Luke the evansgelist, and author of the Acts of the Apostles. Although himself not an apostle, he has admirably supplemented their labors by his pen, and has thus laid the literary world under lasting obligation.
I. His Name. — This, in the Greek form, Λουκᾶς, is abbreviated from Λουκανός, the Graecized representative of the Latin Lucanues, or Λουκιλιός, Lucilius (comp. Silas for Silvanus; Annas for Annanus; Zenas for Zenodorus: Winer, Gram. page 115). The contraction of ανός into ᾶς is said to be characteristic of the names of slaves (see Lobeck, De Substantiv. in ᾶς exeuntibus, in Wolf, Analect. 3:49), and it has been inferred from this that Luke was of heathen descent (which may also be gathered from the implied contrast between those mentioned Col 4:12-14, and the οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς, verse 11), and a libertus, or freedman. This latter idea has found confirmation in his profession of a physician (Col 4:14), the practice of medicine among the Romans having been in great measure confined to persons of servile rank (Middleton, De Medicoruam apud Roman. degent. Conditione). To this, however, there were many exceptions (see Smith, Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Medicus), and it is altogether an insufficient basis on which to erect a theory as to the evangelist's social rank. So much, however, we may probably safely infer from his profession, that he was a man of superior education and mental culture to the generality of the apostles, the fishermen and tax-gatherers of the Sea of Galilee.
II. Scripture History. — All that can be with certainty known of Luke must be gathered from the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul. The result is but scanty. He was not born a Jew, for he is not reckoned among them " of the circumcision" by Paul (comp. Col 4:11 with verse 14). If this be not thought conclusive, nothing can be argued from the Greek idioms in his style, for he might be a Hellenistic Jew, nor from the Gentile tendency of his Gospel, for this it would share with the inspired writings of Paul, a Pharisee brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. The date of his conversion is uncertain. He was not, indeed, "an eyewitness and minister of the Word from the beginning" (Lu 1:2), or he would have rested his claim as an evangelist upon that ground. His name does not once occur in the Acts, and we can only infer his presence or absence from the sudden changes from the third to the first person, and vice versa, of which phenomenon, notwithstanding all that has of late been urged against it, this, which has been accepted since the time of Irenaeeus (Contr. Haer. 3:14), is the only satisfactory explanation. Rejecting the reading συνεστραμμένων δὲ ἡμῶν, Ac 11:28 (which only rests on D. and Augustine, De Serm. Dom. 2:17), which would bring Luke into connection with Paul at a much earlier period, as well as the identification of the evangelist with Lucius of Cyrene (Ac 13:1: Ro 16:21), which was current in Origen's time (ad Ro 16:27; see Lardner, Credibility, 6:124; Marsh, Michaelis, 4:234), and would make him a kinsman of Paul, we first find Luke in Paul's company at Troas, and sailing with him to Macedonia (Ac 16:10-11). A.D. 48. Of his previous history, and the time and manner of his conversion, we know nothing, but Ewald's supposition (Gesch. d. v. Isr. 6:35, 448) is not at all improbable, that he was a physician residing in Troas, converted by Paul, and attaching himself to the apostle with all the ardor of a young convert. He may also, as Ewald thinks, have been one of the first uncircumcised Christians. His conversion had taken place before, since he silently assumes his place among the great apostle's followers without any hint that this was his first admission to the knowledge and ministry of Christ. He may have found his way to Troas to preach the Gospel, sent possibly by Paul himself. There are some who maintain that Luke had already joined Paul at Antioch (Ac 11:27-30; see Journal of Sacred Literature, October 1861, page 170, and Conybeare and Howson's Life of Paul, chapter 5, new ed. Lond. 1861). He accompanied Paul as far as Philippi, but did not share in the imprisonment of his master and his companion Silas, nor, as the third person is resumed (Ac 17:1), did he, it would seem, take any further part in the apostle's missionary journey. The first person appears again on Paul's third visit to