We do not know enough about Luke, the writer of the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, to provide even a basic biography.  His name was probably derived from the Latin Lucius or Lucanus.  According to a fairly early and widespread tradition he was unmarried, wrote his Gospel in Greece, and died at the age of eighty-four in Boetia.  According to Eusebius, the ecclesiastical historian, Luke’s home was in Antioch.  St Gregory Nazianzen, who died in 390, tells us that Luke’s missionary work was undertaken in Greece and that he was martyred; this seems to be very doubtful.  Later traditions say he was one of the seventy disciples sent out by Jesus, and one of the two disciples who met Jesus on the way to Emmaus. (Luke 24: 13-35)


There is a Luke mentioned by St Paul in his Epistles, and there is some debate about whether this is the evangelist or another person of the same name.  When writing to the Colossians (4:14), Paul talks of 2my dear friend Luke, the doctor”, in his second letter to Timothy (4:10) he says, “only Luke is with me”, and in his letter to Philemon (24) he calls Luke one of his “colleagues.”  It has usually been assumed that the Luke referred to in these passages is the same Luke who wrote the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  This, however, may not be so – the name was a common one, and it is interesting that Paul nowhere refers to his Luke as a writer.  On the other hand, if we take the obvious meaning of “we” in Acts 16:10, for example, to mean Luke and Paul together, then Luke accompanied Paul on some of his journeys and shared in the troubles and persecution he suffered, and so could be the Luke mentioned by Paul.  All that we have for certain are the Gospel and the Acts, and from these we can draw out some of the qualities and theological ideas of their author.  The two books were written as two volumes of a single work, and it is important to see them together to understand  their author more fully.


Luke opens his Gospel with a Prologue to tell us why he wrote it.  Many other people, he says, have drawn up accounts of what had happened “among us,” according to what they had heard from eyewitness and “ministers of the word,” and so he had decided to write an “ordered account” himself, after carefully going over the whole story from beginning.  This would help Theophilus, the important person fro whom he was writing, to see how authentic the teaching he had received was.  With this Prologue we seem to be straightaway in the presence of a writer who was concerned about his sources and about producing a carefully planned account.  Presumably he was not himself an eyewitness of everything “from the outset.”  The Prologue, and that to Acts, indicate Luke’s cultural background and read like contemporary Greek prefaces written in a classical Greek style.  He changes this style when he goes on to write about the birth of John the Baptist and uses the popular form of spoken Greek that was in use by educated people of the time.  In other places he uses the Greek of the Old Testament Septuagint, the version of the Old Testament current among Jews who lived in the Diaspora outside Palestine, and he had a detailed knowledge of synagogue life.  But he was writing for a non-Jewish readership, translating all Hebrew and Aramaic terms, and insisting that the salvations brought by Christ’s life teaching, and death was for everybody and not just the Jews.  (see, for example, 3:6 and 24:27, and Acts).


Luke tells us of events and saying not found elsewhere in the Gospels.  He is an accomplished storyteller, knowing how much detail to include and able to give us revealing character-sketches, as with the prodigal son (15:11-32) and the crafty steward (15:1-8).  He gives us the fullest account of Jesus’ birth, including the Annunciation and Visitation and the detail of the Nativity itself.  For this reason, evangelists, older commentators argued that Luke must have obtained this information from Mary herself, but this was just a  pious supposition.  It is much more likely that he was relying on earlier oral traditions, such as he was referring to in his Prologue, though it is possible that one of these sources was the group of women disciples who accompanied Jesus and to whom Luke give some prominence in his account (see 8: 1- 3).  As with everything he wrote, however, Luke was concerned to present not just a historical account of what had happened but a carefully worked out theological treatise that would help to convey his message to the reader.


Other parts of his gospel are also peculiar to him: he relates six miracles and eighteen parables not mentioned by the other evangelists, and he has a long section (9:51 – 18:14), which is built around the theme of Jesus;’ journey to Jerusalem.  This last is important and illustrates one of Luke’s key theological ideas: the Holy City that the apostles receive the Spirit and go out to preach to the world at the beginning of Acts.


All the time Luke presents events and teaching in a way that is his own.  He is concerned, for example, to remove any blame for the crucifixion from the Roman authorities, perhaps because one of his aims in writing was to persuade them to recognize Christianity as a lawful religion throughout the empire.  In other passages he brings out the kindness and sensitivity of Our Lord – the parable of the prodigal son (15:11-32), for example, and Christ’s words to the women of Jerusalem (23:27-31)./  He underlines Christ’s mercy to sinners and his concern for the outcasts of society – the parable of Dives and Lazarus (16:19-31); the stories of the woman was a sinner(7:36-50) and of Zacchaeus (19:1-10); the promise to the repentant their (23:39-43).  Luke himself appears to share this sensitivity: he treats the apostles more kindly than does Mark, for example, omitting some of their misunderstandings of Christ’s words and excusing their conduct on other occasions (see 9:45, for example).


