Q: #576. Was Luke a Gentile, or a Jew?
A: Historically, the view that Luke was a Gentile has been the prevalent one. However, I had never given much thought to the other view, primarily given by Jewish apologists, that Luke was likely Jewish. This subject recently came up in a Bible study I teach, so I decided to study each view more extensively.
In examining the evidence for each view, I have not changed my mind about Luke likely being a Gentile. The evidence for this historical view is simply stronger, more prevalent, and less easily explained away than the evidence that he was Jewish. Let’s look at the evidence for both views:
For the view that Luke was Gentile, the strongest, and most used evidence is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians where he makes a distinction between “my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision” (Col 4:11), and “Luke” in (Col 4:14). This seems to indicate that Luke was “not” of the “circumcision.”
In addition, quite a bit of evidence points to Luke being “Greek” (“Gentile”).
(#1.) The name “Luke” is from the Greek “Loukas” (meaning “of light”).
***Note: Some Jewish apologists will say Saul / Paul, and Simon / Peter had both Greek and Hebrew names, so Luke could have too. However, this is simply an argument from silence, as there is “no” evidence that Luke ever used a Hebrew name too.
(#2.) He was writing his Gospel, and Acts for a man named “Theophilus,” who was likely a Roman official. (Luke addressed Theophilus as “most excellent” [“kratistos“], a Roman title of respect, used only 3 other times in Acts, and all for Roman governors: Acts 23:26, 24:3, 26:25.)
(#3.) While I am not an expert on hand-writing style, many who are say that Luke wrote with a Greek style (similar to other Greek writers of the day), and had a strong command of the Greek language (unlikely for most Jews).
(#4.) Nearly all scholars on both sides of this issue agree that Luke was writing to a Greek (“Gentile”) audience, and not a Jewish one (a Gentile writing to Gentiles). Evidence for this is found throughout Luke’s books. For example, in the “Book of Luke,” he did such things as:
(A): Place a strong emphasis on women (16 mentioned), which a Jewish writer would not do. (***Note: More than half of these women are not mentioned in the other Gospels.)
(B): Explain the location of Jewish cities (Lk 1:26)(Lk 2:4)(Lk 4:31)(Lk 8:26)(Lk 23:51)(Lk 24:13), which a Jew would not need to be told, and explain the meaning of Jewish customs i.e. (Lk 22:1)(Lk 23:54), which a Jew would already know.
(C): (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “… quote(d) the OT more sparingly than Matthew, and when citing OT passages, he nearly always employed the LXX, a Greek translation of Hebrew scriptures.”
(D): Use very little Old Testament prophecy (compared to the other Gospels), because it would not mean much to the Gentiles.
(E): In his genealogy found in Luke Chapter 3, Luke traces the lineage of Jesus back to Adam, the father of all mankind (Gentiles and Jews), as opposed to Matthew, who in Matthew Chapter 1 traces the lineage of Jesus back to Abraham, the father of the Jews.
(#5.): Luke places a “strong” emphasis on the Gentiles, and their salvation, which is not found nearly as much in the other Gospels.
(A): (Lk 2:30-32) “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, (31) Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; (32) A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”
(B): (Lk 3:6) “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Taken from Isa 40:5)
***Note: It is interesting to note that (Mt 3:3) quotes from (Isa 40:4), and (Mk 1:2-3) quotes from (Isa 40:3-4)(as Lk 3:4-5 does), but both Matthew and Mark leave out (Isa 40:5), which is only quoted in (Lk 3:6), speaking of salvation for the Gentiles.)
(C): (Lk 4:25-27) “But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; (26) But unto none of them was Elias (Elijah) sent, save unto Sarepta (Zarephath), a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. (27) And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus (Elisha) the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.” (Both the “widow of Zarephath,” and Naaman were Gentiles.)
(D): (Lk 7:2-10) Jesus healed the servant of the Roman centurion, and said of him, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”
(E): (Lk 8:26-39) Jesus cast a demon out of the Gentile man in Gadarenes. Afterwards, Jesus sent him into the city to proclaim the good news of what He had done to everyone.
(F): (Lk 14:15-24) In the “Parable of the Great Supper,” Jesus points to salvation for the Gentiles (verse 23).
(G): (Lk 23:1-25) Pilate, a Gentile, believed in the innocence of Jesus more than the Jewish mob. (Although he was too weak to stand his ground.)
***Note: Interesting! Notice that in Luke, Luke shows Pilate the “Gentile” declaring the innocence of Jesus 3 times (Lk 23:4,14,22), while in Matthew (Mt 27:23-24), and Mark (Mk 15:14), Pilate is shown declaring the innocence of Jesus only once.
(H): (Lk 23:47) “Now when the centurion (a Gentile) saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this (Jesus) was a righteous man.”
(I): (Lk 24:46-47) “And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: (47) And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (also see: Acts 1:8)
***Note: A, B, C, and F are exclusive to the Book of Luke in the Gospels.
Now, let’s look at the evidence for Luke being a “Jew.” As I read through different articles defending this view, I found that most generally centered on 4 points. To me, each of these points are pretty easily refuted using the Word of God. Let’s look at these 4 points.
