Luke the Evangelist

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LUKE THE EVANGELIST , according to Christian tradition the author of both the third canonical gospel and Acts of the Apostles. The Gospel of Luke and Acts are linked by similarities of style and theology, by their dedications to a certain Theophilus, and by reference to a first book, almost certainly the Gospel of Luke, in Acts 1:1. Unlike the other evangelists, Luke indicates that he was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus' ministry that he describes (Lk. 1:13).

Luke is mentioned three times in the New Testament in letters ascribed to Paul (Col. 4:14, 2 Tm. 4:11, Phlm. 24). Although a Lucius (a variant of the same name) appears in Acts 13:1 and Romans 16:21, there is no explicit link between this figure and Luke. In Colossians 4:14, Luke, who is with Paul, is called "the beloved physician." In the same context colleagues only are to be identified as Jewish; apparently Luke was a Gentile. Only the reference to Luke in Philemon can be certainly ascribed to Paul, inasmuch as 2 Timothy is probably, and Colossians quite possibly, pseudonymous. In any event, each reference supports a traditional association of Luke with Paul. That association may also be attested to by the so-called "we-passages" of Acts. In four separate instances (Acts 16:1017, 20:515, 21:118, 27:128:16) the narration of Paul's travels unaccountably switches from third person to first person plural, creating the impression that the narrator accompanied Paul. Although other explanations are possible, the traditional one, that Luke had joined Paul's party at those points, is a reasonable one. Since Luke is otherwise not a prominent figure in early Christianity, the attribution of two major New Testament books to him becomes understandable if it is, indeed, historically grounded. (A Timothy or Titus would otherwise have been a more obvious choice for such an attribution.) That Luke's understanding and presentation of Pauline theology is in some respects inadequate scarcely disproves a personal relationship between them in Acts. Acts was written a couple of decades after Paul's death.

Irenaeus (c. 180) names Luke as the third evangelist and a companion of Paul and describes Luke as having recorded the gospel as preached by Paul (Against Heresies 3.1.1). The Muratorian canon (probably late second century) gives a rather full description of Luke that agrees with Irenaeus and with the slim biblical evidence. Eusebius (c. 325) reports that Luke was "by race an Antiochian," a physician, and a companion of Paul (Church History 3.4.6).

Luke's vocabulary was once thought to reflect his medical training, but comparative studies have shown that his medical terminology does not surpass what might be expected of a Hellenistic author. According to an ancient, anti-Marcionite prologue to the gospel, Luke remained unmarried and lived to a ripe old age. While this is entirely possible, there is no way to confirm such a report. The same goes for the tradition that he was from Antioch, or that his remains, with those of the apostle Andrew, were interred in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople in 357. Luke's feast is celebrated on October 18. The evangelist's symbol, the ox, can be traced back to the late second century; it has been thought to mirror the importance of the Jerusalem temple and its sacrifices in Luke's presentation of Christ.


Aside from the New Testament the most important primary source is Eusebius's Church History, which brings together earlier testimony of Christian writers on the origin and authorship of the Gospels. The most convenient edition is the two-volume "Loeb Classical Library" text and translation of Kirsopp Lake, J. E. L. Oulton, and Hugh J. Lawlor (Cambridge, Mass., 1926).

Werner G. Kümmel's Introduction to the New Testament, rev. ed. (Nashville, 1975), pp. 147150, 174185, finds the difficulties of Lucan authorship insurmountable. On the other hand, The Gospel According to Luke, I-IX, translated and edited by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, volume 28 of the Anchor Bible (New York, 1981), pp. 3553, makes a guarded defense of the Luke tradition, in part because Fitzmyer does not regard the objections to it as entirely cogent. Raymond E. Brown, in his Introduction to the New Testament (New York, 1997), p. 327, finds the traditional ascription to Luke "not impos-sible."

D. Moody Smith (1987 and 2005)