Another marked feature of Luke’s writings is the role he gives the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is the instrumental in the Incarnation (1:35, and see also 2:25-7), guides the life of Jesus (4:1, 14, 18; 10:21), and will guide the disciple in the Christian life (11: 13, 12:12).  And it is in Acts and Luke gives us the full account of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and of the remarkable effect this had on the apostles (Acts 2).  There is an important continuity here: the Spirit will guide the Church as it guided Jesus, and so the Church will be the continuation of Jesus; earthly life and ministry.


As well as stressing the role of the Spirit, Luke places considerable importance on prayer, again both in the life of Jesus (see 3:21,5:15, 6:12, 9:18, 22:39-46) and for more by him than by the other evangelists is the number of times he remarks on the role or presence of women in the event she is describing: the Visitation and Elizabeth (1:5-66); the widow of Nain (7:11-17); the woman who was a sinner (7:37-50) Mary Magdalen and several others (8:1-3); the woman in the crowd who bless his mother (11:27); the women of Jerusalem (23:27-31); and of course the prominence given to Mary in the whole nativity account.  In Acts, too, Luke notes the presence of Mary and other women with the apostles (1:14).


At the end of his Gospel Luke tells us how Jesus, immediately before his Ascension, explained to the apostles how his message of repentance would be preached to all nations(24:47).  This theme is taken up in Acts, where Luke stresses again and again that salvation could be gained only through Jesus, “for of all the names in the world given to human beings, this is the only one by which we can be saved” (4:12).  This fundamental fact demands a response from those who hear it: once Jesus has been preached as the crucified, risen, and glorified Lord, the would-be disciple must respond by faith, repentance and conversion, and baptism.  Moreover, the disciple’s response must continue and be evident in a Christ-like life.  This means the following of Jesus as the Way, bearing witness to him in everything that is done and prayer.  It also involves a detached attitude to material possessions, an attitude that is much more evident in Luke’s writings than elsewhere in the New Testament and that covers detachment from family ties as well.  The community of goods and living described by him in Acts (4:32-35) is the perfect response of the early disciples in this regard. The fact that Luke himself seems to have been at ease in an affluent society gives these points additional weight.


In Acts Luke also sets out to show the divine origin of Christianity by stressing the miracles worked as the result of the Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost (2:1-12, 43); the way the first Christians lived in harmony (2:44-47); the way the gospel spread so quickly, and the special divine help given to both St Peter and St Paul (12 and 16).  As in his first work, Luke is at pains to show throughout Acts that the gospel is for all people: he gives the details of the conflict between the apostles and the Jewish converts on this point (see, for example, 11:1-18, and again note the role of the Holy Spirit).  


Part of Acts reads like a diary kept by Luke of his journeys with St Paul (see the start of the “we” passages in 16:10).  In these chapters Luke shows himself to have been a keen observer and recorder of places and events.  His account ends rather abruptly, however, with Paul under house arrest in Rome for two years; we can only surmise why Luke did not complete his story with the obvious ending, the death of Paul.  Was this because he wrote his pro-Roman books at this exact time, to explain the new religion for which Paul had been imprisoned and to defend him when he came to trail?  If this is true, then Luke was writing in the sixties of the first century; most modern scholars, however, favour a somewhat later date, between the years 70m and 895, leaving the “unfinished” nature of Acts an unanswered questions.


Luke is the patron saint of the medical profession.  He is also the patron saint of painters, especially of portrait painters, because of an ancient tradition, which dates from the sixth century, that he painted a portrait or icon of Our Lady.  Later on other pictures were attributed to him as well.  An extension of this patronage has led him to be regarded as the protector of craft workers in general, and of lace-makers in particular.  Because his writings contain so much accurate detail he became the patron saint of notaries.  Finally, since his symbol as an evangelist is an ox (perhaps because of the Temple sacrifice mentioned in the nativity narrative), he is also the patron saint of butchers.


Luke was usually depicted in art writing his sacred books, accompanied by his symbol of an ox.  A later Flemish custom was to show him paining Our Lady, and there is a well-known paining attributed to Raphel on the same theme.  His feast-day was celebrated throughout the Church from early times, and in England twenty-eight ancient churches were dedicated to him.  What were claimed to be his relics were venerated in Constantinople, where the emperor Constantius II, who died in 361, had had them transferred from Thebes in Boetia.


St. Luke

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