Luke, the Beloved Physician
THE Scriptural viewpoint of matters gives no one a reason for boasting as regards his abilities. As the apostle Paul states: “Who makes you to differ from another? Indeed, what do you have that you did not receive? If, now, you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7, NW) Nor may we boast in our works as though we had accomplished much or great things, for Jesus correctly observes, “When you have done all the things assigned to you, say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves. What we have done is what we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:10, NW) Appreciating these truths will both keep us humble and make us diligent to use all our gifts in the service of Jehovah God.
From Luke’s own writings as well as from what others recorded regarding him it is apparent that he had the right appreciation of these matters. He not only served well as a colaborer with Paul but he wrote about as much of the Christian Greek Scriptures as did Paul, each writing about two-sevenths; his account of Jesus’ ministry and the Acts being as long as Paul’s fourteen letters. While making such good use of his natural abilities that he was the foremost Christian chronicler, he studiously kept himself in the background.
WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT LUKE?
In striking contrast with the Scriptures in this matter are the apocryphal writings and oral traditions, both of which are replete with fanciful details, figments of fertile religious imaginations. Illustrative of such is the tradition that Luke was an artist, a painter, and that he painted a picture of the “Virgin Mary”. Earliest mention of this tradition, however, is A.D. 980, or more than 900 years after Luke wrote his accounts. In view of his very infrequent references to Mary after Jesus came of age, and which references in the main highlight the fact that she is to be considered no better than any other woman who exercises faith, it takes more than a modicum of credulity to believe that Luke felt impelled to paint a portrait of her.—Luke 8:21; 11:27, 28.
We do know that Luke was a physician, for Paul refers to him as “Luke the beloved physician”. (Col. 4:14, NW) Paul also names Luke among his “fellow workers”, in his letter to Philemon. (Phm Verse 24, NW) The only other mention of Luke’s name in the Scriptures is also by Paul. In his second letter to Timothy, written A.D. 65, during Paul’s second imprisonment and therefore shortly before his death, he writes: “Do your utmost to come to me shortly. For Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things, and he has traveled to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me.” (2 Tim. 4:6-11, NW) Thus we have Paul’s picture of Luke, a faithful beloved fellow worker.
What little we know about Luke’s whereabouts we gather from his Acts, wherein his use of the plural first person pronoun “we” reveals that he is accompanying Paul on some of his missionary travels. Thus at Acts 16:10 (NW), after telling of Paul’s vision regarding the Macedonian call for help, we read: “Now as soon as he had seen the vision, we sought to go forth into Macedonia, drawing the conclusion that God had summoned us to declare the good news to them.” From the context we learn that Luke accompanied Paul to Philippi, on his second missionary tour. He seems to have remained there until a few years later when Paul passed through on his third missionary tour when Luke accompanied him to Caesarea and Jerusalem. Luke also accompanied Paul on his journey to Rome.
From Luke’s writings it is apparent that he had a far better education than such “ordinary” men as Peter and John; which is what we would expect of a physician. (Acts 4:13, NW) His vocabulary is twice as large as that of Matthew and Mark. His accounts are better worded, more varied, contain better Greek and come closer to the classical Greek than those of any other Christian Greek Scripture writer.
While some have taken this to mean that Luke was a Greek Gentile, such does not necessarily follow. Luke’s able use of Greek can easily be accounted for in view of his being an educated man, a physician; besides he may have been a Hellenist, a Greek-speaking Jew. Some refer to the context of Paul’s reference to him in Colossians 4:14, in which Paul speaks of those of the circumcision and then mentions others including Luke. However, such is far from conclusive. What seems to be the most conclusive testimony on the matter is Paul’s statement that it was only the Jews who “were entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God”. (Rom. 3:1, 2, NW) If Luke was not a Jew he would be the only exception among all those used by Jehovah to give us his Word, the Hebrew as well as the Christian Greek Scriptures. Such does not seem reasonable.
