Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- Luke

by Editor - Joseph Exell




Of the writer of the third Gospel nothing whatsoever is known, except that he was the faithful friend and companion of St. Paul.

Scripture notices. Luke is mentioned by name three times in the Epistles of St. Paul, and always with affection (Col 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24). From Colossians 4:11, where the companions of Paul, “who are of the circumcision,” are distinguished from those afterwards named, we gather that he must have been before his conversion a Gentile. His name is Gentile--Lucanus, shortened into Lucas. These are the only places in which he is mentioned, but there can be not the smallest doubt that frequently in the narrative of the Acts he includes himself amongst the companions in travel of St. Paul, by changing the pronoun to the first person plural (See Acts 16:20-21.). We gather from the same use of the first person plural that Luke was a fellow-voyager with St. Paul to Rome, and was shipwrecked with him. There is good reason also to suppose that St. Paul alludes to St. Luke in 2 Corinthians 8:18. If an account of our Lord’s Birth, Life, Death, and Resurrection was then called “the Gospel”--and I do not see why it should not have been so called--then the allusion is most natural and becoming; otherwise it is difficult to understand what St. Paul means by “praise in the Gospel,” for his name is not mentioned in any Gospel, nor is his preaching of the Gospel with eloquence ever alluded to, as that of Apollos is.

Early Fathers.

1. Eusebius. “Luke, who was born at Antioch, and by profession a physician, being for the most part connected with Paul, and familiarly acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us two inspired books, the institutes of that spiritual healing art which he obtained from them. One of these is his Gospel, in which he testifies that he has recorded ‘ as those who were from the beginning eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word delivered unto him,’ whom also, he says, he has in all things followed … It is also said, that Paul usually referred to his Gospel, whenever in his Epistles he spoke of some particular Gospel of his own, saying, ‘ according to my Gospel.’” “In his own Gospel he delivered the certain account of those things that he himself had fully received from his intimacy and stay with Paul, and also his intercourse with the other apostles.”

2. Irenaeus refers to him frequently by name, as book 3. ch. 1.: “Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.” Again, Irenaeus, speaking of the sacerdotal aspect of Christ, given by St. Luke, writes, book 3.Luke 11:8 : “But that according to Luke, taking up his priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God.”

3. Tertullian. “Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul.”

4. Origen, quoted by Eusebius, writes: “And the third, according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, which was written for the converts from the Gentiles.” (M. F. Sadler, M.A.)

His foreign extraction is confirmed also by the character of his style, which approaches nearer to the standard of classical Greek than that of any other writer of the New Testament, except St. Paul. This feature of his language renders it probable that he was of Greek origin. Some have inferred this also from his Greek name; but it was not uncommon for Jews, as well as Romans and other foreigners, to assume such names at this period. Whether he was a proselyte to Judaism before his conversion to Christianity or not, is a question on which critics differ. The supposition that he adopted first the Jewish religion, and had done so perhaps in early life, accounts best for his intimate acquaintance with the opinions and customs of the Jews, his knowledge of the Septuagint, and the degree of Hebraistic tendency which shows itself in his style. Of the manner in which he was brought to a knowledge of the Gospel, we have no information. The suggestion of some of the later fathers that he was one of the seventy disciples, is not only without ground, but opposed to his own statement in the introduction of his Gospel, where he distinguishes himself from those who had been personal attendants on the ministry of Christ. Of his history subsequent to the close of the Acts, nothing authentic has been preserved. The traditions which relate to this period are uncertain and contradictory. According to Gregory Nazianzen, whom several later writers follow, he suffered martyrdom; according to others, and those whose testimony has greater weight, he died a natural death. (H. B. Hacket, D. D.)

