Luke the Evangelist

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Luke the Evangelist
Grandes Heures Anne de Bretagne Saint Luc.jpg
Miniature of Saint Luke from the Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany (1503–1508) by Jean Bourdichon
Apostle, Evangelist
Born Antioch, Syria, Roman Empire
DiedMarch 84 AD
Thebes, Boeotia, Greece
Venerated inall Christian Churches that venerate Saints
Major shrine Padua, Italy
Feast 18 October
Attributes Evangelist, Physician, a bishop, a book or a pen, a man accompanied by a winged ox/winged calf/ox, a man painting an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a brush or a palette (referring to the tradition that he was a painter)
Patronage Artists, bachelors, physicians, surgeons, farmers, and others [1]
Luke of Antioch
Tetraeuaggelo E140 tes Megistes Lauras. Euaggelistes Loukas. 15os aionas.jpg
Occupation Christian missionary, Artist, Physician and Historian
Language Greek
Genre Acts
Notable works Gospel of Luke and Acts

Luke the Evangelist (Latin: Lūcās , Ancient Greek : Λουκᾶς, Loukâs , Hebrew : לוקאס, Lūqās, Aramaic : /ܠܘܩܐ לוקא, Lūqā') is one of the Four Evangelists—the four traditionally ascribed authors of the canonical gospels. The Early Church Fathers ascribed to him authorship of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, which would mean Luke contributed over a quarter of the text of the New Testament, more than any other author. Prominent figures in early Christianity such as Jerome and Eusebius later reaffirmed his authorship, although a lack of conclusive evidence as to 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 [Col 4:14] refers to him as a physician (from Greek for 'one who heals'); thus he is thought to have been both a physician and a disciple of Paul. Since the early years of the faith, Christians have regarded him as a saint. He is believed to have been a martyr, reportedly having been hanged from an olive tree, though some believe otherwise. [lower-alpha 1]

The Roman Catholic Church and other major denominations venerate him as Saint Luke the Evangelist and as a patron saint of artists, physicians, bachelors, surgeons, students and butchers; his feast day is 18 October. [2]


Print of Luke the Evangelist. Made by Crispijn van de Passe de Oude. Evangelist Lucas.jpg
Print of Luke the Evangelist. Made by Crispijn van de Passe de Oude.

Many scholars believe that Luke was a Greek physician who lived in the Greek city of Antioch in Ancient Syria, [lower-alpha 2] although some other scholars and theologians think Luke was a Hellenic Jew. [4] [5] Bart Koet, a researcher and professor of theology, has stated that it was widely accepted that the theology of Luke–Acts points to a gentile Christian writing for a gentile audience, although he concludes that it is more plausible that Luke–Acts is directed to a community made up of both Jewish and gentile Christians because there is stress on the scriptural roots of the gentile mission (see the use of Isaiah 49:6 in Luke–Acts). [6] [7] Gregory Sterling, Dean of the Yale Divinity School, claims that he was either a Hellenistic Jew or a god-fearer. [5]

His earliest notice is in Paul's Epistle to Philemon [Philemon 1:24] . He is also mentioned in Colossians 4:14 and 2 Timothy 4:11 , two Pauline works. [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] 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.[ citation needed ] 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:

James Tissot, Saint Luke (Saint Luc), Brooklyn Museum Brooklyn Museum - Saint Luke (Saint Luc) - James Tissot.jpg
James Tissot, Saint Luke (Saint Luc), Brooklyn Museum

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 Barnabas. (Homily 18 on Second Corinthians on 2 Corinthians 8:18)

If one accepts that Luke was indeed 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. [13]

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.[ citation needed ]

Luke as depicted in the head-piece of an Armenian Gospel manuscript from 1609, held at the Bodleian Library Bodleian Library MS. Arm. d.13. Armenian Gospels-0043-0.jpg
Luke as depicted in the head-piece of an Armenian Gospel manuscript from 1609, held at the Bodleian Library

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 Epistle to the Colossians differentiates between Luke and other colleagues "of the circumcision."

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.

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 have been a gentile Christian, some scholars believe him to have been a Hellenized Jew. [4] [5] [14] 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. [13]

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, there are 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,[ which? ] Luke also contributed to the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews. [15]

Luke died at age 84 in Boeotia, according to a "fairly early and widespread tradition". [16] According to Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos, Greek historian of the 14th century (and others), Luke's tomb was located in Thebes, whence his relics were transferred to Constantinople in the year 357. [17]

Authorship of Luke and Acts

The Gospel of Luke does not name its author. [18] [19] ( Senior, Achtemeier & Karris 2002 , p. 328) [20] The Gospel was not, nor does it claim to be, written by direct witnesses to the reported events, unlike Acts beginning in the sixteenth chapter. [21] [22] [23] However, in most translations the author suggests that they have investigated the book’s events and notes the name (Theophilus) of that to whom they are writing.

The earliest manuscript of the Gospel (Papyrus 75 = Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV), dated circa AD 200, ascribes the work to Luke; as did Irenaeus writing circa AD 180, and the Muratorian fragment, a 7th century Latin manuscript thought to be copied and translated from a Greek manuscript as old as AD 170. [24]

The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles make up a two-volume work which scholars call Luke–Acts. Together they account for 27.5% of the New Testament, the largest contribution by a single author. [25]

Luke paints the Madonna and the Baby Jesus, by Maarten van Heemskerck, 1532 De heilige Lucas schildert de Madonna - Maarten van Heemskerck-1532.JPG
Luke paints the Madonna and the Baby Jesus, by Maarten van Heemskerck, 1532

As a historian

A medieval Armenian illumination of Luke, by Toros Roslin Luke by roslin.jpg
A medieval Armenian illumination of Luke, by Toros Roslin

