Saint Luke, the Evangelist
The name Lucas (Luke) is probably an abbreviation from Lucanus, like Annas from Ananus, Apollos from Apollonius, Artemas from Artemidorus, Demas from Demetrius, etc. (Schanz, “Evang. des heiligen Lucas”, 1, 2; Lightfoot on “Col.”, iv, 14; Plummer, “St. Luke”, introd.)
The word Lucas seems to have been unknown before the Christian Era; but Lucanus is common in inscriptions, and is found at the beginning and end of the Gospel in some Old Latin manuscripts (ibid.). It is generally held that St. Luke was a native of Antioch. Eusebius (Church History III.4.6) has: “Lucas vero domo Antiochenus, arte medicus, qui et cum Paulo diu conjunctissime vixit, et cum reliquis Apostolis studiose versatus est.” Eusebius has a clearer statement in his “Quæstiones Evangelicæ”, IV, i, 270: “Luke was by birth a native of the renowned Antioch” (Schmiedel, “Encyc. Bib.”).
Spitta, Schmiedel, and Harnack think this is a quotation from Julius Africanus (first half of the third century). In Codex Bezæ (D) Luke is introduced by a “we” as early as Acts 11:28; and, though this is not a correct reading, it represents a very ancient tradition. The writer of Acts took a special interestin Antioch and was well acquainted with it (Acts 11:19-27; 13:1; 14:18-21, 14:25, 15:22, 23, 30, 35;18:22). We are told the locality of only one deacon, “Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch”, 6:5; and it has been pointed out by Plummer that, out of eight writers who describe the Russian campaign of 1812, only two, who were Scottish, mention that the Russian general, Barclay de Tolly, was of Scottishextraction. These considerations seem to exclude the conjecture of Renan and Ramsay that St. Luke was a native of Philippi.
St. Luke was not a Jew. He is separated by St. Paul from those of the circumcision (Colossians 4:14), and his style proves that he was a Greek. Hence he cannot be identified with Lucius the prophet of Acts 13:1, nor with Lucius of Romans 16:21, who was cognatus of St. Paul. From this and the prologue of the Gospel it follows that Epiphanius errs when he calls him one of the Seventy Disciples; nor was he the companion of Cleophas in the journey to Emmaus after the Resurrection (as stated by Theophylact and the Greek Menologium).
St. Luke had a great knowledge of the Septuagint and of things Jewish, which he acquired either as a Jewish proselyte (St. Jerome) or after he became a Christian, through his close intercourse with the Apostles and disciples. Besides Greek, he had many opportunities of acquiring Aramaic in his native Antioch, the capital of Syria. He was a physician by profession, and St. Paul calls him “the most dear physician” (Colossians 4:14). This avocation implied a liberal education, and his medical training is evidenced by his choice of medical language.
Plummer suggests that he may have studied medicine at the famous school of Tarsus, the rival of Alexandria and Athens, and possibly met St. Paul there. From his intimate knowledge of the eastern Mediterranean, it has been conjectured that he had lengthened experience as a doctor on board ship. He travailed a good deal, and sends greetings to the Colossians, which seems to indicate that he had visited them.
St. Luke first appears in the Acts at Troas (16:8 sqq.), where he meets St. Paul, and, after the vision,crossed over with him to Europe as an Evangelist, landing at Neapolis and going on to Philippi, “being assured that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them” (note especially the transition into firstperson plural at verse 10). He was, therefore, already an Evangelist. He was present at the conversionof Lydia and her companions, and lodged in her house.
He, together with St. Paul and his companions, was recognized by the pythonical spirit: “This same following Paul and us, cried out, saying: These menare the servants of the most high God, who preach unto you the way of salvation” (verse 17). He beheld Paul and Silas arrested, dragged before the Roman magistrates, charged with disturbing the city, “being Jews”, beaten with rods and thrown into prison. Luke and Timothy escaped, probably because they did not look like Jews (Timothy’s father was a gentile). When Paul departed from Philippi, Luke was left behind, in all probability to carry on the work of Evangelist.
At Thessalonica the Apostlereceived highly appreciated pecuniary aid from Philippi (Philippians 4:15-16), doubtless through the good offices of St. Luke. It is not unlikely that the latter remained at Philippi all the time that St. Paulwas preaching at Athens and Corinth, and while he was travelling to Jerusalem and back to Ephesus, and during the three years that the Apostle was engaged at Ephesus. When St. Paul revisitedMacedonia, he again met St. Luke at Philippi, and there wrote his Second Epistle to the Corinthians.
St. Jerome thinks it is most likely that St. Luke is “the brother, whose praise is in the gospel through all the churches” (2 Corinthians 8:18), and that he was one of the bearers of the letter to Corinth. Shortly afterwards, when St. Paul returned from Greece, St. Luke accompanied him from Philippi toTroas, and with him made the long coasting voyage described in Acts 20. He went up to Jerusalem, was present at the uproar, saw the attack on the Apostle, and heard him speaking “in the Hebrew tongue” from the steps outside the fortress Antonia to the silenced crowd.
