St. Luke, Evangelist and Historian

Today is the Feast of St. Luke the evangelist. Luke was a native of Antioch and unlike the other New Testament writers, was not a Jew, but a Greek.

When we look for Luke in the Scriptures, we first come across his Gospel, but from a historical perspective, his first mention is not in the Gospel of Luke, but in the book of Acts, chapter 16 verses 8-10. Verse 8 describes St. Paul traveling to Troas. There, recounted in verse 9, he has a vision of a Macedonian man asking for help. Recognizing that this is a call from God to take his Gospel preaching into new territory, St. Paul determines to go to Macedonia. And right there in verse 10 we see Luke appear as he writes: “And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on to Macedonia.” That was where St. Luke joined up with the travels of St. Paul. And boy, are we glad he did.

We can imagine the two of them on the voyages to follow, passing sailing time with St. Paul recounting for the ear and perhaps the pen of Dr. Luke, the adventures he had that are recorded for us beginning in Acts 7:28.

St. Luke was not merely a traveling companion for the Apostle, he was himself a preacher of the Gospel, and St. Paul refers to him as “fellow laborer.” St. Paul also calls him “the beloved physician.” But what situates St. Luke in his treasured position is neither his work as a doctor, nor even his preaching, but his work as a historian.

The extent of his New Testament writing is exceeded only by the 14 letters of St. Paul, and he records six miracles and 18 parables not found in the other Gospels. He is the only Gospel-writer to give us intimate glimpses of Mary’s Divine Maternity and Jesus’ infancy and youth within the Holy Family, information which could only have come from Mary herself.

Of course to call St. Luke a historian is to insist that he wrote history, not fairy tales. We have all heard fairy tales. “Once upon a time,” is how they start. Or perhaps, “Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”

But not St. Luke; he screws his Gospel right into known human history — the history of the Roman Empire (Lk 1:5, 2:1-2). And the more we uncover of that history, the more archeology is done in the regions encompassed by St. Luke’s chronicles, the more verification is found of his stunning accuracy. His accounts of the voyages of St. Paul are so detailed that you can open to the back of many Bibles and see a map with the itinerary of each trip.

Eyewitness accounts — that is what St. Luke said he was after (Lk 1:1-4). That is what he got.

As our first pope put it: “[W]e did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pt 1:16).

St. Luke found those eyewitnesses and he wrote down their accounts. Thanks to the power of his prose, reading his Gospel and the book of Acts is almost like being eyewitnesses ourselves.

Mary Kochan, former Senior Editor of CatholicExchange, is Editor-at-Large  of CatholicLane.com.

Raised as a  third-generation Jehovah's Witness, Mary worked her way backwards through the Protestant Reformation to enter the Catholic Church on Trinity Sunday, 1996.  Mary has spoken in many settings, to groups large and small, on the topic of destructive cultism and has been a guest on both local and national radio programs. To arrange for Mary to speak at your event, you may contact her at [email protected].

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  • noelfitz

    this is another great article by you. Many thanks.

    I had a quick look at my Bible today and I see St Paul’s letters take up about 73 pages, and Luke (with both Acts and his gospel) is responsible for about 77 pages (one quarter of the NT canon), so it is not clear “The extent of his New Testament writing is exceeded only by the 14 letters of St. Paul”. Also it is debated how many Letters Paul wrote. Few now would claim he wrote Hebrews, many would only consider he wrote seven Letters.

    At present I am getting a huge amount of encouragement from CL, so I really appreciate all you are doing.

  • Mary Kochan

    Thank you for the kind words, Noel.

  • Mara319

    I really believe St. Luke got all details of the Annunciation and Infancy narratives from Our Blessed Mother herself – perhaps during a short visit with her either in Ephesus or Jerusalem before her Assumption.
    A nun I know told me it’s impossible because Luke and the Blessed Mother are “generations apart.” I don’t think so. Let’s see…
    Luke was a contemporary of Paul, who was a contemporary of Peter, who was a contemporary of Jesus. Mary was 15 or 16 years older than her Son. Close enough, I think.
    If not the Blessed Mother, where did Luke get his facts? The great St. Luke is a historian indeed.