Who Is Saint Luke?

Detail from a fresco of St. Luke, Vincenzo Foppa,
1510s, Sam Maurizio al Monstero Maggiore, Milan, Italy.

Saint Luke was born a Greek and a Gentile in Antioch, Syria. He was a physician and he may also have been a slave. It was not uncommon in his time for slaves to be educated in medicine so their family would have a resident physician.

Luke became a close companion of Paul of Tarsus, joining him on his missionary journeys. It is likely that Luke provided medical assistance to Paul when he had been beaten, stoned or nearly drowned while evangelising to the Western Roman Empire.

Luke is the only Gentile to have written books in the Bible. He is the writer of the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

In his gospel, Luke emphasises Christ's compassion for sinners and for those who suffer. The gospel focuses on the poor and oppressed, encouraging tenderness and compassion for the less fortunate. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man who ignored him is recorded in Luke's gospel along with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Unlike the Jewish writings, women have an important place in Luke's gospel. Luke writes about the women who accompanied Jesus, such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and Martha and Mary and "many other women who used their own resources to help Jesus and his disciples" (8:1).

Luke also writes about the birth of Christ from Mary's point of view.

It is only in the gospel of Luke, that the story of Mary's Annunciation, her visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat, the Presentation and Jesus' remaining in Jerusalem are told. In Luke's gospel we learn the words spoken by the angel to Mary at the Annunciation - "Hail Mary, full of grace" and Elizabeth's words to Mary - "Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus."

Luke's Christian ministry can be followed in the book of Acts. Up until the sixteenth chapter the story of Acts is written in third person. The voice of the narrator then changes to first person and scholars believe this is at the time Luke joined Paul at Troas in the year 51. The book of Acts reverts to third person and scholars believe that this reflects a period when Luke was not present during the events that are recorded.

It is unclear if Luke preached in Greece or in Gaul and there is also uncertainty surrounding his death. It is believed that Luke lived a long life and died c. 74 in Greece. Though some historians claim that St. Luke was martyred after the death of Saint Paul. Others believe he lived a long life, dying at the age of 84 after settling in Greece to write his gospel.

He was the first Christian physician and is venerated by the Catholic Church as the patron saint of physicians and surgeons. Saint Luke is also considered the patron saint of painters because, according to tradition, he had painted images of Mary and of Jesus.