Why Study Luke

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Introduction

Luke was the beloved physician of Colossians 4:14, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.” He used more medical terms than Hippocrates, the father of medicine. The choice of Luke by the Holy Spirit to write the third gospel reveals that there are no accidental writers of Scripture. There was a supernatural selection of Luke. There were “not many wise” called, but Luke belongs to that category. He and Paul were evidently on a very high intellectual level as well as a high spiritual level. This explains partially why they traveled together and obviously became fast friends in the Lord. Dr. Luke would rank as a scientist of his day. Also he wrote the best Greek of any of the New Testament writers, including Paul. He was an accurate historian, as we shall see. Luke was a poet; he alone records the lovely songs of Christmas. Luke was an artist; he sketches for us Christ’s marvelous, matchless parables.

A great deal of tradition surrounds the life of Dr. Luke. He writes his Gospel from Mary’s viewpoint, which confirms the tradition that he received his information for his Gospel from her. Surely he conferred with her. Also, there is every reason to believe that he was a Gentile. Most scholars concur in this position. Paul, in the fourth chapter of Colossians, distinguishes between those “who are of the circumcision” and the others who are obviously Gentiles, in which group he mentions Luke. Sir William Ramsay and J. M. Stifler affirm without reservation that Luke was a Gentile. This makes it quite interesting to those of us who are Gentiles, doesn’t it?

Remember that Luke wrote the Book of Acts where we learn that he was a companion of the apostle Paul. In Acts 16:10 he says, “And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia….” He was with Paul on the second and, I think, the third missionary journeys. From this verse on he writes in the first person—it is the “we” section of the Book of Acts. Prior to this verse he writes in the third person. So we can conclude from Acts 16 that Luke was with Paul on that historical crossing over into Europe. He probably was a convert of Paul, then went with him on this second missionary journey, and stayed with him to the end. When Paul was writing his “swan song” to Timothy, he says, “Only Luke is with me …” (2 Tim. 4:11). All this explains why Paul calls him the beloved physician.

Jesus is the second man, but the last Adam. “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit…. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:45, 47). God is making men like Jesus: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Therefore, Jesus is the second man—for there will be the third and the fourth—and the millionth. However, He is the last Adam. There will not be another head of the human family. Jesus was “… made like unto his brethren …” (Heb. 2:17) that His brethren might be made like unto Him.

At the close of the nineteenth century there was a wave of skepticism that swept over Europe and the British Isles. There was delusion and disappointment with the optimism which the Victorian era had produced. There was, on the lighter side, a rebellion against it which produced the Gay Nineties. Also it caused many scholars to begin a more serious investigation of the Bible, which had been the handbook of the Victorian era. They were skeptical before they began. Among them was a very brilliant young scholar at Cambridge by the name of William Ramsay. He was an agnostic, who wanted to disprove the accuracy of the Bible. He knew that Luke had written an historical record of Jesus in his Gospel and that he had written of the missionary journeys of Paul in the Book of Acts. He also knew that all historians make mistakes and that many of them are liars.

Contemporary authors Will and Ariel Durant, who spent forty years studying twenty civilizations covering a four thousand year period, made the following statement in their book, The Lessons of History: “Our knowledge of the past is always incomplete, probably inaccurate, beclouded by ambivalent evidence and biased historians, and perhaps distorted by our own patriotic or religious partisanship. Most history is guessing; the rest is prejudice.”

It is safe to say that this was also the attitude of Sir William Ramsay when he went as an archaeologist into Asia Minor to disprove Dr. Luke as an historian. He carefully followed the journeys of Paul and made a thorough study of Asia Minor. He came to the conclusion that Dr. Luke had not made one historical inaccuracy. This discovery caused William Ramsay to become a believer, and he has written some outstanding books on the journeys of Paul and on the churches of Asia Minor.

Dr. Luke wrote his Gospel with a twofold purpose. First, his purpose was literary and historical. Of the four Gospels, Luke’s Gospel is the most complete historical narrative. There are more wide–reaching references to institutions, customs, geography, and history of that period than are found in any of the other Gospels. Secondly, his purpose was spiritual. He presented the person of Jesus Christ as the perfect, divine Man and Savior of the world. Jesus was God manifest in the flesh.

Matthew emphasizes that Jesus was born the Messiah.

Mark emphasizes that Jesus was the Servant of Jehovah.

Luke stresses the fact that Jesus was the perfect Man.

John presents the fact that God became a Man.

However, it is interesting to note that John did not use the scientific approach. Dr. Luke states that he examined Jesus of Nazareth, and his findings are that Jesus is God. He came to the same conclusion as John did, but his procedure and technique were different.

Matthew presents the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, King, and Redeemer.

Mark presents Christ as the mighty Conqueror and Ruler of the world.

John presents Christ as the Son of God.

Luke presents the perfect, divine Son of God as our great High Priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities, able to extend help, mercy, and love to us.

