Book Overview - Luke
by Joseph Sutcliffe
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. LUKE.
THE name of Luke is Roman. In the Greek and Latin it is Lucas, and has some affinity with Lucanus, a common name in Rome. St. Jerome, in his prologue to Luke’s gospel, speaks of him thus. “He was born at Antioch, and was by profession a physician, and learned in the Greek language, as is fully apparent from his writings. He was a disciple of St. Paul, and a beloved companion in all his travels. He wrote a volume of the gospel, and the testimonials of the author by this apostle are brief but full. To the Corinthians St. Paul says, I have sent with Titus, a brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches. 2 Corinthians 8:18. To the Colossians he says, Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you: chap. Luke 4:14. To Timothy he says, only Luke is with me. 2 Timothy 4:11. [In another epistle he repeats, Lucas is my fellow labourer. Philemon 1:24.] These testimonials place Luke in the first class of evangelical men.
St. Luke wrote another invaluable book, — The Acts of the apostles, and brought down the history to the two years which St. Paul remained a prisoner at Rome; that is to say, to the fourth year of Nero the emperor. By this we perceive, that the Acts of the apostles were written while Luke was at Rome.
With regard to the two other books ascribed to Luke, The travels of Paul and Thecla, the virgin, ( διακονη, γυνη, or matron of the synagogue, a person essential in the churches of the east:) also the history of Leo, whom Paul had baptized, we reckon among the books called apochryphal; for strange it must be that Paul, who was always at Luke’s elbow, should be ignorant of those books. [Thecla, the abreviate of Theoclia, was a powerful preacher; and I might add, prophetess of the church. As Stephen is called the proto-martyr among men, so she is called the proto-martyr among women. This crown was conferred upon her at Seleucia in Isauria, where the emperor Zeno built a church to her memory, accompanied with many gifts. Hist. eccles. Evag. scholast. 50, 3. c. 8.] Tertullian, who flourished nearer to that age, reports that a certain priest of Asia, being a great admirer of the apostle Paul, was convicted before John of being the author of that book, [Paul and Thecla] and that the priest confessed he had done it for the great affection and love he had for Paul; and that the book by some means had escaped out of his hands. Some writers are of opinion that whenever Paul in his epistles uses the phrase, according to my gospel, he has a special regard to the work written by Luke. Those writers add, that Luke not only speaks of Paul, who himself had not been conversant with the Lord in the flesh, but also of the other apostles, which Luke himself fully allows in the beginning of his own work, who with their eyes saw the miracles, and were the ministers of the things they declared. The Gospel he wrote as he had heard, but the Acts of the apostles he composed as he had seen. He attained the age of eighty four, having lived in celibacy. In the twentieth year of Constantius the emperor, his bones, with those of Andrew, were removed from Achaia for interment at Constantinople.”
Thus far is the prologue of Jerome; to which antiquity has little to add. Augustine complains of obscurity for want of books, few of the writings of the first christians having come down to his time. Though the posterior age contained innumerable small books, but never indeed accounted of equal excellence in every point with the most sacred canonical scriptures; yet there is found in them the same truth, though far from being of equal authority. In opusculis autem posteriorem, quæ libris innumerabilius continentur. — CONTRA FAUST.
It is a fact which cannot be denied, that the brethren in Jerusalem would commit to writing as well as they could, every gracious word of the Saviour, every parable he pronounced, every journey he travelled, and every miracle he performed. If otherwise, they must have been a body of men altogether different from others. It is a fact equally undeniable, that every apostle on leaving his country had his “parchments,” containing the gospel. Mark, when he wrote at Rome, had the gospel of Matthew always at hand. He omits many things in Matthew to avoid tautology, but illustrates many occurrences with relevant incidents and expletives.
The four gospels, as they now stand, were admitted into the canon of the christian scriptures without opposition. They are cited by all the christian fathers; and Tatian of the second age, transposed them in what he calls Diatessaron, or the four in one; or to speak in modern language, the harmony of the four gospels.
The gospel of St. Luke comes before the church enriched with Egyptian gold, in regard of style, accuracy, and purity of diction. He presents us with the birth of John in full character, the laudable piety of his priestly parentage, the annunciation to the virgin Mary, and the ministry of holy angels, as attendants on the Redeemer. He shows us the entrance of the Lord into Jericho with healing powers, and the illustrious conversion of Zaccheus, unexampled in its fruits.
We see the forbearance of the Saviour when solicited to punish the Samaritans, who had rejected his ministry; we see the lepers healed ten at a time, men most abjectly excluded from their families, and prohibited entering into the city. We see him great in the house of Simon the pharisee, convincing his host, and converting a weeping offender of the city. He confounded the bigotry of the priest and the levite, by the generosity of the good Samaritan. He visited Bethany, and confirmed the faith of Lazarus’s house, the best of families. After his resurrection we hear him expounding the prophecies to two of his distressed disciples, going to carry their griefs to Galilee. He did this in disguise, in a familiar conversation, that the truth of prophecy might be their strong support. — Thus Luke is introduced to the church loaded with evangelical excellence.
the Second Week of Lent