A Commentary by John Stott

1. Introduction to Luke (Luke 1:1-4) (continued).

Even in those far-off days doctors underwent quite a rigorous training, and Luke’s stylish Greek is that of a cultured person. There is also some evidence in Luke-Acts of the vocabulary and powers of observation which one would expect to find in a member of the medical profession. In 1882 the Irish scholar W.K.Hobart wrote his book ‘The Medical Language of St. Luke’, whose aim was to show that Luke was ‘well acquainted with the language of the Greek medical schools’ and that ‘the prevailing tinge of medical diction’ reveals a medical author throughout both Gospel and Acts. Adolf Harnack endorsed this theory. More recent critics have rejected it, however. H.J.Cadbury in several studies, after scrutinizing Hobart’s list of supposedly medical words used by Luke, pointed out that they belonged not so much to a technical medical vocabulary as to the repertoire of any educated Greek. The truth probably lies at neither extremes. Although Luke’s medical background cannot be proved by his vocabulary, yet some residue of medical interest and terminology does seem to be discernible in his writing. ‘Instinctively Luke uses medical words’, wrote William Barclay, and proceeded to give examples in both the Gospel (e.g. Lk.4:35; 9:38; 18:25) and the Acts (3:7; 8:7; 9:33; 13:11; 14:8 and 28:8-9).

Another reason for crediting Luke’s claim to be writing history is that he was a travelling companion of Paul’s. It is well known that several times in the Acts narrative Luke changes from the third person plural (they) to the first person plural (we), and that by these ‘we-sections’ he unobtrusively draws attention to his presence, in each case in the company of Paul. The first took them from Troas to Philippi, where the gospel was planted in European soil (16:10-17); the second from Philippi to Jerusalem after the conclusion of the last missionary journey (20:5-15 and 21:1-18); and the third from Jerusalem to Rome by sea (27:1 – 28:16). During these periods Luke will have had ample opportunity to hear and absorb Paul’s teaching, and to write a personal travelogue of his experiences from which he could later draw.

In addition to being a doctor and a friend of Paul’s, Luke had a third qualification for writing history, namely his residence in Palestine. It happened like this. Luke arrived in Jerusalem with Paul (21:17) and left with him on their voyage to Rome (27:1). In between was a period of more than two years, during which Paul was held a prisoner in Caesarea (24:27), while Luke was a free man. How did he use his time? It would be reasonable to guess that he travelled the length and breadth of Palestine, gathering material for his Gospel and for the early Jerusalem-based chapters of the Acts. He will have familiarized himself as a gentile with Jewish history, customs and festivals, and he will have visited the places made sacred by the ministry of Jesus and the birth of the Christian community. Harnack was impressed by his personal knowledge of Nazareth (its hill and synagogue), Capernaum (and the centurion who built its synagogue), Jerusalem (with its nearby Mount of Olives and villages, and its ‘Synagogue of the Freedmen’), the temple (its courts, gates and porticoes), Emmaus (sixty stadia distant), Lydda, Joppa, Caesarea and other towns.

Tomorrow: 1. Luke 1:1-4. Introduction to Luke (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.