Click here to get started today!
by Joseph Exell
1. ST. LUKE'S GOSPEL RECEIVED AS AN AUTHORITATIVE WRITING IN THE FIRST AGE OF CHRISTIANITY.
In the last quarter of the second century — that is to say, in less than a hundred years after the death of St. John — the canon of the New Testament, as we have it now, was generally accepted in all the Churches of the East and West.
How widespread was the religion of Jesus Christ before the close of the second century we have abundant testimony. Justin Martyr, for instance, before the middle of the century, wrote how "there existed not a people, whether Greek or barbarian, whether they dwelt in tents or wandered about in covered wagons, among whom prayers were not offered up in the name of a crucified Jesus, to the Father and Creator of all things." Tertullian, a few years later, living in quite another part of the Roman world, told the heathens that his brethren were to be found filling the camp, the assemblies, the palace, the senate."
Before the year 200 the well-known and voluminous writings of Irenaeus in Gaul, Clement in Alexandria, and Tertullian in Carthage, the capital of wealthy Proconsular Africa, testify to the wide and general acceptance of the books composing the New Testament canon. These writings clearly tell us what was the judgment of the Catholic Church at that early period in the matter of the sacred Christian books. They were the holy treasurehouse whither men resorted for authoritative statement on doctrine and on practice. Here men sought for and found their Master's words, and the teaching of his chosen followers. In the weekly services of the Church, as early as the middle of the century, we learn from Justin Martyr, the memoirs of the apostles (by which term he designated the Gospels) were read on the same footing as the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament.
Among these books, which in the last years of the second century were among Christians so universally received as authoritative and honored as Holy Scripture, was the Gospel according to St. Luke.
We will now see how far it is possible to trace the existence of the Third Gospel from the close of the second century upwards towards the source.
There is no question that it was generally known and received in the last quarter of the second century: was it referred to as a sacred writing before this date?
From A.D. 120 to 175. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, in Gaul, succeeded Pothinus in the episcopate about A.D. 177. He tells us how, in his youth, he had been acquainted with Polycarp in Smyrna, who had known St. John. The date of his birth was about A.D. 130. In the writings we possess of Irenaeus we find no reference by name to any book of the New Testament; but we meet with such striking coincidences of language and thought with many of those books, that it is perfectly certain he was intimately acquainted with them. St. Luke's Gospel was one of these.
The Canon of Muratori was discovered in the Ambrosian Library at Milan in a manuscript of great antiquity, containing some of the works of Chrysostom. It is but a fragment, yet it gives us, with fair completeness, the judgment of the Western Church on the canon of the New Testament about the year of our Lord 170. The date is clearly ascertained by internal evidence. Among the other sacred books it writes thus of the Third Gospel: "The Gospel of St. Luke stands third in order, having been written by St. Luke the physician, the companion of St. Paul, who, not being himself an eye-witness, based his narrative on such information as he could obtain, beginning from the birth of John."
Justin Martyr, of whose writings we possess several important pieces, was born at the close of the first century, and died about A.D. 165. His works that are preserved may be dated roughly A.D. 130 to 150-160. They contain a mass of references to the Gospel narratives, embracing the chief facts of our Lord's life, and many details of his teaching — never, save in one or two very unimportant details, travelling out of the track of the story of the four evangelists, his many references being free from legendary admixture. These circumstances connected with our Lord's life were derived for the most part, he tells us, from certain written records which, he said, rested on apostolic authority, and were used and read in the public assemblies of Christians. He never quotes these records by name, but refers to them simply as "memoirs of the apostles" (ἀπομνημονευìματα τῶν ἀποστοìλων); two of these, he says, were written by apostles, two by their followers.
His references are for the most part connected with the teaching rather than with the works of Jesus. He weaves into the tapestry of his story the narratives especially of SS. Matthew and Luke, quoting often the very words of the evangelists. In his 'Apology' Westcott reckons nearly fifty allusions to the gospel history. In the 'Dialogue' about seventy facts peculiar to St. Luke's narrative are introduced by Justin; for instance, the account of the sweat which dropped as blood from the Redeemer in Gethsemane, and the Master's prayer for the passing of "this cup." These "memoirs" which Justin uses so freely, and which he is careful to state were read in the weekly services of the Christians, were, in the estimation of the Church of his time (which was roughly the middle years of the second century), evidently ranked with the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament; and these memoirs of the apostles, it is perfectly certain, were the Gospels we know severally as the Gospels of SS. Matthew, Luke, and Mark.
As Justin wrote before and after the year of our Lord 150, we have traced St. Luke's Gospel as an authoritative sacred document a considerable way upwards towards the source.
The testimony of the early heretical schools is very useful to us here, and puts us a further step backwards. About A.D. 140 Marcion, the son of a Bishop of Sinope, claimed to reproduce in its original simplicity the Gospel of St. Paul. He took for his purpose the Gospel of St. Luke and ten Epistles of St. Paul. The text of the Gospel and Epistles Marcion altered to suit his own peculiar views.
Valentinus, the author of the famous heresy which bears his name, came to Rome, Irenaeus tells us, in the episcopate of Hyginus, and taught there from about A.D. 139 to 160. In the fragments of his writings which are preserved, he cites, among other New Testament books, the Gospel of St. Luke as Scripture.
Heracleon, the familiar friend of the heresiarch just alluded to, himself the great Valentinian commentator, has left commentaries on St. Luke and St. John, and fragments of these are still in existence. Clement of Alexandria refers to this commentary on St. Luke, which must have been put out before the middle of the second century.
Cerdo, an heretical teacher who lived still nearer the beginning of the second century, according to Theodoret, used the Gospels, especially that of St. Luke, in his system of theology.
