Luke the Evangelist
Luke the Evangelist (Greek Λουκάς Loukas) is said by tradition and by the opening statement of the Acts of the Apostles to be the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, the third and fifth books of the New Testament. In Catholicism, he is patron saint of painters, physicians and healers, and his feast day is October 18. His earliest notice is in Paul's Epistle to Philemon, verse 24. He is also mentioned in Colossians 4:14 and 2 Timothy 4:11, two works commonly ascribed to Paul. Our 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 AD, but more recently has been dated to the later 4th century. However Helmut Koester claims the following part – the only part preserved in the original Greek – may have been composed in the late 2nd century:
- Luke is a Syrian of Antioch, a Syrian by race, a physician by profession. He had become a disciple of the apostles 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.335)
Later tradition elaborates on these few facts. Epiphanius states that Luke was one of the Seventy (Panarion 51.11), and John Chrysostom indicates at one point that the "brother" Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 8:18 is either Luke or Barnabas. J. Wenham asserts that Luke was "one of the Seventy, the Emmaus disciple, Lucius of Cyrene and Paul's kinsman." Not all scholars are as confident of all of these attributes as Wenham is, not least because Luke's own statement at the beginning of Acts freely admits that he was not an eyewitness to the events of the Gospel.
Another Christian tradition states that he was the first iconographer and painted pictures of the Virgin Mary (The Black Madonna of Częstochowa) and of Peter and Paul. Thus late medieval guilds of St Luke in the cities of Flanders, or the Accademia di San Luca ("Academy of St Luke") in Rome, imitated in many other European cities during the 16th century, gathered together and protected painters. There is no scientific evidence to support the tradition that Luke painted icons of Mary and Jesus, though it was widely believed in earlier centuries, particularly in Eastern Orthodoxy.
Luke and the New Testament books
Many contemporary scholars are far more skeptical about Luke's authorship of the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, which is clearly meant to be read as a sequel to the Gospel account. Both are dedicated to one Theophilus and no scholar seriously doubts that the same person wrote both works, though neither work contains the name of its author.
Many argue that the author of Acts must have been a companion of the Apostle Paul, due to several passages in Acts written in the first person plural (known as the We Sections). These verses (see Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, etc) seem to indicate the author was travelling with Paul during parts of his journeys. Some scholars report that, of the colleagues that Paul mentions in his epistles, the process of elimination leaves Luke as the only person who fits everything known about the author of Luke/Acts.
Additionally, the earliest manuscript of the Gospel (Papyrus Bodmer XIV/XV = P75), dated circa AD 200, ascribes the work to Luke; as did Irenaeus, writing circa AD 180; and the Muratorian fragment from AD 170. Scholars defending Luke's authorship point out that there is no reason for early Christians to attribute these works to such a minor figure if he did not in fact write them, nor is there any tradition attributing this work to any other author.
- Helmut Koester. Ancient Christian Gospels. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1999.
- Burton L. Mack. Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth. San Francisco, California: HarperCollins, 1996.
- J. Wenham, "The Identification of Luke", Evangelical Quarterly 63 (1991), 3-44
- Early Christian Writings: Gospel of Luke e-texts, introductions
- Photo of the grave of Luke in Padua (in German)
- Genetic characterization of the body attributed to the evangelist Luke