Luke the Evangelist
Feastday: October 18
Luke the Evangelist (Ancient Greek: Λουκᾶς, Louk„s) is one of the Four
Evangelists—the four traditionally ascribed authors of canonical Gospels. The
early church fathers ascribed to him authorship of both the Gospel according to
Luke and the book of Acts of the Apostles. The authorship of The Gospel
according to Luke and The Acts of the Apostles place Luke as having written most
of the New Testament, more even than Paul the Apostle. Prominent figures in
early Christianity such as Jerome and Eusebius later reaffirmed his authorship,
although the fragile evidence of the identity of the author of the works has led
to discussion in scholarly circles, both secular and religious.
The New Testament mentions Luke briefly a few times, and the Pauline epistle to
the Colossians refers to him as a doctor; thus he is thought to have been both a
physician and a disciple of Paul. Christians since the faith's early years have
regarded him as a saint. He is believed to have been a martyr, reportedly as
having been hung in an olive tree, though some believe otherwise.
The Roman Catholic Church and other major denominations venerate him as Saint
Luke the Evangelist and as a patron saint of artists, physicians, surgeons,
students and butchers; his feast day takes place on 18 October.
Many scholars believe that Luke was a Greek physician who lived in the Greek
city of Antioch in Ancient Syria, though some other scholars and theologians
think Luke was a Hellenic Jew. Bart Koet for instance considered it as
widely accepted that the theology of Luke–Acts points to a gentile Christian
writing for a gentile audience. Gregory Sterling though, claims that he was
either a Hellenistic Jew or a god-fearer.
This Luke is mentioned in Paul's Epistle to Philemon (v.24), and in two other
epistles which are traditionally ascribed to Paul (Epistle to the Colossians
4:14 and Second Epistle to Timothy 4:11).
His earliest notice is in Paul's Epistle to Philemon—Philemon 1:24. He is also
mentioned in Colossians 4:14 and 2Timothy 4:11, two works commonly ascribed to
Paul. The next earliest account of Luke is in the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to
the Gospel of Luke, a document once thought to date to the 2nd century, but
which has more recently been dated to the later 4th century.
Helmut Koester, however, claims that the following part—the only part preserved
in the original Greek—may have been composed in the late 2nd century:
- Luke, was born in Antioch, by profession, was a physician. He had become a disciple of the apostle Paul and later followed Paul until his
(Paul's) martyrdom. Having served the Lord continuously, unmarried and without
children, filled with the Holy Spirit he died at the age of 84 years. (p.
Epiphanius states that Luke was one of the Seventy Apostles (Panarion
51.11), and John Chrysostom indicates at one point that the "brother" Paul
mentions in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians 8:18 is either Luke or
If one accepts that Luke was in fact the author of the Gospel bearing his name
and also the Acts of the Apostles, certain details of his personal life can be
reasonably assumed. While he does exclude himself from those who were
eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry, he repeatedly uses the word "we" in describing
the Pauline missions in Acts of the Apostles, indicating that he was personally
there at those times.
There is similar evidence that Luke resided in Troas, the province which
included the ruins of ancient Troy, in that he writes in Acts in the third
person about Paul and his travels until they get to Troas, where he switches to
the first person plural. The "we" section of Acts continues until the group
leaves Philippi, when his writing goes back to the third person. This change
happens again when the group returns to Philippi. There are three "we sections"
in Acts, all following this rule. Luke never stated, however, that he lived in
Troas, and this is the only evidence that he did.
The composition of the writings, as well as the range of vocabulary used,
indicate that the author was an educated man. A quote in the Letter of Paul to
the Colossians differentiates between Luke and other colleagues "of the
- 10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the
cousin of Barnabas. 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These
are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have
proved a comfort to me. ... 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send
greetings. Colossians 4:10–11,14.
This comment has traditionally caused commentators to conclude that Luke was a
Gentile. If this were true, it would make Luke the only writer of the New
Testament who can clearly be identified as not being Jewish. However, that is
not the only possibility. Although Luke is considered likely to be a Gentile
Christian, some scholars believe him to be a Hellenized Jew. The phrase could just as easily be used to differentiate between those Christians
who strictly observed the rituals of Judaism and those who did not.
Luke's presence in Rome with the Apostle Paul near the end of Paul's life was
attested by 2 Timothy 4:11: "Only Luke is with me". In the last chapter of the
Book of Acts, widely attributed to Luke, we find several accounts in the first
person also affirming Luke's presence in Rome including Acts 28:16: "And when we
came to Rome..." According to some accounts,(who?) Luke also contributed to the
authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Luke died at age 84 in Boeotia, according to a "fairly early and widespread
tradition". According to Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos (Ecclesiastical
History 14th century AD., Migne P.G. 145, 876) and others, Luke's tomb was
located in Thebes, whence his relics were transferred to Constantinople in the
Authorship of Luke and Acts
The Gospel of Luke does not name its author.
