Physician Luke Does the Best Work
HOW do you feel about doctors? Down through history people have esteemed physicians. Primitive societies regarded their medicine men as highly as modern societies do their men of medicine. Why?
Even though our body’s recuperative powers overcome about three quarters of our illnesses without medical assistance, conscientious doctors often generate confidence and trust, which can greatly assist a patient to recover. Also, physicians have been able to help us by their knowledge of effective remedies and healing techniques. Hence, many persons admire physicians as persons who accomplish outstandingly good work.
Yet the Bible tells of a dedicated physician who changed professions so he could do even greater good. He sets us an example of how we can do good with our lives.
This man, Luke, lived in the first century C.E. Paul, the Christian apostle, called Luke “the beloved physician,” and as we will see, Luke’s writings give evidence that he was a medical doctor. (Colossians 4:14) It is noteworthy, however, that Luke’s reputation did not come from treating the sick or injured. Rather, it resulted from what he did after becoming a Christian.
Though Luke likely could have remained in one city and earned a comfortable living as a physician, he chose to accept hardships by accompanying Paul on missionary journeys. And later Luke applied himself to researching and to the writing of a Gospel account of Jesus’ life and ministry. “Gospel” means “good news.” By his efforts at spreading the Christian good news, including the writing of his Gospel and Acts of Apostles, Luke showed that the good a person can accomplish in Christian works excels even what a skilled physician could do in temporarily relieving sickness or suffering. We may better appreciate Luke’s good work by noting some things about the man and his Gospel account.
The Man Behind the Book
Some have claimed that Luke was a Gentile because of his Greek name, his style of writing and the fact that in Colossians 4:10-14 Paul speaks of “those circumcised” and later mentions Luke. However, that is just an interpretation and it runs contrary to the indication of Romans 3:1, 2. There we are told that God entrusted his sacred pronouncements to ‘the Jews.’ So Luke may have been a Greek-speaking Jew having a Grecian name.
Luke’s writing confirms that he was well educated. He wrote in a pure, flowing style of Greek. His sentences are more complex than are those in the other Gospels, and he uses a larger vocabulary.
The introduction of the Gospel also reflects Luke’s learned, well-schooled background. It begins: “Whereas many have undertaken to compile a statement of the facts that are given full credence among us, just as those who from the beginning became eyewitnesses . . . , I resolved also, because I have traced all things from the start with accuracy, to write them in logical order . . . that you may know fully the certainty of the things that you have been taught orally.” (Luke 1:1-4) This resembles introductions in classical Greek literature.
Luke here assures his readers that he is not proceeding on the basis of hearsay or mere oral tradition. Why? Since Luke evidently did not become a disciple while Jesus was on earth, when Luke was preparing his Gospel he did careful research among “eyewitnesses.” Also, he investigated contemporary records, ‘tracing all things from the start with accuracy.’ This should build our confidence in Luke’s writings.
But how did Luke obtain his detailed information? At a certain point in its account of Paul’s travels, the book of Acts switches from the third person (“he,” “they”) to the first person (“we,” “us”). It is understood from this that Luke began to travel with Paul during his second missionary journey. (Acts 16:10) Evidently by accompanying Paul to Jerusalem at the end of the third journey, Luke would there have been able to interview men and women who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. (Acts 21:1, 7, 15-18) There Luke may also have examined documents, such as those used in preparing the genealogy at Luke 3:23-38.
The apostle Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea from about 56 to 58 C.E. Since Luke wrote his Gospel before the book of Acts (completed about 61 C.E.), it seems that Luke, using his time well, wrote his Gospel while Paul was imprisoned.
What Should You Look For?
You will find it most rewarding to read the carefully written, warm and informative book of Luke. In doing so, you can profitably look for certain interesting characteristics or unique features. We might list four.
The first is Luke’s use of medical expressions and descriptions. Women and prayer also received special attention in Luke’s Gospel, so keep alert for those two aspects. Point four is the fact that Luke wrote for all people. To whet your appetite for the book, let us note some examples of these four features.
From a Doctor’s Viewpoint
All the Gospels report on Jesus’ miracles, but as you read Luke observe how frequently he relates Jesus’ healings. And pay attention to the language used or the details given.
