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Clinical Seminars with Luke the Physician: Introduction

Bible studies for health professionals from Luke’s gospel

  1. The widow’s son – Luke 7:11-16
  2. The healing of a leper – Luke 5:12-15
  3. The healing of a paralysed man – Luke 5:17-26
  4. The healing miracles of Jesus – Luke 7:18-23

Introduction

We don’t know a great deal about Luke the physician, but a certain amount of information can be pieced together from his writings and from the rest of the New Testament. Unlike the other New Testament authors he was almost certainly a Gentile rather than a Jewish Christian. He was a close friend of Paul and often accompanied him and his co-workers on their demanding and dangerous missionary journeys. In fact it’s quite likely that, having been converted to Christ, Luke joined the missionary band as a personal physician to Paul. In this privileged position he was an eye-witness of many of the great formative events of the Early Church. 

We know virtually nothing of his medical background, but his writings give away some characteristics of the gifted clinician. He was a meticulous and accurate observer, who checked and rechecked the minute details of his records. At the beginning of his Gospel he writes that he had “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3). It is apparent that he had talked at length to many eye-witnesses and kept careful records of his researches. Over the last century archaeological investigations in the Middle East have confirmed Luke’s remarkable and detailed accuracy on several occasions. So he doesn’t employ a “broad brush” when writing his historical records. We can imagine him visiting Palestine and tracking down many of the less prominent eye-witnesses. Not just the apostles but many others, especially the women who were close to the story: he would have talked to Mary, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene, Martha and others. And then out of the mass of material in his notebooks, out of all those eye-witness accounts and miscellaneous information, he has painstakingly selected just the few precise incidents and accounts that are going to go into his Gospel. We can be confident that every word has been chosen with meticulous care. 

He was an educated man. As a physician he belonged to a literate elite who had the benefit of an extensive Classical education. According to biblical scholars his command of the Greek language is excellent, and he writes stylishly for an educated and secular audience, as a Gentile for Gentiles. Michael Wilcox writes, “had there been coffee tables in the homes of the Roman Empire, they would have been one destination which Luke would have wanted his books to reach”. Unlike the other Gospel writers, who were fishermen and tax collectors, Luke writes as a sophisticated man of letters.

Above all he was fascinated by the human condition in all its complexity and ambiguity. It’s perhaps this aspect of his writings which tells us most about the author. Of all four Gospels, Luke’s is the one which emphasises both the compassionate humanity of Christ and the all-too-human frailty of those he came to save. Throughout his Gospel he presents a series of individual portraits, each one a recognisable human being. Luke takes particular delight in portraying the socially inferior as well as the powerful. He depicts prostitutes, children, physically disabled people, leprosy sufferers and other riff-raff with as much sympathetic detail as rich men and Pharisees. In comparison to the other Gospel writers he places much more emphasis on the role of women in Jesus’ life, remarkable in a patriarchal time and culture that tended to despise women. So it is striking that, unlike many physicians then and now, Luke was not merely interested in the social elite. His writings do not betray the class consciousness and arrogance of so many medical professionals.

Luke comes across as a remarkable man and a gifted observer. He was a professional healer, and he had a professional interest in the eye-witness accounts about Jesus. In Greek, the word sozo can mean both “to save” and “to heal” and it’s hardly surprising that this word crops up much more frequently in Luke’s writings than in the other Gospels. Perhaps Luke was fascinated by the ambiguity and the subtlety of the word sozo. He recognised that in the ministry of Jesus physical healing and spiritual salvation went hand-in-hand. In his Gospel he tells the story of a Saviour/Healer, a man who confronted both physical disease and spiritual oppression with unique power and authority. As an intelligent and thoughtful man Luke must have reflected on his own medical practice in the light of his researches into the story of Jesus. 

It’s very likely that Luke was a member of the Hippocratic guild of physicians. There’s certainly no hint from the New Testament that Luke gave up his medical activities as a result of his conversion to Christianity. It was probably Luke who was the source of Paul’s advice to the young man Timothy to “drink a little wine because of your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul refers to him elsewhere as the “beloved physician” and it seems that he had a prominent role in the early church.  But what can we, as modern health professionals, learn from this physician’s writings? How should they guide us as we reflect about our own calling in the medical world. The aim of this short series of studies is to look through the eyes of Luke at Jesus, the great Physician, and ask how we can learn to imitate him more effectively in our own professional lives.

  1. The widow’s son – Luke 7:11-16
  2. The healing of a leper – Luke 5:12-15
  3. The healing of a paralysed man – Luke 5:17-26
  4. The healing miracles of Jesus – Luke 7:18-23

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