Luke the Evangelist

Luke the Evangelist (Latin: Lucas; Ancient Greek: Λουκᾶς, Loukâs; Hebrew: לוקאס, Lūqās; Imperial Aramaic: /ܠܘܩܐ לוקא, Lūqā’; Ge'ez: ሉቃስ) 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. 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.

Luke the Evangelist
St Luke.JPG
Detail from a window in the parish church of SS Mary and Lambert, Stonham Aspal, Suffolk, with stained glass representing St Luke the Evangelist
Apostle, Evangelist, and Martyr
Born1 - 100 AD
Antioch, Syria, Roman Empire
(modern-day Antakya, Hatay, Turkey)
Died1 - 100 AD (traditionally aged 84)
Thebes, Boeotia, Achaea, Roman Empire
(modern-day Thebes, Greece)
Venerated inall Christian Churches that venerate Saints, and in the Druze faith[1]
Major shrinePadua, Italy
Feast18 October
AttributesEvangelist, Physician, a book or a pen, accompanied by a winged ox or calf, painting an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a brush or a palette
PatronageArtists, bachelors, physicians, surgeons, farmers, rhetoricians, and others[2]
Major worksGospel of Luke, Acts of the Apostles
Luke of Antioch
Τετραευάγγελο Ε140 της Μεγίστης Λαύρας. Ευαγγελιστής Λουκάς. 15ος αιώνας.jpg
OccupationChristian missionary and Historian
Notable worksGospel of Luke and Acts

The New Testament mentions Luke briefly a few times, and the 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.[a] The 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.[3][4]


Print of Luke the Evangelist. Made by Crispijn van de Passe de Oude.[5]

Many scholars believe that Luke was a physician who lived in the Hellenistic city of Antioch in Ancient Syria,[b] although some other scholars and theologians think Luke was a Hellenic Jew.[6][7] While it has been widely accepted that the theology of Luke–Acts points to a gentile Christian writing for a gentile audience, some have concluded that it is more plausible that Luke–Acts is directed to a community made up of both Jewish and gentile Christians since there is stress on the scriptural roots of the gentile mission (see the use of Isaiah 49:6 in Luke–Acts).[8][9] Others have only been prepared to conclude that Luke was either a Hellenistic Jew or a God-fearer.[7] DNA testing on what Christian tradition holds to be his body has revealed that he was possibly of Syrian ancestry.[10]

Whether Luke was a Jew or gentile, or something in between, it is clear from the quality of the Greek language used in Luke-Acts that he was one of the most highly educated of the authors of the New Testament. His conscious and intentional allusions and references to, and quotations of, ancient Classical and Hellenistic Greek authors, such as Homer, Aesop, Epimenides, Euripides, Plato, and Aratus indicate that he was familiar with actual Greek literary texts. This familiarity most likely derived from his experiences as a youth of the very homogeneous Hellenistic educational curriculum (ἐγκύκλιος παιδεία/enkyklios paideia) that had been, and would continue to be, used for centuries throughout the eastern Mediterranean.[11]

Luke's earliest mention is in Philemon 1:24.[12] He is also mentioned in Colossians 4:14 and 2 Timothy 4:11, two Pauline epistles.[13][14][15][16][17] 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]

Epiphanius states that Luke was one of the Seventy Apostles (Panarion 51.11), and John Chrysostom indicates at one point that the "brother" that 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 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.[18]

Saint 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."

¹⁰My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. ¹¹Jesus, 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. …¹⁴Our 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.[6][7][19] 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.[18]

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, Luke also contributed to the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews.[20]

Luke died at age 84 in Boeotia, according to a "fairly early and widespread tradition".[21] 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.[22]

Authorship of Luke and ActsEdit

The Gospel of Luke does not name its author.[23][24][25][26] 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.[27][28][29] 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 c. AD 200, ascribes the work to Luke; as did Irenaeus writing c. 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.[30]

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.[31]