Most scholars understand Luke's works (Luke–Acts) in the tradition of Greek historiography. [26] The preface of The Gospel of Luke [Luke 1:1–4] drawing on historical investigation identified the work to the readers as belonging to the genre of history. [27] There is disagreement about how best to treat Luke's writings, with some historians regarding Luke as highly accurate, [28] [29] and others taking a more critical approach. [30] [31] [32] [33] [lower-alpha 3]

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." [28] 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." [29] New Testament scholar Colin Hemer has made a number of advancements in understanding the historical nature and accuracy of Luke's writings. [34]

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." [35] 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." [36]

During modern times, Luke's competence as a historian is questioned, depending upon one's a priori view of the supernatural. [30] Since post-Enlightenment historians work with methodological naturalism, [37] [31] [32] [33] [lower-alpha 3] [lower-alpha 4] such historians would see a narrative that relates supernatural, fantastic things like angels, demons etc., as problematic as a historical source. Mark Powell claims that "it is doubtful whether the writing of history was ever Luke's intent. Luke wrote to proclaim, to persuade, and to interpret; he did not write to preserve records for posterity. An awareness of this, has been, for many, the final nail in Luke the historian's coffin." [30]

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 (5:36–7)". [26]

Brent Landau writes:

So how do we account for a Gospel that is believable about minor events but implausible about a major one? One possible explanation is that Luke believed that Jesus’ birth was of such importance for the entire world that he dramatically juxtaposed this event against an (imagined) act of worldwide domination by a Roman emperor who was himself called “savior” and “son of God”—but who was nothing of the sort. For an ancient historian following in the footsteps of Thucydides, such a procedure would have been perfectly acceptable. [38]

As an artist

Luke the Evangelist painting the first icon of the Virgin Mary Evangelist Luka pishustchiy ikonu.jpg
Luke the Evangelist painting the first icon of the Virgin Mary

Christian tradition, starting from the 8th century, states that Luke 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 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. [39] [lower-alpha 5]

Late medieval Guilds of Saint 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 Saint Thomas brought to India. [lower-alpha 6]


Luke and the Madonna, Altar of the Guild of Saint Luke, Hermen Rode, Lubeck (1484) Hermen Rode 001.jpg
Luke and the Madonna, Altar of the Guild of Saint Luke, Hermen Rode, Lübeck (1484)

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. [40] [41]


Despot George of Serbia purportedly 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 Republic. [42]

In 1992, the then Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Ieronymos of Thebes and Levathia (who subsequently became Archbishop Ieronymos II 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 AD 72 and AD 416. [43] [44] 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. [45] [46]

Thus, the relics of Saint Luke are divided as follows:

See also

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  1. Aherne 1910 notes that it is controverted whether he actually died a martyr's death
  2. Luke, was born in Antioch, by profession was a physician.(Hackett 1858, p. 12) He had become a disciple of the apostle Paul and later followed Paul until his [Paul's] martyrdom. He died at the age of 84 years.(Hackett 1858, p. 335)
  3. 1 2 McGrew's conclusion: historians work with methodological naturalism, which precludes them from establishing miracles as objective historical facts (Flew 1966, p. 146) cf. (Bradley 1874, p. 44)
  4. Historians can only establish what probably happened in the past, and by definition a miracle is the least probable occurrence. And so, by the very nature of the canons of historical research, we can't claim historically that a miracle probably happened. By definition, it probably didn't. And history can only establish what probably did.(Craig & Ehrman 2006)
  5. The basic study on the legends concerning Saint Luke as a painter is Bacci 1998
  6. Father H. Hosten in his book Antiquities notes the following "The picture at the mount is one of the oldest, and, therefore, one of the most venerable Christian paintings to be had in India. Other traditions hold that St. Luke painted two icons which currently are in Greece: the "Theotokos Mega Spileotissa" (Our Lady of the Great Cave, where supposedly Saint Luke lived for a period of time in asceticism) and the "Panagia Soumela", and "Panagia Kykkou" which are in Cyprus."


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  5. 1 2 3 Strelan 2013, pp. 102-110.
  6. Koet 1989, pp. 157–158.
  7. Koet 2006, pp. 4–5.
  8. Milligan 2006, p. 149.
  9. Mornin 2006, p. 74.
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  11. Smith 1935, p. 792.
  12. von Harnack 1907, p. 5.
  13. 1 2 Bartlet 1911.
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  15. Fonck 1910.
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  19. Ehrman 2000, p. 43.
  20. Nickle 2001, p. 43.
  21. Ehrman 2005, p. 235.
  22. Ehrman 2004, p. 110.
  23. Ehrman 2006, p. 143.
  24. Brown 1997, p. 267.
  25. Boring 2012, p. 556.
  26. 1 2 Grant 1963, Ch. 10.
  27. Bauckham 2017, p. 117.
  28. 1 2 Ramsay 1915, p. 222.
  29. 1 2 Blaiklock 1970, p. 96.
  30. 1 2 3 Powell 1989, p. 6.
  31. 1 2 McGrew 2019.
  32. 1 2 Flew 1966.
  33. 1 2 Bradley 1874, p. 44.
  34. Hemer 1989, p. 104-107.
  35. Johnson 1991, p. 474.
  36. Heard 1950, Ch. 13: The Acts of the Apostles.
  37. Ehrman 2000, p. 229.
  38. Landau, Brent (n.d.). "Was Luke a Historian?". Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  39. Grigg 1987, pp. 3-9.
  40. Zuffi 2003, p. 8.
  41. Audsley & Audsley 1865, p. 94.
  42. Fine 1975, p. 331.
  43. Marin & Trolese 2003.
  44. Craig 2001.
  45. Tornielli, Andrea. "The Beloved Physician". Archived from the original on 7 June 2009.
  46. Wade 2001.


Further reading