View Dr. Thomas McCall's original article "Was Luke A Gentile"

 

The racial lineage of Luke, the writer of the Gospel that bears his name and also the book of Acts, has generally been seen as Gentile because of Colossians 4:7-14, but there are some, like Thomas McCall, who teach that Luke was a Jew. [1] Was Luke a Jew? McCall bases his position on the amount of pages that Luke writes in the New Testament, which is more than any other NT writer, and asks, ‘How else could Luke have written that much if he were a Gentile?’ With a few more open ended and speculative questions like that, some arguments from silence, and an artificial interpretation of Col. 4:11, McCall concludes that,

 

“we must infer that Luke was a Jew. The idea that he was a Gentile appears to be based on nothing more than wishful thinking and tradition. The biblical evidence strongly supports the position that Luke was a Jew, and we should always believe the Scriptures over tradition, when there is a conflict between the two.” [2]

 

As strongly as I agree that we should ‘always believe the Scriptures over tradition,’ after reviewing McCall’s article it appears that he has no biblical evidence to support his position. Colossians 4:7-14 is the scriptural foundation for understanding that Luke was a Gentile, and there’s nothing in Scripture to support that Luke was a Jew.

 

As Paul ends his letter to the Colossians (58-62 AD) he specifically writes of the circumcision (the Jews), but doesn’t include Luke among them:

 

(7)“Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. (8) I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, (9) with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here.”

 

(10) Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), (11) and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the Kingdom of God who are of the circumcision—they have proved to be a comfort to me.”

 

(12) Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. (13) For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis. (14) Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.” (Colossians 4:9-14)

 

Paul speaks of Onesimus (v. 9), and Epaphras (v. 12) as one of you (meaning that they were from the region of Colosse and were known to the Colossians). In v. 10-11 Paul writes of Aristarchus, and (John) Mark (the cousin of Barnabas), [3] and a certain Jesus who was also known as Justus. Paul says in v. 11 that these three are ‘the only fellow workers for the Kingdom of God who are of the circumcision’ (i.e. Jewish). In v. 14 Paul mentions Luke, the beloved physician, as well as Demas. With Paul singling out the three Jewish men (vv. 11-12), and then speaking of a Gentile (Epaphras; v. 12-13), and then of Luke (v. 14), it seems fairly clear that Luke wasn’t a Jew, but a Gentile. This section of Scripture is why most Christian scholars rightly believe that Luke was a Gentile. McCall, though,calls this ‘slim evidence’[4] and tries to dismantle it. He states that Luke was excluded from Paul’s list of those of the circumcision because Luke wasn’t a preacher:

 

“Paul is speaking of his fellow workers in the preaching ministry. However, Luke was not ever described as being actively involved in the work of preaching, but was rather Paul’s personal physician and historian. It would not be appropriate to put Luke in the list with those who were active in the preaching ministry, regardless of background.”[5]

 

The problem with McCall’s point is that Paul didn’t say that he was speaking of only his fellow Jewish workers who were involved in a ‘preaching ministry,’ but of his fellow workers who were of the Kingdom of God. Paul states that the three men listed as fellow workers were the only men…of the circumcision (i.e. Jews) that were with him (v. 11: ‘These are my only fellow workers for the Kingdom of God who are of the circumcision’).

 

Also, there’s nothing in Scripture to support McCall’s belief that Aristaruchus, mentioned five times in the New Testament, was a preacher for the Kingdom. All that the NT says of him was that he was basically a godly traveling companion of Paul who spent time in prison with him. [6] As for John Mark, there’s nothing in Scripture that speaks of him being a preacher, either. [7]

 

McCall, though, thinking that he has cleared the way for Luke to be Jewish, presents his arguments for Luke’s Jewishness, but before going on to them, it’s interesting to note that N. T. Wright, from a different perspective on the passage, suggests that the three Jewish men that Paul speaks of may have been part of an unmentioned ‘cooperation’ that Paul had with the heretical ‘circumcision party,’ and who were now part of Paul’s entourage.[8] This way, Wright says, Luke could have been a Jew, but just not one affiliated with the ‘circumcision party.’ Wright realizes the problem of Paul associating with this ‘circumcision party,’ and doesn’t think that it’s believable:

 

“But in light of Galatians, and of 2:8-23 of our present letter, it seems difficult to take the phrase ‘those…of the circumcision’ to indicate a party within the church without at the same time expressing Paul’s disapproval of it.”[9]

 

