Travel and Change in Luke-Acts by Steven C. Muir

The author and audience of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts lived in the Roman Empire. To maintain peace and commerce, the Romans built an extensive road network and patrolled the sea. However, travel still was difficult and sometimes dangerous. People of the ancient world drew security from the social networks in their hometowns and families, and so the separation resulting from travel was a challenge. Travel represented loss of the familiar and venturing into new territory. Luke uses the issues associated with travel to suggest a time of openness and discovery—in effect, a learning opportunity.

Two travel-related parables are unique to Luke’s Gospel. The first is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), a story that arises in Jesus’ response to the question “who is my neighbor?” Jesus describes a traveler who fell into the hands of bandits. Banditry was a common occurrence in first-century Roman Palestine, where many of the lower classes lived at subsistence level. People engaged in banditry not only as a means of income but also to protest the oppressive Roman taxation system. Travelers often moved in groups as a means of protection (see Luke 2:44, Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:1). In this story, Jesus describes the plight of a lone traveler who was separated from his protective social network of family and friends. People who were usually considered to be righteous in Jewish society (a priest, a Levite) ignore the man because he is a stranger to them. Yet surprisingly an even more distant stranger (a Samaritan) extends extravagant charity toward the traveler, and thus we learn that a stranger with loving charity can be the closest “neighbor” to someone.

The second travel-related parable is that of the Prodigal Son. In Luke 15:11-32 we hear of a young man who greedily acquires his share of the family fortune and then extravagantly, or prodigally, squanders it. He winds up in a distant land, separated from his support network. Destitute and alone, he repents of his decision and returns home. Although the boy has given up his right to be in the family, the father extends a truly lavish forgiveness and restores the son to full family membership. Thus we learn that family is a matter not only of circumstance but also choice and commitment.

Two other episodes dramatically represent the opportunities for learning and new experiences while traveling. In Acts, Luke reminds his audience that the first name of the Christian group was “the Way” (in Greek, “the road,” Acts 9:2, Acts 22:4, Acts 24:14, Acts 24:22). Thus, we see particular emphasis that it was “on the road” to Emmaus where two of Jesus’ disciples have a meeting with a mysterious stranger whom they later recognize as the risen Jesus (Luke 24:13-35, especially Luke 24:32). Similarly, Saul’s journey on the road between Jerusalem and Damascus is where he encounters the risen Christ (Acts 9). This encounter proves to be life altering to Saul, who renounces his opposition to the Way and becomes its chief spokesperson.


Steven C. Muir, "Travel and Change in Luke-Acts", n.p. [cited 1 Oct 2022]. Online:


Steven C. Muir

Steven C. Muir
Professor, Concordia University College

Steven C. Muir is professor of religion at Concordia University College of Alberta. His research interests and publications include articles on religious healing, travel and pilgrimage, ritual, reactions against Roman imperialism, social identity, and group relations in the Greco-Roman world.

The textual tradition of two New Testament books, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, which scholars consider to have the same author or origin; Luke-Acts may even constitute a two-part work chronicling the life and works of Jesus and the subsequent organizing done by his apostles.

A broad, diverse group of nations ruled by the government of a single nation.

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Another name often used for the area of Israel and Judah, derived from the Latin term for the Roman province of Palaestina; ultimately, the name derives from the name of the Philistine people.

Luke 10:29-37

29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the h ... View more

Luke 2:44

44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.

Luke 8:1-3

Some Women Accompany Jesus
1Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve wer ... View more

Luke 10:1

The Mission of the Seventy
1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intende ... View more

Luke 15:11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother
11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons.12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the ... View more

Acts 9:2

2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 22:4

4I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison,

Acts 24:14

14But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to th ... View more

Acts 24:22

22But Felix, who was rather well informed about the Way, adjourned the hearing with the comment, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.”

Luke 24:13-35

The Walk to Emmaus
13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,14and talking with each other abou ... View more

Luke 24:32

32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Acts 9

The Conversion of Saul
1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest2and asked him for letters ... View more

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