Just what the doctor ordered: St. Luke the physician

St. Luke’s occupation as a physician can be seen in many places in his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles, just more evidence of the Holy Spirit using a human author’s humanity to further God’s plan.

St. Luke’s occupation as a physician can be seen in many places in his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles, just more evidence of the Holy Spirit using a human author’s humanity to further God’s plan.

All Scripture is inspired by God — meaning that the Holy Spirit is the primary author of Scripture. Inspiration, however, does not turn the human secondary authors into robots. Far from it. As the Second Vatican Council taught, the Holy Spirit “…made use of their [that is the human authors] powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, 3, 11). For this reason, each book uniquely reflects the style and experience of its author. The Gospel of Luke, for example, is a great example of how the Holy Spirit used Luke’s knowledge and personality to uniquely shape his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

You probably already know that St. Luke was a physician. St. Paul calls him “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14. One of the many fascinating things about St. Luke is how his occupation as a physician shaped and contributed to his writings.

For example, St. Luke begins his Gospel by stating his intention not to simply pass on what he had heard, but, like a good man of science, to investigate “everything accurately anew” and to “write it down in an orderly sequence” (Luke 1:3). His claim is backed up by his text, which draws upon several different sources, including details that could only have been known to eyewitness such as the events surrounding Christ’s infancy.

 

How bad is it, doc?

Luke’s sensitivities as a doctor also shows up in many subtle, and not so subtle, ways as when he recounts Christ’s healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. Mark, a non-physician, mentions the mother-in-law’s fever but does not mention how bad of a fever it was (Mark 1:30). Luke, however, tells us that the fever was severe (Luke 4:38).

A similar attention to medical detail can be seen by comparing how Mark and Luke describe the condition of a leper in Mark 1:40 and Luke 5:12. Mark simply identifies him as a leper, while Luke notes that the man was “full of leprosy.” Leprosy is a very contagious disease that can spread throughout the body. Luke takes care to note that this man’s leprosy was in a very advanced stage.

A somewhat humorous and revealing contrast can also be found in how Mark and Luke describe the medical history of the woman afflicted with hemorrhages in Mark 5:25-27 and Luke 8:34-44. Mark describes:

“There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak” (Mk 5:25-27).

Luke states the same facts of the case, albeit with a difference:

“And a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years, who (had spent her whole livelihood on doctors and) was unable to be cured by anyone, came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. Immediately her bleeding stopped” (Luke 8:43-44).

Although St. Luke admitted that she had spent her whole livelihood on doctors, he neglected to mention that she had “suffered greatly” at their hands and that her condition “was not helped, but only grew worse.” Apparently, Luke wished not to speak ill of his fellow practitioners.

Numerous other examples can be given as well, not only from Luke’s Gospel, but also from the Acts of the Apostles, to show how the Holy Spirit was able to use Luke’s training as a physician to make unique contributions to the New Testament.

The Holy Spirit worked in a special way in Luke. But the Holy Spirit also calls us to share and explain our faith. We all come from different backgrounds, levels of education, skills, and experiences that have molded and shaped our lives. How can we offer these things to the Holy Spirit to be used to make Christ better known and loved?


Gary Michuta is an author, speaker and apologist and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.