Thursday, October 18, 2012

St Luke

Today is the Feast of St Luke, which is a good opportunity to consider the assumptions we bring to reading the story of Scripture.

Luke is attributed with writing the two-volume work known as the Gospel According to Luke, and The Acts of the Apostles (though, in fact, neither work mentions the name Luke, though both are introduced as letters).

Paul mentions a Luke three times in his letters, and on one of those occasions identifies him as Luke, the doctor.

On the strength of this, most commentators assume that Luke was a doctor – the Anglican prayer for the Feast of St Luke* goes to town on it – although this assumption only works if we assume that there was only one person known, to be fair well known, to Paul who was named Luke; and if we rule out the reasonable possibility that Paul identifies a Luke as Luke, the doctor, in order to distinguish him from another Luke well known to those he is writing to.

On the basis of this assumption, many commentators point out how Luke’s account of healings, as compared to the accounts of the other Gospel writers, show the particular perspective, interest and specialist knowledge of a physician. The problem with this argument is that Luke’s account of healings – and, indeed, Luke’s account of the crucifixion – show no such thing. It just isn’t there, and the commentators are simply seeing what they want to see.
On the other hand, where the Luke who is attributed with writing Luke-Acts does show particular perspective, interest and specialist knowledge is whenever he writes about sea voyages. But the view that he was more likely a seafarer is a minority one (I like minority readings, and am thankful to Elizabeth Fisher for this particular one).

Of course, at one level it does not matter who wrote Luke-Acts. Why it is worth mentioning is this: if we bring such unquestioned assumptions over something that doesn’t matter, what unquestioned assumptions prejudice our reading of those things that we have more invested in?

*Almighty God, you called Luke the physician, whose praise is in the gospel, to be an evangelist and physician of the soul: by the grace of the Spirit and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel, give your Church the same love and power to heal; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

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