Luke—That You May Know the Truth
Could you answer the trivia question, “Who is the only non-Jewish author in the New Testament?” If you know who is buried in Grant’s Tomb then you know the answer is Luke. The great early Christian historian, Eusebius wrote that Luke was a Gentile from Antioch that accompanied Paul on his second and third missionary journeys between 48 and 57 AD. All of the early manuscripts of our third Gospel had titles added to them that said The Gospel According to Luke. All of the second and third century Christian writers confirmed that Luke was the author of his gospel and also the Book of Acts. The external and internal evidence is unanimous that Luke wrote these two books, and no one ever doubted it until the 19th century German theologians became popular. In Paul’s letters he mentioned Luke three times in Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, and Philemon 24.
The Beloved Physician
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he gave a greeting to the church at Colossae from his companion, Luke the beloved physician. Therefore we can assume that Luke was a well educated medical doctor. This fits well with the literary style of his two books, and the style of Greek is consistent with what a doctor would write. In Luke’s writings he seems very careful to deal only with the facts, and I believe he compared eyewitness testimony to the various accounts of Jesus that were circulating. His scientific approach to writing his narrative is consistent with any great historian’s method. Whether you are a scientist, a detective, or a historian it is wise to gather all the evidence, double check your facts, conduct interviews with eyewitnesses, and be very careful with the truth. Luke’s great contribution to our Bible is that he may have conducted more eyewitness interviews, and been more diligent in cross checking facts that any other author. I say that because he was not an eyewitness of the life of Jesus Christ as Matthew, Mark, and John were. Luke had to rely on the 12 Apostles, Paul, and the many witnesses that were still available. Luke did a great job of putting Jesus’ life within a historical framework by placing well known markers throughout his story. For example, in Luke 3:1-2, Luke cross checked the timing of John the Baptist’s ministry with no less than six datings, “the fifteenth year of Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the priesthood of Annas and Caiphas”. Luke was exacting. Many theologians believe that Luke actually interviewed Mary the mother of Jesus. This belief comes from the first four verses of his Gospel where he said that his information came from his careful investigation of the various accounts and eyewitnesses, and the fact that Luke alone wrote about Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel and her voyage to visit her relative Elizabeth. How else would a disciplined “facts only” historian like Luke know exactly the conversations between Elizabeth, Gabriel, and Mary? Remember also that Luke wrote during the time that many of the people he wrote about were still alive, and therefore anything not factual would have been refuted.
Consider Luke’s purpose statement for writing in Luke 1:1-4. “I have carefully investigated all the accounts from the beginning, and I have decided to write it out for you in good order so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught and believed.” The “accounts” were “handed down by eyewitnesses”. I take him to mean that each of the many stories that he wrote about in his Gospel were from eyewitnesses that he had personally interviewed. His accounts in the Book of Acts came primarily from Peter and Paul, both of which he had good access to for an extended period of time. He would have had plenty of time to interview witnesses in Jerusalem during his visits there as well as his two year stay in nearby Caesarea.
Luke was a close associate, disciple, and travelling companion of the Apostle Paul. We don’t have all the details on his conversion or how he met Paul, but if Eusebius is correct, then they met in Antioch, Syria where Luke was from and was probably converted. Barnabas had recruited Paul out of Tarsus to come and work with him at the church in Antioch. We read in Acts 11:19-30 that after the intense persecution broke out in Jerusalem, some of the believers made their way to Antioch and began preaching the gospel to the Greeks there. We are told that a large number believed and turned to the Lord. Hearing this, the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to check it out. The number of new believers there in Antioch was so great that Barnabas needed help, so he went to nearby Tarsus and recruited Paul to come help minister in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas worked there in that church for over a year teaching “considerable numbers”, and it was then and there that the disciples were first called Christians. I believe that Luke was one of those early converts and disciples of Paul in Antioch. It was from the home base of Antioch that Paul departed from on his missionary journeys, and Luke was Paul’s companion on the second and third trip.
The “We Section” of Acts
On his second missionary journey recorded in Acts 16, the author of Acts (Luke) began referring to the group as “we” in 16:10. Paul’s group wanted to head north into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit impressed upon them to go to Troas, and then cross over the Aegean Sea to Macedonia. Before, the author had called the group “they”, so we believe Luke joined them there in Troas and crossed over to Philippi with Paul. Their first converts were found at a river where a group regularly met for prayer, and a group of women believed in Jesus. From that small beginning, the most affluent city of Macedonia was turned upside down for Jesus. It was Paul’s practice when he planted a church to leave disciples behind to minister when Paul moved on. It appears that when Paul left for Thessalonica, Luke stayed in Philippi because the narration began using the “they” again to refer to Paul’s group. Later, Luke would join Paul again on his third missionary journey recorded in Acts 20. If Luke did stay for an extended time in Philippi building up the churches there, it certainly would explain the close relationship Paul had with Philippi, and why that church was such a great financial supporter of Paul throughout his travels, and in particular his stay in Rome. When Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he wrote to the church in Philippi thanking them for their financial support (Phil.1:5; 4:15-16). Because of their gifts, Paul was able to live in rented quarters under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial for as long as two years (Acts 28:30-31). Even though a prisoner, Paul was able to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ unhindered for those two years. Many theologians believe that it was at that time while ministering to Paul in his imprisonment first in Caesarea and then in Rome, that Luke wrote his two letters that we have now in our Bible, The Gospel of Luke and The Book Of Acts. These were both addressed to the same guy named Theopholis who could very possibly have been a leading citizen of Philippi. Both letters are written to a Gentile audience, as Luke takes the time to explain Jewish customs such as the Passover to his readers (Luke 22:1). Luke’s concern for Gentile inclusion into the church is obvious in the Book of Acts.
The Uniqueness of Luke’s Writings
It is commonly accepted among liberal theologians that Luke used the Gospel of Mark as his source, which is just a nice way of saying Luke copied Mark. I’m sure that Luke had access to Mark’s Gospel, yet as Luke wrote, he investigated all the eyewitnesses and compared all the accounts. Much of Luke’s Gospel seems to adapt Mark’s material, but we have no way of knowing who wrote first, or if they both used another source. We know for sure that they knew each other, and must have spent considerable time together as both served Paul. Nevertheless, there are striking differences that make Luke entirely unique. Luke recounts 15 parables of Christ that are not recorded elsewhere, among them “The Good Samaritan”, “The Prodigal Son”, and “The Rich Man and Lazarus”. Luke emphasized the importance of prayer, generosity, the denial of self, the perfection of Jesus the man, and the deity of the Savior. As the best historian amongst the authors of the Bible, Luke put great emphasis on dates and details, and connecting Jesus to events and historical people. Another unique feature of Luke is the emphasis on the friendships Jesus had with women. Read Luke 8:1-3 and you will find multiple women who were His close followers and supporters. How about that? Jesus’ ministry was primarily financed by those women!
Another emphasis important to both of Luke’s books, The Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles, is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is present at all the events, and Jesus lived in dependence on the Spirit. In the Acts, we find the believers in Christ filled by the Spirit and moved to action by the Spirit. In fact, many have said a better title for Acts would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit in the Lives of the Apostles”. We are indebted to the one Gentile author of the New Testament.