The Gospel was not written and does not claim to be written by direct witnesses
to the reported events, unlike Acts beginning in the sixteenth chapter.
The earliest manuscript of the Gospel, dated circa AD 200, ascribes the work to
Luke; as did Irenaeus, writing circa AD 180, and the Muratorian fragment from AD
Luke as a historian
Most scholars understand Luke's works (Luke–Acts) in the tradition of Greek
historiography. The preface of The Gospel of Luke drawing on historical
investigation identified the work to the readers as belonging to the genre of
history. There is some disagreement about how best to treat Luke's writings,
with some historians regarding Luke as highly accurate, and others taking a more
Based on his accurate description of towns, cities and islands, as well as
correctly naming various official titles, archaeologist Sir William Ramsay wrote
that "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of
fact trustworthy... (he) should be placed along with the very greatest of
historians." Professor of Classics at Auckland University, E.M. Blaiklock,
wrote: "For accuracy of detail, and for evocation of atmosphere, Luke stands, in
fact, with Thucydides. The Acts of the Apostles is not shoddy product of pious
imagining, but a trustworthy record... it was the spadework of archaeology which
first revealed the truth." New Testament scholar Colin Hemer has made a
number of advancements in understanding the historical nature and accuracy of
On the purpose of Acts, New Testament Scholar Luke Timothy Johnson has noted
that "Luke's account is selected and shaped to suit his apologetic interests,
not in defiance of but in conformity to ancient standards of historiography." Such a position is shared by most commentators such as Richard Heard who sees
historical deficiencies as arising from "special objects in writing and to the
limitations of his sources of information." However, during modern times,
Luke's competence as a historian is questioned, although that depends on one's a
priori view of the supernatural. A materialist would see a narrative that
relates supernatural, fantastic things like angels, demons etc., as problematic
as a historical source. And it is understood that Luke did not intend to record
history. His intention was to proclaim and to persuade. Many see this
understanding as the final nail in Luke the historian's coffin. Robert M. Grant has noted that although Luke saw himself within the historical tradition,
his work contains a number of statistical improbabilities such as the sizable
crowd addressed by Peter in Acts 4:4. He has also noted chronological
difficulties whereby Luke "has Gamaliel refer to Theudas and Judas in the wrong
order, and Theudas actually rebelled about a decade after Gamaliel spoke
Luke as an artist
Christian tradition, starting from the 8th century, states that he was the first
icon painter. He is said to have painted pictures of the Virgin Mary and Child,
in particular the Hodegetria image in Constantinople (now lost). Starting from
the 11th century a number of painted images were venerated as his autograph
works, including for example, the Black Madonna of Częstochowa and Our Lady of
Vladimir. He was also said to have painted Saints Peter and Paul, and to have
illustrated a gospel book with a full cycle of miniatures.
Late medieval Guilds of St Luke in the cities of Late Medieval Europe,
especially Flanders, or the "Accademia di San Luca" (Academy of Saint Luke) in
Rome—imitated in many other European cities during the 16th century—gathered
together and protected painters. The tradition that Luke painted icons of Mary
and Jesus has been common, particularly in Eastern Orthodoxy. The tradition also
has support from the Saint Thomas Christians of India who claim to still have
one of the Theotokos icons that Saint Luke painted and which St. Thomas brought
In traditional depictions, such as paintings, evangelist portraits and church
mosaics, Saint Luke is often accompanied by an ox or bull, usually having wings.
Sometimes only the symbol is shown, especially when in a combination of those of
all Four Evangelists.
Despot George of Serbia bought the relics from the Ottoman sultan Murad II
for 30,000 gold coins After the Ottoman conquest
of Bosnia, the kingdom's last queen, George's granddaughter Mary, who had
brought the relics with her from Serbia as her dowry, sold them to the Venetian
In 1992, the then Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Ieronymos of Thebes and Levathia
(the current Archbishop of Athens and All Greece) requested from Bishop Antonio
Mattiazzo of Padua the return of "a significant fragment of the relics of St.
Luke to be placed on the site where the holy tomb of the Evangelist is located
and venerated today". This prompted a scientific investigation of the relics in
Padua, and by numerous lines of empirical evidence (archeological analyses of
the Tomb in Thebes and the Reliquary of Padua, anatomical analyses of the
remains, Carbon-14 dating, comparison with the purported skull of the Evangelist
located in Prague) confirmed that these were the remains of an individual of
Syrian descent who died between 416 BC and AD 72. The Bishop of Padua then
delivered to Metropolitan Ieronymos the rib of Saint Luke that was closest to
his heart to be kept at his tomb in Thebes, Greece.
Thus, nowadays, the relics of Saint Luke are so divide
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