Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bible Q&A: Luke the evangelist

The author of the third Gospel almost certainly composed the Book of Acts as well, meaning that this single individual, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote more of the New Testament than any other individual, roughly 28% of the words found in the Greek text (37, 933 of the 138, 020 words).

Paul, by contrast, wrote approximately 23% (32,417 of the 138,020). This fact alone makes Luke one of the most important yet underappreciated historian/theologians in history. Christianity owes a tremendous debt to Luke not only for his biography of Jesus (Luke’s Gospel), but also for his history of the development of the church from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts). But what do we know about Luke?

To begin, Luke indicated in the introduction to his Gospel that he was not an eyewitness of the life of Jesus: “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us” (Luke 1:1-2).

Notice that Luke placed himself not in the category of “those who were eyewitnesses” but rather with the ones who received the reports from the eyewitnesses. Although Luke was not an eyewitness himself, the realization that the words and deeds of Jesus that Luke recorded came directly from eyewitness accounts provides strong confirmation that his Gospel is authentic and accurate.

Luke was not an eyewitness of the events of Jesus life, but he was a close companion and coworker of Paul. Paul makes reference to him near the conclusion of Colossians when he informs his readers that “Luke, the dearly loved physician . . . greets you” (Col. 4:14).

The Book of Acts supports this notion. Beginning in Acts 16:10 the narrative switches from the third person “they” to the first person “we”: “After he (Paul) had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.” The narrative switches back-and-forth from first to third person for the remainder of Acts, almost certainly indicating that Luke was not simply a writer and theologian, but also a missionary.

We can also add one other title to Luke: physician. Paul referred to him as a “dearly beloved physician” in Col. 4:10, and the early church historian Eusebius confirmed Paul’s report.

Physicians in the first century studied medical treatises written by Hippocrates and others. They also performed surgical techniques that were quite advanced, including the removal of cataracts by inserting a needle behind the lens of the eye, the drilling of holes in a person’s skull in order to remove pressure that might be caused by head trauma and the use of dental fillings.

All this indicates that Luke was educated and well trained. This training might account for the fact that Luke-Acts reflects an author who was a skilled linguist and who exhibited excellent Greek grammar and syntax. Luke would have easily earned an A+ in this Greek teacher’s class.

Finally, it is worth noting that Luke was not Jewish. Eusebius said of him that he was “by race an Antiochian.” This would make Luke the only Gentile author of a biblical book. Despite his status as a physician and his literary skill, Luke would have been viewed as an outsider by Jews, unclean according to the Law. And yet Luke discovered the good news that the Gospel is for everyone, including outsiders. This might help explain why he devoted so much attention to the spread of the Gospel among Gentiles, Samaritans, women, tax collectors and sinners in general.

Luke’s Gospel proclaims the good news that Jesus is for losers. If you’ve ever felt like an outsider, if you’ve ever been pushed to the margins or felt ignored because of who you are or where you came from, you just might find that Luke’s Gospel is for you.



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