rich people..." They challenge false scales of value and false gods: make friends with dishonest money. Here we are faced with the critical role of the pastor. Similarly, the ending of the parable of the rich fool: "So the one who hoards for himself and does not grow rich for God's sake", a passage which is also editorial, is of moral guidance: the man who hoards for the sake of the poor is proposed as an example.

    2. The social context

      How much can we estimate the population of Corinth to be, 500,000, 600,000?18 It was made up of former soldiers of the Roman army, investors, merchants and artisans from all over the Empire, and, of course, natives. The Jewish colony had its "Synagogue of the Freedmen". Slaves could make up two thirds of the population. We are therefore faced with a very composite environment with a constant coming and going of the population, a mixture which in a young city invariably provokes cultural mutations. This can be observed in the situation of women. For example, in the Isthmian games, there are women in two competitions: the 200-meter race and the chariot fights19. Such shifts lead to social instability.

      What we know of the composition of the Christian community reveals a great variety of origin or cultural background. Let us first consider the names. The epistles give us both Latin and Greek names: Titius, Justus, Aquilas, Prisca, Fortunatus, Gaius, on the one hand, and Stephanas, Jason, Phoebe on the other. Some Christians are of pagan origin (1 Cor 8:7; 12:2), others of Jewish origin (2 Cor 11:22; Acts 18:8). The mention of slaves is explicit (1 Cor 7:21-33). Who are these weak, despised and unborn people of whom Paul speaks? Perhaps slaves or freedmen. On the other hand, we find some notables, like Erastus, the city treasurer (Rom 16:23), or Crispus and Sosthenes, leaders of the synagogue (Acts 18:8.17).

      Let us say a word about the condition of women. What we have seen for the whole of Corinthian society is reflected in the Christian community. A certain emancipation is noticeable. The problem of the veil that Paul addresses undoubtedly comes from the desire to free oneself from traditional customs, and thus to reject the very narrow place that was given to women (1 Cor 11:2-16). Also, women intervene in the assemblies, at the risk of shocking the sensibility of certain participants (14: 33b-33).

      In a cosmopolitan city there are always those who are left behind. St. Paul writes: "There are not many among you who are wise in the eyes of men, nor many who are powerful, nor many who are of good family" (1 Cor 1:26). The apostle of the Gentiles must convince those who do not seem to have prestigious charisms that they have a place in the community; in this regard, he uses the image of the body and its members (1 Cor 12:12f). He even speaks of the "weak" who are in danger of perishing, or who have already left the community, victims of the scandal of the strong (8:1-13). So he proposes a rule of conduct: "Therefore, if any food should cause my brother to fall, I will for ever renounce eating meat rather than causing my brother to fall" (8: 13). This is a way of inviting concern for the weaker brother.

      Let us now put Luke's Gospel in this context. Do we not find the same recipients, marginalized and sinful, this mass of people so diverse? A Jesus who eats in the midst of these people becomes truly good news for those "unborn" and "despised" (1 Cor 1:28). Luke's staff and language reflect the world of officials, merchants or business people, very similar to the Corinthian world.

      The question of women has the same importance in Luke's world as in Corinth. Corinth is a vibrant place, we said. Women want to break free from traditional customs and explore new avenues; they want to redefine the relationship between men and women. Luke seems to support such a movement by providing models of women, by emphasizing the role they played in the life of Jesus, by constantly presenting human reality as a male-female reality. The ecclesial environment is also a male-female reality, as suggested by this word of Jesus, unique in the entire New Testament: "And this woman, daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound eighteen years ago, was it not on the Sabbath day that she should have been loosened from this bond?" (13:16)20. The story of Martha and Mary undoubtedly had a revolutionary aspect in the Palestine of Jesus' time, where the woman could not study the law and be a disciple of a "rabbi": Mary learning from the word of God chose the better part. Can we perceive the meaning of this story in an environment where the role of the woman in relation to the word of God was certainly discussed (1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:34-35)? Women also have access to the word of the Lord, to his understanding and can bear witness to it. We must therefore sense the irony in the words of Luke when he tells the two disciples of Emmaus: "However, some of our women have upset us: having gone to the tomb early in the morning and not finding his body, they have come to say that they have even seen a vision of angels declaring him alive. Some of our companions went to the tomb and what they found was as the women had said..." (24: 22-24).

