Berean cogitations

Friday, September 02, 2005

Character study: Luke

I found it interesting to dwell on the character of Luke, author of both The Acts of the Apostles and the gospel that bears his name. We know precious little about this man. The Bible only mentions him thrice--and only in passing (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim 4:11, Phil 1:24). if not for his authorship of the aforementioned New Testament books, he would be a fairly obscure character. So what do we know about this man?

First, it is commonly believed that Luke was a physician. This is in keeping with the attention to detail that Luke gave to the physiological details of Christ's crucifixion. (Mind you, Luke's gospel doesn't report these things in extreme detail. I certainly don't think that the level of detail necessarily implies that this book was written by a physician. However, these are certainly the sorts of things that a medical doctor would notice.)

Second, we know him to be a travelling companion of Paul, and a faithful servant of the Lord. Despite his advanced education, he chose to spend much of his time in ministry work. Some would say, "Well, maybe he was serving as a medical missionary!" but I think that's unlikely. Paul's epistles gave no indication that Luke was ministering to the people in any medical capacity, and given the nature of Paul's ministry--which was primarily preaching the Word and establishing churches--I think it's implausible that Luke was there because of his medical skill.

Third, we know that he's an obscure character. Interestingly enough, I think this is useful information. Why? Because many people contest the authorship of Luke's gospel. They suggest that some other writer must have penned this book--but if that were the case, then why would it be attributed to such an obscure individual? Why not someone more prominent, such as Thomas, Andrew or Philip? Luke's own obscurity strongly suggests that there was no ulterior motive in attributing the authorship of this gospel to him.

(As an aside, nobody has suggested any strong alternate suggestions as to who wrote this book, nor did the early church ever attribute it to anyone else. I think we can confidently state that Luke did indeed pen this narrative. By extension, we can attribute Acts to him as well, since it is widely recognized as a continuation of Luke's gospel.)

And fourth, we know that he was an outstanding scholar, writer and researcher. Luke's writings are known for their eloquence, and he is often regarded as having had the best writing style of all four Evangelists. In Luke 1:1-4, he claims to have carefully investigated all the matters on which he reported, with the purpose of presenting an orderly account of Christ's life and the nascent church. He was a man who used his skills to promote God's Kingdom.

Was he successful in his research and scholarship? Consider the words of Sir William Ramsay, one of the greatest archaeologists and historians of all time. Ramsay spent years in Asia Minor, attempt to disprove the historicity of Luke's writings. After 15 years, he was forced to conclude that

"Luke is a historian of the first rank . . . This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians."

Wayne Jackson concurred, as he wrote,
"In Acts, Luke mentions thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine Mediterranean islands. He also mentions ninety-five persons, sixty-two of which are not named elsewhere in the New Testament. And his references, where checkable, are always correct. This is truly remarkable, in view of the fact that the political/territorial situation of his day was in a state of almost constant change. Only inspiration can account for Luke’s precision" (“The Holy Bible—Inspired of God,” Christian Courier, 27[1]:1-3, May. )

So, Luke was an educated man, yet he spent much of his time travelling with Paul in service to the Lord. By all accounts, he was a faithful servant. While we see no indications that he used his medical expertise in direct ministry work, I think it's fair to say that these skills came into play as he recorded the details of Christ's crucifixion. We know that he's an outstanding writer, researcher and historian--a true scholar. And finally, while he labored in relative obscurity, this obscurity itself is valuable information, as it gives us great assurance that Luke was indeed the one who penned both Acts and Luke's gospel.