A Warmhearted Physician Records the Gospel
A GREAT narrative well told. This is particularly true of the warmhearted physician’s account of the good news. Yes, the most comprehensive record of Jesus’ life is that by “Luke the beloved physician,” as the apostle Paul affectionately calls him. And according to such authorities as McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopœdia, of the four Gospels, Luke’s is the most scholarly in style of writing.—Col. 4:14.
From his Gospel it is clear that Luke was both a well-educated and a very warmhearted physician. While his name does not appear in it, all early Christian testimony is unequivocal as to the writer. Further, its style of writing identifies the entire Gospel as being Luke’s.
Jesus had assured his apostles that the holy spirit would guide them into all truth, and without doubt this promise applied also to those associates of the apostles whom God saw fit to inspire to have a share in writing the Christian Greek Scriptures, such as Mark, Luke, James and Jude. This, however, did not mean that these writers were mere automatons. Rather, it appears that they were given some freedom as to what they should write as well as to the style of their writing; God’s holy spirit directing them so that what they wrote down was indeed the truth.—John 16:13.
Quite likely Luke was a Hellenized Jew. Arguments that he was not a Jew chiefly rest on the supposition that Paul intended to indicate that Luke was not circumcised by listing him after he mentioned “those circumcised.” But this is a very slender thread, especially in view of the fact that only to the Jews ‘were entrusted the sacred pronouncements of God.’ If Luke were not a Jew he would be unique among the Bible writers.—Col. 4:11, 14; Rom. 3:2.
THE SCHOLARLY PHYSICIAN
Early records tell that Luke was a well-educated native of Antioch in Syria, a great city in his day, and from his book of Acts it appears that he was well acquainted with it. His classical introduction, his fine choice of language and his extensive vocabulary, larger than that of the other three Gospels combined, are what we should expect from such a physician.
Luke employs more than three hundred medical terms, or words to which he gives a medical meaning, that either are not used at all or not used in a medical sense by any other writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Thus at Luke 5:12 we read: “Look! a man full of leprosy!” The other writers telling of this event used the same word for leprosy that Luke uses in speaking of the ten lepers at Luke 17:12. To the others leprosy was leprosy, but not to Luke; this one had a special, a more serious, or a farther-advanced stage of leprosy. Thus also unique with Luke is the Greek word used to describe the beggar Lazarus and which is translated “full of ulcers.” Only Luke tells us that Peter’s mother-in-law had a “high fever.”—Luke 16:20; 4:38.
Since Luke was not an eyewitness of the things he recorded, on what sources did he draw? He himself tells that he “traced all things from the start with accuracy.” It is quite likely that he was familiar with Matthew’s Gospel, it having been written years before Luke wrote his. Through the apostle Paul he also may have had the benefit of Mark’s notes, who, in turn, had received much firsthand information from the apostle Peter. It is also quite likely that Luke obtained information personally from Mary, the mother of Jesus, as well as from notes made by John’s brother, James—a hypothesis not without weight in view of the contents of his Gospel. And in view of how his book of Acts concludes it is reasonable to date his Gospel between A.D. 56 and 58.—Luke 1:1-3.
Luke, while less inclined to label characters with their proper names than were some of the other Gospel writers, was, nevertheless, scrupulously accurate. Keeping in mind the ones for whom he was writing, he made it a point to tie in events with secular history. Thus he tells us that when John began his ministry it was “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was district ruler of Galilee, but Philip his brother was district ruler of the country of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was district ruler of Abilene.” What could be more explicit?—Luke 3:1, 2; 1:5; 2:1.
For whom did Luke write? Not primarily for the Jews, as did Matthew, nor primarily for the Romans, as did Mark, but for the “men of good will” of all nations. Fittingly he traces his genealogy of Jesus back to “Adam, the son of God.” He shows Christ to be the means of “removing the veil from the nations,” and tells that “all flesh will see the saving means of God.”—Luke 2:14; 3:38; 2:29-32; 3:6.
“GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR”
In penning his Gospel Luke devoted one third of it to narrative and two thirds to the spoken word. He records eleven parables or illustrations and six miracles that are not mentioned by the other three. In all, 59 percent of his Gospel, or some 540 verses, is unique with him.
Luke appears to set the theme of his book by telling of Jesus’ coming to his home town of Nazareth on a sabbath, entering the synagogue and reading and applying to himself the prophecy: “Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor,” and so forth.—Luke 4:17-21.
Luke appears to have singled out the poor, the oppressed, the crushed, the victims of prejudice. His being a physician would in particular call for his giving womankind and children their due. Thus we find that only Luke tells of Elizabeth’s barrenness, her conception and giving birth to John, and of the angel Gabriel’s appearing to Mary, her reply of not having had any relations with a man and her song of praise. Only a physician would think of recording that the babe of Elizabeth leaped in her womb as Mary spoke to her. Luke alone tells of Jesus’ being circumcised, presented at the temple and of the aged prophetess Anna witnessing to Jesus’ being the hope of Israel. What we know about the childhood of both John the Baptist and Jesus we owe to Luke.—Chapters 1 and 2.