LUKE’S GOSPEL AND THE ACTS
Luke’s writing does not suggest a non-Jewish background, as he is as skilled in the use of Hebraisms as in Greek expressions. His outlook seems to be a universal one, appealing to both the Jew and the Gentile. He is an outstanding narrator, his accounts being well arranged and chronologically accurate. Of the four accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry his is the most comprehensive. Without a doubt God put it into his heart to make a record of those important events and the holy spirit guided his pen. As he expresses it: “Whereas many have tried their hand at compiling a statement of the facts which are given full credence among us, just as those who from the beginning became eyewitnesses and attendants of the message delivered these to us, I resolved also, because I have traced all things from the start with accuracy, to write them in logical order to you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know fully the certainty of the things which you have been taught orally.”—Luke 1:1-4, NW.
What eloquent testimony to Scriptural authenticity Luke here gives! The facts are vouchsafed by eyewitnesses; he himself has traced all things from the beginning with accuracy and then arranged them logically, thus furnishing a sound basis for faith. Incidentally Luke here indicates the superiority of the written over the oral record.
Quite likely among the written records by which Luke traced everything accurately from the beginning were the inspired accounts by Matthew and Mark. However, we are not to think of Luke as merely copying from these, but rather as making use of them as reference material. His account has too many variations in detail as well as too many points not covered by others to allow for the position taken by some modern critics that the writings of the three synoptists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, were based on one original account.
It appears that Paul influenced Luke’s account of Jesus’ ministry almost as much as Peter influenced the account of Mark. The time of writing of Luke’s Gospel seems to have been about A.D. 56-58, or shortly before he completed the writing of Acts, A.D. 61.—Acts 1:1-3.
Among the incidents recorded only by Luke, which, together with his record of those also recorded by others, entitle his Gospel to be termed the most comprehensive, are: the details in connection with the conception and birth of John the Baptist; Mary’s song of praise and that of the angels; Jesus’ presentation at the temple, his circumcision, and his trip to Jerusalem at the age of twelve; the sending out of the seventy evangelists; the experience of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus; also much of Jesus’ later Perean and Judean ministries. (Luke 10:1 to 18:14) Luke appreciated the value of dates, he alone giving us tie-ins with secular history: the date of the registration which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem and the year John the Baptist began his ministry. Also he alone tells us how old Jesus was when he began to preach.—Luke 1:1 to 3:23.
Peculiar to Luke are also a number of studies in contrast: the nine ungrateful Jewish lepers versus the grateful Samaritan leper; the good Samaritan versus the priest and Levite; the prayer of the Pharisee versus that of the tax collector; the rich man versus Lazarus; Mary versus Martha; the prodigal son versus the self-righteous older brother; the taunting versus the repentant thief; etc.
Luke, not content with merely giving us the account of the marvelous events of Jesus’ ministry, supplemented that with an accurate history of the early Christian congregation in his book of Acts. Therein he tells us of the giving of the holy spirit at Pentecost, how the good news spread to the nations, and how that persecution, far from halting the preaching work, caused it to become more widespread. He gives much valuable information as to how the apostles met the issues of their day, furnishing a guide for us today. Outstanding are his reports of the defenses made by Peter and John, by Stephen, and by Paul before the religious and political authorities. Without the record of the Acts Paul’s letters would lose much of their force.
As a young man Luke doubtless viewed the healing art as a way in which he could serve his fellow man and at the same time provide a livelihood for himself. But how limited would have been the good he would have accomplished had he contented himself with that profession! Leaving all behind to become a follower of Christ Jesus and to work with the divine spiritual healing program that God instituted by Christ Jesus, what greater privileges were his! Not only did he have the privilege of being a beloved fellow worker of one of the greatest Christian missionaries of all time, the apostle Paul, but he also had the privilege of being the foremost chronicler of the most notable events ever to occur on this earth.
Luke set a good example for all Christians to follow. Let all who have dedicated themselves to Jehovah God through Christ Jesus likewise seek first the Kingdom and make the best possible use of their natural qualifications to the honor of Jehovah’s name and to the advancement of true worship in the earth.