Much is not known about Luke, not even his surname, except that he was a physician. Paul mentions him in 2Timothy 4:11 and refers to him as the doctor in Colossians 4:14 and co-worker in Philemon 24. What then can we infer from these mentions?
He was indeed a companion and co-laborer with Paul in ministry and a Christian. We do not know much else about him, not his family, nor his background. However, his contribution to Christianity is unparalled. He not only wrote the book of Luke, but that of Acts as well, both of which make up to 27% of the New Testament. Paul may have written 13 of the New Testament books but it is said that in terms of text percentage, Luke wrote much more. If then he was non-Jewish then he would be the only non-Jew writer of Scripture. If he was Jew then he would still be a layman who wrote extensively about the works of Christ despite not having been an apostle. These two are testimony of his humility and modesty. Also he does not mention his name in instances that we think he should but rather uplifts the purpose of his writing. Carefully and thoroughly he researches the facts before putting them down on paper.
Luke 1:1-4 introduces us to his Gospel as well as to his character. He is writing to Theophilus to get the latter to know the exact truth of what he has been taught. In this we see that he gives the methodology for solving a problem, pursuing a goal, the tools to be used and the techniques that have to be applied. He takes distinctive steps to investigate everything, fully, from the beginning and to do so carefully. We therefore learn a thing or two about him. Proverbs 20:11 says, ‘Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right’. Jesus reiterates the same in Mathew 7:16, ‘By their fruit you shall know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?’. We can tell about aspects of his character from his work and learn from him.
We may not know who this Theophilus was but his name is a compound of two Greek words which translate into the phrase ‘lover of God’. He may have been non-Jew and although his name was common, it is not clear whether or not Luke used his name as an alias. It is however noteworthy that Luke addresses him as ‘most excellent’ thereby leaving us guessing as to whether or not he may have been a Roman or Government official. One thing that is clear however that he was a believer and Luke was writing to build up his faith in Luke 1:4, ‘so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught’
Mathew, Mark and Luke make up the synoptic Gospels because of the similarities in their contents. Luke’s work characteristic is seen in how he fully investigates the account of Christ’s life. At the time of his writing, Mathew and Mark had already been written. He does not however ignore them but rather mentions them as eyewitnesses to Christ and His life. What else he writes thereon points to the fact that he traveled extensively into the Jewish community, interviewing them and collecting all the information he could, about the Christ. Different from the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke adds in more and unique details to his writing. His investigative endeavor portrays a trustworthy man who is after unearthing the truth of the account he reports on.
His investigation is also from the beginning of Christ’s infancy and not just the crucifixion account. In Luke 3 he traces Jesus ancestry all the way back to Adam who was the first man to be created by God; Mathew only goes as far as David. The uniqueness of the book of Luke is seen in the seventeen parables, the story of the Good Samaritan, the account of Lazarus and the rich man and the inclusion of the lost or prodigal son.
He is also the only writer of Scripture who did a sequel –Acts- which showed how his ministry related to the development of the church. He therefore provides us with a model for ministry, pursuance of purpose and for life. He is known to have focused on marginalized people, mentioning women, the sick, the poor, the oppressed and the most vulnerable of any Community. He may never have imagined that his work could find its way into the Scriptures yet while writing to this one man Theophilus, he gave his all. He was by all means a man of excellence and diligence.
Are you a person whom when you die will leave no impact? If you died today, would there be a vacuum felt? If we removed Luke’s contribution from the Scriptures, would we not feel the void? If there were books written about us, what would be the first sentences?
Luke was a blessing to the people of his generation- most undoubtedly to Theophilus. May the impact of our lives outlive us. Whatever we do, let us do it according to Luke’s model: everything, fully and carefully investigated; that way, we can impact the world.
(word count 880)
Read more articles by beatrice ofwona or search for articles on the same topic or others.