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Luke of Antioch

Luke (Greek: Loukas ho Antiocheioswas born c. AD 15 (3775–3776 in the Hebrew calendar) in the Roman province of Syria. There are only three explicit mentions of Luke in the New Testament, all of them by Paul of Tarsus. He was a physician (iatros; G2395; from the verb iaomai; G2390, "to heal") from the city of Antioch and a Christian gentile. Paul wrote:


Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him. And Jesus who is called Justus greets you. These are the only ones of the circumcision among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. . . . Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you (Col. 4:10-11, 14).

Paul only mentioned Luke twice more: 1) When he instructed Timothy, "Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11), and 2) When he wrote to Philemon, "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers" (Phlm. 1:23-24).

However, Luke wrote about 28% of the New Testament, more than any of the other writers including Paul. There is a gospel ascribed to him as well as its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. Luke was an ethnic Syrian and hinted at his Antiochian heritage throughout Acts. He mentioned Antioch many times, showing an element of civic pride (cf. Acts 6:511:19-30; 13:1; 14:26-28; 15:22, 30-35; 18:22). Luke also represented his hometown when he wrote how Jesus' followers were first called "Christians" at Antioch (cf. Acts 11:26).


Luke the Evangelist

Luke was not an eyewitness (autoptēsG845, "self-seeing") to Jesus' ministry. He admitted this at the beginning of his account:


Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed (Luke 1:1-4).

Luke also dedicated his sequel to Theophilus:

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3).


Luke was one of Paul's main traveling companions. This is clear in the five "we" passages in Acts: (cf. 16:10-1720:5-1521:1-1827:1-3728:1-16). Luke had direct access to the apostles and other eyewitnesses to Jesus' life and teaching—especially Mark, the synoptic gospel author who wrote first. Luke investigated what others had already written about Jesus and decided to pen one of his own. He addressed it to Theophilus, which could refer stylistically to any reader as a "lover of God" (Theos; G2316; phileō; G5368). However, "most excellent" was a required greeting for Roman officials, so Theophilus most likely was a high-ranking man who wanted to know more about Jesus.


Luke was the church's earliest historian, writing in the Greek historiographical tradition. His epic travel narratives of Jesus "setting his face" to go to Jerusalem and Paul sailing to Rome (cf. Luke 9:51; Acts 27) read like famous Greco-Roman stories like The Odyssey

Luke the Physician

Luke's work focused more on gentiles, women, and outcasts more than the other three gospels. This was the compassion of a medical professional. Furthermore, Luke's knowledge of history and geography is outstanding. He also used certain Greek medical terms that do not exist anywhere else in the Bible. For example, his record about the man suffering from dropsy, Luke featured the clinical word hudropikos (G5203, "looking watery"). This term often appears in ancient Greek medical literature, especially by Hippocrates of Cos (c. 460–c. 375 BC)—who wrote the Hippocratic Oath still adhered to by physicians throughout the world today. 

Another example of Luke using a medical term not found elsewhere in the Bible occurs at Acts 28:3 ("Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand"). The word kathēpsen (G2510, trans. "fastened" in the New Revised Standard Version) was a technical word used by Greek physicians to describe poison entering the body. The medical terms pimprasthai (G4092, "become inflamed") and katapiptein (G2667, "to fall down") also only appear in the Bible in Luke's writing (cf. Acts 28:6). They are otherwise found in the Hippocratic works of Aretaeus of Cappadocia (fl. second century) and Galen of Pergamon (AD 129–c. 216). 

Luke also used the medical jargon of his day: "It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever[s] and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured" (Acts 28:8-9). The Greek statement puretois kai dusenteriō sunechomenon, "lay sick with fevers and dysentery," was included in ancient medical writings. Matthew and Mark both used the singular puretos (G4446) to describe a fever. However, Luke always featured the plural puretoi and puretois ("fevers")—the correct medical usage in line with Hippocratic writings.

Patristic Prologue of Luke

The patristic writer of this prologue for Luke (c. AD 150–400) claimed:


Indeed Luke was an Antiochian Syrian, a doctor by profession, a disciple of the apostles: later however he followed Paul until his martyrdom, serving the Lord blamelessly. He never had a wife, he never fathered children, and died at the age of eighty-four, full of the Holy Spirit, in Boetia. Therefore—although gospels had already been written—indeed by Matthew in Judea but by Mark in Italy—moved by the Holy Spirit he wrote down this gospel in the parts of Achaia, signifying in the preface that the others were written before his, but also that it was of the greatest importance for him to expound with the greatest diligence the whole series of events in his narration for the Greek believers, so that they would not . . . fall away from the truth. And so at once at the start he took up the extremely necessary [story] from the birth of John [the Baptist], who is the beginning of the gospel, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . Indeed afterwards the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.


Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, for you called your servant Luke to be an evangelist and physician of the soul: Grant that, by the wholesome medicine of the doctrine he taught, all the diseases of our souls may be healed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


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