Basilides was one of the earliest Gnostics, who taught at Alexandria about A.D. 120. He thus lived on the verge of the apostolic times. His testimony to the acknowledged books in the canon of the New Testament Scriptures is clear and valuable. We have now but a few pages of his writings still remaining with us, but in these few are certain references to several of St. Paul's Epistles to the Gospel of St. Matthew, St. John, and St. Luke.
Tatian, a pupil of Justin Martyr, according to the testimony of Epiphanius, Theodoret, and Eusebius, shortly after the middle of the century, composed what may be called the first harmony of the four Gospels — the 'Diatessaron.' Although Tatian appears to have on some subjects adopted strange and heretical opinions, in general form his harmony or 'Diatessaron' was so orthodox and helpful that it enjoyed a wide ecclesiastical popularity.
It will materially add to the strength of our argument that the Gospel of St. Luke was generally received by the Churches as authoritative, because divinely inspired, throughout the second century, if it can be shown that the Gospel was publicly acknowledged at the same early date by national Churches as well as by individual scholars and teachers.
Two versions belong to this first period of the Church's history — the Peschito-Syriac and the Old Latin (used in North or Proconsular Africa).
The first, the Peschito-Syriac, represents the vernacular dialect of Palestine and the adjacent Syriac in the age of our Lord. Competent scholars consider that the formation of this most ancient version is to be fixed within the first half of the first century. It contains the Gospel of St. Luke and all the books of the received canon of the New Testament save 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, St. Jude, and the Apocalypse, and may be regarded as the first monument of Catholic Christianity.
The second version, the Old Latin, was made in the great and wealthy province of Proconsular Africa, of which Carthage was the chief city, at a very early period.
Tertullian, writing in the latter part of the second century, describes the widespread influence of Christianity in his time. His own important province, no doubt, was before his eyes, when he wrote how "Christians were filling the palace, the senate, the forum, and the camp, leaving their temples only to the heathen." To persecute the Christians in North Africa at the close of the second century would be to decimate Carthage. Tertullian, in his voluminous writings, shows that he recognized a current Latin version (the Old Latin). For the North African Church to have attained the proportions described by Tertullian at the close of the second century, we must presuppose that Christianity was at a very early period planted in that province, and that its growth was exceedingly rapid. This would necessarily indicate an early date in the second century for the formation of that version in the dialect used in the province, and which Tertullian found evidently in common use.
St. Luke and most of the other books of the canon are found in this Old Latin version quoted by Tertullian; the only omitted writings were the Epistle of St. James and the Second Epistle of St. Peter. The Epistle to the Hebrews did not originally exist in this most ancient version; it was added subsequently, but before Tertullian's days, i.e. before A.D. 200.
Professor Westcott, after an elaborate discussion, concludes positively that the Old Latin version must have been made before A.D. 170. How much more ancient it really is cannot yet be discovered. This great scholar conjectures that it was, however, coeval with the introduction of Christianity into Africa, and that it was the result of the spontaneous efforts of the African Christians.
The absence of the few canonical books above mentioned in these most ancient versions indirectly are an evidence of their great antiquity. It was not that the first translators had examined the proofs of their authenticity and found them wanting, and in consequence had excluded them; but the truth, no doubt, was that these particular books had never reached the countries in question at the early date when the versions were made.
The omitted Epistles were, from their brevity, as in the case of the Epistle of St. Jude, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, or from the contents being more especially addressed to Jewish Christians rather than to the great Gentile world, as in the case of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of St. James, less likely to be rapidly circulated. The Apocalypse, from its mystic nature, would naturally be less read, and consequently it would require a longer period to become generally known and accepted.
As might have been expected, the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew have left more ample traces in the scattered fragments of early Christian literature which have come down to us than any other of the writings included in the New Testament canon.
We now come to the early years of the second century and the closing years of the first century — roughly speaking, the twenty or twenty-five years which followed the death of St. John. Here, as might be expected from the comparatively few remains of Christian writings of this very early period which we possess, the evidences of the existence and recognition of St. Luke and the other books of the New Testament are more rare. Yet even in the scanty fragments still remaining to us of this very early period, we find traces of the inspired writings of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
In that curious religious romance entitled the 'Testaments of Twelve Patriarchs,' a writing which Bishop Lightfoot speaks of as "coming near the apostolic age," and which the best modern scholars generally conceive to have been put out some time between A.D. 100 and A.D. 120, it is evident that much of the New Testament canon was known to the writer, who weaves into the tapestry of his work many of the New Testament thoughts and expressions, and occasionally quotes whole passages more or less accurately. Especially the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke are made use of. What is very noticeable in this ancient and curious treatise, written evidently by a Jewish Christian to his own people, is the influence which the books written by or under the influence of St. Paul evidently exercised upon the author.
From St. Luke's Gospel twenty-two rare (Greek) words are used by the writer of the 'Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,' of which rare words nineteen are found in no contemporary writer. From the Acts, which may be looked upon as a second part of St. Luke's Gospel, twenty-four rare words are taken, of which twenty are alone found in this book of the New Testament. The anonymous author of the 'Testaments' borrowed from the vocabulary of most of the New Testament books, though from none so largely as from those written by or under the influence of St. Paul.
This most ancient and singular treatise has received in the last few years considerable attention at the hands of scholars. Some consider it honeycombed by interpolations of a later date, but as yet this theory of later interpolation is supported mainly by ingenious conjecture.
Very lately the scholarly Archbishop Bryennios, Metropolitan of Nicomedia, discovered and published the known but long-lost 'Teaching of the Apostles' (ΔιδαχηÌ τῶν δωìδεκα ̓Αποστοìλων). This most ancient treatise probably belongs to the last decade of the first century, possibly to an earlier date. It is largely based on sayings of Jesus Christ reported in the Gospels, especially in that of St. Matthew; but St. Luke's Gospel was distinctly known and used by the writer. One clear reference to the Acts occurs in chapter 4 of the 'Teaching.' The words rather than the acts and miracles of the Lord are dwelt upon. No Gospel is quoted by name.
