Profiles of Faith: Luke - Paul's Beloved Friend and Companion

You are here

Profiles of Faith

Luke - Paul's Beloved Friend and Companion

Login or Create an Account

With a account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up


It wasn't easy being Paul's friend and traveling companion. The apostle lived a hard and sometimes dangerous life. His enemies said he was a rabble-rouser, a troublemaker who slandered the Jews and dishonored the temple and, by extension, disdained the authority of the almighty Roman Empire.

Luke stayed beside Paul, day in and day out, for at least two years. Every day he walked past the Roman guards, who must have grown in their respect for him.

In reality Paul's enemies were the slanderers: "... We have found this man a plague," they said, "a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5, emphasis added throughout). Such charges could get one thrown in prison, and in Paul's case they did. Few dared to accompany or visit Paul under this sort of dangerous and humiliating circumstance.

Luke was faithful because he had a job to do: writing a history of the early years of the Church founded by the man he had become convinced was the very Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.But Luke dared. Few were as fearless as Paul's friend and trusted companion Luke. Luke stayed beside Paul, day in and out, for at least two years. Every day he walked past the Roman guards, who must have grown in their respect for him. His constancy commanded respect; he was as faithful as clockwork.

Only one thing was more important to Luke than being Paul's friend: his dedication as a servant of his Master, Jesus Christ.

Paul found himself under house arrest in Rome, although he had committed no crime against either Jew or gentile. But Paul knew-through God's earlier revelation to him-that he would serve as God's witness before Caesar in Rome (Acts 27:24). So here he was.

The times were trying for Paul. He needed encouragement, which God provided through a friendly, sensitive physician, a man named Luke.

Under house arrest and confined to a rented house for at least two years, Paul was free to teach and preach the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God to the curious and to those whom God was calling (Acts 28:16; Acts 28:30-31). His efforts bore fruit; Paul's teaching converted even members of Caesar's household (Philippians 4:22).

Luke's background

Who was the man who would not only encourage Paul during this trying time but write two books of the New Testament? The Scriptures tell us little, but we can infer quite a bit by examining Luke's work and the times in which he lived.

The early Church was predominantly Jewish. Jesus, the original apostles and later apostles such as Paul were all Jews. But the book of Acts records that, over time, gentiles (non-Jews) came to accept the message of the apostles and became members of the Church Jesus founded.

Luke appears to have been one of the early gentile converts to Christianity. What are the scriptural indications he was a gentile? In Colossians 4:10-14 Paul names three of his companions and coworkers who were "my only fellow workers ... who are of the circumcision"-that is, Jewish-and then three other companions, including Luke. The obvious implication is that the latter three were gentiles.

Luke was a learned man, a linguist. He spoke and wrote classical Greek, but he could also converse and write in Hebrew, Aramaic and Hellenistic Greek. His mastery of Greek indicates he probably was a Greek. His dedication shows us he had a heart of gold.

Luke was educated, creative and talented. Among the Mediterranean people of the day, the Greeks were well educated and trained, especially in philosophy, oratory, writing and mathematics. Even the powerful Roman leaders were predisposed to the culture and education of the Greeks, who under Alexander the Great had built a mighty empire that preceded the Romans as the dominant power in the Mediterranean region and Middle East.

Greece provided the world with many famous orators, was regarded for its literary skills and genius and was touted for its educational discipline. Some of the works of Greek philosophers and rhetoricians are still cited by modern philosophers and communication scientists today, 2,500 years later.

It should not be surprising, given these circumstances, that God called a Greek to write one of the four Gospels-those brief biographies of Jesus the Messiah that are preserved for us at the beginning of the New Testament. Nor should we be surprised that Luke would write the definitive history of the early decades of the Church -the book of Acts-during which time it crossed languages and cultures to reach out to gentiles.

Luke is the only gentile writer of the New Testament. The Gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts are two parts of one comprehensive work. Notice that Luke concludes his Gospel with a resurrected, immortal Christ and begins the book of Acts with the same Jesus. He addressed both books to the same person, Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1).

Theophilus, whose name means "friend of God," appears nowhere else in the Scriptures. He, too, was apparently a gentile believer, since Luke tells Theophilus that he wrote his Gospel "that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed" (Luke 1:4).

Some scholars have concluded that Theophilus was a wealthy patron who helped support Luke while he wrote his Gospel and the book of Acts. Notice also that Luke refers to him not just as Theophilus, but "the most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:3). This title is typical of those used for officials high in the Roman government (compare Acts 23:26), so perhaps Theophilus held such a position.

Luke, the beloved physician

The Scriptures note that Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14). A physician of Luke's day was not the same as modern physicians, since the science of medicine was not far advanced. Even so, the Greeks were head and shoulders above other gentiles when it came to science and medicine and the understanding of the workings of the human body.

Paul’s deep respect and Christian love for Luke surface when he refers to him as “the beloved physician.”

A physician of Luke's day could work with body and mind, though not in the sense of a modern surgeon. But Luke was interested in people's well-being; this is evident in his writings. An old saying fits with Luke's outlook: "A minister sees men at their best, a lawyer sees men at their worst, and a physician sees men as they are."

