Born: fl. 1st c. AD
Died: fl. 1st c. AD
Cause of death: unspecified
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Author of the third Gospel
Luke, the traditional author of the third Gospel and of the Book of Acts, and the most literary among the writers of the New Testament. He alone, too, was of non-Jewish origin (Col. 4:11,14), a fact of great interest in relation to his writings. His name, a more familiar form of Lucanus, taken together with his profession of physician (Col. 4:14), suggests that he was son of a Greek freedman possibly connected with Lucania in south Italy; and as Julius Caesar gave Roman citizenship to all physicians in Rome, Luke may even have inherited this status from his father. But in any case such a man would have the attitude to things Roman which appears in the works attributed to Luke. He was a fellow-worker of Paul's when in Rome (Philemon 24), where he seems to have remained in constant attendance on his leader, as physician as well as attached friend (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim. 4:11). That Luke, before he became a Christian, was an adherent of the synagogue -- not a full proselyte, but one of those worshippers of God to whom Acts makes frequent reference -- is fairly certain from the familiarity with the Septuagint indicated in Acts, as well as from its sympathy with the Hellenistic type of piety as distinct from specific Paulinism, of which there is but little trace.
The earliest extra-biblical reference to him is perhaps in the Muratonian Canon, which implies that his name already stood in manuscripts of both Gospel (probably so even in Marcion's day) and Acts, and says that Paul took him for his companion quasi ut juris studiosum ("as being a student of law"). Here juris is almost certainly corrupt; and whether we take the sense to have been as being devoted to travel (ut juris = itineris) or as skilled in disease, it is probably a mere inference from biblical data. Beyond references in Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, which add nothing to our knowledge, we have the belief to which Origen witnesses as existing in his day, that Luke was the "brother" of 2 Cor. 8:18, whose "praise in the Gospel" (as preached) was "throughout all the churches." Though the basis of the identification be a mistake, yet that this "brother", "who was also appointed by the churches [note the generality of this] to travel with us in the matter of the charity", was none other than Paul's constant companion Luke is quite likely; e.g. he seems to have been almost the only non-Macedonian (as demanded by 2 Cor. 9:2-4) of Paul's circle available at the time. Our next witness, a prologue to the Lucan writings (originally in Greek, now known only in Latin), perhaps preserves a genuine tradition in stating that Luke died in Bithynia at the age of seventy-four. It is hard to see why this should be fiction, which usually took the form of martyrdom, as in a later tradition touching his end. The same prologue, and indeed all early tradition, connects him originally with Antioch.
That he was actually a native of Antioch is as doubtful as the statement that he was a Syrian by race (Prologue). But internal evidence bears out the view that he practiced his profession in Antioch, where (or in Tarsus) he probably first met Paul. Whether any of his information in Acts as to the Gospel in Antioch was due to an Antiochene document used by him or not, this knowledge in any case suggests Luke's connection with that church. He shows, too, local knowledge on points unlikely to have stood in any such source (e.g. it was in Antioch that the name "Christians" was first coined), which points to his share in early Church life there. Beza's reading in Acts 11:27, "when we were assembled", may imply memory of this.
But while Luke probably met Paul in Antioch, and from there started with him on his second great missionary enterprise (Acts 15:36), partly at least as his medical attendant, it is possible that he had also some special connection with the north-eastern part of the Aegean. Sir W. M. Ramsay and others fancy that Luke's original home was Philippi, and that in fact he may have been the "certain Macedonian" seen in vision by Paul at Troas, inviting help for his countrymen (Acts 16:9). But this is as precarious as the view that, because the use of "we" ceases at Philippi in 16:17, and then reemerges in 20:6, Luke must have resided there during all the interval. The use and disuse of the first person plural, identifying Paul and his party, has probably a more subtle and psychological meaning. The local connection in question may have been subsequent to that with Antioch, dating from his work with Paul in the province of Asia, and being resumed after Paul's martyrdom. This accords at once with Harnack's argument that Luke wrote Acts in Asia (Luke the Physician), and with the early tradition, above cited, that he died in Bithynia at the age of seventy-four, without ever having married (this touch may be due to an ascetic feeling current already in the 2nd century).
The later traditions about Luke's life are based on fanciful inference or misunderstanding, e.g. that he was one of the Seventy, or the story (in Theodorus Lector, 6th century) that he painted a portrait of the Virgin Mother. But a good deal can still be gathered by sympathetic study of his writings as to the manner of man he was. It was a beautiful soul from which came "the most beautiful book" ever written, as Renan styled his Gospel. The selection of stories which he gives us -- especially in the section mainly peculiar to himself -- reflects his own character as well as that of the source he mainly follows. His was indeed a religio medici in its pity for frail and suffering humanity, and in its sympathy with the triumph of the Divine healing art upon the bodies and souls of men. His was also a humane spirit, a spirit so tender that it saw further than almost any save the Master himself into the soul of womanhood. In this, as in his joyousness, united with a feeling for the poor and suffering, he was an early Francis of Assisi. Luke, "the physician, the beloved physician", that was Paul's characterization of him; and it is the impression which his writings have left on humanity. How great his contribution to Christianity has been, in virtue of what he alone preserved of the historical Jesus and of the embodiment of his Gospel in his earliest followers, who can measure? Harnack even maintains that his story of the Apostolic age was the indispensable condition for the incorporation of the Pauline epistles in the Church's canon of New Testament scriptures. Certainly his conception of the Gospel, viz, a Christian Hellenistic universalism (with some slight infusion of Pauline thought) passed through a Gracco-Roman mind, proved more easy of assimilation, and so more directly influential for the ancient Church, than Paul's own distinctive teaching.
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