We have now traced the Third Gospel back to days when probably John was still living, certainly to a time when men who had listened to John and Peter, to Paul and Luke, were still living and teaching. The testimony of one of the most famous of these pupils or disciples of the apostles will close our long chain of evidence.
Clement of Rome was the disciple of St. Paul; the oldest traditions, too, couple his name with St. Peter. At a very early period, undoubtedly, in the lifetime of St. John he presided over the Church of the Christians at Rome. It is certain that in the Church of the first century he exercised a powerful and lasting influence. Various ancient writings have been preserved bearing his honored name. Of these only the first Greek epistle can be confidently pronounced authentic; it has been variously dated, A.D. 68, 70, 95. Whichever of these dates be accepted, its testimony will be the witness of the belief in the years immediately succeeding the martyrdom of Paul, when certainly many of the pupils and disciples of the twelve still lived and worked among men. We will confine ourselves to this first Greek epistle of unquestioned authenticity.
Clement was evidently a diligent student of the writings of Paul, Peter, and John. He occasionally uses words found only in St. Paul; still more frequently those common to SS. Paul and Peter; while the influence of their inspired writings is plainly visible throughout this first epistle. In two passages the Gospels are evidently expressly quoted. The first (chapter 13) begins thus: "Remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, which he spoke to teach goodness and long-suffering." Then follows a passage in which the writer seems to unite St. Matthew's and St. Luke's accounts of the sermon on the mount; but where, in the opinion of Volkmar, the text of St. Luke predominates (see Luke 6:31, Luke 6:36-38). The second is in the fortysixth chapter, and contains the spirit and indeed the very words of the Lord as reported in Matthew 26:24; Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2.
Archbishop Thomson sums up generally the evidence for the early reception of the Gospels among the Christian Churches of the first days as inspired authoritative writings, as follows: "In the last quarter of the second century the four Gospels were established and recognized, and held a place that was refused to all other memoirs of the Lord. At the end of the second quarter they were quoted largely, though not very exactly, but the authors' names were not made prominent; they were 'memoirs,' they were 'the Gospels,' and the like. At the opening of the second century the words of the Lord were quoted with unmistakable resemblance to passages of our Gospels, which, however, are quoted loosely without any reference to names of authors, and with a throwing together of passages from all three (synoptical) Gospels" (Introduction to Gospel of St. Luke, by the Archbishop of York, in the 'Speaker's Commentary').
In the last decade, then, of the first century we find that the three first Gospels had been written, and were used as the authoritative basis of Christian teaching. Now, what is the probable story of the composition of these Divine memoirs?
To answer this question, let us go back to Pentecost (A.D. 33), and the months and first years succeeding that memorable day.
With startling rapidity the few hundreds who before the Ascension, with more or less earnestness, believed in Jesus of Nazareth, and accepted him as Messiah, became, after the first Pentecost, thousands, and these numbers kept growing in Palestine and the adjacent countries, with an everwidening tendency. It was necessary at once to teach these "thousands" something beyond the great fact that the Son of God had died for them. The apostles of the Son of God felt at once that they must tell these "thousands" what was the life which the Son of God would have those who believed in him live. To do this they repeated to the listening crowds their Master's teaching; they rehearsed again and again the memorable discourses which they had listened to by the lake, in the synagogues of Capernaum, in the temple courts; some spoken to them alone in comparative solitude, some addressed to curious and even hostile crowds in the days of the public ministry.
At first, for many months, possibly for years, there was little, or even nothing, written. The apostles and their first disciples were Jews, we must remember — men trained more or less in the rabbinical schools, whose great rule was, commit nothing to writing. The training, we must be careful to remember, in the Jewish schools of Palestine in the time of our Lord was almost exclusively oral.
Now, the great teachers of the first days had all, perhaps, with rare exceptions, been with Christ. Out of their abundant memories of their loved Master's sayings, aided, we may reverently assume, by the Holy Ghost, they reproduced, after taking mutual counsel, just those words, sayings, discourses, which they considered would best paint the picture of the life. He wished "his own" to live. The acts which were done, the miracles which he worked, the incidents which happened, were gradually added in their proper places to complete the picture of "the life to be led," which they painted. Special doctrinal teaching at first was very simple — a few great truths, apparently, and no more, were taught.
Together the first great teachers "remained in Jerusalem, in close communion, long enough to shape a common narrative, and to fix it with requisite consistency. The place of instruction was the synagogue and market-place, not the student's chamber." Provision for the student's chamber was made later by one of them, still acting under the Holy Spirit's influence, when John the beloved put forth his Gospel, which dealt rather with doctrine than with life. But in the first days — possibly for many years — the gospel preached by the great teachers was the gospel much as we find it in Mark, or Luke, or Matthew.
An original oral gospel, generally arranged by the apostles in the days immediately succeeding the first Pentecost, with one great general outline repeated over and over again, was, doubtless, the foundation of the three synoptical Gospels. This accounts for the identity of so many of the details, and also for the similarity in the language. It is highly probable that, in the first years, this oral gospel existed in Aramaic, as well as in Greek, to suit the various classes of hearers to whom it was presented.
St. Mark's, on the whole, was probably the first form in which the oral gospel was committed to writing. It is the shortest and the simplest recension of the preaching of the first days reduced to a consecutive history. "The Gospel of St. Mark, conspicuous for its vivid simplicity, seems to be the most direct representation of the first evangelic tradition, the common foundation on which the others were reared. In essence, if not in composition, it is the oldest, and the absence of the history of the infancy brings its contents within the limits laid down by St. Peter for the extent of the apostolic testimony." After the writing of St. Mark, it is probable that a considerable period elapsed before St. Matthew and St. Luke were composed. These two longer and more detailed memoirs of the Lord's earthly life represent "the two great types of recension to which it may be supposed thai the simple narrative was subjected. St. Luke presents the Hellenic, and St. Matthew (Greek) the later Hebraic form of the tradition."
