Friday, 6 April 2018

What does Luke reveal about himself in Luke-Acts?

It’s a fascinating thing to read people’s autobiographical revelations about themselves, and to find out what interesting times they have seen as eyewitnesses. That’s of special interest when it comes to the stories of eyewitnesses of the early church. In passing in his eyewitness account, New Testament author Luke gives us glimpses of his life. He makes appearances in the action in the Book of Acts (a history of the early church).
His name has always been associated with this book as its author as far back as anyone knows. Luke was sufficiently known in close-knit circles of co-religionists that people in those circles would know that he was a writer, and very likely some in these circles read his gospel. If scholars are right that literacy levels were low in Christian communities, Luke’s name would be in only a small pool or writers, and the risk of mis-identification would be low in his lifetime.
Anyway, here is a brief summary of what Luke reveals about himself (not intended to be comprehensive), with some of his own words to give a flavour of it.

About Luke, as revealed by Luke-Acts in Luke:1-4 and Acts 1:1; Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16

·         Luke was active in the middle of the first century AD, writing about events of that period.
·         He was educated (he could read and write Greek quite well).
·         He was part of circles that included literate co-religionists (e.g. Paul, and others who could write Paul’s letters when he dictated them, and others who could read them to churches). An impression of the type of group we might envisage is in 2 Timothy 4: “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”
·         Luke’s writing evidences personal knowledge of Old Testament scriptures.
·         He had read Mark’s Gospel and very possibly Matthew too.
·         He wrote a Gospel and Acts: “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you”; He introduces his second book, Acts, this way: “In the first book… I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…”
·         He was writing for someone called Theophilus, but for a wider circle too, given that his books were more widely circulated.
·         He personally regarded Mark (and Matthew if he read it) as authorised normative texts for the church, given that he uses and adapts so much of it, and refers to it as material sourced from eyewitnesses and servants of the word”.
·         He was a believer in Jesus, the main subject of his writing, and he was committed to supporting the church, his main subject in Acts.
·         He was fascinated by legal proceedings as a subject to write about in more detail than other things.

·         He was a trusted member of a travelling group of missionaries in the Jesus-movement.
·         He was widely travelled around Mediterranean regions, including Jerusalem and Rome: “at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly”; “And so we came to Rome”.
·         As part of the travelling group, he was known among close-knit circles of co-religionists in Philippi, Troas, Miletus, Tyre, Ptolemais, Caesarea, Sidon, Puteoli, as well as Jerusalem and Rome (see Acts 16-28).
·         Luke knew the apostle Paul personally, and also met James and other leaders of the Jerusalem church, the mother church of Christianity: “at Jerusalem… Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present”.
·         Luke knew other eyewitnesses of Jesus “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them [material for writing gospels] to us”
·         They evangelised women as well as men: “We sat down and began to speak to the women”.

·         His location is Troas, when Luke first reveals that he has joined up with the travelling missionaries (Acts 16:8-10).
·         Luke was a frequent traveller by sea with his fellow missionaries.
·         He was strong enough to get from shipwreck to shore by improvised means: “He [the centurion] ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.
·         Places visited – as well as those listed above he passed through Samothrace, Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, Patara, Myra, Malta, Syracuse, and Rhegium.
·         His location is Rome, when Luke ceases to reveal where he is present (Acts 28:16).

·         He was keen on church unity.
·         Luke, with the other missionaries, would seek Christian company on their travels, meeting up with both men and women. For example:
o   “We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days”
o   “we greeted the brothers and sisters“
o   “at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly”
o   “we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them”


He was willing to be part of the unusually class-defying socially-mixed world of Christian communities, from the wealthier circumstances of the house of a cloth dealer where a room could maybe pack in 120 people at a squeeze; to the not-wealthy densely populated urban setting of a third storey flat (the second floor to English readers) where a meeting could squeeze in maybe up to 40 people in a room so packed that people are sat on the window-sill.

·         Luke kept some Jewish observances and knew about the Jewish calendar:
o   “On the Sabbath we went… where we expected to find a place of prayer”
o   “by now it was after the Day of Atonement”
·         He also kept some Christian observances: “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread”.
·         He was keen on prayer: “on the beach we knelt to pray”.

·        As was normal writers of his times, Luke believed in the supernatural. He believed in receiving guidance from God: “we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
·         He presents himself as a witness to, or believer in, the supernatural:
o   “Paul had seen the vision”
o   “we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future”
o   “we… stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”
o   “a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us… said, “The Holy Spirit says…”
o   “we came together to break bread… [the young man] fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate.

These are the things that Luke reveals most directly about himself. They go some way to telling us what kind of person he was, and what he saw in the early church. Enough has been said above to give a flavour of what Luke reveals autobiographically about himself.

Postscript: Luke is mentioned by name in these letters: Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; and Philemon 1:24 (setting aside for the moment discussion of who authored these). He may also be alluded to by 2 Corinthians 8:18 and 12:18.
He may also be in view as Lucius in Romans 16:21 (according to Origen’s reading of it). It is not known if this is the same person as Lucius of Cyrene who seems to appear in both Acts 11:19-20; 13:1.