      These observations make us better understand the pastoral and even social impact of the 3rd gospel in the question posed to the community by this women's liberation movement. No doubt Luke takes the opposite view of those who oppose it, like the author21 of this interpolation found in First Corinthians: "As is done in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silent in the assemblies" (14:34).

    3. The religious context

      On the religious level, we note in Corinth the influence of mystery religions22. This no doubt explains the behavior of these enthusiasts who emphasize knowledge (1 Cor 8:1-13) and neglect the ethical dimension of the Christian life (6:12-20). They make the Christian faith a wisdom (1:5; 1:17 - 2:3), rather than a life based on a person and an event. They consider the revelation of the Christian mystery as the gift par excellence. Thus we can better explain the special place that the gift of prophecy had in the gatherings. We can also understand that by emphasizing knowledge and neglecting ethics, these people devalue the body and find the very notion of the resurrection of the body ridiculous. These ideas also promote elitism, so that Paul, using the image of the human body, must affirm that "those members of the body which we hold to be weaker are necessary", and that "those whom we hold to be the least honorable members of the body are the very ones we surround with more honor" (1 Cor 12:22). In the mystery religions ecstatic experiences were encouraged23. So it is not surprising that the Corinthian Christians were so keen on prophecy and speaking in tongues: they were looking for extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit. In the same way, the enthusiasts insist on the glory of the life received at baptism, on the "already there", devaluing and forgetting the "not yet", in particular the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15).

      A reading of the third gospel from this perspective leads to similar observations. Does not the use of the title of prophet to designate Jesus constitute, on the part of Luke, a pastoral gesture with regard to a function considered important in the community? We can say the same thing with regard to the place given to the Word and the welcome given to it (Lk 8:21; Mt 13:50 and Mk 4:35). As for the title Lord, it takes on a slightly polemical connotation if we recall the Corinthian situation: "For though there are so-called gods either in heaven or on earth — and indeed there are many gods and many lords — for us at any rate there is only one God, the Father, from whom all things come and for whom we are, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist and through whom we are" (1 Cor 8:5-6). Luke makes a similar statement when he uses the expression: the Lord (Lk 7:13,19; 10:1,39,41; 11:39; 12:42; 17:5,6; 18:6; 19:8,31,34; 22:61; 24:3,34, where the word is used with the singular article "the"). We come to the same conclusion for the title Savior. This title is relevant for whoever is inhabited by the desire for salvation, where emperors are qualified as benefactors giving a taste for life, as evidenced by the decree of the proconsul Paulus Fabius Maximus, dated 9 BC, which attributes an almost salvific role to the emperor Augustus24.

      Faced with a community that focused exclusively on the glory of new life and Easter euphoria, as seen in the enthusiasts, Paul insisted on the cross of Christ: "No, I did not want to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). Doesn't Luke's insistence on the suffering figure of Christ make sense in this context? In the same way, in a milieu that denies the resurrection of the body (1 Cor 15), presenting the risen Christ as a man who eats (Lk 24:41-43) constitutes a catechetical and pastoral act. It is a question of a just balance in the perception of the figure of Jesus.

      The charismatic context of Corinth finally makes it possible to explain the place given to the Spirit in the gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. The evangelist would then take up a reality which the believers in the community considered important. One might suspect that they have transposed the atmosphere of the mystery religions into the Christian milieu. However, Luke judged that certain elements were valid and could translate a dimension of Christian life: he therefore thought it was appropriate to present and interpret these charismatic manifestations as a sign of God's action.

      On the other hand, Luke will correct the role that some members of the community make the Spirit play. In the Acts of the Apostles, we observe that the Holy Spirit, even if he manifests himself in an extraordinary way, is there not to promote spectacular things and a personal experience of oneself25, but to enable Christians to carry the word (2:17), to carry it with courage in spite of the obstacles (4:31), to discern what to do (8:29). Thus the Spirit is totally at the service of the mission. This is a way of recovering the charismatic atmosphere of the Corinthian community, of underlining its value while at the same time purifying it of its individualistic and spectacular element and orienting it towards the service of the ecclesial mission.