The three first Gospels, in their present form, were, we believe, put out somewhere between the years A.D. 55 and A.D. 70, the year of the fall of Jerusalem. Some would, however, place the date of St. Luke shortly after than before the great catastrophe to the city and temple.
Ancient tradition and modern criticism, however, generally accept this date — A.D. 55 to A.D. 70. The hypothesis which places the publication of any one of the three after the fall of Jerusalem would only give a very few years later as the date.
Of any writings or memoirs upon which the Gospels were founded we have only vague and uncertain traces.
Papias, who lived very near the time of the apostles, and whom Irenaeus calls "a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp" — Papias, in a work termed Λογιìων Κυριακῶν ̓Εξηìγησις, "An Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord," of which a few fragments are preserved by Irenaeus and others, writes as follows: "Matthew wrote the oracles in Hebrew, and every one interpreted them as he was able." The word in the original for "the oracles" is ταÌ λοìγια. It is now impossible to be certain what exactly ταÌ λοìγια includes. Westcott paraphrases ταÌ λογιìα by "the gospel" — "the sum of the words and works of the Lord." Schleiermacher and others explain ταÌ λοìγια as "discourses" only. It is likely enough that this was not the same as the Gospel of St. Matthew as we now possess it, but simply a body of the Lord's discourses committed to writing by St. Matthew at a very early period in the Hebrew or Aramaic dialect.
The one other reference to writings on the subject of the Lord's life put out anterior to the synoptical Gospels, is that statement of St. Luke himself in the prologue to his Gospel: "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled [or, 'fully established'] among us" (Luke 1:1). Here St. Luke, without disapproval, simply mentions others who had already written portions of the gospel story. The statement of the evangelist is studiedly brief, and seems to assume that, in his judgment, none of the "many" who had taken the "story" in hand had been completely successful. He by no means condemns these as inaccurate, and does not imply that he will not make use of them; indeed, by his words, "it seemed good to me also," he ranges himself on the same platform with these earlier students and writers of the Divine story. The truth probably was that these writings to which. he refers were incomplete portions rather than a whole.
To sum up, when St. Luke undertook his great work there was probably current, in the Churches in which he lived and worked, a general oral authoritative gospel, which had grown up in the apostolic circle in very early days, in the months and years which followed the first Pentecost, much in the way we have sketched out above. In different Churches, we may with all reverence assume, existed separate and distinct memoirs and faithful oral traditions — memoirs and traditions written and preserved by men and women, eye-witnesses of the scenes and hearers of the words so preserved; such a memoir, for instance, as that evidently Aramaic fragment which treats of the birth and infancy and childhood of the Redeemer woven into the tapestry of the first two chapters of St. Luke. It is of such pieces as these that St. Luke, no doubt, was thinking when he wrote the first verse of his Gospel.
Of the three synoptical Gospels, the first and third are clearly compilations, arranged with a definite aim, constructed out of materials before the writer. The second, as we have already affirmed, is the simplest, as it is the shortest. It probably represents, if not the very first, at least a very early presentment of the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ. With the first and second we are not just now concerned.
The third, the Gospel of St. Luke, is the most carefully composed of the three divinely inspired stories of the Redeemer. It is the reply to questionings which would naturally present themselves to a thoughtful, cultured man who had heard, and after hearing had been impressed with the strange beauty and the intense reality of, the story of the cross. There were, to such a man, many things, apart from the simple narrative which formed the groundwork of the preaching of the first days, which called for explanation. Who was this strange, marvellous Being, whose love for men — a love passing understanding — had led him to die for men who only repaid his love with the bitterest hate?
The very God! think, Abib; dost thou think?
So the All-great were the All-loving too;
So through the thunder comes a human voice,
Saying, 'O heart I made, a heart beats here!
Face my hands fashioned, see it in myself!
Thou hast no power, nor mayest conceive of mine;
But love I gave thee, with myself to love;
And thou must love me, who have died for thee!'
The madman saith, He said so; it is strange!"
(R. Browning, 'An Epistle of Karshish, the Arab Physician.')
Whence came he? How and when and in what guise did he first appear among men? Where did he spend the first thirty years of his life? What was his earthly home? Who was that honored and mighty forerunner, that John, whom Herod had foully murdered? What was the meaning of the exclusion of Israel, the chosen people, from his Church?
All these questionings would naturally occur to a cultured listener, who longed to embrace the promises of Jesus, about A.D. 60-70, when the Church was growing into a great and widespread company, and the "story" was being repeated at second and third hand in many a city far away from the Holy Land.
"No one could understand better than St. Paul the need of an exhaustive reply to such questionings, the need of an authoritative history, where an account of the rise and progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ was related with accurate and careful detail. And if Paul, among the helpers who surrounded him, had an evangelist distinguished for his gifts and culture — and we know from 2 Corinthians 8:18, 2 Corinthians 8:19 that there was really one of this description — how could he help casting his eyes upon him, and encouraging him to undertake so excellent a work? Such is the task which Luke has discharged" (Godet).
We have said this Third Gospel was most carefully composed, with the view of satisfying the requirements of a thoughtful, cultured man, such as was probably that "most excellent Theophilus" to whom the Gospel was addressed.
First, it contained, with its sequel the Acts, not a few historical notices, such as the census of Quirinius, under the decree of Augustus (Acts 2:1-3); the contemporary Roman and Jewish rulers in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar (Acts 3:1, Acts 3:2); Pilate's and Herod's jurisdictions (Luke 23:1, Luke 23:12); with allusions by name to public persons, such as Cornelius, centurion of the Italian band (Acts 10:1); Herod (Acts 12:1, etc.; 13:1); Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7); the Emperor Claudius's decree (Acts 18:2); Gallic the deputy of Achaia (Acts 18:12-16); Claudius Lysias, Felix the Roman governor (Acts 23:26); Porcius Festus (Acts 24:27); King Agrippa and Bernice (Acts 25:0); the appeal to Caesar (Acts 26:32).
