Who is Luke the Evangelist?


This coming Wednesday, October 18th, we celebrate the feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist—on the day of his martyrdom.  He was the author of the third Gospel…and of its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles.   He was a Greek from Antioch in Syria, who had a thorough familiarity with the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament).  He was trained as a physician; well-schooled and cultured; and became one of the Church’s very first iconographers.  Because Saint Luke wrote one of the four Gospels, many people mistakenly believe that he was one of the Twelve Apostles…Jesus’ inner circle. He was not one of the twelve, but rather, Luke was one of the Seventy Apostles (Luke 10:1), whom Jesus sent two by two to prepare the way for Him in every city where Jesus was about to go preaching.  Those Seventy Apostles, were given power to perform miracles and cast out demons (Luke 10:17). 

After that particular ministry of the Seventy Apostles was completed, and Jesus ascended into heaven, Luke went on to accompany Saint Paul on his missionary journeys.  Since Saint Paul likely suffered from a chronic and painful eye disease, it’s a safe bet that Luke was there to serve Paul as his personal physician.  However, Paul also regarded Luke’s assistance in bringing people to the Christian faith as vital.  He was so grateful and impressed with Luke’s faithful efforts that he referred to him as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14), and the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of Christ’s Good News” (2 Corinthians 8:18).

After Saint Paul’s martyrdom in Rome, Saint Luke, went on to become a powerful witness, successfully preaching the gospel in a variety of places. He traveled into different parts of Egypt and Greece.  While he was in Greece the pagan priests there were so enraged against him that they martyred him, hanging him from the branch of a large olive-tree. 

Each of Saint Luke’s two books (the Gospel of Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles) were dedicated to his friend, the “most excellent Theophilus” (Theophilus means, “one who loves God”).   Because Luke addresses him as “most excellent,” some say that Theophilus may have been a person of noble heritage…a high official in the Roman government.  However, others believe that this title and name, “most excellent Theophilus,” may be a literary device used by Luke to address the book to all Christians, since every Christian is “someone who loves God”…and since every Christian is a “noble” son or daughter of the King of Glory. 

In both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Luke’s writing is very detailed and precise.  People who study the Greek language say that his literary style is noble, elegant, and inspiring…flowing clearly, with an easy and natural grace and sweetness.  Some biblical scholars say that each of his books embodies a different type of Gospel.  The Gospel of Luke is the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ…and the Acts of the Apostles is the Gospel (Good News) of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. 

Women in Luke’s Writing

Remarkably different from Jewish writings, women have an important place in Luke’s Gospel.  He actually acknowledges by name the women who accompanied Jesus, such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Martha & Mary and “many other women who used their own resources to help Jesus and his disciples.”  Luke also writes about the birth of Christ from Mary’s point of view and she is especially important in Luke's gospel.  Only Luke’s Gospel tells us the story of the Archangel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary; her visit to Elizabeth; the “Magnificat” (“My soul magnifies the Lord…”); baby Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple; and the boy Jesus’ remaining in Jerusalem.  Only in Luke's Gospel do we learn the words spoken by the angel to Mary at the Annunciation, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” and Elizabeth’s words to Mary, “Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”

Summarizing Luke’s Writings

The Gospel of Luke presents the story of Jesus as the fulfillment of God's prophesies and promises…giving a nod to the Jewish Temple—showing Christ as the fulfillment of its practices.  Because Jesus tells so many parables in Luke, this Gospel offers us a place to reflect deeply about God's reign and what it means to live as His faithful followers in the world.  Therefore, Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story focuses on God’s concern for the poor and oppressed, encouraging from us tenderness and compassion for the less fortunate.  He also tells the story of the poor man, Lazarus, and the fate of the unnamed Rich Man who ignored him…as well as the parable of the Good Samaritan who rescues the man who had been beaten by robbers and left to die.  Luke’s Gospel stresses the importance of evangelizing the Gentiles (non-Jews).  Also, Luke’s Gospel has Jesus praising the faith of certain Gentiles, such as the widow of Zarephath—whom Elijah saved from starvation, and Naaman the Syrian who was healed of leprosy (Luke 4:25-27), and we hear the story of the one cured Samaritan leper who came back to show his gratitude to Jesus (Luke 17:11-19).  Saint Luke emphasizes the Gospel for Samaritans, Gentiles, Sinners, Poor, Outcasts, Women, and Children.  Yet he also answers the question “How is it that Christianity has become so filled with Gentiles (non-Jews), if it originally came to us from the Jews?” So, Luke’s writing of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles demonstrate that the Christian Gospel isn’t anti-Jewish, but rather, it’s rooted in the Old Testament’s promise of salvation to both the Jews and the Gentiles…to be a blessing to the whole world.  “The Way” (as Christians first referred to their movement in the Book of Acts - (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22)) is given the same spiritual promises that were given to Israel.  Christians have become the stewards of God’s promises to Israel.  The reason this movement has become so filled with Gentiles is because most of the Jews ultimately rejected Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, eventually kicking Christians out of the Temple and the synagogues.  However, Luke wants the Jews to know that they’re not rejected by God or by the Apostle Paul.  Since Luke’s Gospel opens with the priest Zechariah at the Temple, we are reminded of the Temple and its offerings—with Jesus as their fulfillment.  Thus, Luke is often represented (as you see in Luke’s icon above) with the symbol of the bull—one of the many Temple offerings.