The third Gospel begins with a dedication to the “most honorable Theophilus” (Luke 1:3), the “friend of God.” “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. So it also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:1–4).
The Book of Acts, a sequel to the Gospel, begins similarly. “I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up, after he had given instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After he had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1–3).
Though Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14), he was also a historian. His Gospel and its sequel are historical documents based upon his careful research and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are deeply indebted to him for his exceptional work.
Luke is only mentioned three times in Scripture. He’s never mentioned in his own writings, but only by Paul as he lists his coworkers. Luke’s name appears at the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. “Luke, the dearly loved physician, and Demas send you greetings” (Colossians 4:14). In another of the four prison epistles, Luke’s name appears in the closing of the Epistle of Philemon. “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Philemon 23–25). He’s also named at the end of the second letter to Timothy. “Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke was a faithful friend and a significant co-worker with Paul.
Though Luke’s name is never mentioned in the Book of Acts, there are four “we” passages. Most of the book of Acts is narrated in third-person plural (“they,” “them”), but some sections unexpectedly shift to first-person plural (“we,” “us”). This indicates that the author had joined the apostle Paul for the events recorded in those passages.
Luke must have joined Paul on the second missionary journey at Troas and remained with him when they minister at Philippi (Acts 16:10-17). After Paul and Silas were miraculously released from the Philippian jail, “they came to Lydia’s house, where they saw and encouraged the brothers and sisters, and departed” (Acts 16:40). It is likely that Paul left Luke in Philippi to disciple and encourage the new believers there. Maybe he was Philippi’s first pastor.
The second and third “we” passages (Acts 20:5–15; 21:1–18) occur at the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. Luke was with Paul on his trip from Macedonia back to Jerusalem. The final “we” passage (Acts 27:1-28:16) places Luke on the ship-wreck voyage from Caesarea to Rome, where he faithful stayed with Paul during his imprisonment.
Shortly before his martyrdom, Paul wrote that “only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul had “fought the good fight, (he had) finished the race, (he had) kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7), and he didn’t do it alone. Fellow soldiers, brothers-in-arm, partners like Luke were with him to the end.