Secondly, it embodied in its narrative that beautiful and interesting account of the nativity and the events which preceded it and immediately succeeded it, with a few notices of the boyhood of the Lord. These details, as we have suggested in the Exposition, were evidently procured from information communicated to St. Luke (or St. Paul) by eye-witnesses, many of the details probably by the virgin-mother herself. These two first chapters would answer many a question which would naturally suggest itself to reverent inquirers who had listened to the simple gospel message as first delivered, and had enrolled themselves among the followers of Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, the picture of the gradual development of the Church of Jesus Christ is drawn with extraordinary skill and care by St. Luke — its development from Bethlehem and Nazareth to Jerusalem and Rome. On the morning of the nativity, in the opening chapters of St. Luke, the Church is confined to Joseph, Mary, and the holy Babe. To these, just the few shepherds of Bethlehem are added. The close of the Acts shows us the foundation of the Church at Rome; but Rome was but a branch, an offshoot, of the great Churches of Antioch and Jerusalem. St. Luke traces the various stages in this development — from Bethlehem to Nazareth, from Nazareth to Capernaum, from Capernaum to the Galilaean and Peraean villages, then to Jerusalem. The Acts takes up the wondrous story, and shows how the Church, advanced from Jerusalem to the Syrian Antioch, from Antioch to the cities of Asia Minor, from great Asian centers like Ephesus across the seas to the old world-renowned cities of Greece, and then from Greece to Italy, and the story closes with the beginning of the Church at Rome.
Nor does St. Luke alone depict with his great skill the geographical development of the Church of Jesus Christ. He describes, too, how the work of the Divine Master and his chosen instruments developed. First, we have the story of the birth and growth of the pioneer, John the Baptist; then the birth and childhood of Jesus himself. He paints the beginning of his organized Church, when he summons the twelve out of the number of believers who gathered round him soon after he began his public ministry among men.
The wants of the growing organization soon called for more workers. In the Third Gospel the solemn summons of the seventy is related. For a moment the advancing work seems arrested by a fatal blow, and the death of the Master on the cross puts, as it seems, a final stop to the new Church and its work; but the Resurrection, which St. Luke describes as quickly following, gives a new and irresistible impulse to the Church and the Church's work among men. The same men are at work, and the same Master is guiding their labors. But the homeless Master is no longer guiding them as they walked together among the fields of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem, but from his glory-throne in heaven; and the men, the same men, are quite changed: it is as though they had drunk of the waters of another and stronger life.
Luke describes in the Acts, the sequel to his Gospel, the rapid progress and the swift though orderly development of the now great and numerous Church. Deacons are chosen to assist the apostles; then we read of prophets and teachers and elders, of the foundation-stories of a great and powerful organization.
2. SOME OF THE SPECIAL FEATURES OF ST. LUKE'S GOSPEL.
We have dwelt upon the position of St. Luke's Gospel as a great Christian writing in the earliest days of Christianity, its teaching being considered as absolutely authoritative, as containing the mind, even the very words, of the Divine Founder. We have shown how it was received before four score years had been counted from the Ascension Day, not only by all the Churches, but by the principal heretical sects which sprang up so soon in the Christian story; and our data for this general very early acceptance of the Third Gospel were drawn, not merely from the scanty fragments which remain to us of individual scholars and teachers, but from versions which were the public work of whole Churches. Its author and his peculiar school of thought will be presently discussed. We will now proceed to a more detailed consideration of some of the contents of the Gospel named after St. Luke.
Of the three synoptical Gospels, St. Luke, though not the longest, is the fullest, that is, it contains the most details of the Savior's life on earth. And some of these details peculiar to St. Luke are of very high importance in their practical teaching, as also in their bearing on the blessed life.
Among the more striking of these are — the raising of the son of the widow of Nain; the episode of the woman who was a sinner kneeling at the feet of Jesus when he was at the banquet given in the house of Simon the Pharisee; the tears which the Master wept over Jerusalem; the famous parables of the good Samaritan, with its broad, universal teaching; the parable showing how and why Jesus loved the lost — the lost drachma, the lost sheep, and the lost son; the parables of Lazarus and Dives, of the unjust steward, the unjust judge, the Pharisee and the publican, etc.; the prayer on the cross for those who were doing him to death; the promise to the dying thief hanging on the cross, by his side; the walk to Emmaus, and the conversation during the walk after the Resurrection.
We must not omit here to mention two considerable sections of this Gospel which contain many peculiar details touching the life or the teaching of Jesus, which alone are told by St. Luke.
(1) The first two chapters treating of the infancy and boyhood of the Savior.
(2) The account of that prolonged journey, or perhaps four distinct journeys, toward Jerusalem related in Luke 9:51-19:27. Some of the events related in this important section, and some of the words spoken by Jesus on these journeyings, are repeated in one or other of the evangelists, notably in St. John; but much in this great section is peculiar to St. Luke.
3. THE ESPECIAL TEACHING OF ST. LUKE.
St. Luke's Gospel has been charged by some critics with teaching certain doctrines alien to the teaching of primitive Christianity, in some respects differing from the teaching in St. Matthew or in St. John.
These critics complain that St. Luke, different to the older apostles, teaches in the Third Gospel "a universalism" — a breaking-down of all legal privileges and class distinctions, a free admission of all sinners alike to the mercy of God upon their repentance, a universality in Christ's promises, which jars upon some minds peculiarly constituted and specially trained, in the nineteenth century equally with the first.