    4. The Christian life

      The city of Corinth, like any seaport, was known for its prostitutes. Even if one doubts the information that there were more than a thousand sacred prostitutes on the acrocorinth, at the temple of Aphrodite26, it must nevertheless be acknowledged that the "oldest profession in the world" was practiced there. Christians do not escape the atmosphere of such an environment and various moral problems will affect the community. There is, of course, the case of the man who lives with his mother-in-law and whom Paul asks to excommunicate (1 Cor. 5:1-13). But there is also the frequenting of prostitutes, to which some saw no harm, under the pretext that everything is permitted in a Christian regime and that what concerns the body is not important (1 Cor 6:12-20). On the other hand, an ascetic mentality seems to be developing among other Christians. This is at least what chapter 7 suggests, which begins with a question asked by some: "Is it not good for a man to abstain from a woman"? Paul answers with a "yes but". Even though he values celibacy, he does not do so for ascetic reasons. That is why he asks those who do not have this charism to live normal relationships with their spouse.

      Isn't this the same world that looms large in Luke's writing? Luke's position is quite complex. On the one hand, the welcome he gives to the prostitute is remarkable: "For this reason I tell you, her sins, her many sins, are forgiven her because she has shown great love" (Lk 8:47). He values this woman's capacity for conversion. One could join this record with John's pericope on the adulterous woman, which has recognizable Lucan characteristics (Jn 8:1-11)27. On the other hand, Luke presents the following of Christ as a radical reality. We know his positions on renouncing wealth. We also know how often he returns to the theme of conversion (Lk 5:32; 13:1-9; 15:11-32; 24:45-48).

      On the other hand, the Corinthian context could offer another meaning to the request to renounce the wife found in Luke. Why should this renunciation not be understood in the context of mixed marriages, as mentioned in chapter 7 of First Corinthians? Paul proposes this solution: "But if the unbelieving party wants to separate, let him separate" (7:15). Thus, in a conflict situation, the Christian must be ready to let go of his or her spouse if, because of his or her faith, reconciliation is no longer possible. One can never renounce one's faith. The words of Jesus in Luke are aimed at such situations of conflict where one must choose. From then on, the evangelist would no longer be the promoter of an ascetic trend, but of a scale of values that would make it possible to orient the choices and decisions of a Christian.

      Reading what the Epistle to the Corinthians says about this charismatic church, one suspects that there was a somewhat superficial, fickle spirit, seeking strong emotions and spectacular gifts. They were quick to take initiatives, but had difficulty in carrying them out, as the collection for the saints in Jerusalem shows. Paul had to come back to the subject several times: "Complete the collection" (2 Cor 8:11). Similarly, there was a great love for rhetoric and fine speeches. That is why Apollos will be very successful with the Corinthians. Paul refused to play this game: "I have not come to proclaim the mystery of God to you with the prestige of words or wisdom" (1 Cor 2:2). He even calls the Corinthians superficial people, unable to bear solid food (1 Cor 3:2). These enthusiasts, who emphasized the gift of new life, were forgetting the path that leads to the glory of Christ, and Paul reminds them that he only wanted to know one thing among them, the cross of Christ (2:2).

      Is it not a similar situation that Luke is confronted with? For he develops the idea that it is in daily life, by taking up one's cross day after day, that one lives the Christian faith. He will also speak of constancy and perseverance: "It is by your constancy that you will save your lives!" (21:19; 8:15). The parable of the unjust judge and the importunate widow certainly seeks to answer the problem of the delay of the parousia. The problem seems important as Luke concludes, "But will the Son of Man, when he comes, find faith on earth?" (18:8). This problem is touched upon again in the parable of the mines: "As the people listened to these words, Jesus added a parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the Kingdom of God would be manifested immediately" (19:11). Because of this context, the parable of the mines becomes an invitation to settle down for the long term. Luke's catechesis therefore promotes values that are the opposite of the attitude of some of the Corinthians. The words here are less violent than in the case of the riches, but they are just as critical and just as much aimed at changing the readers' behavior.


