Doctor Luke

The NT was written by Jewish men, this is a generally accepted statement, with the possible exception of one author, Luke.

You’ve probably heard at least two things about Luke, he’s a “Medical Doctor” and he is a Gentile (a biblical way of simply stating that he’s not a Jew).

Additionally, you might be aware of the fact that he wrote the gospel of Luke as well as Acts. Most would agree that this is the case, with Luke and Acts either a unified work that was separated, or (as I suspect) a sort of “part 1” and “part 2” written by the same author, namely, Luke.

Apparently this is the same Luke who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys at least some of the time. As he writes “part 2” of the gospel saga, we see in Acts 16:11 Luke begins to use the 1st person plural pronoun “we” in stead of the 2nd person plural “they.” In other words, he was a part of the group in these “we sections.” This seems to indicate, fairly strongly, that the Pauline mission picked-up Luke in Alexandria Troas along the “roman road” that the Apostle followed during his travels.

We know that Luke investigated the details of Jesus’ ministry to be able to write about it:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 ESV)

Theophilus is either an actual individual, perhaps a patron, or just a rhetorical device to indicate that this gospel account is for all “God lovers,” either way, Luke did careful research for this project, in addition to his first-hand experience in the ministry of Paul.

So why do we think Luke is a Doctor? Because as Paul is writing to the church in Colossae (a church that Paul likely never even set foot in, it was probably started by the church in Ephesus, where Paul preached in the synagogue for 3 months before starting the church in Ephesus) in Col 4:14 when he says “Luke the beloved physician greets you.”

This church is from the area where Luke joins the Pauline mission party in Acts 16, so this is likely “home base” for Dr. Luke. He is probably from this region and thus would have had a first-hand account of Paul’s teaching in the synagogue in Ephesus.

In the first century, it was not uncommon for ships to have their own doctors to take care of passengers who would get sea-sick or take ill in general. Imagine having to live by the medical standards of 2,000 years ago, now imagine that you’re confined in a small space for months at a time… I’d want a doctor too.

It seems that Luke has a special relationship with Paul, he calls him “beloved,” so perhaps Luke became Paul’s personal physician, this too was not uncommon for traveling parties in the ancient world.

Another interesting idea that involves Luke is the authorship of Hebrews. Basically, the two major opinions about Hebrews are that either Luke or Paul wrote it.

The themes addressed in Hebrews seem to be right in line with what Paul would write, however the vocabulary and grammar of the book matches Luke and Acts better than any Pauline letters. This has caused many to come to the conclusion that Luke wrote Hebrews, and I believe this is correct. You can see David Allen’s forthcoming book “Lukan Authorship of Hebrews” for this argument.

I believe that Luke was present at Ephesus (as I said above) when Paul was preaching in the synagogue for 3 months. Paul’s usual modus operandi was to go to densely populated metropolitan areas and then begin preaching in their synagogue, if they had one, or in some public marketplace that served as a usual location to debate ideas or philosophy. After he was kicked out of the synagogue or marketplace, those who believed would form a church. Paul would then teach and train them, and eventually move on, leaving behind someone to shepherd that flock (like Timothy in Ephesus, or Titus on the island of Crete). Then that church would plant churches in that same region (like the the Ephesian church planting the church at Colossae). Later, as Paul would receive word from the churches, he would send correspondence to them which became the letters of the NT.

I believe that Hebrews is actually Luke’s summary of Paul’s preaching in the synagogues, probably particularly the synagogue in Ephesus, where Paul seems to have had his most successful synagogue preaching ministry. It is Paul’s sermon, summarized, but it is Luke’s writing (grammar, vocabulary, etc.).  At least that is my view, you can read more about this position (at least I think they hold the same view) in an article  by Andrew W. Pitts and Joshua F. Walker entitled “The Authorship of Hebrews: A Further Development in the Luke-Paul Relationship” in the soon to be released Paul’s Social Relations edited by S. E. Porter (Pauline Studies 7; Leiden: Brill, 2010).

This conclusion, that Luke authored Hebrews as a summary of Paul’s synagogue preaching, started the wheels of my mind spinning. Traditionally we think of Luke as a Greek (Gentile, Non-Jew, etc…), but would this be likely if he was sitting under Paul’s teaching in the synagogues? For 3 months in an ephesian synagogue? Is it possible that Luke collected accounts of Paul’s preaching and used them for Hebrews, or does the authorship of an entire book to the degree of detail that is presented in Hebrews speak to first-hand knowlege? I believe the latter to be the case.

Why do we usually think of Luke as other than Jew? In Col 4 Paul, in wrapping up his epistle to this church, he sends greetings, as he usually does, to the church from his co-workers and those who are with him.

Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions— if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. (Col 4:7-14)

This seems to indicate that Luke is separate from Paul’s “fellow workers for the kingdom” who are “men of the circumcision.”

Usually, this is believed to point to the fact that Luke was not “of the circumcision.”

In light of the belief that Luke authored Hebrews, and it seems unlikely that Hebrews was written by a Gentile, I began to look into Luke’s nationality, was he really a non-Jew? I found some interesting things on the surface.

My objective is to investigate this issue further over the summer and document some basic observations in a blog post every week or two over then next few months. At the end, I hope to use my research to prepare an article.

So join me for the ride, please place your comments and feedback to help me in this search… BLESSINGS!!!!

(UPDATE) summer got busy… I’ll be doing this for a project in the Fall Semester (I hope).

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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