Page after page we see evidences of the physician’s sympathy for and understanding of the weaker sex. Luke alone tells of the grief of the widow of Nain at losing her only son and Jesus’ resurrecting him, and of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, to the annoyance of his Pharisee host. Only Luke tells of women accompanying Jesus and ministering to him and the fine advice Jesus gave all womankind prone to neglect their spiritual interests in caring for the physical needs of their menfolk as did Martha in contrast to Mary. Again it is Luke who mentions the incident of a woman once exclaiming: “Happy is the womb that carried you and the breasts that you sucked!” as well as the incident in the synagogue where Jesus cured a woman crippled for eighteen years. Thus we also read that Jesus, on his way to Golgotha, was followed by “a great multitude of the people and of women who kept beating themselves in grief and bewailing him.” And it was to the women that Jesus turned, saying: “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for me.”—Luke 11:27, 28; 23:27, 28.
As a warmhearted physician Luke shows his fellow feeling or empathy throughout his Gospel. Among other oppressed ones—women’s lot was an oppressed one in Jesus’ day—were the Samaritans, the tax collectors and those who had strayed morally. Matthew had been a despised tax collector, but you would never learn it from Luke’s account. When telling of Matthew’s feast as a tax collector Luke gives him his other name, Levi, crediting Levi with repentance and generosity and yet sparing Matthew! Luke alone recorded Jesus’ illustration of the two men that went up to the temple to pray, the Pharisee and the tax collector, and how not the self-righteous Pharisee but the contrite tax collector was heard by God. The touching incident of little Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus and to whom Jesus said that he would dine at his house, is likewise unique with Luke.
Giving the Samaritans their due, Luke alone wrote down Jesus’ illustration of the good Samaritan who befriended the man beaten and robbed, as well as Jesus’ curing of the ten lepers of whom only the Samaritan returned to give thanks to God for his cure. Of similar import is Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus by means of which Jesus illustrated the contrast between the clergy of his day and those hungering and thirsting for righteousness. And for what has well been termed the “greatest short story ever written,” the illustration of the prodigal son, we also are indebted to Luke—another beautiful display of compassion.
In this regard it has been observed that Luke’s Gospel shows many striking contrasts, revealing at once a keen mind and a warm heart. Among such are Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman; Mary and Martha; the one thankful and the nine unthankful lepers; the good Samaritan and the priest and the Levite; the rich man and the beggar Lazarus; the Pharisee and the tax collector praying at the temple; the prodigal son and his elder brother; the malefactor who asked Jesus to remember him and the one who taunted Jesus.
OTHER UNIQUE FEATURES
Among other unique characteristics of Luke’s Gospel must be mentioned his giving us a rounded-out, well-balanced account. Matthew stressed Jesus’ preaching; Mark, Jesus’ activities; John, Jesus’ intimate discourses; but Luke endeavored to achieve a truly representative record, which doubtless is the reason why it also is the longest of the four. So we find him recording only one of Jesus’ miracles in feeding the multitudes, only part of the Sermon on the Mount and only part of Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees.
This permitted him room to tell us, in addition to all the foregoing things mentioned, about the first draught of fishes that the disciples caught at Jesus’ instance, after which they left all to follow Jesus; the illustrations of the unjust steward, of the minas and the one driving home the point that the greater the forgiveness the greater the love; also the sending out of the seventy evangelists; the reference to the Kingdom covenant; Jesus’ later Judean and Perean ministries; Jesus’ prophecy that Jerusalem would be surrounded by pointed stakes and the account of the two disciples en route to Emmaus whom Jesus met on the morning of his resurrection.
In keeping with his theme of comfort for the oppressed we find that Luke, on the one hand, makes fewer references to sicknesses and diseases than do Matthew and Mark, and, on the other hand, he mentions healings and cures far more often than do these two. Typical is his being the only one to tell that Jesus healed the ear of the slave of the high priest that Peter had severed, although the other three tell of Peter’s cutting off the ear and Jesus’ rebuke. Likewise Luke makes far more references to joy and gladness than do Matthew and Mark.
There is yet one distinctive characteristic of Luke’s Gospel that merits mentioning and that is the emphasis on the subject of prayer. Luke tells of the multitude praying while Zechariah was in the temple, of John the Baptist being given in answer to prayers for a child and of Anna the prophetess praying night and day. He alone tells us of Jesus’ praying at the time of his baptism, of Jesus’ spending the whole night in prayer before choosing the twelve and of his praying while being transfigured. Unique to Luke’s record also is Jesus’ admonition to persevere in prayer as did a certain widow who had been wronged. Only Luke tells of the disciples’ request that Jesus teach them to pray, of God sending an angel to strengthen Jesus in answer to his prayers while in Gethsemane, the request of the malefactor at his side (which was in the nature of a prayer), and Jesus’ closing prayer: “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.”—Luke 23:46.
Possibly many have wondered why God had four Gospel accounts made. But from the foregoing we can see how individualistic Luke’s Gospel is. As a result our faith is strengthened that these are indeed separate and distinct records of the life of Jesus Christ.
If any dedicated Christian should think at times that his personality is being stifled because he is required to follow instructions and to do what others are doing, let him reflect that Luke had the same assignment as did Matthew, Mark and John, and yet within the scope of the facts of Jesus’ life what a distinctive record he gave us! He did not need to go outside of Jesus’ life nor to invent things to make it so distinctive.
The theme that Luke chose, the emphasis that he placed on mercy, compassion, fellow feeling or empathy, forcibly brings home to us the need for us to imitate our Master in manifesting these same qualities. If Jesus, the perfect, wonder-working Son of God, could manifest such loving concern, certainly we are obligated to do so even more, since we ourselves come short and have need of mercy and compassion. Truly, ‘God’s Word is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our roadway.’—Ps. 119:105.