    Our main source is a prologue described as anti-Marcionite and dated to the beginning of the 4th century. It reads as follows: "This is a certain Luke, a Syrian from Antioch, a physician, a disciple of the Apostles; later he followed Paul to his martyrdom. Serving the Lord without fail, he had no wife, he bore no children, he died in Boeotia, full of the Holy Spirit, aged eighty-four. So, as gospels had already been written, by Matthew in Judea, by Mark in Italy, it was by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that he wrote this gospel in the regions of Achaia; he explained at the beginning that others (gospels) had been written before his, but that it had seemed to him to be of great necessity to set out for the faithful of Greek origin a complete and careful account of events..." This Greek preface to the gospel of Luke was found in 10th century (or 12th century) manuscript 91 in Athens and was edited by H. von Soden28.

    An echo of this prologue is found in a Coptic inscription in a mountain chapel in Asyut, Egypt, which is dated to the 6th or 7th century. This inscription reads as follows: "As for Luke, the physician, he was a disciple of the apostles. Then he followed Paul. He lived eighty-four years. He wrote this gospel while in Achaia. Then he wrote the Acts. The Gospel according to Matthew is the first of the gospels. It was written in Judea. As for Mark, it was written in Italy"29.

    The value of the information provided by the anti-Marcionite prologue has been discussed. De Bruyne, in 1928, devoted a study to the subject, comparing the Greek and Latin versions and the so-called monarchic version of the prologue to the gospel of Luke, and then drawing a parallel with the prologues to the gospels of Mark and John. He concludes that these three ancient prologues are by the same author and were written in Rome in the second part of the 2nd century30. While Harnack endorsed such a conclusion, Fr. Lagrange disputed, in an article in the Revue Biblique, this common origin31. Subsequently, others have returned to the fray. E. GUTWENGER, in 1946, took up the case again to reject De Bruyne's conclusions on the unity of authorship of the three primitive prologues and on the anti-Marcionite character of the prologue of Luke, and to affirm on the contrary that the so-called primitive prologues depend on the so-called monarchical prologues; the Greek prologue of Luke would date from the end of the 4th century or the beginning of the 5th century32. R. G. HEARD, in 1955, addresses the issue in turn. Surprisingly ignoring Gutwenger's work, he too attacks De Bruyne's claims and concludes for Luke's Greek prologue that it is a third-century work that incorporates valid biographical material33. In any case, no one who has seriously studied Luke's Greek prologue disputes the value of the information provided about the 3rd gospel34. Heard does distinguish between a first part whose data is valid, and a second part whose data is not. Most importantly, he believes that the mention of Achaia may be an extension of the place of death, Boeotia, to the place of composition of the gospel. But this argumentation seems to us to have no basis in fact: in the name of what is there to affirm the accuracy of the data on the place of origin and the place of death, and to deny it for the place of composition? Why would the author of the Prologue have needed to invent this place of composition?

    We therefore accept this tradition which places the writing of the third gospel in Achaia. But where in Achaia? It seems to us that the simplest and most likely hypothesis is the city of Corinth, the most populous and influential agglomeration of this region, the place of a church founded by s. Paul. Here we join an idea that Father Lagrange himself had put forward, without dwelling on it, in his comment35.


The comparison of the Lucan community and the community of Corinth has revealed a certain convergence of the two. The observation of the economic context offers us similar elements on both sides. The study of the social composition reveals the presence of many marginalized people and "sinners", and above all a strong movement to give women a place in the Church. The religious dimension also contains elements of convergence, such as certain aspects of the character of Jesus, prophet, Lord, Savior, suffering, such as the important role played by the Spirit. Finally, the orientation given to the Christian life is linked to similar difficulties on both sides: the need for conversion, the right relationship to one's spouse and body, the problem of prostitution, inconstancy. The data of tradition have led us to Achaia and we must recognize that it is the Corinthian community that best responds to the description given by Luke. This rapprochement between the Corinthian milieu and that of Luke's gospel does not mean, however, a rapprochement between Paul's thought and that of Luke: the similarity concerns the Sitz im Leben, not the way of announcing the Gospel.