(#1.) In (Rom 3:1-2), Paul says (summarizing) that the “oracles of God were committed to the circumcision.” In other words, this is interpreted as “God has commissioned Scripture to be written by the Jews,” therefore, if Luke was “Gentile,” he could not have written Luke or Acts.
[My reply] Paul is referring here to the Old Testament, which was indeed all written by the Jews. However, he could not be referring to the New Testament, as it did not yet even exist. In addition, the book of Romans is filled with verses where Paul emphasizes that Jews and Gentiles are now “equal” in God’s eyes i.e. (Rom 10:12)(Rom 3:22,29)(Rom 1:16). Saying that God would not give revelation to a Gentile to write a book (books) of the Bible (New Testament) would mean that God “favored” the Jew over the Gentile, and He would be going against His very Word.
(#2.) In the beginning of Luke, Luke gives us a number of intimate details about Mary (the mother of Jesus) that he likely would not have known unless he had a close, personal relationship with her. It seems unlikely that Mary, being a devout Jew, would have a close personal relationship with, or share intimate details of her life, with a Gentile. A Gentile would be considered “unclean” by a devout Jew.
[My reply] It is important to understand that Luke wrote his Gospel somewhere around 60 – 62 A.D. This was “long” after the events of Acts 10 (app. 37 – 40 A.D.), in which Jesus (Mary’s Son) declared to Peter that all Gentiles (beginning with Cornelius) were “clean,” and now a part of the New Covenant. It was also after the events of Acts 15, and the Jerusalem Council (app. 48 – 50 A.D.), which focused on this as well.
Approximately twenty years after this event, where Jesus had declared the Gentiles “clean,” and a part of the New Covenant, Mary “certainly” knew this. It seems unimaginable to me to believe that Mary would blatantly refuse to accept the words of God (her Son), and still keep her distance from “unclean” Gentiles, refusing to accept their equality with her as a Jew.
***Note: Jesus was born around 5 – 6 B.C., and Mary probably gave birth to Jesus while in her teens (meaning she would have been born around 22 B.C.). Putting these together, when Luke wrote his Gospel (60 – 62 A.D.), Mary likely would have been in her 80’s. Given that most people in NT times didn’t live beyond 50 – 60 years, it is very unlikely that Mary was alive at the time Luke wrote his Gospel. In fact, she probably died “well” before he wrote it (guesses are she died between 41 – 48 A.D.). Therefore, Luke almost certainly did not get his information about Mary directly from her, but rather from others who had spoken to her.
(#3.) In Acts Chapter 21 (Acts 21:26-20), why would “the Jews (that) stirred up the crowd” not accuse Paul of taking Luke into the Temple, rather than Trophimus (since Luke was the better known of the two) if Luke was a Gentile? Putting this another way, since the Jews accused Paul of taking Trophimus into the Temple, rather than Luke (who was better known), this points to Luke being a Jew.
[My Reply] Notice where the Jews that “stirred up the whole crowd” are from in these verses: “Asia” (Acts 21:27). The chief city of “Asia” was Ephesus (Acts 20:16-18), and it was the place that Paul had recently left after being persecuted by the Jews of that city (probably the same Jews here) (see: Acts Ch. 19). And, notice where “Trophimus” was from: “Ephesus” (Acts 21:29)(“Asia” – Acts 20:4). How did the Jews from Ephesus (“Asia”) know Trophimus was a Gentile? He was their fellow countryman, and they knew him! This was why they chose Trophimus to be the “Gentile” that Paul took into the Temple (rather than Luke).
***Note: The “Jews from Asia” (Ephesus) would have been in Jerusalem at this time for the same reason as Paul: to celebrate Pentecost.
(#4.) Luke displays intimate knowledge of the Temple (i.e. Lk 1:8-23), which a Gentile would not have.
[My reply] In (Lk 1:3)(NASB), Luke says that he “investigated everything carefully from the beginning,” and “wrote it out in an orderly sequence.” In other words, before writing his Gospel, and Acts, Luke thoroughly gathered numerous material from both verbal and written sources before writing his books. Undoubtedly, this would include detailed information about the Temple. Because he was writing to a Gentile audience (and Theophilus), Luke used this detailed information to explain Jewish things to them (like the Temple) because they had no knowledge or understanding of them.
And again, as we mentioned above, why would Luke need to go into such detail about Jewish things like the Temple, the location of Jewish cities, or the explanation of Jewish customs if his audience was Jewish? Jews already knew everything about these things.
In closing, I should point out that while I see the evidence for Luke being a Gentile to be significantly stronger that the evidence that he was a Jew, we cannot know with “certainty” whether he was a Gentile or Jew. Honestly, most Christians probably don’t care one way or the other. However, for those that do (and I spent WAY more time on this than I should have), this is not an issue to divide over.