Luke wrote to his countrymen, just as Matthew wrote to his. Luke wrote to the Greek mind and to the intellectual community.

In the fourth century B.C. the Greeks placed on the horizon of history the most brilliant and scintillating display of human genius the world has ever seen. It was called the Periclean Age, pertaining to Pericles and the period of the intellectual and material preeminence of Athens. The Greeks attempted to perfect humanity and to develop the perfect man. This attempted perfection of man is found in the physical realm in such work as the statues of Phidias, as well as in the mental realm. They were striving for the beautiful as well as a thinking man. The literary works of Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Thucydides all move toward the picture of perfect man and strive to obtain the universal man.

The Greeks made their gods in the likeness of men. In fact, their gods were but projections of man. The magnificent statues of Apollo, Venus, Athena, and Diana were not the ugly representations that have come out of the paganism of the Orient. They deified man with his noble qualities and base passions. Other Greek gods include Pan, Cupid, Bacchus (the god of wine and revelry), and Aphrodite. Not all of their gods were graces; some of them were the avenging Furies because they were making a projection of mankind.

Alexander the Great scattered this gripping culture, language, and philosophy throughout the lands which he conquered. Greek became the universal language. In Alexandria, Egypt, the Old Testament was translated into Greek. We call that translation the Septuagint. It is one of the finest translations of the Old Testament that we have. The New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek language provided the vehicle for the expression and communication of the gospel to all of mankind. It has been the finest language to express a fact or communicate a thought.

Even though Greek culture, language, and philosophy were the finest ever developed, the Greeks fell short of perfecting humanity. The Greeks did not find Utopia. They never came upon the Elysian fields, and they lost sight of the spiritual realm. This world became their home, playground, schoolroom, workshop, and grave.

Dr. F. W. Robertson said this of the Greeks: “The more the Greek attached himself to this world, the more the unseen became a dim world.” This is the reason the Greeks made an image to the UNKNOWN GOD, and when the apostle Paul preached the gospel to them, this is where he began. The cultivated Athenians were skeptics, and they called Paul a “babbler” and mocked him as he endeavored to give them the truth.

Paul declared that the gospel is foolishness to the Greeks, but he also wrote to the Greek mind. He told them that in times past they were Gentiles, having no hope and without God in the world. That is the picture of the Greek, friend. But Paul also told them that when the right time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law, and that this Son of God died for them. Paul walked the Roman roads with a universal language, preaching a global gospel about the perfect Man who had died for the men of the world. The religion of Israel could produce only a Pharisee, the power of Rome could produce only a Caesar, and the philosophy of Greece could produce only a global giant like Alexander the Great who was merely an infant at heart. It was to this Greek mind that Luke wrote. He presented Jesus Christ as the perfect Man, the universal Man, the very person the Greeks were looking for.

Note these special features of Luke’s Gospel:

  1. Although the Gospel of Luke is one of the synoptic Gospels, it contains many features omitted by Matthew and Mark.
  2. Dr. Luke gives us the songs of Christmas.
  3. Dr. Luke has the longest account of the virgin birth of Jesus of any of the Gospels. In the first two chapters, he gives us an unabashed record of obstetrics. A clear and candid statement of the Virgin Birth is given by Dr. Luke. All the way from Dr. Luke to Dr. Howard Kelly, a gynecologist at Johns Hopkins, there is a mighty affirmation of the Virgin Birth, which makes the statements of pseudo–theologians seem rather puerile when they unblushingly state that the Virgin Birth is a biological impossibility.
  4. Dr. Luke gives us twenty miracles of which six are recorded in no other Gospel.
  5. He likewise gives us twenty–three parables, and eighteen of them are found nowhere else. The parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are peculiar to this third Gospel.
  6. He also gives us the very human account of the walk to Emmaus of our resurrected Lord. This proves that Jesus was still human after His resurrection. Dr. Luke demonstrates that the Resurrection was not of the spirit, but of the body. Jesus was “… sown a natural body … raised a spiritual body …” (1 Cor. 15:44).
  7. A definite human sympathy pervades this Gospel, which reveals the truly human nature of Jesus, as well as the big–hearted sympathy of this physician of the first century who knew firsthand a great deal about the suffering of humanity.
  8. Dr. Luke uses more medical terms than Hippocrates, the father of medicine.

(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 37: Luke. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)

Poems & Quotes

Luke 2:1-30

They were looking for a king
To slay their foes and lift them high;
Thou cam’st, a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.
          –George McDonald

Luke 12

I had a little tea party
This afternoon at three.
'Twas very small, three guests in all,
Just I, Myself and Me.
Myself ate all the sandwiches,
While I drank up the tea.
'Twas also I who ate the pie
And passed the cake to Me.
          –Author unknown

"Fear God and you will have no one else to fear."
          –Oliver Cromwell