The present article is intended primarily as a suggestion, for we are aware that several elements of detail would merit further research. Our global and synthetic approach has the advantage of providing the researcher with an avenue of work and, on the other hand, of highlighting the eminently pastoral qualities of a gospel.

For example, it is very difficult to grasp the common thread of the various pericopes of the "ascent to Jerusalem". For example, in chapter 16, where there are two parables, that of the shrewd steward and that of Lazarus and the rich man, separated by pericopes on the Law and divorce, how do the issues of wealth and those of the Law and divorce relate? A GEORGE may have written, "Critics sometimes see this section as a conglomeration without much unity, and in vv. 16-18 as a parenthesis that interrupts the continuity of the text"36. In his commentary, J.A. FITZMYER takes this position37. A. George resolves the problem by making the whole of vv 14-31 a discourse that "addresses the representatives of Jewish thought" and comes "to speak of the Law"38; he thus incorporates the parable of Lazarus and the rich man into the words about the Law ("they have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them"), but he excludes the parable of the shrewd steward. However, the conclusion is different if we take the perspective of the Corinthian Church. The "Strong" not only possessed some financial means, as THEISSEN has argued, but gave themselves a great deal of freedom from the Law39. Paul even has to remind them that, while everything is permitted, not everything is appropriate (1 Cor 6:12-20), especially the consorting with the prostitute. So Luke, while speaking of money, can also address the question of divorce and the relationship to the Law, taking up the words of Matthew: "Heaven and earth shall pass away more easily than a single comma shall fall from the Law" (Lk 16:17). This is an example of a new path that we propose to researchers for a better understanding of the Gospel of Luke40.


-André Gilbert, Montréal, 1987

1 BROWN (R.E.), MEIER (J.), Antioch and Rome. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1983, p. 18-27. Sed contra: B.T. VIVIAND, "Where was the Gospel according to St Matthew Written?" C.B.Q. , 41 (1979) 533-546.

2 R.E. BROWN, The Gospel according to John. Garden City: Doubleday, 1966, p. ciii-civ. The Community of the Beloved Disciple. New York: Paulist, 1979, p. 61 and 108 (in the French translation).

3 R.E. BROWN, The Birth of the Messiah. Garden City: Doubleday, 1978, p. 235.

4 J.A. FITZMYER, The Gospel according to Luke. Garden City : Doubleday, 1985 (Anchor Bible, 28a).

5 On the Sitz im Leben on the third evangelist, let's mention: B. HUBBARD, "Luke, Josephus and Rome : A Comparative Approach to the Lukan Sitz im Leben", Society of Biblical Literature, 1979. Seminar Papers (1979)59-68 ; R.J. KARRIS, " Windows and Mirrors : Literary Criticism and Luke's Sitz im Leben", Society of Biblical Literature. Seminar Papers (1979) 47-58.

6 M.-É. BOISMARD, Synopse des quatre évangiles, 1.2. Paris : Cerf, 1972, p. 281.

7 More than the other evangelists, Luke gives the title of "prophet" to Jesus, especially in his own passages, for instance 13: 31-33; 7: 16.39.

8 See M.-É. BOISMARD, op. cit. , p. 271. Cf 7:13 ; 10:1.41; 11:39; 12:42; 13:15; 17:6; 18:6.

9 Ibid., p. 382.

10 According to BOISMARD, op. cit. , p. 318, this logion would have every chance of being authentic because of its Semitic tone. It would come from the middle Mark, who would take it from Document B. Now, Document B is one of the sources of the proto-Luke.

11 Ibid. , p. 275 : "This expression (every day) is moreover of Lucan flavor (kath'hēmeran: Mt: 1/ Mk: 1/ Lk : 5/ Jn: 0/ Acts: 6)."

12 É. OSTY, "L'Évangile selon saint Luc", La Bible de Jérusalem, writes in note b, about 14:26: "Luke thus expresses his ascetic tendency".

