Was Luke A Greek Jew, Or Is It Even Important If He Was a Jew Or Not?
The issue of keeping the ceremonial law of the Torah, or parts of it, which divided the Pharisees, called the Judaizers, against Paul and his group, in Acts, is important for the present day resurgence of the leaven of the Pharisees. The leaven of the Pharisees within Christianity is the belief that one must keep the law of Moses, as interpreted by the Pharisees and Talmudic Judaism, in order to be saved and to be righteous. Or, the present day Judiazers are not that explicit, and only imply that a Christian should observe some or all of the ceremonial law to be saved, or that is is very important to do so.
Acts 15, written by Luke, describes the first summit meeting between Paul and his people and the leaders of the Jerusalem Christian community, the issue between them being the need for Gentile Christians to observe the ceremonial law of the Torah (in the five books of Moses), and the compromise decided by James.
Luke is brief in writing about this meeting, and we can fail to grasp what he says if we do not study his words carefully. While circumcision was an issue that divided the two factions, Paul and Barnabus, against the Pharisees who had joined the Christian community in Jerusalem, the larger issue was Gentile Christian observance of the ceremonial law. Acts 15: 5 says "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."
Then, James quotes Amos 9: 11-12 and says in verses 14-15 "Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,"
Note that James says the prophets agree with what Peter has said, not just Amos. So, the prophecies, for example, of Micah 5:2, Hosea 5: 3, Isaiah 54: 1-3, and other Old Testament prophecies on a restoration of Israel, point to that restoration or transformation in Christ that the Jerusalem leaders had witnessed themselves, and not to some end time return to the Old Covenant.
The significance of the compromise decision of James can be missed. In Acts 15: 19-21 James says "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day." Acts 15: 29 elaborates on the compromise of James in saying; "That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."
Abstaining from fornication is part of the moral law, but abstaining from eating meats offered to idols, and from eating blood or things strangled is part of the ceremonial law.
Note that in verse 21 James adds "For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day."
The leaders, or elders, of the Jerusalem Christian group did not clearly oppose the teachings of the Pharisees who had joined them, that Gentile Christians must keep the ceremonial law of Moses to be saved, and to be righteous. The Jerusalem Christians, with James as their leader and spokesman, did not thoroughly purge out the leaven of the Pharisees which is what the issue in Acts 15 is all about. For Paul says in I Corinthians 5: 6-7 "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
7. Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:"
The Jerusalem Christians did not clearly oppose the leaven of the Pharisees and purge it out of their midst. Paul, writing by inspiration of the Spirit, says to purge out any leaven. The leaven the pharisees introduced as described by Luke in Acts 15 grew until at the time that Paul and company returned to Jerusalem in Acts 21 to meet James and the elders, we have this statement by James to Paul: "Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
21. And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come." Acts 21: 20-22
Thousands of Jews who were zealous of the law, which includes the ceremonial law of the Old Covenant, believed, says James to Paul. James sent Paul to the temple (Acts 21: 23-24) to take part in a Jewish purification ceremony, where the Jews tried to kill Paul (Acts 21: 31).
Luke does not write about himself, but about Paul's taking of the Gospel to the Gentiles, in Galicia, and then into Greece and finally into Rome, challenging the Roman Empire itself, something which interested Luke very much.
Paul does not tell us in explicit terms in his letters whether his close friend Luke was a Greek Jew or not. We know he was a Greek.
On http://www.victorshepherd.on.ca/Sermons/Luke.htm there is support for the idea that Luke was not a Jew. This site says "We shouldn't think that this is all there is to Dr. Luke. There's a great deal more to him. There are three emphases in Luke's mind and heart that receive more attention than anywhere else in the NT. The three emphases are joy, the Holy Spirit, and prayer. All three are related; all three flow into and out of each other. In Luke's writings Jesus prays more, and Christians pray more, than in any other NT writings. Luke also says more about the Spirit, God's intimate, effectual work in and among Christian people. And Luke's writings throb with joy.........In telling the Christian story as he has, and specifically in speaking of Jesus as he has, Luke has told us much about himself. Plainly Luke has enormous confidence in the Spirit or effectiveness of God; plainly Luke's own heart pulsates; plainly all of this is nourished by the time Luke himself spends on his knees -- as was the case with his Lord before him. As for Luke's attention to children, women, the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, the disadvantaged, the suffering -- Luke's attention here reflects the sensitive observation of the physician who sees the wounded of the world every day. And as for Luke's provision of a written gospel that is Gentile-friendly, we can only thank God for this one Gentile who knew that the Jew from Nazareth had other sheep of another fold, and knew that you and I, Gentiles that we are, are just these sheep."
