Luke—A Beloved Fellow Worker
THE year was 65 C.E. The place was Rome. Luke knew the risks of identifying himself as a friend of the apostle Paul, then on trial because of his faith. It seemed that Paul would receive the death sentence. But at that critical time, Luke—and Luke alone—was with the apostle.—2 Timothy 4:6, 11.
The name Luke is familiar to Bible readers because the Gospel he penned bears his name. Luke traveled long distances with Paul, who called him “the beloved physician” and a ‘fellow worker.’ (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24) The Scriptures provide little information about Luke, mentioning his name only three times. As you examine what research indicates about Luke, however, you are likely to share Paul’s appreciation for this faithful Christian.
Writer and Missionary
Luke’s Gospel and the book Acts of Apostles are addressed to Theophilus, indicating that Luke compiled both of these divinely inspired documents. (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1) Luke does not claim to have been a witness to Jesus Christ’s ministry. Rather, Luke says that he received information from eyewitnesses and “traced all things from the start with accuracy.” (Luke 1:1-3) So it is likely that Luke became a follower of Christ sometime after Pentecost 33 C.E.
Some suppose that Luke was from Antioch in Syria. They note that Acts gives details of events occurring in that city and that the book singles out one of seven “certified men” as “a proselyte of Antioch,” whereas the cities of the other six are left unspecified. Of course, we cannot be sure that this indicates special interest in Antioch as Luke’s home city.—Acts 6:3-6.
Although Luke is not named in Acts, certain passages use the pronouns “we,” “our,” and “us,” indicating that he participated in some of the events described in the book. When Luke traces the route taken by Paul and his companions through Asia Minor, he says: “They passed Mysia by and came down to Troas.” It was in Troas that Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man who made the entreaty: “Step over into Macedonia and help us.” Luke adds: “Now as soon as he had seen the vision, we sought to go forth into Macedonia.” (Acts 16:8-10) The switch from “they” to “we” suggests that Luke joined Paul’s party in Troas. Luke then described the preaching activity in Philippi in the first person plural, indicating that he participated in it. “On the sabbath day,” he writes, “we went forth outside the gate beside a river, where we were thinking there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women that had assembled.” As a result, Lydia and all her household accepted the good news and were baptized.—Acts 16:11-15.
Opposition was encountered in Philippi, where Paul healed a servant girl who had been making predictions under the influence of “a demon of divination.” When her masters saw that their means of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas, who were then beaten and jailed. Luke apparently avoided arrest, for he describes his companions’ ordeal in the third person. On their release, “they [Paul and Silas] encouraged [the brothers] and departed.” Luke reverted to the first person only when Paul returned to Philippi at a later time. (Acts 16:16-40; 20:5, 6) Perhaps Luke had remained in Philippi to oversee the work there.
How did Luke obtain material for his Gospel and the book of Acts? The first-person sections of Acts—those in which Luke included himself in the narrative—indicate that he accompanied Paul from Philippi to Jerusalem, where the apostle was again arrested. En route, Paul’s party stayed with Philip the evangelizer in Caesarea. (Acts 20:6; 21:1-17) Luke could have gathered information for his account about early missionary activities in Samaria from Philip, who had spearheaded the preaching work there. (Acts 8:4-25) But who were Luke’s other sources?
The two years that Paul spent imprisoned in Caesarea likely afforded Luke opportunity to do research for his Gospel account. Not far away was Jerusalem, where he could consult records of Jesus’ genealogy. Luke recorded many events of Jesus’ life and ministry that are unique to his Gospel. One scholar has noted as many as 82 of such unique passages.
It is possible that Luke learned things about John’s birth from Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer. Details regarding Jesus’ birth and early life may have been obtained from Jesus’ mother, Mary. (Luke 1:5–2:52) Perhaps Peter, James, or John told Luke about the miraculous catch of fish. (Luke 5:4-10) Only in Luke’s Gospel do we learn about some of Jesus’ parables, such as the neighborly Samaritan, the narrow door, the lost drachma coin, the prodigal son, and the rich man and Lazarus.—Luke 10:29-37; 13:23, 24; 15:8-32; 16:19-31.
