A few days back I got a text from my little sister, Dorothy. She asked a short question, “Do we know anything about Luke’s conversion?” That girl has the gift of making me think. Her question did, indeed, put me to thinking and embarrassed to realized that I actually knew very little about him, so I have spent several days researching and studying what is known about Luke . . . the author of two Bible books . . . the Gospel that bears his name (as in ‘The Gospel according to Luke,’ and The Acts of The Apostles.
The simple truth is that we really know very little about Luke . . . before or even after he came to know Jesus. Church history and some Bible scholars say that Luke was a Syrian doctor who was converted to Christianity when the first missionaries left the Jerusalem and Caesarea communities to take the Gospel beyond the borders of the Jewish country. They say that soon after conversion, Luke left his homeland to accompany the Apostle Paul in his journeys.
He is believed to have arrived in Rome, the capital of the then-known world, where he stayed for at least two years. It is said by some that it was at Rome he met Peter and Mark who were said to be preaching among the Christians in Rome. I argue that Peter’s having ever traveled to Rome is a Catholic myth to support their claim the he was the first Pope. There is no historical or Biblical evidence that I can find anywhere to support Peter having ever visited Rome.
When Luke wrote the Gospel that bears his name, various texts containing deeds and miracles of Jesus were available to him, the same texts which Mark and Matthew had used. In his travels, he had also picked up other stories that came from Jesus’ first disciples. These stories were preserved in the oldest churches of Jerusalem and Caesarea.
On this we have the witness of his first paragraph (1:1-4): he was concerned with finding the testimonies of the first ministers of the Word, which of course were the apostles.
Then it would be wrong to think that Luke wrote long after the events, as some people say, and that he elaborates on things he doesn’t know. Though the last believed corrections to his gospel were done about the year 70, the bulk is much older. This is the case specifically for the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel telling us about Jesus’ infancy. They are said to be the almost word-to-word of a Hebrew or Aramaic writing from the first Christian generation, based on information which his mother Mary must surely have supplied.
Luke’s cultural background was Greek and he was writing for Greek people. He omitted several Marcan details, dealing with Jewish laws and customs which would have been hard for his readers to understand. Luke saw in the Gospel the power of reconciling people with God and with one another. Therefore, he was concerned about giving us the parables of mercy and the words condemning money – a divisive factor between people. Likewise, Luke showed the very natural way Jesus treated women, who were completely marginalized by the world.
The Gospel of Luke has three sections:
– Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, 3:1–9:56;
– The journey to Jerusalem, 9:57–18:17;
– The arrival in Jerusalem and the passion, 18:18–23.
The last chapter on the apparitions of the risen Jesus will serve as an invitation to read the Book of Acts, which is a continuation of Luke’s writing. What would the New Testament be like without the contributions of Luke, “the beloved physician”? Most do not realize that he penned almost as much of the New Testament as the apostle Paul! Paul wrote more epistles—fourteen in all—but Luke wrote nearly as many words in his two books: Acts and the Gospel of Luke.
Ironically, Luke is mentioned only three times by name, and each of those times was by the apostle Paul (Colossians 4: 1 – 12, 2 Timothy 4: a, and Philemon 1: 24). Luke never mentions his own name in his gospel account, in which he does not appear, nor in Acts, in which he plays a major role. The other gospels were written by eyewitnesses (Matthew, Mark, and John) to the events they record. Luke admits in the first verses of his account that he was not an eyewitness of the life of Christ, but carefully records what eyewitnesses reported to him and others (Luke 1:1-4).
We actually know very little about Luke the man, and that just adds to the fascination and mystery about this great and humble person. He no-doubt wanted it that way. Every indication we have suggests he shunned the spotlight. In his view, what he wrote was never about him but only about Christ or what Christ did through others.
Even though the Bible says little about Luke directly, we can put together a few pieces of the puzzle and assemble a fascinating portrait of this great writer and Christian.
Just as we do today, it was common practice in apostolic days to shorten names. Luke (or Lukas) is an abbreviation of the Gentile name Loukanos, which means “white.” Though it is not certain, some scholars believe that he and Titus were brothers, based on 2 Corinthians 8: 18. Actually, so very little is known about him that no one can positively state where he made his home, but most scholars feel it was in Philippi.
In the biblical narrative, Luke appears suddenly but unobtrusively among Paul’s companions in Troas. Acts 16:8 – 11 is written in such a way that the language changes from the third-person singular, “he,” speaking of Paul alone, to the first-person plural, “we,” when Luke joins in after he met Paul in Troas, possibly for the first time.
In Colossians 4:9-14 Luke is not included among those “of the circumcision” (verse 11), but along with Epaphras and Demas forms a group of Gentiles who assisted Paul in his travels and work. Many early Christian writers assert that Luke was converted directly from paganism, though others thought him to be a convert to Judaism, a Jewish proselyte, and later to Christianity.
We can also learn something about people by their writing styles. Luke is clearly a highly educated individual. As a physician, he would have studied a great deal more than medicine, including philosophy and classical literature. Bible commentators report Luke has the best command of the Greek language of any New Testament writer. Only the Greek used in the book of Hebrews approaches the quality of Luke’s writing.
Commentators call the gospel of Luke, “a work of high literary quality” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary). One scholar viewed Luke’s gospel as “the most beautiful book that has ever been written.” The subject matter as well as the author’s literary talent combine to give the book an interesting appeal and polish conspicuous in the New Testament.”
The Beloved Physician
Luke’s immediate service to God’s people comes as Paul’s personal “beloved physician” (Colossians 4: 14). Remember, Paul frequently needed a doctor’s ministrations. After all, even Jesus says that the sick need a physician (Luke 5: 3). According to his own testimony in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, Paul relates how often he was beaten, whipped “above measure,” and/or imprisoned. He goes on to say he was once stoned and left for dead. We could also add to this list being shipwrecked three times and Paul’s consequent exposure. One time he spent a whole night and a day trying not to drown. No doubt, Luke’s trained hands and caring presence helped Paul recover from many of these severe beatings, open wounds and infections.
No wonder Paul calls Luke the “beloved” physician! Certainly, the Lord used Luke to help prolong Paul’s life and perhaps even to help him recover from serious illnesses. Luke may also have attended to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (which I suspect was a problem with his eyes, and with his illness while among the Galatians). Luke’s later years are spent in Paul’s company away from Philippi: on the way to Jerusalem, at Caesarea, during the voyage to Rome, and of course in Rome itself. He is with Paul in Rome as Paul writes Colossians and Philemon. Luke is not only a physician to Paul, but he also becomes his personal assistant and friend.
In conclusion, the truth of the matter is that in one way we know much about Luke . . . he was a good, decent man; a skilled, dedicated medical doctor; was very smart; was totally devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ; was meek to the point of never drawing attention to himself; and was a valuable helper to Paul in his ministry. Then, on the other hand, we only know that he was a Greek convert, a Doctor, and he joins the mission team, and that he wrote two books in the New Testament.
The more I have researched and discovered about Luke, the more I like, admire, and appreciate about him. He puts me to mind of my dear friend, Charles Fake.