Combining the traditional element with the scriptural, the uncertain with the certain, we are able to trace the following dim outline of the Evangelist’s life. He was born at Antioch in Syria (Eusebius, Hist. 3:4); in what condition of life is uncertain. That he was taught the science of medicine does not prove that he was of higher birth than the rest of the disciples; medicine in its earlier and ruder state was sometimes practised even by a slave. The well-known tradition that Luke was also a painter, and of no mean skill, rests on the authority of Nicephorus (ii. 43), of the Menology of the Emperor Basil, drawn up in 980, and of other later writers; but none of them are of historical authority: and the Acts and Epistles are wholly silent upon a point so likely to be mentioned. He was not born a Jew (comp. Colossians 4:11 with verse 14). The date of his conversion is uncertain. He was not indeed “an eyewitness and minister of the Word from the beginning” (Luke 1:2), or he would have rested his claim as an evangelist upon that ground. Still, he may have been converted by the Lord Himself, some time before His departure; and the statement of Epiphanius and others, that he was one of the seventy disciples, has nothing very improbable in it; whilst that which Theophylact adopts, that he was one of the two who journeyed to Emmaus with the risen Redeemer, has found modern defenders. Tertullian assumes that the conversion of Luke is to be ascribed to Paul; and the balance of probability is on this side. The first ray of historical light falls on the Evangelist when he joins St. Paul at Troas, and shares his journey into Macedonia … He again appears in the company of Paul in the memorable journey to Rome (Acts 27:1). He remained at his side during his first imprisonment (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24); and if it is supposed that the Second Epistle to Timothy was written during the second imprisonment, then the testimony of that Epistle (2 Timothy 4:11) shows that he continued faithful to the Apostle to the end of his afflictions. After the death of St. Paul, the acts of his faithful companion are hopelessly obscure to us … It is, as perhaps the Evangelist wishes it to be: we only know him whilst he stands by the side of his beloved Paul; when the master departs, the history of the follower becomes confusion and fable. (Archbishop Thomson)


A physician indeed, and, like so many physicians, a man of wide sensibility, culture, and intelligence. If an Antiochene, he probably met Paul at Antioch, and seems to have been drawn very close to him about A.D. 52, when the Apostle was recovering from the severe attack of ophthalmia which prostrated him for a time in Galatia. Luke’s profession, probably, took him much on board the ships that plied between Troas and Philippi, and all round the AEgean coast. It was, perhaps, natural that he should sail in the same ship with Paul from Troas to Philippi; but it is soon evident that no chance association bound him to Paul. If he left him, it was not for long, and when he joined him again, some seven years later, it was to share with him shipwreck and imprisonment, and to part with him on earth no more. “Luke, the beloved physician,” was doubtless in constant requisition. Paul was always suffering from his eyes--always overworking himself--sometimes prostrated with what we should perhaps call epileptic fits. Indeed, there could be no more suitable companion than a travelling doctor for one whose “outward man was perishing,” and who “died daily.” His wide acquaintance with men, and the varied experiences of a doctor’s life, made Luke peculiarly fit to record the spread of the Gospel (as he does in the Acts) amongst men of different nations. For, Gentile as he was, he was pretty fair to the Jews and in hearty sympathy with the Roman Government, whilst having an intimate acquaintance with the Greeks, especially of Asia Minor. He nowhere mentions himself by name, and seldom even alludes to himself at all. Beneath the modest “we,” which occurs in a few chapters of the Acts, the beloved physician is effaced rather than concealed, but the pathos of those few words--dictated by such an one as “Paul, the aged,” in prison--“ Only Luke is with me,” are sufficient to make his name dear and immortal, even if he had not left behind him such a priceless diary as the Acts, and such u prose poem as the Gospel which bears his name. (H. R.Haweis, M. A.)