There is no doubt that this Divine picture of the Lord's life and teaching that we call St. Luke's was mainly the work of that great servant of Jesus Christ whom men call Paul, only we maintain that there is no real difference between the fundamental doctrines taught in this Gospel and those laid down in the first, the second, and the fourth. We believe simply that in St. Luke — and the Epistles of St. Paul repeat the teaching — the universality of Christ's promises are more distinctly marked; the invitations to the careless, to the wanderer, to the forsaken of man — "les reprouves" of this world — are more marked, more definite, more urgent. The doctrines of the four Gospels are the same, only in St. Luke this special feature of the Blessed One's teaching is more accentuated.
See how St. Luke alone, in his short resume of the Baptist's preaching, dwells upon that peculiar feature of Isaiah upon which that great forerunner evidently laid great stress, "All flesh shall see the salvation of God." Luke ignores all privilege of race, or caste, or training, by tracing back the ancestry of the Redeemer to Adam. Abraham is ignored here. In several cases faith alone wins forgiveness. The story of the good Samaritan reads a sharp, stern lesson, and suggests a grave warning to the self-styled orthodox of every age, from the first century to the nineteenth. The reasons why Jesus loved the "seeming lost" of the world are strangely but beautifully shown in the parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. The parable of the marriage supper-accentuates the same teaching. The ingratitude of the nine Jewish lepers, painted in the strongest colors, sharply contrasts with the gratitude of the despised alien Samaritan; and the Lord's blessing in the latter case anticipates a possible tremendous reversal of human judgments at the last great day.
In these and such-like teachings in the Third Gospel, although there is a danger of their being pressed by expositors too far, many grave and anxious thoughts, however, are suggested, and warn us against hasty and imperfect estimates of others, on whom, perhaps, in our short-sighted judgment we look down.
This Gospel certainly dwells with peculiar emphasis on the infinite love and compassion of Jesus, which induced him, in his endless pity, to seek, yes, and to save, souls among all sorts and conditions of men.
It is especially the Gospel of hope and love, of pity and of faith. Very beautifully are these thoughts exemplified by the sayings of Jesus on the cross, reported by St. Luke. It is the Gospel of hope. The Divine Victim prayed for his murderers. There was hope still, even for them. Of whom shall we, then, despair? It is the Gospel of love. He so loved the men doing him to death that he could, in his great agony, pray for them. It is the Gospel of pity. He was so sorry for the poor ignorant but repentant thief dying by his side that he could promise him paradise. It is the Gospel of faith. With his last breath he could commend his departing spirit, to his Father and ours.
"This is the Gospel from which shines most brightly the light of redemption, forgiveness, restoration, for all the human race; the two earlier Gospels are illuminated by the same light, for it is the light of the Spirit of Christ; but if differences are to be noticed at all, this is one of the most distinctly marked.... Many of the Lord's parables and words reported only by St. Luke lead the mind of his readers to understand the infinite love and pity of Jesus which led him to seek and save in every region and class. Before this love all questions of class break down. The door of redemption is opened wide; the Pharisee fails of forgiveness, and the penitent publican secures it. The priest and Levite pass on the other side, but the good Samaritan tends the wounded man. Simon the Pharisee, the host of Jesus, learns a new lesson from our Lord when the sinful woman is allowed to draw near and to wash the feet of Jesus. All this points to a breaking-down of all legal privileges and distinctions of class, and to the admission of all sinners alike to the mercy of the Lord upon their repentance. God hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted them of low degree" (Archbishop Thomson).
Some critics, too, have found fault with what they term Luke's heresy in regard to his bold assertion of the rights of the poor against the rich, alleging that, in St. Luke's presentment of the teaching of Jesus Christ, only the poor as such appear to be saved, the rich, on the other hand, seem condemned as such.
There was, we know, a tendency in the early days of Christianity to exaggerate the so-called blessings of poverty, and to depreciate the socalled curse of wealth or comparative wealth. We see it in the mistaken attempt in the primitive Church of Jerusalem, where, at all events, the greater number of members parted with their possessions and attempted to live a life of Christian communism. The disastrous result is told in the New Testament story, where the deep poverty of the Church of Jerusalem, the consequence of their mistaken interpretation of their Master's words, is frequently and pointedly alluded to. Later a distinct sect arose, the Ebionites, when this teaching concerning the evil of riches was pressed home in an exaggerated form.
But it is a strange mistake to see in St. Luke's Gospel any encouragement to this curious misunderstanding of the Lord's words and parables. Our Master saw and pointed out that there was a special compensation for poverty. Less tempted, less wedded to this life, the faithful poor man stood often fairer for the kingdom of God than his seemingly more fortunate, wealthier brother. But we see very clearly from St. Luke's teaching that it is never poverty which saves, or wealth which condemns. It was the Samaritan's righteous use of his substance which won the Lord's smile of approval.
4. THE AUTHOR OF THE THIRD GOSPEL.
The earliest traditions of the Church, and the writings which we possess of her teachers — of men who lived in the century following the death of St. John — the "remains," too, of the great heretical teachers who taught for the most part in the first half of the second century, all bear witness that the author of the Third Gospel was identical with the writer of the Acts, and that this person was the St. Luke well known in the days of the beginnings of Christianity as the companion and friend of St. Paul. Most of these early references in some form or other connect St. Luke's work with St. Paul.
Among the more interesting and important of these, Irenaeus, writing in Southern Gaul circa A.D. 180, says, "Luke, the companion of Paul, put down in a book the gospel preached by him (Paul)" ('Adv. Haeres.,' 3. 1); and again, "That Luke was inseparable from Paul, his fellow-worker in the gospel, is shown by himself.... Thus the apostles, simply and without envying any one, handed down to all these things which they themselves had learned from the Lord; thus, therefore, Luke also... has handed down to us the things which he had learned from them, as he witnesses when he says, 'Even as they delivered them to us which from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word'" ('Adv. Haeres.,' 3. 14).
Tertullian, who lived and wrote in Proconsular Africa in the last years of the second century, tells us how "Luke's digest was usually ascribed to Paul".
