Who Was Luke?

11th April 2024

During Lent, those of us who watched the thought provoking first season of ‘The Chosen’ were challenged to imagine what the backstory might be for some of the characters in the Gospel accounts. What were Mary Magdalene, Peter, Matthew and Nicodemus like? The Gospels give some clues, and the film series attempts to build a bigger picture.

One of the Gospels was written by Luke who also wrote ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. So, who was Luke? He is generally seen as the only non-Jewish biblical author and if we do some detective work in his two volumes and in the rest of the New Testament, we can piece together something of his backstory.

He claims to have researched his Gospel carefully and to have included eye-witness material:
‘Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you.’ Luke 1.1-4

He was himself an eyewitness to some of the events he wrote about in Acts. There are the so called ‘we passages’ where he moves from describing what others did, to what ‘we’ did. So, he was with Paul in Philippi when the Gospel first came to Europe (Acts 16). He was there in Troas when a young man called Eutychus fell out of a third storey window during Paul’s very long sermon (Acts 20)! He travelled with Paul to Jerusalem where they met with James (Jesus’ brother) and all the elders (Acts 21). Later he was shipwrecked with Paul on Malta, before finally getting to Rome. (Acts 27 & 28)

Paul refers to Luke as a ‘fellow worker’ (Philemon 1.24) and as ‘our dear friend, the doctor’ (Colossians 4.14). While in prison for his faith, Paul wrote to Timothy saying, ‘Luke alone is with me.’ (2 Timothy 4.11).

Beyond the New Testament we find Irenaeus (approx. 180 AD) referring to Luke as the author of the third Gospel and Acts. Elsewhere he is said to come from Antioch in Syria and that he served the Lord without the distractions of a family until he died at the age of 84 in Boeotia, Greece.

If you haven’t read or dipped into the Acts of the Apostles recently, why not take a few moments to revisit it? Stories of Paul and Luke’s friendship and their adventures could make another great film series!

Revd Stephen