St. Luke is eminently the psychologist among the Evangelists. He was, as we know, a physician. Perhaps we may trace this in his tone of speaking of their art--“ which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any”--compared with the severer words of St. Mark, “and had suffered many things … rather grew worse.” We can scarcely doubt that the beautiful saying preserved by him in common with the other Synoptics, “They that are whole,” &c., must have been specially affecting to one who had himself been a physician. Certainly we find throughout that symptoms of diseases were more carefully described by one who had been trained to observe them, and who, though he could neither have been a disciple of our Lord, nor an eye-witness, was thus prepared to understand many of the miracles better (See Luke 4:38; Luke 4:40; Luke 5:12; Luke 6:17-18; Luke 9:2; Luke 22:50-51). The physician is, perforce, something of a psychologist. This may arise from the mysterious connection between mind and body, and from the opportunities which he possesses of observing the subtler traits of many temperaments in the hours when we are the least able to disguise our real selves. In those hours, when we are so weak and fretful, the physician learns something more than our diseases; he learns our characters. The most delicate psychological skill St. Luke certainly possessed. I might refer you to the perplexity of Herod about our Lord; to the exquisite penetrating satire in those touches preserved by this Evangelist--“He that showed mercy on him,” because the lawyer would not pronounce the Samaritan’s hated name, and “The Pharisee prayed thus with himself,” when there was no prayer; to the delineation of Zaccheus; to Pilate and Herod making friends together; to the disciples believing not for joy and wondering, and returning to Jerusalem with great joy after their Lord had left them. I might refer to the way in which he binds his materials together by an idea, as in the incident about Mary and Martha, which immediately follows the parable of the Good Samaritan, for the purpose of completing the picture of the Christian life; and in the passage at close of chap. 9., where we have three different natures dealt with by Jesus. He loves, too, to tell what women did for Jesus. I need only mention the names of Elizabeth, the Virgin Mother, the woman who was a sinner, Mary Magdalene and others who ministered to Him of their substance, Martha and Mary, the weeping daughters of Jerusalem. Perhaps it may be said, without irreverence, that this psychological skill finds its highest application in writing of the sacred humanity of our Lord. From St. Luke’s Gospel we learn much that is truest and deepest in relation to the Man, Christ Jesus. There is traced the successive development of “the Holy Thing born of Mary,” “the fruit of her womb,” into the Babe, the Child, the Man (Luke 1:35; Luke 1:42; Luke 2:16; Luke 2:43). There are the statements, which sometimes seem incomprehensible, and sometimes degrading, as applied to one like Him, but which always “requite studious regard with opportune delight.” For instance: “ When the time was come that He should be received up,”--what can this mean, standing where it does, and speaking of the time before His death? Faith reads the riddle. “Evangelistae stylus imitatur sensum Jesu.” Again, “His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground.” The academic Shimeis of England, and France, and Germany, may seek for stones to fling at Him, from the dust of the garden. The French man of letters may cross Kedron, and wave out his scented blasphemies, leaving the unwholesome taint of Parisian patchouli under the Olives of Gethsemane. Why that agony, those big drops, that burst of sorrow in which He was withdrawn from His own? Why was He less firm than the martyrs, than Socrates, than the Stoics, than the Indian brave? A man who does not understand love and purity, sacrifice and self-denial, the fearfulness of sin, the holiness of God, the blessedness of communion with the Father to the sinless man, and therefore the fearfulness of its suspension, cannot understand Gethsemane as represented by St. Luke. (Bishop William Alexander.)


From Acts 1:1, it is clear that it was written before the Acts, which (see Acts 28:30-31) must have been completed about the end of the second year of St. Paul’s imprisonment, that is, about A.D. 63. How much earlier this “former treatise” may have been written is uncertain. But Dean Alford remarks that the words imply some considerable interval between the two productions. The opinion of the younger Thiersch thus becomes very probable, that it was written at Caesarea during St. Paul’s imprisonment there, A.D. 58-60. The Gospel of St. Matthew was probably written about the same time; and neither Evangelist appears to have used the other, although both made use of that form of oral teaching which the apostles had gradually come to employ. (Archbishop Thomson.)


St. Luke was a Gentile; hence one leading idea of his Gospel is the rejection of the Jews. This idea breathes sadly through Simeon’s Song: “This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel,” the first hint of opposition from unbelief which occurs in this Gospel. It appears in St. Luke’s account of the Baptist’s terrible words, not only as in St. Matthew “to the Pharisees and Sadducees,” but to “the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers! the axe is laid unto the root of the trees.” It pervades the close of our Lord’s discourse in the synagogue at Nazareth. It is typified in that final rejection of the Holy One, when He was led to the brow of the Mount of Precipitation, the first prelude of another more tragic and final. It gives solemn pathos to those words of the weeping Saviour: “Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”

This Gentile Evangelist, possibly writing his Gospel from Rome, the capital of the Gentile world, and impressed with the rejection of the Jews, brings before us the Gospel as the Gospel of Humanity, the Saviour as the Saviour of the world. Born in a stable, under the Roman Emperor, He who was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary is the Saviour of all men. His genealogy is brought up to Adam, the head of our Humanity, not to Abraham, the progenitor of the Jewish people. While St. Matthew speaks chiefly of the Twelve as representatives of the twelve tribes, St. Luke lays more stress upon the sending of the Seventy, that number being the symbol of the nations under the Theocracy. The great episode of the so-called “Journey Report” (Luke 9:51; Luke 18:30) mentions a journey through Samaria to Judaea and Jerusalem. We may note in it tenderness to the Samaritans, in refusing to bring down fire from heaven, and in choosing the Samaritan as the embodiment of charity in that story whose beauty has never been exceeded but by another, “of which Jesus is not the narrator, but the subject.” Note, too, that breathing of deathless hope over Tyre and Sidon (ch. 10. Verse 13). And, above all, the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son, which touch upon the exile and the return of God’s self-banished children with such tender and tearful love.