Philippi, A.D. 54 (Ac 20:5-6), from which it has been gathered that Luke had spent the whole intervening time — a period of seven or eight years — in Philippi or its neighborhood. If any credit is to be given to the ancient opinion that Luke is referred to in 2Co 8:18 as "the brother whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches" (a view adopted by the Church of England in the collect for Luke's day), as well as the early tradition embodied in the subscription to that epistle, that it was sent from Philippi "by Titus and Lucas," we shall have evidence of the evangelist's missionary zeal during this long space of time. If this be so, we are to suppose that during the "three months" of Paul's sojourn at Philippi (Ac 20:3) Luke was sent from that place to Corinth and this errand, the word "gospel" being, of course, to be understood, not, as Jerome and others erroneously interpret it, of Luke's written gospel, but of his publication of the glad tidings of Jesus Christ. The mistaken interpretation of the word "gospel" in this place has thus led some to assign the composition of the Gospel of Luke to this period, a view which derives some support from the Arabic version published by Erpenius. in which its writing is placed " in a city of Macedonia twenty-two years after the Ascension," A.D. 51. From their reunion at Philippi, Luke remained in constant attendance on Paul during his journey to Jerusalem (Ac 20:6-21:18), and, disappearing from the narrative during the apostle's imprisonment at Jerusalem and Csesarea, reappears again when he sets out for Rome (Ac 27:1). A.D. 56. He was shipwrecked with Paul (28:2), and traveled with him by Syracuse and Puteoli to Rome (verses 12-16), where he appears to have continued as his fellow-laborer (συνεργός, Phm 1:24; Col 4:4) till the close of his first imprisonment, A.D. 58. The Second Epistle to Timothy (4:11) gives us the latest glimpse of the "beloved physician," and our authentic information regarding him beautifully closes with a testimony from the apostle's pen to his faithfulness amidst general defection, A.D. 64.
III. Traditionary Notices. — The above sums up all we really know about Luke; but, as is often the case, in proportion to the scantiness of authentic information is the copiousness of tradition, increasing in definiteness, be it remarked, as it advances. His Gentile descent being taken for granted, his birthplace was appropriately enough fixed at Antioch, "the center of the Gentile Church, and the birthplace of the Christian name" (Eusebius, H.E. 3:4; comp. Jerome, De Vir. Illust. 7; In Matt. Praef.), though it is to be observed that Chrysostom, when dwelling on the historical associations of the city, appears to know nothing of such a tradition. He was believed to have been a Jewish proselyte, ignorant of Hebrew (Jerome, Quaest. in Genesis c. 46), and probably because he alone mentions their mission, but in contradiction to his own words (Lu 1:23) — one of the seventy disciples who, having left our Lord in offense (Joh 6:60-66), was brought back to the faith by the ministry of Paul (Epiphan. Haer. 51:11); one of the Greeks who desired to "see Jesus" (Joh 12:20-21), and the companion of Cleopas on the journey to Emmaus (Theophyl. Proem in Luc.). An idle legend of Greek origin, which first appears in the late and credulous historian Nicephorus Callisus (died 1450), Hist. Eccl. 2:43. and was universally accepted in the Middle Ages, represents Luke as well acquainted with the art of painting (ἄκρως τὴν ζωγράθφου τέχνην ἐξεπιστάμενος), and assigns to his hand the first portraits of our Lord, his mother, and his chief apostles (see the monographs of Manni [Florent. 1764] and Schlichter [Hal. 1734]).
Nothing is known of the place or manner of his death, and the traditions are inconsistent with one another. Gregory Naz. reckons him among the martyrs, and the untrustworthy Nicephorus gives us full details of the time, place, and mode of his martyrdom, viz., that he was crucified to a live olive-tree in Greece, in his eightieth year. According to others, he died a natural death after preaching (according to Epiphanius, Contra Haer. 51:11) in Dalmatia, Gallia, Italy, and Macedonia; was buried in Bithynia, whence his bones were translated by Constantius to Constantinople (Isid. Hispal. c. 82; Philostorgius volume 3, chapter 29). See generally Koöhler, Dissert. de Luca Ev. (Lipsiae, 1695); Credner, Einleit. ins N.T. 1:124.