Eusebius, the Church historian, writing a little more than a century later, and who spent much of his life in collecting and editing the records of the first beginnings of Christianity, relates that "Luke, who was a native of Antioch, and by profession a physician, for the most part a companion of Paul, and who was not slightly acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us two books divinely inspired.... One of these is the Gospel.... And it is said that Paul was accustomed to mention the Gospel according to him, whenever in his Epistles speaking, as it were, of some Gospel of his own, he says according to my gospel" ('Hist. Eccl.,' 6:25; see also St. Jerome, 'De Vir. Illustr.,' c. 7). And this apparently generally received tradition, which at all events very closely connects the Third Gospel with St. Paul, receives additional confirmation when the teaching and occasionally the very expressions of St. Luke's Gospel are compared with the teaching of the Epistles of St. Paul. The very important section of St. Luke's Gospel which describes the institution of the Lord's Supper, closely even in verbal coincidences, resembles St. Paul's account of the same blessed sacrament (comp. too 1 Corinthians 15:3 with Luke 24:26, Luke 24:27).
Then in the teaching. It is universally agreed that there is a general affinity between St. Paul and St. Luke. It is in the Third Gospel that especially those doctrines which are commonly termed Pauline are pressed with peculiar force. Both Paul and Luke, in their teaching, bring into special prominence the promise of redemption made to the whole human race, without distinction of nation or family, ignoring in the gracious offer all privilege whatsoever. "All flesh shall see the salvation of God." Many of the parables told only by St. Luke, notably that of the good Samaritan; in the parable-stories of the test sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, illustrating the love of Jesus shown in seeking the lost — read as examples of the teaching pressed home in the Pauline Epistles, homely, vivid illustrations taken from the everyday life of Syria and Palestine. The appearances of the risen Jesus after the Resurrection almost exactly correspond with those related by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:0).
That a close connection existed between Paul and Luke we know from several allusions to Luke in the Epistles of Paul: "Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you" (Colossians 4:14); "There salute thee, Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus.... Lucas, my fellow-laborer" (Philemon 1:24); "Only Luke is with me" (2 Timothy 4:11).
Some expositors have thought that this friendship of Paul and Luke only began at Rome, a city in which Luke was residing as a physician, and that he met the great apostle during his first imprisonment there, and was converted to Christianity during Paul's captivity, in which we know that many persons had access to him. This supposition would not be contradicted by the three special notices of Luke in the Pauline Epistles, two of them — that to the Colossians and the letter to Philemon — having been written from Rome during that imprisonment, and the third notice, in the Second Epistle to Timothy, occurring in a letter written some years later, when the apostle was confined a second time in Rome.
But the intimacy between Paul and Luke, we confidently believe, began much earlier. A very general and absolutely uncontradicted tradition, which dates from the early days of Christianity, ascribes the authorship of the Acts to St. Luke. Now, in this very writing, in three passages, two of considerable length, the author of the Acts passes abruptly from the third person to the first person plural. Thus the narrative changes from "and as they went through the cities," etc. (Acts 16:4), to "loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia," etc. (Acts 16:11), as though the writer — universally, as we have seen, acknowledged to be St. Luke — had joined the little band of missionaries who accompanied St. Paul at Troas (Acts 16:10). If this be, as is most probable, the case, then he must — having at some previous (unknown) date become acquainted with St. Paul — as early certainly as A.D. 53, have joined himself to St. Paul's company when the apostle was at Troas. With Paul, still following the Acts narrative, St. Luke journeyed as far as Philippi. Then, in Acts 17:1, when the apostle leaves Philippi, the third person is again used in the narrative, as though St. Luke was left behind at Philippi. After some six or seven years, again at Philippi, where we lost sight of him, in the course of what is termed the third missionary journey, the use of the first person plural — "These going before tarried for us at Troas, and we sailed away from Philippi" — indicates that the writer, St. Luke, had again joined St. Paul (Acts 20:5). With the apostle he passed through Miletus, Tyre, and Caesarea to Jerusalem (Acts 20:15; Acts 21:18). During the two years or more of St. Paul's imprisonment at Csesarea (whither he was sent from Jerusalem after his arrival at that city with St. Luke), St. Luke was probably with or near him, for when the apostle was sent under guard as a prisoner of state from Caesarea to Rome, St. Luke again evidently was with him; for throughout the voyage which ended in the memorable shipwreck and the subsequent stay at Melita, and on the voyage from Melita in the ship of Alexandria, we find the forms "we" and "us" used: "Then when we came to Rome;" "when the brethren heard of us." During that long period of imprisonment at Caesarea, it is highly probable that St. Luke, acting under the immediate direction of his master Paul, made that personal investigation, searched out eye-witnesses of the events of the life of love, conversed with survivors — less than thirty years had elapsed from the Resurrection morning, it must be remembered, when Paul lay in his Caesarean prison — procured memoranda in the possession of the holy women and others, and with the help and guidance of his great master, aided by the Holy Spirit (A.D. 60-62), we even think compiled much of what is known now as "the Gospel according to St. Luke." During the Roman imprisonment, which immediately followed A.D. 63-64, the work, and not improbably its sequel the Acts, was finally revised and put out.
We thus possess traces of an intimate friendship between the older and the younger man for a period of some twelve years — A.D. 53 to 64; for how long previous to A.D. 53 and the meeting at Troas (Acts 16:10) the friendship had existed we have no data even for conjecture.
5. "LUKE, THE BELOVED PHYSICIAN"
"And Luke, who was a native of Antioch, and by profession a physician, for the most part a companion (ταÌ πλεῖστα συγγεγονωìς) of Paul, and who was not slightly acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us two books divinely inspired, proofs of the art of healing souls, which he won from them" (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' 3. 4).
"Luke, a physician of Antioch, not unskilled in the Hebrew language, as his works show, was a follower (sectator) of the Apostle Paul, and the companion of all his wanderings. He wrote a Gospel of which the same Paul makes mention," etc. (St. Jerome, 'De Yir. Illustr.,' c. 7).