Pauline colouring.

1. Cf. St. Luke’s account of the institution of the Holy Communion with that of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1-34.

2. The words χάρις and πίστις, so frequently used by St. Luke and St. Paul, are seldom used by other New Testament writers.

3. All readers of St. Paul’s Epistles must have been arrested by the contrast drawn in Romans 5:1-21. and 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. between the first man, who is from the earth, of dust, and the Second Man, whose origin is from Heaven. Is not the germ of this great thought in the last clause of the genealogy in Luke 3:1-38.: “Which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God”?

4. What aspect of the Redeemer’s work is most present to St. Paul? What note of the trumpet is it that thrills us most? Forgiveness, pity, grace. “Non gratia ex operibus, sed opera ex gratia.” This is throughout a fundamental conception of St. Luke, in those passages which are peculiar to him. All is Christ’s gift. So is it with the lower blessings of healing. “Unto many that were blind He gave sight.” So much more with the higher gift of pardon and peace. Does not this apply to the story of the sinful woman who anointed the feet of Jesus; to the Parables of the love of God the Son in seeking the lost, and of God the Father in going to meet the prodigal, when he is yet a great way off?… This Gospel, whose key-note and leading idea is forgiveness; which has, as its own peculiar treasures, the forgiveness of the fallen woman, of the publican, of the crucifiers, of the dying thief, of a world if that world will receive it; comes well from the Gentile Evangelist, the friend of St. Paul the great Doctor of Grace, who wrote his Gospel under St. Paul’s guidance and encouragement. (Bishop William Alexander.)

St. Luke must be ranked as the first Christian hymnologist. (See Luke 1:28-33; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 2:14; Luke 2:29-32). In these Canticles (Benedictus, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis) the New AEon is represented not merely as the fulfilment of the Old, but also as a Kingdom of the Spirit; as a spring of life and joy opened to the world; as a mystery, prophesied of indeed because it is eternal, but now in the appointed time revealed to men.

In this Gospel thanksgiving is also prominent. “The Gospel of the Saviour begins with hymns, and ends with praises; and as the thanksgivings of the meek are accorded in the first chapter, so in the last we listen to the gratitude of the faithful.” (See Luke 2:20; Luke 5:25; Luke 7:16; Luke 13:13; Luke 17:15; Luke 18:43; Luke 23:47).

It also gives special prominence to prayer.

1. It alone preserves to us the fact that our Lord prayed On six distinct and memorable occasions--at Baptism, after cleansing the leper, before’ calling the Twelve, at Transfiguration, on Cross for murderers, and with last breath.

2. St. Luke, too, like St. Paul, insists on the duty of unceasing prayer as taught by Christ; and emphasizes this instruction by alone recording the two parables which encourage us to a persistent energy, a holy importunity, a storming of the kingdom of Heaven by violence in our prayers (Luke 11:5-13; Luke 18:1-8).

But the Gospel is marked mainly by its presentation of the Good Tidings in their universality and gratuitousness. In St. Luke, towards every age, towards either sex, towards all nations, towards all professions, towards men of every opinion and every shade of character, our Blessed Lord appears as Christus Consolator; the Good Physician of bodies and of souls; the Gospeller of the poor; the Brother who loves all His brethren in the great family of man; the unwearied Healer and Ennobler of sick and suffering humanity; the Desire of all nations; the Saviour of the world, who “went about doing good.” In accordance with this conception--

St. Luke reveals especially the sacredness of infancy. He alone tells us of the birth and infancy of the Baptist; the Annunciation; the meeting of Mary and Elisabeth; the songs of the herald Angels; the Circumcision; the Presentation in the Temple; the growth in universal favour and sweet submission. And he alone preserves the one anecdote of the Confirmation of Jesus at twelve years old, which is the solitary flower gathered from the silence of thirty years.

He dwells especially on Christ’s ministry to the world; that He was to be a Light to lighten the Gentiles, as well as the glory of His people Israel.

St. Luke’s is specially the Gospel of Womanhood, and he prominently records the graciousness and tenderness of Christ towards many women.

He seems to delight in all the records which told of the mercy of the Saviour towards the poor, the humble, the despised (Luke 2:24; Luke 6:20-25; Luke 6:30; Luke 8:2-3; Luke 12:16-21; Luke 12:33; Luke 16:13; Luke 16:19-25; Luke 14:12-15).

