“What do we know of Luke’s qualifications to write the book of Acts?” Ensign, Sept. 1975, 37–38
Robert T. Stout, Colorado Springs/Pueblo area director of Seminaries and Institutes
“It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee …
“That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” (Luke 1:3–4.)
The first of two very long letters written from Luke to Theophilus began with the above quote. These two letters today are called “The Gospel According to Saint Luke” and “The Acts of the Apostles.” These two books comprise 49, 628 (27.3 percent) of the 181,253 words of the New Testament.
Who was Luke, that he should be called to write so much of the life of Jesus and of the acts of the apostles? What do we know of the man whom Paul called “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14) in his letter to the saints at Colossae?
Though Luke tells us nothing of himself in his letters, still his writings reveal much about his values, priorities, personal testimony, and his tender charity toward mankind. Any sincere student of the scriptures must be moved by the humane selectivity of Luke’s characterizations, descriptions, and phrasing.
Luke was thought to have been born in Antioch of Syria, the “City of Greek Kings.” With its 200,000 people it was one of the greatest cities of the Roman Empire and more than 33 times its present size. During Luke’s lifetime, Jews in Antioch had the same status and privileges as Greeks. It was here that the first gentile branch of the church in that dispensation was formed; here, disciples were first called Christians. (See Acts 11:20–21, 26.)
It appears that Paul started three missions from Antioch. Perhaps it was in his home city that Luke became involved with Paul, the “apostle of the Gentiles.” (Rom. 11:13.) Or, Luke may have become acquainted with Paul at Troas.
Luke did not identify which areas or to what extent he traveled with Paul on his missions. The fact that he first recorded many of the highlights of Paul’s life and travels in the third person (“he” and “they”) and then abruptly changes to the first person plural (“we” and “us”) indicates that they served together from Troas to Philippi, and perhaps also in Achaia and Alexandria. (See Acts 16:10–17; Acts 20:5 through Acts 21:18; Acts 27:1 through Acts 28:16.) Later they traveled together to Miletus, Tyre, Caesarea, and Jerusalem.
After Paul’s arrest, Luke joined him in Caesarea, where Paul boldly declared his testimony before Festus and King Agrippa. When Paul went to Rome, Luke went with him.
Certainly this close association with Paul would have qualified Luke to write the book of Acts. Another important qualification was his matchless access to key facts about the life of Jesus Christ. Over 100 quotations or facts from 32 events of major consequence in the life of the Savior are recorded only in Luke. Similarly, most of the events and testimonies in Acts are uniquely recorded by Luke. He alone recorded 18 of the descriptive titles for Jesus; there are 258 such titles or characterizations of Jesus in the entire Bible.
Luke sought out the “eyewitnesses” to the Lord’s life and ministry, even those “which from the beginning were eyewitnesses.” (See Luke 1:2.) Some scholars think that, during the years Paul was in prison in Caesarea, Luke contacted persons who remembered the event of Christ’s life. Perhaps Luke contacted the eyewitnesses earlier than this. Certainly, his narrative contains details dealing with “the beginning” (annunciation to Elisabeth and Mary, the birth and blessing, etc.) that suggest he did seek to obtain all that was known from as many witnesses as possible.
We cannot know from his record how much of Luke’s testimony is from eyewitness experience, how much is from others that were called to testify, and how much is the result of teachings of the Holy Spirit. But we do know that, as far as it has been translated correctly, it is the word of God. (See A of F 1:8.)
Some scholars have speculated that Luke may have become a member of the Twelve, but we have no evidence to support the idea. Perhaps he was the equivalent of an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve or a Seventy. It is believed that he died as a martyr about A.D. 75 in Bithynia. Yet nothing more than an educated guess is known of his birthplace or the time of his birth or death. No record can be found of his conversion and early church life. Still, Luke’s contribution to the kingdom, both during his day and ours, is significant. We may not know the man, but we have evidence of his works, and they are far-reaching.