Then he witnessed the infuriatedJews, in their impotent rage, rending their garments, yelling, and flinging dust into the air. We may be sure that he was a constant visitor to St. Paul during the two years of the latter’s imprisonment atCæarea. In that period he might well become acquainted with the circumstances of the death of Herod Agrippa I, who had died there eaten up by worms” (skolekobrotos), and he was likely to be better informed on the subject than Josephus.
Ample opportunities were given him, “having diligently attained to all things from the beginning”, concerning the Gospel and early Acts, to write in order what had been delivered by those “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2, 3). It is held by many writers that the Gospel was written during this time, Ramsay is of opinion that the Epistle to the Hebrews was then composed, and that St. Luke had a considerable share in it. WhenPaul appealed to Cæsar, Luke and Aristarchus accompanied him from Cæsarea, and were with him during the stormy voyage from Crete to Malta.
Thence they went on to Rome, where, during the two years that St. Paul was kept in prison, St. Luke was frequently at his side, though not continuously, as he is not mentioned in the greetings of the Epistle to the Philippians (Lightfoot, “Phil.”, 35). He was present when the Epistles to the Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon were written, and is mentioned in the salutations given in two of them: “Luke the most dear physician, saluteth you” (Colossians 4:14); “There salute thee . . . Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke my fellow labourers” (Philem., 24). St. Jerome holds that it was during these two years Acts was written.
We have no information about St. Luke during the interval between St. Paul’s two Romanimprisonments, but he must have met several of the Apostles and disciples during his various journeys. He stood beside St. Paul in his last imprisonment; for the Apostle, writing for the last time to Timothy, says: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course. . . . Make haste to come to me quickly. For Demas hath left me, loving this world. . . . Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:7-11).
It is worthy of note that, in the three places where he is mentioned in the Epistles (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11) he is named with St. Mark (cf. Colossians 4:10), the other Evangelist who was not anApostle (Plummer), and it is clear from his Gospel that he was well acquainted with the Gospelaccording to St. Mark; and in the Acts he knows all the details of St. Peter’s delivery—what happened at the house of St. Mark’s mother, and the name of the girl who ran to the outer door when St. Peterknocked.
He must have frequently met St. Peter, and may have assisted him to draw up his First Epistlein Greek, which affords many reminiscences of Luke’s style. After St. Paul’s martyrdom practically all that is known about him is contained in the ancient “Prefatio vel Argumentum Lucæ”, dating back toJulius Africanus, who was born about A.D. 165. This states that he was unmarried, that he wrote theGospel, in Achaia, and that he died at the age of seventy-four in Bithynia (probably a copyist’s error forBœotia), filled with the Holy Ghost.
Epiphanius has it that he preached in Dalmatia (where there is atradition to that effect), Gallia (Galatia?), Italy, and Macedonia. As an Evangelist, he must have suffered much for the Faith, but it is controverted whether he actually died a martyr’s death. St. Jeromewrites of him (De Vir. III., vii). “Sepultus est Constantinopoli, ad quam urbem vigesimo Constantii anno, ossa ejus cum reliquiis Andreæ Apostoli translata sunt [de Achaia?].”
St. Luke its always represented by the calf or ox, the sacrificial animal, because his Gospel begins with the account of Zachary, the priest, the father of John the Baptist. He is called a painter by NicephorusCallistus (fourteenth century), and by the Menology of Basil II, A.D. 980. A picture of the Virgin in S. Maria Maggiore, Rome, is ascribed to him, and can be traced to A.D. 847 It is probably a copy of that mentioned by Theodore Lector, in the sixth century.
This writer states that the Empress Eudoxia found a picture of the Mother of God at Jerusalem, which she sent to Constantinople (see “Acta SS.”, 18 Oct.). As Plummer observes, it is certain that St. Luke was an artist, at least to the extent that his graphic descriptions of the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Shepherds. Presentation, the Shepherd and lost sheep, etc., have become the inspiring and favourite themes of Christian painters.
St. Luke is one of the most extensive writers of the New Testament. His Gospel is considerably longer than St. Matthew’s, his two books are about as long as St. Paul’s fourteen Epistles: and Acts exceeds in length the Seven Catholic Epistles and the Apocalypse. The style of the Gospel is superior to any N.T. writing except Hebrews. Renan says (Les Evangiles, xiii) that it is the most literary of the Gospels.
St. Luke is a painter in words. “The author of the Third Gospel and of the Acts is the most versatile of all New Testament writers. He can be as Hebraistic as the Septuagint, and as free from Hebraisms as Plutarch. . . He is Hebraistic in describing Hebrew society and Greek when describing Greek society” (Plummer, introd.). His great command of Greek is shown by the richness of his vocabulary and the freedom of his constructions.