|St. Luke by Simone Martini|
The author is implicitly included in the first person plural references (or "we" sections) of Acts (16:8-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1–28:16). Accordingly, he arrives in Rome with Paul (Acts 28:16), where in all probability the apostle writes his "prison epistles" (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon) and identifies certain ones who are with him. Excluding those named in Acts (i.e. Timothy, Tychicus, Aristarchus, Mark), the remaining candidates are Luke, Jesus-Justus, Epaphroditus, Onesimus, Epaphras, and Demas. Some of these are further eliminated. Epaphroditus was a messenger of the Philippi church (Philippians 2:25), but the "we" sections in Acts begin before the Christian community in Philippi was started. Demas is disqualified because of his lack of commitment to Paul (2 Timothy 4:10). Onesimus and Jesus-Justus were Jews (Colossians 4:7-14). Epaphras, a fellow prisoner with Paul (Philemon 23), was from Colosse (Colossians 4:12) and therefore probably converted sometime after the "we" sections of Acts begin. This leaves only Luke, who is named in the prison epistles but not in Acts, and combined with the unanimous testimony of the early church, Luke the physician is therefore the most obvious candidate for the authorship of Luke-Acts.
W. K. Hobart, in his book The Medical Language of St. Luke (1882), argues that the Lukan writings are heavily saturated with medical terminology and thus indicative of having been composed by a doctor. However, H. J. Cadbury has shown that a number of these terms were fairly common in antiquity and not necessarily limited to medical writings (The Book of Acts in History ), although Luke-Acts is still consistent with what a physician may have drafted. In fact, as Alfred Plummer observes: "there still remains a considerable number of words, the occurrence or frequency of which in S. Luke’s writings may very possibly be due to the fact of his being a physician. The argument is a cumulative one. Any two or three instances of coincidence with medical writers may be explained as mere coincidences: but the large number of coincidences renders this explanation unsatisfactory for all of them . . ." (The Gospel According to S. Luke lxiv; cf. lxiii-lxv). Furthermore, Loveday Alexander maintains that the preface of the Third Gospel fits into the mould of "the scientific tradition," involving works on subjects like mathematics, engineering, and medicine ("Luke’s Preface," NovT 28 : 48-74). The influence of this type of literature on someone educated as a medical doctor would be expected.
The authorship of Luke is attested very early. The Muratorian Canon (ca. 170) names Luke as the author, demonstrating that the identification was well established at this time. Other early testimonies include Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 115-202), the Anti-Marcionite Prologue (ca. 160-180), and Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 263-339). The Bodmer Papyrus XIV (ca. 200) uses the title, "According to Luke." As a matter of fact, there is no manuscript evidence for the baseless assumption that the Third Gospel ever circulated without Luke’s name.
The attribution of Lukan authorship, while not unanimously accepted among modern scholars, seems less contested than that of the other Gospels. Nevertheless, a number of critics, for whatever reason, are hesitant to give credit to the historical Luke and prefer instead to speak of the "unknown author" or the "traditional author" or to generically refer to him as "Luke" merely as a matter of convenience. But when the conventional authorship of a biblical document is challenged as an attempt to undermine its credibility, one must wonder what underlying agenda drives the critic to dismiss such weighty evidence. Surely it is reasonable to ask why secular documents are not treated with such cynical scrutiny (see also Authorship of NT Gospels).
--Kevin L. Moore
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