Paul's deep respect and Christian love for Luke surface when he refers to him as "the beloved physician" (Colossians 4:14). Luke showed interest in the welfare of women and children, as shown in his Gospel.

In Judea, as in other places throughout the known world, women in Luke's day held a place low in society. For example, some historical accounts of the time report that Jewish men gave thanks to God each morning that they had not been born a gentile, slave or woman.

Luke's perspective differs from the common portrayal of women of the time. Luke tells his birth narrative of Christ from Mary's point of view. Luke writes of Elizabeth, of Anna, of the widow at Nain, of the woman who anointed Jesus' feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Luke portrays Martha and Mary and Mary Magdalene.

An invitation for gentiles

Luke appears to have written mainly , though not entirely, for gentiles. Again, Theophilus was probably a gentile. In comparison with the other three Gospels, Luke's is written to be more easily understood by a gentile.

For example, notice that Luke used Roman dates in his works when he identified the Roman emperor and governor. In his writings Luke used the Greek equivalents of Hebrew words, which would make him more easily understood by Greeks.

For example, he didn't use the Jewish term rabbi; instead he used a Greek word that means "master." Also, when he traces Jesus' descent, he goes back to Adam, the progenitor of the human race, rather than going back only as far as Abraham as Matthew had done.

These small differences hint that Luke probably wrote his Gospel account so gentiles could more easily identify with Jesus and His teachings. Many scholars say Luke's Gospel is the easiest to read of the four and the easiest to understand of all the New Testament narratives and letters.

Luke the careful historian

Luke apparently wrote his Gospel around A.D. 60-61, some 30 years after Jesus' death. We can arrive at this time by examining the evidence for when he wrote the book of Acts.

Luke begins Acts by referring to "the former account" he had written (Acts 1:1), the Gospel of Luke. The final chapter of Acts concludes with events that preceded Nero's persecution of Christians (in 65) and Paul's death. Otherwise Luke surely would have mentioned both. The book ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial for the charges brought against him. No account of a trial or verdict is mentioned anywhere.

Most Bible scholars thus agree that Acts was written around 63 and reflects events in the Church up until that time. Thus, if Luke wrote Acts then, he must have written his Gospel a few years earlier, ca. 60-61. (As a postscript to the book of Acts, the Romans apparently released Paul from his house arrest shortly thereafter, but Nero later imprisoned him again and had him executed around 66.)

Apparently Luke was not an eyewitness of Jesus' mighty works and teachings but was one who copiously incorporated others' eyewitness accounts (Luke 1:1-2).

When we examine Luke's Gospel we see how careful he was. In the first few verses He claims his work is the product of careful research. He notes that he bases his account on information "handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses" (Luke 1:2). As a seasoned traveler, Luke had opportunities to interview the best sources (that is, Jesus' 12 apostles and Paul), and he listened carefully to their stories and testimonials, taking voluminous notes.

Half of Luke's Gospel consists of material not found in the other three accounts of the life and work of Christ. This demonstrates that Luke searched out and interviewed other witnesses to the events he recorded.

Luke was a meticulous historian. Notice his careful work as he dates the emergence of John the Baptist by cross-checking six contempo-rary datings: "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar [1], Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea [2], Herod being tetrarch of Galilee [3], his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis [4], and Lysanias, tetrarch of Abilene [5], while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests [6], the word of God came to John ..." (Luke 3:1-2).

This shows Luke's penchant for accuracy that so characterized his writings. Five of the six chronological checkpoints deal with gentile data. The sixth deals with a point of interest to Jews.

When it came to writing the book of Acts, Luke similarly had opportunity to interview many eyewitnesses. Luke wrote of the acts of the 12 apostles from Acts 1-12, then of Paul and others from Acts 13-28. He demonstrated the transition from the life and teachings of Jesus to the life and teachings of the Church. The book of Acts confirmed that what Jesus taught and practiced was indeed taught and practiced by the apostles and the early Church.

Luke himself was a participant in some of the events he recorded. He traveled with Paul on his second and third missionary journeys. Notice the pronoun we beginning in Acts 16:10, where Luke became one of Paul's regular traveling companions throughout the remainder of the book.

Luke journeyed with Paul to Rome and was with him during the two years he was under house arrest (Acts 28:30-31). Again notice the pronoun we in Acts 28:10-16. During those long days Luke no doubt took every opportunity to record many earlier stories and personal accounts, setting them down for all time in the book of Acts.

Lessons from Luke

We can learn many lessons from Luke.

Luke was studious and meticulous with his narrative of Christ and the apostles, and especially with Paul. We, too, can exercise care in how we speak to and write about others. We should be careful that we always "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).

Luke was thorough and comprehensive, unwavering in his commitment to the truth. He didn't assume things. He carefully checked things out. Luke himself recorded the fine example of the Bereans, who, having heard Paul, "received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). We, too, should be sure that our beliefs are firmly grounded in the Scriptures.

Luke was a learned man, as a physician and author. We as Christ's followers must continue to educate ourselves, never assuming we already know everything.

Most important, Luke was faithful to God, to Jesus, to Their words and to the apostles. He was faithful to Paul as a trusted and loyal friend, standing by him in good times and bad. We, too, can aspire to this kind of faithfulness and loyalty.