Luke showed keen interest in people. He recorded Mary’s purification offering, the resurrection of a widow’s son, and a woman’s anointing of Jesus’ feet. Luke mentions the women who ministered to Christ and tells us that Martha and Mary entertained Him. The Gospel of Luke relates the healing of a woman bent double and of a man with dropsy as well as the cleansing of ten lepers. Luke tells us about small Zacchaeus, who climbed a tree to get a view of Jesus, and notes the repentant attitude of one evildoer impaled alongside Christ.—Luke 2:24; 7:11-17, 36-50; 8:2, 3; 10:38-42; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; 17:11-19; 19:1-10; 23:39-43.
It is noteworthy that Luke’s Gospel mentions the treatment of a wound by the neighborly Samaritan of Jesus’ illustration. Evidently with a doctor’s interest, Luke records Jesus’ description of the aid administered, including wine as an antiseptic, oil for its soothing qualities, and bandaging.—Luke 10:30-37.
A Prisoner’s Companion
Luke was concerned about the apostle Paul. When Paul was in custody at Caesarea, the Roman procurator Felix ordered that “no one of [Paul’s] people” be forbidden “to wait upon him.” (Acts 24:23) Luke was likely among those attendants. Since Paul was not always in good health, caring for him may have been one of the ministrations of “the beloved physician.”—Colossians 4:14; Galatians 4:13.
When Paul appealed to Caesar, Roman procurator Festus sent the apostle to Rome. Luke loyally accompanied the prisoner on the long voyage to Italy and penned a vivid account of the shipwreck they experienced. (Acts 24:27; 25:9-12; 27:1, 9-44) While under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote a number of inspired letters, referring to Luke in two of them. (Acts 28:30; Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24) It was probably during this two-year period that Luke wrote the book of Acts.
Paul’s quarters in Rome must have buzzed with spiritual activity. There Luke would have been in contact with some of Paul’s other fellow workers—Tychicus, Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Epaphras, and Onesimus, to mention a few.—Colossians 4:7-14.
During Paul’s second imprisonment, when he felt that death was near, loyal and courageous Luke was at his side, even though others had deserted the apostle. Luke may have stayed at the risk of losing his own freedom. Perhaps acting as a scribe, Luke may have penned Paul’s words: “Luke alone is with me.” Tradition has it that soon thereafter Paul was beheaded.—2 Timothy 4:6-8, 11, 16.
Luke was self-sacrificing and modest. He did not parade his learning or thrust himself into the limelight. Yes, he could have pursued the life of a physician, but he chose to promote Kingdom interests. Like Luke, may we selflessly declare the good news and humbly serve for the glory of Jehovah.—Luke 12:31.
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WHO WAS THEOPHILUS?
Luke addressed both his Gospel and Acts of Apostles to Theophilus. In Luke’s Gospel, this man is called “most excellent Theophilus.” (Luke 1:3) “Most excellent” was a form of address for a prominent individual of great wealth and for high officials in the Roman government. The apostle Paul addressed Festus, the Roman procurator of Judea, in a similar way.—Acts 26:25.
Evidently, Theophilus had heard the message about Jesus and was interested in it. Luke hoped that his Gospel account would enable Theophilus to “know fully the certainty of the things that [he had] been taught orally.”—Luke 1:4.
According to Greek scholar Richard Lenski, it is unlikely that Theophilus was a believer when Luke called him “most excellent,” for “in all Christian literature, . . . no brother Christian is ever addressed by such a title of earthly distinction.” When Luke later wrote the book of Acts, he did not use the title “most excellent” but simply said: “O Theophilus.” (Acts 1:1) Lenski concludes: “When Luke wrote his Gospel to Theophilus, this distinguished man was not yet a Christian but was greatly interested in things Christian; but when Luke sent the Acts to him, Theophilus had become a convert.”