Those who believe in the primacy or supremacy of All Physical Israel, from Christian Zionism, or dispensationalism, might tend to believe that Luke was a Jewish Greek. One site supporting the idea that Luke was a Jew is http://kjvbiblebelievers.com/lukenotajew.php
The site says "Romans 3:1-2 says:
"What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
"Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God."
God said that He did not give His oracles to Gentiles. We receive them FROM the Jews for our benefit unto eternal salvation, but they were originally given to JEWS. In John 4:22, we are told that Jesus said:
"Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews."
" Therefore, Luke's writings as Scripture are clearly included in any reference to "the oracles of God", thus making it clear that he was a Jew.
On the other hand, if Luke was a Gentile then that would put Jesus in a bad light. He would be a liar at worst and mistaken at best. Either way, He certainly would not be fit to save others if He were Himself a sinner. And Paul's claim would be fallible at best and would put his writings in question.
But the truth is clear. God gave His words to us through Jews and salvation comes from His words, or "oracles" as Romans 3 puts it.
"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)"
Paul did write in Romans 3:1-2 "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
"Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God."
But Paul also writes in Galatians 3: 27-29 that "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Abraham's spiritual seed are the seed of God.
After the transformation of physical Israel to that spiritual house (I Peter 2: 5-9) born again in Jesus Christ (John 3: 1-6), would only Jews receive revelation - by inspiration of the Holy Spirit - from God?
Remember that Luke was a follower of Paul and was not a part of the Jerusalem Christian community. Whether Luke had been a Jewish Greek or a Gentile Greek he would have known and fully believed the revelation that the Lord gave to Paul. Luke would have had a zeal for Paul's Gospel. So, to Paul it may not have been important whether Luke was a Jew or not. He was a Christian follower of Paul. The revelation given to Paul was that salvation was by faith in Christ, by having a zeal and love for the truth, by having something of the mind of Christ in one and that the hope of glory is Christ in us, and by having one's mind renewed and becoming a new creature. In that revelation from the Lord to Paul, observing the ceremonial law, which was the shadow of the substance to come, that is, Christ, was replaced by being born again in Him.
There are indications in the New Testament writings of Peter and John that at some point in time both accepted Paul's teachings. In II Peter 3: 15-16 Peter speaks of the writings of "our beloved brother Paul" and says some of his writings are hard to understand. In Revelation 2:9 and 3: 9 the Holy Spirit inspires John to write about those who claim to be Jews but are not and are of the synagogue of Satan. Revelation 2: 9 adds that they blaspheme in doing so. This is in agreement with Paul in Romans 2: 28-29 "
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
29. But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."
Paul in Colossians 4: 10-14 writes "Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him
11. And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.
12. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
13. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.
14. Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you."
Some of Paul's fellow workers and companions on his wanderings were Jews and some were Gentiles.
In Colossians 4 he mentions that some of them were of the circumcision. But he does not include Luke in the group who are Jews, that is, of the circumcision. This is not absolute proof that Luke was not a Greek Jew. It is at least a part of the evidence that Paul in his letters never says that Luke was a Jewish Greek.
"The Gospel of Luke was written for a certain prominent individual named “Theophilus” (1:3). This
reference is really a dedication to Theophilus who may have financed the publication and distribution
of the Luke’s book. The work was clearly written for the benefit of Gentiles in general and for Greeks
As a result of Paul’s travels, the good news about Jesus spread through the Greek world. Soon there
arose a need for a record of the life and teachings of Jesus that would speak to the Greek mind. The
Greek nature of the book is seen in the fact that the genealogy is traced to Adam, the father of the
human race, rather than Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation. Luke also avoids the use of
Jewish terminology like “rabbi” and instead uses “master” or “teacher.” Luke places less emphasis on
the fulfillment of prophecy and substitutes Greek names for Hebrew names (Mark 3:18/Luke 6:16, and
Luke 23:33). This evidence suggests that Luke had Greek Gentiles in mind as he wrote his gospel."