Luke the Apostle



Who was Luke?

Luke by Guercino
Luke by Guercino

Luke is one of the most important figures in the New Testament, not only as a member of the early church, but also as the author of the Gospel of Luke as well as the book of Acts. Luke is idenitifed as a physician in Colossians 4:14.

The name Luke (Loukas) is apparently an abbreviation for Loukanos. Old Latin manuscripts frequently have the words CATA LUCANUM as the title of the Third Gospel. (But the form Loukios, is also found in inscriptions synonymous with Loukas; compare Ramsay, The Expositor, December, 1912.) It was a common fashion in the koine to abbreviate proper names, as it is today, for that matter (compare Amphias from Amphiatos, Antipas from Antipatros, Apollos from Apollonias, Demas from Demetrios, Zenas from Zenodoros, etc.; and see Jannaris, Historical Greek Grammar, section 287).

The Apostle Paul alone names Luke (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24). He does not mention his own name in the Gospel or in the Acts. Compare the silence of the Gospel of John concerning the name of the apostle John. There was no particular occasion to mention Luke's name in the Gospel, except as the author, if he had so wished. The late legend that Luke was one of the Seventy sent out by Jesus (Epiphanius, Haer., ii.51, 11) is pure conjecture, as is the story that Luke was one of the Greeks who came to Philip for an introduction to Jesus (John 12:20), or the companion of Cleopas in the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13). The clear implication of Luke 1:2 is that Luke himself was not an eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus.



Luke was a Gentile


In Colossians 4:14 Luke is distinguished by Paul from those "of the circumcision" (Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus Justus). Epaphras, Luke, Demas form the Gentilegroup. He was believed by the early Christian writers to have come directly from heathendom to Christianity. He may or may not have been a Jewish proselyte. His first appearance with Paul at Troas (compare the "we"-sections, Acts 16:10-12) is in harmony with this idea. The classic introduction to the Gospel (Luke 1:1-4) shows that he was a man of culture (compare Apollos and Paul). He was a man of the schools, and his Greek has a literary flavor only approached in the New Testament by Paul's writings and by the Epistle to the Hebrews.

His home is very uncertain. The text of D (Codex Bezae) and several Latin authorities have a "we-"passage in Acts 11:27. If this reading, the so-called B text of Blass, is the original, then Luke was at Antioch and may have been present at the great event recorded in Acts 13:1 f. But it is possible that the Western text is an interpolation. At any rate, it is not likely that Luke is the same person as Lucius of Acts 13:1. Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveler, 389 f) thinks that Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, iv, 6) does not mean to say that Luke was a native of Antioch, but only that he had Antiochian family connections. Jerome calls him Lucas medicus Antiochensis.

He certainly shows an interest in Antioch (compare Acts 11:19-27; 13:1; 14:26; 15:22,23,30,35; 18:22). Antioch, of course, played a great part in the early work of Paul. Other stories make Luke live in Alexandria and Achaia and narrate that he died in Achaia or Bithynia. But we know that he lived in Philippi for a considerable period. He first meets Paul at Troas just before the vision of the Man from Macedonia (Acts 16:10-12), and a conversation with Paul about the work in Macedonia may well have been the human occasion of that vision and call.

Luke remains in Philippi when Paul and Silas leave (Acts 16:40, "They .... departed"). He is here when Paul comes back on his 3rd tour bound for Jerusalem (Acts 20:3-5). He shows also a natural pride in the claims of Philippi to the primacy in the province as against Amphipolis and Thessalonica (Acts 16:12, "the first of the district"). On the whole, then, we may consider Philippi as the home of Luke, though he was probably a man who had traveled a great deal, and may have been with Paul in Galatia before coming to Troas. He may have ministered to Paul in his sickness there (Galatians 4:14). His later years were spent chiefly with Paul away from Philippi (compare Acts 20:3-28,31, on the way to Jerusalem, at Caesarea, the voyage to Rome and in Rome).

A Physician

Paul (Colossians 4:14) expressly calls him "the beloved physician." He was Paul's medical adviser, and doubtless prolonged his life and rescued him from many a serious illness. He was a medical missionary, and probably kept up his general practice of medicine in connection with his work in Rome (compare Zahn, Intro, III, 1). He probably practiced medicine in Malta (Acts 28:9). He naturally shows his fondness for medical terms in his books (compare Hobart, The Medical Language of Luke; Harnack, New Testament Studies: Luke the Physician, 175-98). Harnack adds some examples to those given by Hobart, who has overdone the matter in reality.

Brother of Titus

It is possible, even probable (see Souter's article in DCG), that in 2 Corinthians 8:18 "the brother" is equivalent to "the brother" of Titus just mentioned, that is, "his brother." If so, we should know that Paul came into contact with Luke at Philippi on his way to Corinth during his 2nd tour (compare also 2 Corinthians 12:18). It would thus be explained why in Ac the name of Titus does not occur, since he is the brother of Luke the author of the book.

Connection with Paul

If the reading of Codex Bezae (D) in Acts 11:27 f is correct, Luke met Paul at Antioch before the 1st missionary tour. Otherwise it may not have been till Troas on the 2nd tour. But he is the more or less constant companion of Paul from Philippi on the return to Jerusalem on the 3rd tour till the 2 years in Rome at the close of the Acts. He was apparently not with Paul when Philippians 2:20 was written, though, as we have seen, he was with Paul in Rome when he wrote Colossians and Philemon. He was Paul's sole companion for a while during the 2nd Roman imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:11). His devotion to Paul in this time of peril is beautiful.

Legends

One legend regarding Luke is that he was a painter. Plummer (Commentary on Luke, xxi f) thinks that the legend is older than is sometimes supposed and that it has a strong element of truth. It is true that he has drawn vivid scenes with his pen. The early artists were especially fond of painting scenes from the Gospel of Luke. The allegorical figure of the ox or calf in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 has been applied to Luke's Gospel.

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Source

The following article is excerpted from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain. A.T. Robertson International Standard Bible Encyclopedia