Wright also doesn’t seem to realize that the text isn’t speaking of the three being of the ‘circumcision party,’ but being of the ‘circumcision,’ a term used by Paul, and others, to denote their being Jewish.[10] Be that as it may, Wright doesn’t endorse that Luke was a Jew, but rather, is expressing how some might think that. He says that the way that ‘most commentators’ interpret it, that Luke was a Gentile, ‘may well be right.’[11]

 

It’s also interesting to note, as Curtis Vaughan brings out, that Paul says that those three Jews ‘have proved to be a comfort’ to him (v. 11). Vaughan states that the word proved, being in the aorist tense, ‘may point to a particular crisis when they stood by Paul.’[12] He goes on to say that the word comfort, used only here in the NT…denotes relief of pain.’[13] Being ‘a comfort’ to Paul certainly can’t be construed to mean that they were all preachers.

 

Vaughan also gives an added insight of the Apostle’s use of only where Paul says, ‘These are my only fellow workers for the Kingdom of God who are of the circumcision’ (v. 11), by saying that, ‘There is a note of pathos in Paul’s remark about these three’ Jews because Paul ‘felt keenly his alienation from his countrymen.’[14] This adds another valid perspective as to why Paul spoke of those three being Jewish, and obviously, if Luke had been a Jew he would would have been included among the three.

 

A. S. Peak writes that the phrase, ‘Kingdom of God’ (v. 11) ‘is intentionally chosen,’ because these three ‘Jews were devoted to the kingdom.’[15] This, too, undermines McCall’s point that Luke was listed separately from the three Jews because he wasn’t a preacher. Peak then goes on to specifically state that Luke “was clearly not one ‘of the circumcision’ (v. 11),”[16] that is to say, Luke was a Gentile.

 

McCall’s Arguments for Luke being a Jew

The first argument for McCall’s Jewish Luke is Luke’s name, which McCall says, being a Gentile name, doesn’t mean that Luke was a Gentile. This is correct because many Jews, like Paul, had both a Jewish and a Gentile name.[17] The problem with McCall using this concept for Luke, though, and using Paul as an example, is that Paul (Saul) is presented in Scripture as having two names (one Jewish and one Gentile),[18] whereas Luke is only known by his Gentile name. This is McCall’s first point from silence, meaning that he has nothing to support his point except conjecture that Luke may have had a Jewish name.[19]

 

McCall then interprets Romans 3:1-2, which speaks of the ‘oracles of God’ (i.e. the Word of God, the Old Testament),[20] to mean that only Jews could write Scripture:

 

“What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles (words) of God.”

 

McCall then postulates that since only Jews were given the Word of God, Luke must be a Jew:

 

“This was the rule: that Jews were the vehicle for revelation. If Luke was an exception, the burden of proof is on those who would claim that he is an exception.”[21]

 

Romans 3:2, however, states that the Jews were given the ‘oracles of God.’ Paul was speaking of the past, what God had given to Israel. Yes, of course, the New Testament is also the Word of God, but with the New comes the inclusion of many Gentiles, the wall having been broken down (Eph. 2:14), and there’s nothing written by Paul, nor anyone else in the New Testament, that states that God must always use a Jew to pass His Word on. Could not God have used a Gentile to write some of His words? Of course He could have, and He did so with Luke. Romans 3:1-2 certainly doesn’t support what McCall would have us to think, that Luke had to be a Jew because he penned his Gospel and Acts.

 

McCall then goes on to present the fact that it was Trophimus the Ephesian, and not Luke, that got Paul into trouble at the Temple when some non-believing Jews from Asia thought that Paul had brought a Gentile into the Temple area that (wrongly)[22] prohibited Gentiles (Acts 21:27-29f.). McCall asks how this could be, that Luke wasn’t the one that got Paul into trouble? Of course, we don’t know where the good doctor was at the time, for Scripture is silent, but McCall uses this silence to further build his ‘Jewish Luke,’ implying that Luke, because he was Jewish, wasn’t seen as a threat to the non-believing Jews from Asia.

 

McCall then speaks of Luke’s ‘intimate knowledge of the Temple,’ basing it on the fact that, of the four Gospels, only Luke describes Gabriel coming to Zechariah, and then suggests that Luke might even have been a Levite! Aside from Luke living and traveling for about 20 years[23] with the highly Jewish educated Apostle Paul, who would have been intimately aware of the Temple and its rituals, from both his studies and having grown up in Jerusalem,[24] Paul would have also known about many things in the life of Christ and Mary because he was privy to the other Apostles in Jerusalem and many other believers like Barnabas and John Mark.