"The Gospel according to Luke was dictated by the Apostle Paul, but written and put out (editum) by Luke, the blessed apostle and physician" (Synopsis Pseudo-Athanasii, in Athanasii 'Opp.').
The above-quoted references from Eusebius, Jerome, and the pseudoAthanasius, tell us that the words of St. Paul (Colossians 4:14), when he referred to his friend Luke as "the beloved physician," very generally colored all tradition in the early Church respecting the writer of the Third Gospel.
The profession of physician in the early days of the empire was filled almost exclusively by freedmen or the sons of freedmen (libertini). This calling implied a considerable amount of scientific knowledge, and shows that Luke the physician certainly belonged to the class of educated men. Dean Plumptre, of Wells, calls attention to the well-known list of the members of the household of the Empress Livia, the consort of Augustus Caesar, compiled from the Columbarium, a sepulcher which was opened at Rome in 1726. This "list" gives many examples of names with the word "medicus" attached to them.
It is remarkable that, with the exception of Hippocrates, all the extant medical writers were Asiatic Greeks — such as Galen of Pergamus, in Mysia; Dioscorides of Anazarba, in Cilicia; Aretaeus the Cappadocian. Hippocrates, though not an Asiatic Greek, was born and lived in close proximity to the coast of Asia, being a native of Cos, an island off the coast of Caria.
In the first century of the Christian era no medical school stood higher, and few so high, as that of Tarsus, in Cilicia. There was a great temple of AEsculapius at AEgae, only a few miles from Tarsus, which was resorted to by sick persons from all countries, who came to consult the priests or brotherhood of the Asclepiadae.
A modern scholar, Dr. Hobart, of Trinity College, Dublin, has lately written an exhaustive treatise of considerable length to show that the language of St. Luke, both in the Gospel and Acts, is very largely impregnated with technical medical words — words which none but a trained physician would have thought of using; words, too, employed in the general story in the course of relation of events not connected with healing a disease or any medical subject; the very words, in fact, which were common in the phraseology of the Greek medical schools, and which a physician, from his medical training and habits, would be likely to employ.
1. In the general narrative in the Third Gospel and the Acts, there are a number of words which were either distinctly medical terms or commonly employed in medical language, such as ἰìασις θεραπειαì συνδρομηì, etc.
2. There are, again, certain classes of words which were used in medical language in some special relation. St. Luke alone uses the special terms for the distribution of nourishment, blood, nerves, etc., through the body, such as διανεìμειν διασπειìρειν ἀναδιδοìναι; and the terms to denote an intermittent or a failing pulse, such as διαλειìπειν ἐκλειìπειν, etc.
3. The same combination of words are used by St. Luke as we find in medical writers, as for instance, τρῆμα βελοìνης δακτυìλῳ προσψαυìειν θροìμβοι αἱìματος, etc.
4. Other words are found, too, in this Gospel used very rarely save by medical writers in the sense which they bear in St. Luke's writings, as ἀνακαìθιζεν, to sit up, ἐκψυìχειν, to expose, etc.
5. Several curious indications of the writer of the Third Gospel and the Acts being a medical man are discoverable in the words made use of for marking time, such as ἑσπεìρα μεσηβριìα μεσονυìκτιον ὀì̓ìρθρος; the first two of which are peculiar to him, and the last two almost so, as μεσονυìκτιον is used but once outside his writings (Mark 13:35), and ὀìρθρος, too, but once (John 8:2). These latter were the usual times and the usual terms to denote them, for the accession or abatement of disease, visiting patients, applying remedies, etc. Dr. Hobart quotes Galen, 'Meth. Med.,' 9:4, and other well-known Greek medical writers in support of this.
As we should expect from the physician-evangelist, in the accounts of the miracles of healing medical language is carefully employed.
In many parallel passages St. Luke will be found to use a term strictly medical, the other evangelists one less precise, the terms chosen by St. Luke being words all of which were in common use with the Greek physicians.
In such important sections, for instance, as in the account of the agony in the garden, described by all the three synoptists, St. Luke's relation, different from the other two, possesses all the characteristics of medical writing, detailing carefully, in medical language, the prostration of strength, and the outward and visible effect on his human frame of the inner anguish of our Lord.
It is a very probable hypothesis to ascribe the connection of the two friends, Paul and Luke, in the first instance, to help given to the great apostle in one of those many and grave illnesses to which, from many casual references in his writings, we know the apostle was subject.
With the exception of
(1) the direct but casual notices in the Epistles of St. Paul, and the indirect allusions to himself in the later chapters of the Acts above referred to, where in the narrative the third person is changed for the first;
(2) the universal tradition of the early Church that Luke, the companion of Paul, was the author of the Third Gospel;
(3) the internal evidence contained in the Gospel and in the Acts, which plainly shows that the writer was a physician; — with these exceptions nothing further definite or trustworthy is known respecting Luke. Epiphanius and others mention that he was one of the seventy disciples; Theophylact believes that he was one of the two disciples who met with the risen Jesus on their walk to Emmaus. These suppositions may be true, but they are uncertain. The well-known tradition that Luke was also a painter, and painted portraits of the blessed Virgin and of the chief apostles, and even of the Lord himself, rests only on the statement of Nicephorus, of the menology of the Emperor Basil, drawn up in A.D. 980, and of other late writers, but none of them are of historical authority.
After St. Paul's martyrdom (A.D. 67-68) our knowledge of St. Luke is only vague, and rests on uncertain tradition. [Epiphanius tells us that, after the death of his master, he preached in Dalmatia, Italy, Macedonia, and Gallia. Gregory Nazianzen mentions that St. Luke was among the martyrs. Nicephorus relates the manner of his martyrdom — how that, whilst working for the cause in Greece, he was hanged upon an olive-tree.
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17