St. Luke painting the Virgin, by Maarten van Heemskerck, 1532

As a historianEdit

Saint Luke the Evangelist, a medieval Armenian illumination by Toros Roslin

Most scholars understand Luke's works (Luke–Acts) in the tradition of Greek historiography.[32] Luke 1:1–4, drawing on historical investigation, identified the work to the readers as belonging to the genre of history.[33] There is disagreement about how best to treat Luke's writings, with some historians regarding Luke as highly accurate,[34][35] and others taking a more critical approach.[36][37][38][39][c]

Based on his accurate description of towns, cities and islands, as well as correctly naming various official titles, archaeologist William Mitchell 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."[34] Professor of Classics at Auckland University, Edward Musgrave 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."[35] New Testament scholar Colin Hemer has made a number of advancements in understanding the historical nature and accuracy of Luke's writings.[40]

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."[41] Such a position is shared by Richard Heard, who sees historical deficiencies as arising from "special objects in writing and to the limitations of his sources of information."[42]

In modern times, Luke's competence as a historian is questioned, depending upon one's a priori view of the supernatural.[36] Since post-Enlightenment historians work with methodological naturalism,[43][37][38][39][c][d] 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."[36]

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)",[32] though this report's status as a chronological difficulty is hotly disputed.[44][45]

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.[46]

As an artistEdit

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, Our Lady of Vladimir, and Madonna del Rosario. He was also said to have painted Saints Peter and Paul, and to have illustrated a gospel book with a full cycle of miniatures.[47][e]

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.[f]

The art critic A. I. Uspensky writes that the icons attributed to the brush of the Evangelist Luke have a completely Byzantine character that was fully established only in the 5th-6th centuries.[48]


Winged 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.[49][50]


The Eastern Orthodox Church commemorated Saint Luke,[51] Apostle of the Seventy, Evangelist, companion (coworker) of the holy Apostle Paul, hieromartyr, physician, first icon painter on:


Eight bodies and nine heads, located in different places, are presented as the relics of the Apostle Luke.[52][53]

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.[54]

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.[55][56] 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.[57][58]

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

We also collected and typed modern samples from Syria and Greece. By comparison with these population samples, and with samples from Anatolia that were already available in the literature, we could reject the hypothesis that the body belonged to a Greek, rather than a Syrian, individual. However, the probability of an origin in the area of modern Turkey was only insignificantly lower than the probability of a Syrian origin. The genetic evidence is therefore compatible with the possibility that the body comes from Syria, but also with its replacement in Constantinople.[59]

— Genetic characterization of the body attributed to the evangelist Luke


See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b Aherne 1910 notes that it is controversial whether he actually died a martyr's death
  2. ^ a b Luke, was born in Antioch, by profession was a physician.[60] 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.[61]
  3. ^ a b McGrew's conclusion: historians work with methodological naturalism, which precludes them from establishing miracles as objective historical facts;[63] 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.[62]
  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."

Cite error: A list-defined reference named "FOOTNOTECraigEhrman2006" is not used in the content (see the help page).

Cite error: A list-defined reference named "FOOTNOTEFlew1966146" is not used in the content (see the help page).