 

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, spring boarding off of Col. 4:10, 14, says that Luke’s relationship with Mark was not only literary (they both wrote Gospels), but also personal.[25] Many think that Mark wrote his Gospel by taking down the words of Peter. At the very least, Luke and Mark traveling together means that Luke had access to John Mark as yet another resource for his Gospel and Acts. Luke’s account of Zechariah doesn’t prove that Luke was a Levite or a Jew.

 

McCall concludes with ‘Luke’s intimate acquaintance’ of Mary by asking how could Luke get ‘so close to Mary’ that he could write of things that were “‘in her heart’ (Luke 2:19, 51)”? McCall goes on to say that ‘Luke might have served’ as Mary’s ‘personal physician’! With such points from silence as these McCall ends his arguments. Thus, with no Scripture, only arguments from silence, and misinterpretation of the Word of God, McCall builds his Jewish Luke, but Paul clearly reveals that Dr. Luke was a Gentile.

 

  1 See, Was Luke a Gentile? by Thomas McCall at http://www.rruf.org/LukeAGentile.html (or ask Avram for the PDF on it).

  2 Ibid.

  3 Acts 12:25; 15:37, 39; Col. 4:10.

  4 McCall, Was Luke a Gentile?

  5 Ibid.

  6 Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2; Col. 4:10; Phlm. 1:24.

  7 Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37, 39; Col. 4:10; 2nd Tim. 4:11; Phlm. 1:24; 1st Pet. 5:13.

  8 N.T. Wright, author; The Rev. Canon Leon Morris, M.Sc., M.Th., Ph.D., General editor, Tyndale New Testament

Commentaries: Colossians and Philemon (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), p. 157.

  9 Ibid.

10 Acts 10:45; 16:3; Rom. 3:1, 30; 4:9; 15:8; 1st Cor. 7:18; Gal. 2:3, 7-9, 12; 6:13; Eph. 2:11; Phil. 3:5; Col. 3:11.

11 Wright, Colossians, pp. 157-158.

12 Curtis Vaughan, Colossians (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol 11; ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), n.p. This (that they stood by Paul in a particular crises) is seen of Aristarchus in Acts 19:29; 27:2; and in Col. 4:10, where it speaks of him as being Paul’s fellow prisoner. Some take that in the figurative sense, meaning that he was a ‘prisoner of Christ,’ but most rightly conclude that he was in prison with Paul.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 A. S. Peak, M.A., author; W. Robertson Nicoll, editor, M. A., LL. D., The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. three: The Epistle to the Colossians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), p. 546.

16 Ibid.

17 “Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him” (Acts 13:9). McCall also speaks of Simon Peter having two names, but doesn’t seem to realize that neither one is a Gentile name. Simon (Shimon in Hebrew) was his Jewish name, while Messiah Yeshua gave Simon the other name (Cephas in English; Kayfa in Aramaic), which is also Semitic. Jews born outside Israel are generally given a Jewish and a Gentile name.

18 Acts 13:9. Saul: Acts 7:58; 8:1, 3; 9:1, 4, 8, 11, 17, 19, 22, 24, 26; 11:25, 30; 12:25-13:2; 13:7, 9, 21; 22:7, 13; 26:14. Paul: Acts 13:9, 13, 16, 43, 45-46, 50; 14:9, 11-12, 14, 19; 15:2, 12, 22, 25, 35-36, 38, 40; 16:3, 9, 14, 17-19, 25, 28-29, 36-37, etc.

19 Also interesting to note is that in Col. 4:11 Paul speaks of one Jesus (Yeshua; his Jewish name), who was

also known as Justus (Yustos; his Gentile name).

20 Only the letter of James (48-50 AD), and five letters of Paul had been written when Paul wrote Romans (54-57 AD). In other words, the Old Testament was Scripture when Paul wrote Romans, and most of the New Testament hadn’t been written, yet.

21 McCall, Was Luke a Gentile?

22 There is nothing in God’s Word that prohibits Gentiles from entering into the Temple compound past where the High Priest had prohibited them.

23 It seems that Luke was with Paul for about 20 years, from Acts 15 (about 48-49 AD) to Paul’s death (about 67 AD). Luke is seen as having written both his Gospel and Acts about 65-68 AD, which certainly would have given him much time to gather his information, from many sources, about Zechariah and Mary, etc., without him having to have been a Jew.

24 Acts 26:4; cf. 23:16f; 7:54f; 9:1, 26f; 15:2, 22, 25; 21:18, 26, 29; Gal. 2:9.

25 Charles F. Pfeiffer, Old Testament; Everett F. Harrison, New Testament, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977), p. 1345.

 

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