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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Malpass

Luke the Gentile?

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

I've said it before: the Bible is quite mysterious, really. Consider:

  • It took 1500 years to write.

  • Its central message is profound enough to challenge the most learned scholars, yet simple enough to share with a third-grader.

  • For most people, when they first start studying the Bible they're perplexed by all the apparent contradictions—but when they keep an open mind and dig a little deeper, the contradictions just seem to melt away!

Which brings me to today's topic: Was Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, a Gentile? (A Gentile is anybody who isn't a Jew.)

Saint Luke (Saint Luc) by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum.

Why does it matter? Well if Luke was a Gentile, he was the only non-Jew inspired by the Holy Spirit to author even a portion of Scripture. That's interesting in itself, but when combined with how much of the New Testament he was entrusted to write—more than any other author*—it certainly appears to contradict Paul's statement in Romans 3 about God choosing Jews to bring His holy words to mankind.

So why do many scholars even question Luke's Jewishness? The controversy all boils down to Colossians 4. In Colossians 4:10-11, Paul sends greetings from three men whom he describes as "the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision." ("From the circumcision" just means they are Jews.) Then a few sentences later in Colossians 4:14, Paul says "Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas." Notice Luke isn't included in Paul's list of the Jewish "fellow workers for the kingdom of God." For this one reason, many scholars conclude Luke was a Gentile.

Imaginary scoffers and haters: "That's right, Will! In one place (Romans 3) Paul says the Bible is written by Jews, but then in another place (Colossians 4) Paul admits the primary writer of the New Testament isn't even Jewish! The Bible is full of contradictions and hypocrisy! Ha, take that!"

My response: Now hold on just a minute. Please dial back all that scoffing and hating and permit me to point out something that's right there in the text of Colossians 4, but always seems to be discounted for no good reason that I can understand.

Notice in Colossians 4:10-11, Paul describes the three Jewish men as "fellow workers for the kingdom of God." What could that particular phrase mean? Does it have to mean everybody with whom Paul associated? Could it mean just people who were active in ministry in a similar way to Paul? That's possible isn't it? If true, that would mean Paul was just saying these three men were the only Jewish apostles with him.

Luke was a doctor, biographer, and historian—but not an apostle. That's why he wouldn't be included among those mentioned in Paul's list of fellow Jewish apostles. Because he wasn't an apostle. Not because he wasn't a Jew.

Hey open-minded friends, listen to that! Do you hear kind of a "squonching" sound? That's the sound of another apparent Bible contradiction melting away.

*Paul wrote more books of the Bible than anyone else, but his books are letters to various churches or individuals. Even when aggregated, they are shorter than the two narrative-style books Luke wrote.

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