Further, it is specially the Gospel of the outcast--of the Samaritan Luke 9:52-56; Luke 17:11-19), the publican, the harlot, and the prodigal. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). See instances in Zaccheus, the Prodigal Son, Mary of Magdala, the woman with the issue of blood, the dying robber.

Lastly, it is the Gospel of tolerance. (Archdeacon Farrar.)


A well-known tradition makes St. Luke a painter. This tradition is not very ancient. It is not to be found in any writer before the sixth century. It is the thirteenth century before he appears as the patron saint of painters … The oldest tradition in Justin Martyr would seem to have believed that the Son of Man had literally no form or comeliness. There are two types of the image of the Son of Man in Christendom. In one, He is hard and stem, wan and worn; in the other, He has a soft, fair beauty, with chestnut hair … Whatever His form and features may have been, He must have looked beautiful who said, “And He layeth it on His shoulders.” Weary as He was and wan, white with exhaustion and dropped with blood, He must have looked beautiful, who said, “Father, forgive them.” So the Evangelist who never painted the form of the Son of Man on canvas, or laid it in rich enamel, has given us the most attractive picture of Him. In St. Matthew, He is Israel’s Monarch; in St. Mark, He is the Son of God; in St. John, He is the Everlasting Word made Flesh; in St. Luke (while the title of the Lord, the Lord Jesus, is most frequently found) we are almost tempted to think the emblem of the Man more appropriate than that of the Ox, which yet suits so well the priestly story at the beginning, and the overpowering conviction of the Sacrifice at the end. For in St. Luke, He is preeminently the Son of Man; loving, pitying, pardoning a fallen race; anointed to preach the Gospel to the poor; leaving the ninety and nine that He may bear the lost with all the strength and tenderness of that Divine Manhood; dying, and rising again, that repentance and remission may be preached to all Not written by a painter, this is yet a painter’s Gospel. From it come the favourite subjects: The Virgin and Child, Simeon, the Scene with the Doctors in the Temple, the Ascension. (Bishop William Alexander.)


The authenticity of St. Luke’s Gospel is well established. There are some allusions, or what seem to be such, to its contents in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers; and Justin Martyr, who died soon after the middle of the second century, quotes from it, and alludes to it several times. In a fragment “On the Resurrection,” which is about the same date as the works of Justin, there is allusion made to three verses out of the last chapter of St. Luke. Hegesippus, contemporary with Justin, has two quotations from this Gospel in the scanty fragments of his writings which have been preserved to us by Eusebius; and it is mentioned in the list of New Testament writings in the Muratorian fragment on the canon, about 170 A.D. The enemies of the faith also have left us evidence of the same kind. Marcion, a heretical teacher, who flourished in the first half of the second century, desired to represent Christianity as utterly unconnected with Judaism. He taught that the Jewish law had its origin from the Demiurge (so he styled the God of the Jews), and that from his influence Christ came to set men free. With these opinions to support, Marcion must reject a large portion of the New Testament, and he accepted only ten Epistles of St. Paul, and such parts of the Gospel of St. Luke as suited with his ideas. The heretical mutilation which he wrought in the Third Gospel has furnished satisfactory testimony to its genuineness and authenticity, and has proved the early recognition of what has been already alluded to--that this Gospel is largely pervaded by the spirit of the “Apostle of the Gentiles.”--(Prof. Lumby.)

CONTENTS OF THE THIRD GOSPEL.--The Gospel contains--

1. A preface (Luke 1:1-4).

2. An account of the time preceding the ministry of Jesus (Luke 1:5-80; Luke 2:1-52).

3. Several accounts of discourses and acts of our Lord, common to Luke, Matthew, and Mark, related for the most part in their order, and belonging to Capernaum and the neighbourhood (Luke 3:1-38; Luke 4:1-44; Luke 5:1-39; Luke 6:1-49; Luke 7:1-50; Luke 8:1-56; Luke 9:1-50).

4. A collection of similar accounts, referring to a certain journey to Jerusalem, most of them peculiar to Luke (Luke 9:51-62; Luke 10:1-42; Luke 11:1-54; Luke 12:1-59; Luke 13:1-35; Luke 14:1-35; Luke 15:1-32; Luke 16:1-31; Luke 17:1-37; Luke 18:1-14).

5. An account of the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, common to Luke with the other Evangelists, except as to some of the accounts of what took place after the resurrection (Luke 18:15 to the end). (Archbishop Thomson.)


Ads FreeProfile