For instance, Luke often supplies some medical observation that Matthew and Mark omit. While those two tell us that Peter cut off Malchus’ ear, Luke specifies that it was the right ear and that Jesus restored the amputated body member. Does that not sound like a doctor? (Matthew 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:50, 51) Similarly, Luke reports accurately that Peter’s mother-in-law “was distressed with a high fever,” that Jesus cured both a man “full of leprosy” and another whose “right hand was withered.”—Luke 4:38, 39; 5:12-14; 6:6-10.
There are many other evidences of Luke’s medical outlook. In reporting that Jesus “cured many of sicknesses and grievous diseases and wicked spirits,” Luke distinguished the cures that were solely of a physical nature from those related to the demons. (Luke 7:21) Luke alone tells us that while Jesus was praying just before his arrest, he ‘got into an agony’ and that “his sweat became as drops of blood.” (Luke 22:44) The physician’s interest carried over even to his report of Jesus’ parables. Only Luke tells us of the parable of the ‘good Samaritan.’ Do you recall how the Samaritan treated the wounds of the man found along the road? What Luke describes is in accord with medical practice of the time. (Luke 10:29-37) Luke provides the only account of the ‘rich man and Lazarus.’ And do you recall the precision Luke used as to Lazarus’ health problem? Look it up in Luke 16:20. While there, note in Lu 16 verse 24 the rich man’s cry, “I am in anguish.” Luke used a Greek word for pain or grief that no other Bible writer employed, but which was often used by Greek physicians such as Hippocrates, Aretaeus and Galen.
Concerned About Women and Prayer
In reading the book of Luke look for evidence of his sympathetic interest in women, perhaps reflecting the compassionate nature that attracted him to medicine. For example, chapter one gives the only Gospel information about Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer, even reporting that she felt the child jump in her womb. That same chapter offers warm insight into Mary’s reactions to the idea of becoming mother to the Messiah.
Later in Luke’s Gospel you will learn about: The prophetess Anna; the widow of Nain; the woman who had been a sinner but who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears; the women who ministered to Christ from their belongings; Jesus’ healing of the woman who had long been bleeding; the domestic interaction between Martha and Mary; the “daughter of Abraham” crippled for 18 years and the parables of the woman who lost a coin and the widow and the judge.—Luke 2:36-38; 7:11-15, 36-50; 8:1-3, 43-48; 10:38-41; 13:11-16; 15:8-10; 18:2-8.
Do you think that list covers all special references to women in the book of Luke? Well, if you are a woman, are interested in women or would like to see how sympathetically interested physician Luke was, read through his account and see what more you will find. As you do so, observe how frequently Luke mentions prayer.
You will find that only Luke mentions a number of Jesus’ prayers. For instance, Luke alone tells us that Jesus was praying when the heavens were opened up and holy spirit was poured out on him and that later Christ spent a whole night in prayer. (Luke 3:21; 6:12) If you would like to note some other examples, look up Luke 5:16; 9:18, 28; 11:1; 23:46. Also, Luke shares with us a number of Jesus’ parables about prayer, such as those about the midnight friend, the unjust judge and the Pharisee and tax collector.—Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8, 10-14.
“Good News” for All Peoples
Matthew seems to have written his Gospel especially for the Jews, and Mark wrote his for the Romans, but Luke wrote “good news” for all peoples. One indication of that is that Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam, the forefather of all mankind. (Luke 3:23, 38; compare Matthew 1:1, 16.) In his Gospel with universal appeal, Luke helps us to see that Christ’s message and works could bring good no matter what a person’s background—a Samaritan leper, the rich tax collector and even a condemned thief dying on the stake. (Luke 17:11-19; 19:2-10; 23:39-43) You will also sense Luke’s appeal to all who were ‘lost,’ in the fact that he records Jesus’ parables about the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son and the Pharisee and the tax collector. (Luke 15:4-32; 18:9-14) As you read Luke’s Gospel, be on the alert for other examples of Luke’s offering hope to all.
Of course, there are many other unique things you could note in the Gospel of Luke. But the overall impression should be that of a book written by an educated and careful writer, yet containing a warm and moving account of Jesus’ life. It is a Gospel account that brings to the fore that “good news” is now available to all.
Especially in our period is such “good news” appreciated. Physician Luke is the only Gospel writer to record Jesus’ prophecy that the time would come when, because of the distress on earth during the conclusion of the system of things, ‘men would become faint out of fear and expectation.’ How pleased Luke also must have been to record Jesus’ encouraging words at Luke 21:25-28!