13 M.-É. BOISMARD, op. cit. , p. 47.

14 See the work of J. MURPHY-O'CONNOR, St. Paul's Corinth: Texts and Archaeology. Collegeville, MI: Liturgical Press (Good news studies, 6), 2002, 241 p.

15 On this topic, see W. A. MEEKS, The First Urban Christians. The Social World of the Apostle Paul. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983, 55-63.

16 See C. SENFT, La Première épître de saint Paul aux Corinthians. Neuchâtel: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1979, p. 147. Also G. THEISSEN, "Die Starken and Schwachen in Korinth. Soziologische Analyse eines theologischen Streites», E.T. , 35 (1975) 155-172.

17 We do not claim that Luke is the originator of this parable, but that he wanted to use the material given to him by tradition and perhaps even to take it up in his own way.

18 ALLO (E.-B,), S. Paul aux Corinthiens. Paris: Lecoffre — Gabalda, 1934, 1956, puts the figure at 600,000 people "according to certain exaggerated evaluations". This figure is taken up by E. CHARPENTIER, Les Actes des Apôtres (Cahiers Évangile, 21), p. 55. On the other hand, M. QUESNEL, Les épîtres aux Corinthiens (Cahiers Évangile, 22), p. 12, writes: "Historians put forward the figure of 500,000 inhabitants". In one case as in the other we could not verify the sources used.

19 On the isthmic games and the place of women, J. MURPHY-O'CONNOR, op. cit. , p. 40-41.

20 According to Boismard, op. cit. p. 287, the expression "daughter of Abraham" would be either from Proto-Luke or from the ultimate Lucan editor.

21 We believe that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is a non-Pauline interpolation: it presents problems of textual criticism and interrupts the normal development of vv. 29-38.

22 On this topic, see H. CONZELMANN, Corinthians. Philadelphie, Fortress Press, 1975 (Hermeneia) 14-16.

23 See E.-R. DODDS, The Greeks and the Irrational. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951, quoted by E. COTHENET, Saint Paul en son temps. Paris : Service Biblique Évangile et Vie — Cerf, 1978 (Cahiers Évangile, 26), p. 59.

24 Quoted by M.-J. LAGRANGE, Évangile selon s. Luc. Paris, Gabalda, 1929 (Études bibliques) p. xliii-xliv. The emperor is described as "benefactor of humanity" and his birth as "the beginning of good news".

25 H. CONZELMAN, op. cit. , p. 16, writes: "This transformation by which the faith that is related to the word is turned into spiritual experience for the self accounts for all the phenomena encountered in 1 Corinthians, as also for the way in which Paul enters the lists".

26 H. CONZELMANN, op. cit., p. 12.

27 R.E. BROWN, The Gospel according to John, p. 335-336.

28 In his book: Die Schriften des N.T. t. 1, Berlin, 1902-1910, p. 327.

29 G. LEFEBVRE, "Égypte chrétienne", Annales du Service des Antiquités, X, 1, 1909.

30 D. DE BRUYNE, "Les plus anciens prologues des évangiles", Rev. Ben. , 40 (1928) 193-214.

31 M.-J. LAGRANGE, R.B. , 38 (1929) 115-121.

32 E. GUTWENGER, "The Anti-Marcionite Prologues", T.S. , 1 (1946) 393-409.

33 R.G. HEARD, "The Old Gospel Prologues", JTS, (1955) 1-16.

34 To our knowledge, only Kümmel, in his introduction to the New Testament, dismisses the information contained in this prologue. But he does not present any serious study of it.

35 M.-J. LAGRANGE, op. cit., xviii : "Why wasn't it first told in Corinth?".

36 A. GEORGE, "La parabole du riche et de Lazare : Lc 16:19-31", Assemblée du Seigneur , n.s. 57 (1971) 84.

37 J.A. FITZMYER, op. cit. , 1095.

38 A. GEORGE, art. cit. , 85.

39 G. THEISSEN, art. cit.

40 At the time of writing these lines, we learn that M.D. GOULDER would go in the same direction as our hypothesis: "Did Luke Know Any of the Pauline Letters ?", PerspRelStud, 13 (1986) 97-112. According to Goulder Luke knew 1 Corinthians and even settled in Corinth after Paul's death.