  1. ^ S. Swayd, Samy (2009). The A to Z of the Druzes. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-81086836-6. They also cover the lives and teachings of some biblical personages, such as Job, Jethro, Jesus, John, Luke, and others
  2. ^ "Saint Luke the Evangelist". Catholic saints. 27 December 2008.
  3. ^ "St. Luke The Evangelist". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  4. ^ "The Calendar". The Church of England. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  5. ^ "Evangelist Lucas". Ghent University Library. Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  6. ^ a b Harris 1980, pp. 266–68.
  7. ^ a b c Strelan 2013, pp. 102–10.
  8. ^ Koet 1989, pp. 157–58.
  9. ^ Koet 2006, pp. 4–5.
  10. ^ Vernesi, Cristiano; Di Benedetto, Giulietta; Caramelli, David; Secchieri, Erica; Simoni, Lucia; Katti, Emile; Malaspina, Patrizia; Novelletto, Andrea; Marin, Vito Terribile Wiel; Barbujani, Guido (6 November 2001). "Genetic characterization of the body attributed to the evangelist Luke". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 98 (23): 13460–13463. doi:10.1073/pnas.211540498. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 60893. PMID 11606723.
  11. ^ Steve Reece, The Formal Education of the Author of Luke-Acts (London: T&T Clark, 2022) 29-50.ISBN 9780567705884
  12. ^ Philemon 1:24
  13. ^ Milligan 2006, p. 149.
  14. ^ Mornin 2006, p. 74.
  15. ^ Aherne 1910.
  16. ^ Smith 1935, p. 792.
  17. ^ von Harnack 1907, p. 5.
  18. ^ a b Bartlet 1911.
  19. ^ McCall 1996.
  20. ^ Fonck 1910.
  21. ^ Butler 1991, p. 342.
  22. ^ Migne 1901, cols 875–78.
  23. ^ Sanders 1995, pp. 63–64.
  24. ^ Ehrman 2000, p. 43.
  25. ^ Senior, Achtemeier & Karris 2002, p. 328.
  26. ^ Nickle 2001, p. 43.
  27. ^ Ehrman 2005, p. 235.
  28. ^ Ehrman 2004, p. 110.
  29. ^ Ehrman 2006, p. 143.
  30. ^ Brown 1997, p. 267.
  31. ^ Boring 2012, p. 556.
  32. ^ a b Grant 1963, Ch. 10.
  33. ^ Bauckham 2017, p. 117.
  34. ^ a b Ramsay 1915, p. 222.
  35. ^ a b Blaiklock 1970, p. 96.
  36. ^ a b c Powell 1989, p. 6.
  37. ^ a b McGrew 2019.
  38. ^ a b Flew 1966.
  39. ^ a b Bradley 1874, p. 44.
  40. ^ Hemer 1989, pp. 104–7.
  41. ^ Johnson 1991, p. 474.
  42. ^ Heard 1950, Ch. 13: The Acts of the Apostles.
  43. ^ Ehrman 2000, p. 229.
  44. ^ "Acts 5:36 Commentaries: "For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing".
  45. ^ "Good Question…". Christian thinktank. Retrieved 8 March 2022.
  46. ^ Landau, Brent (n.d.). "Was Luke a Historian?". Bible odyssey. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  47. ^ Grigg 1987, pp. 3–9.
  48. ^ Александр Иванович Успенский. О художественной деятельности евангелиста Луки : I, II. Ев. Лука как иконописец. Ев. Лука как резчик : Реф., чит. 8 нояб. 1900 г. в заседании Церк.-археол. отд. при Общ. люб. духов. просвещения тов. пред. Отд. А.И. Успенским. - Москва : типо-лит. И. Ефимова, 1901. - 12 с.; 27.
  49. ^ Zuffi 2003, p. 8.
  50. ^ Audsley & Audsley 1865, p. 94.
  51. ^ "Лука, Апостол". Drevo-info (in Russian). Retrieved 16 July 2022.
  52. ^ Ludovic Lalanne. Curiosités des traditions, des mœurs et des légendes, 1847. / р. 148
  53. ^ Jacques Albin Simon Collin de Plancy. Dictionnaire critique des reliques et des images miraculeuses, T. 2. 1827 / р. 131
  54. ^ Fine 1975, p. 331.
  55. ^ Marin & Trolese 2003.
  56. ^ Craig 2001.
  57. ^ Tornielli, Andrea. "The Beloved Physician". Archived from the original on 7 June 2009.
  58. ^ Wade 2001.
  59. ^ Vernesi, Cristiano; Benedetto, Giulietta Di; Caramelli, David; Secchieri, Erica; Simoni, Lucia; Katti, Emile; Malaspina, Patrizia; Novelletto, Andrea; Marin, Vito Terribile Wiel; Barbujani, Guido (6 November 2001). "Genetic characterization of the body attributed to the evangelist Luke". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 98 (23): 13460–63. Bibcode:2001PNAS...9813460V. doi:10.1073/pnas.211540498. PMC 60893. PMID 11606723.
  60. ^ Hackett 1858, p. 12.
  61. ^ Hackett 1858, p. 335.


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit