the Fourth Week of Lent
Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments Benson's Commentary
by Joseph Benson
GOSPEL OF SAINT LUKE.
According to Eusebius and Jerome, this evangelist was a native of Antioch, in Syria; but of this there appears to be no certainty, nor whether he was by birth a Gentile or a Jew. From the circumstance, however, of his being Paul’s fellow-labourer in Judea, we may infer, that if he was originally a Gentile, he embraced the Jewish religion early in life; for, considering that apostle’s prudence, we may be sure he would have allowed no person to assist him in preaching the gospel in Judea who was not circumcised, (see Acts 16:3,) a ceremony which he forbade to the Gentile converts. It is true, in his epistle to the Colossians, (Colossians 4:10-14,) he appears to distinguish Luke from his fellow-labourers of the circumcision; but from this we can only infer, that Luke was not a Jew by birth; or rather, as Dr. Campbell observes, “He might have added the clause, who are of the circumcision, not to distinguish these persons from those after mentioned as not of the circumcision, but to give the Colossians particular information concerning those with whom, perhaps, they had not previously been acquainted. If they knew what Luke, Epaphras, and Demas, whether Jews or Gentiles, originally were, the information was quite unnecessary with regard to them.” That our evangelist was, with all the other writers of the New Testament, a convert to Christianity from Judaism, not from Gentilism, is, upon the whole, sufficiently evident from his style; in which, notwithstanding its greater copiousness and variety, there are as many Hebraisms as are found in the other evangelists, and such as could not be exemplified in any writer originally Gentile, unless his conversion to Judaism had taken place when he was young. Dr. Lardner thinks it also likely, that he is the Lucius mentioned Romans 16:21; and, if so, related to the Apostle Paul, and Lucius of Cyrene, mentioned Acts 13:1.
Cave and Mill, with others, think it probable that Luke was converted to Christianity by Paul. But there are no hints of this either in the Acts or Epistles; neither are there any expressions used by Paul in speaking of him or to him, which denote peculiar affection, nor any particular demonstrations of gratitude from Luke toward Paul as a spiritual father; circumstances which render it highly probable that Luke was a Christian long before his acquaintance with Paul. Indeed Epiphanius, and after him many of the ancients, have supposed that both Mark and Luke were of the number of the seventy disciples; and many moderns have gone into the same opinion, particularly Whitby and Heuman: but others think that the preface to Luke’s gospel is inconsistent with this supposition. For he speaks of himself as writing according to the information of the eye- witnesses, which it is thought implies, that he was not one of the number himself. But, to remove this objection, Heuman observes, that Luke’s words imply no more than he was not one of the eye-witnesses “from the beginning;” that he may have been, nevertheless, a follower of Christ in the latter part of his ministry; and that, though he was an eye-witness of many things which he relates, he very properly places the authority of his history on the testimony of the apostles. It must be acknowledged, however, that the most ancient authors do not mention him as being of the seventy; nor is it likely that he should be of the number, unless he was both a Jew by birth, and had his residence in Galilee, from which country our Lord appears to have chosen not only his apostles, but the seventy also. It is remarkable, that he is the only evangelist who mentions the commission given by Christ to the seventy, Luke 10:1-20. It has been generally supposed, that this evangelist was a physician, and is the person intended Colossians 4:14, where the apostle says, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.” In this opinion, Eusebius, Gregory Nyssen, Jerome, Paulinus, Euthalius, Euthymius, and others, agree; and it is certainly strengthened by his being joined with Demas, because, in the other passages, where, according to the opinion of all, he is spoken of, he is mentioned in conjunction with the same Demas; and both are called Paul’s fellow- labourers, Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:10-11. This argument is the more to be regarded, in that the epistle to the Colossians, in which Luke is styled the physician, was sent at the same time with that to Philemon, who was an inhabitant of Colosse.
What is certain concerning this evangelist, from his own history of the Acts, is, that he often attended Paul in his travels, and was his fellow- labourer in the gospel. The first time he speaks of himself as Paul’s companion, is Acts 16:10; where, using in his narration the first person plural, he intimates he was one of Paul’s company at Troas, before he took ship to go into Macedonia. He went with him, therefore, from Troas to Samothrace, then to Neapolis, and after that to Philippi. But it is observable, that, having finished his account of the transactions at Philippi, he changes his style from the first to the third person plural, Luke 17:1; nor does he any more speak of himself till Paul was departing from Greece with the collection for the saints in Judea, Acts 20:6. Here, therefore, he joined him again, accompanying him from Macedonia to Troas, and from thence to Jerusalem, where he abode with him. After this, Paul being sent prisoner from Cesarea to Rome, Luke was in the ship with him during the whole of the voyage, came with him to Rome, and there abode, ministering to him, as is plain from the salutations in the epistles which Paul wrote from that city. In all probability, therefore, Luke attended the apostle during the whole of his imprisonment; and as he published his history of the Acts before Paul’s release, it can hardly be doubted that he composed it in Rome under the apostle’s eye, while he waited on him. It is not certain, indeed, where he penned his gospel. Cave supposes he did it at Rome likewise. But Jerome seems to contradict this; for he tells us, that Luke, the third evangelist, published his gospel in the countries of Achaia and Bœotia. Grotius imagines, that when Paul was released, Luke went into Greece, and there wrote his gospel. Nevertheless, as this work came abroad before the Acts, it is more natural to suppose that Luke employed himself in collecting and digesting the materials of his gospel while he travelled with Paul in Greece and Judea, before the latter was seized upon by the Jews in the temple; that he finished it while Paul was imprisoned in Cæsarea, and then undertook his history of the Acts of the Apostles. Both these treatises Luke inscribed to one Theophilus, an intimate friend of his own, who from his name is supposed to have been a Greek. The epithet ( κρατιστε ) most excellent, wherewith he addressed him, shows him to be a person of distinction; for it was usually given to men in the highest stations, such as prefects and governors of provinces. Accordingly we find it thus.applied by Lysias in his letter to Felix, by Tertullus in his speech to Felix, and by Paul in his speech to Festus.
But though no certainty can be had about the precise time and place of the publication of this gospel, we have, in regard to the author, the same plea of the uniform testimony of Christian antiquity, which was pleaded in favour of the preceding evangelists, Matthew and Mark. Some indeed have thought that, as an evangelist, Luke has the testimony of Paul himself, being, as they supposed, “the brother whose praise is in the gospel,” mentioned in one of his epistles, 2 Corinthians 8:18. But admitting that Luke is the person there intended, another meaning may with greater plausibility be put on the expression, “in the gospel;” which rather denotes, in preaching the gospel, than in writing the history of its author. Lardner has taken notice of allusions to some passages in this gospel to be found in some of the apostolic fathers; and there are evident quotations from it, though without naming the author, in Justin Martyr, and the epistle of the churches of Vienne and Lyons. Of Tatian’s Harmony of the Gospels, composed a little after the middle of the second century, see the introduction to the gospels, p. 3. Irenæus, not long after, mentions all the evangelists by name, arranging them according to the order wherein they wrote, which is the same with that universally given them throughout the Christian world to this day; and, when speaking of Luke, he recites many particulars which are peculiar to that gospel. From that time downward the four evangelists are often mentioned; and whatever spurious narratives have from time to time appeared, they have not been able to bear a comparison with those, in respect either of antiquity, or of intrinsic excellence. Early in the third century, Ammonius also wrote a Harmony of the four Gospels. As these were at that time, and had been from their first publication, so they continue to this day, to be regarded as the great foundations of the Christian faith.
The gospel by Luke has supplied us with many interesting particulars, which had been omitted by both his predecessors, Matthew and Mark. From him we learn whatever relates to the birth of John the Baptist; the annunciation; and other important circumstances concerning the nativity, of the Messiah; the occasion of Joseph’s being then in Bethlehem; the vision granted to the shepherds; the early testimony of Simeon and Anna; the wonderful manifestation of our Lord’s proficiency in knowledge when only twelve years old; his age at the commencement of his ministry, connected with the year of the reigning emperor. He has given us, also, an account of several memorable incidents and cures which had been overlooked by the rest; the conversion of Zaccheus the publican; the cure of the woman who had been bowed down for eighteen years, and of the dropsical man; the cleansing of the ten lepers; the repulse he met with when about to enter a Samaritan city; and the instructive rebuke he gave on that occasion to two of his disciples, for their intemperate zeal; also, the affecting interview he had, after his resurrection, with two of his disciples, in the way to Emmaus, and at that village. Luke has likewise added many edifying parables to those which had been recorded by the other evangelists. Of this number are the parable of the creditor who had two debtors; of the rich fool who hoarded up his increase, and, when he had not one day to live, vainly exulted in the prospect of many happy years; of the rich man and Lazarus; of the reclaimed profligate; of the Pharisee and the publican praying in the temple; of the judge who was prevailed on by a widow’s importunity, though he feared not God, nor regarded man; of the barren fig-tree; of the compassionate Samaritan; and several others; most of which so early a writer as Irenæus has specified as peculiarly belonging to this gospel; and has thereby shown to all ages, without intending it, that it is, in every thing material, the same book which had ever been distinguished by the name of the evangelist till his day, and remains so distinguished to ours.
In regard to Luke’s character as a writer it is evident, that, though the same general quality of style, an unaffected simplicity, predominates in all the evangelists, they are nevertheless distinguished from one another. Luke abounds in Hebraisms as much as any of them; yet it must be acknowledged, that there are also more Grecisms in his language than in that of any of the rest. The truth is, there is greater variety in his style, which is probably to be ascribed to this circumstance, his having been more, and for a longer time, conversant among the Gentiles than any other evangelist. His ordinary place of abode, if not the place of his birth, appears to have been Antioch, the capital of Syria, the seat of government, where people of the first distinction of the province had their residence, and to which there was a great resort of strangers. Here the Greek language had long prevailed. Besides, Luke’s occupation, as a physician, may very probably have occasioned his greater intercourse with those of higher rank. Not that the profession itself was then in great esteem in that country; for it has been justly observed, that in Rome, as well as in Syria, slaves who gave early signs of quickness of parts and manual dexterity, were often instructed in physic, who, if they proved successful, were commonly rewarded with their freedom. That Luke himself, whatever may have been his early condition in life, was, when a Christian minister, a freeman and master of his time, is evident from his attendance on the Apostle Paul, in his peregrinations for the advancement of the gospel. But the profession of medicine and surgery (for these two were then commonly united) not only proved the occasion of a more general intercourse with society, but served as a strong inducement to employ some time in reading. This may sufficiently account for any superiority this evangelist may be thought to possess above the rest in point of language. To conclude: though we have no reason to consider Luke as, upon the whole, more observant of the order of time than the other evangelists, he has been at more pains than any of them to ascertain the dates of some of the most memorable events, on which, in a great measure, depend the dates of all the rest. In some places, however, without regard to order, he gives a number of detached precepts and instructive lessons, one after another, which probably have not been spoken on the same occasion, but are introduced as they occurred to the writer’s memory, that nothing of moment might be forgotten. In regard to the latter part of the life, and to the death of this evangelist, antiquity has not furnished us with any accounts which can be relied on. See Macknight and Campbell.