"It is possible that Paul’s “relative” Lucius is Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. On his second missionary journey, Paul may have gone to Troas (where Luke lived—or at least where he joined Paul) because he knew a relative he could stay with there (Acts 16:8, 11)." - http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1995/issue47/4702.html

I know a related question is this: Who was Luke in the Bible? But I find the answer lacking. I recently heard teaching on slavery in the New Testament by Michael Card, and he presented Luke as a slave, and physicians in general as slaves in the time of the New Testament.

The 'doctors' in ancient Rome were not nearly as highly regarded as the doctors in Greece. The profession itself, outside of the legions, was considered a low social position, fit for slaves, freedmen and non-latin citizens, mainly Greeks. unrv.com

He also taught that slaves in that time were named one of two way, 1) by the master's desired characteristic for the slave (the most common slave name, philokurios - loving of the master, and Philemon - dear one), or 2) by a nickname of the master (i.e. Michael would name his slave Mike).

Paul mentions a relative, Lucius. Lucius would name his slave Luke. As a physician, he would have been given to Paul to care for his ailment, (or thorn?). That would explain why Luke traveled so extensively with Paul.

Michael Card does have a book on both slavery and Luke, and I will be getting to those, but how come I've never heard this before? Is there substantial evidence pointing to a definitive yes or no?

  • 3
    Since there is (as far as I know) nothing directly in the Bible to address this issue, you might get a better response by asking on the History site what the place of doctors was in the Roman Empire. Mar 24, 2015 at 14:28
  • That is a good point. BBC History says "After the conquest of Greece in 47BC, most doctors in Rome were Greeks, brought to Rome as slaves. Yet, whilst they flocked to see these doctors, the Romans were also suspicious of them." I really was wondering if this is a commonly held idea of Luke.
    – GMGrimley
    Mar 24, 2015 at 15:53

2 Answers 2


Michael Card's hypothesis is interesting, and certainly not outside the realm of possibility. It is quite true that skilled Greeks were enslaved and brought to Italy during times of conquest and revolt, and perhaps even during times of peace between Greece and Rome, such as was the case when Luke was living. But it seems to me that Card's main argument needs evidence to support it. He claims that (1) Luke is a hypocorism based on the name Lucius; and (2) slaves were commonly named according to hypocirisms. Both of these claims are plausible---but plausible isn't good enough. He needs to give some evidence that this was actually the case.

Unfortunately, even then, the case wouldn't be made. Card himself understands this, when he writes: "I admit that this idea is quite a stretch, and my scholarly friends have told me this theory would never wash in the halls of academia." Then he continues, "let us put forth, not as a fact but as a distinct possibility: Luke might have been a slave" (emphasis original). And that's fine---I agree, it is a reasonable hypothesis. But it just doesn't have any good evidence behind it, at present.

Let me also say something about Dick Harfield's answer. He is correct that Luke-Acts is anonymous, and unlikely to have been written by Luke the companion of Paul---although I disagree that this is relevant to your question. But he makes a good point that the tradition about Luke being a physician is not well-established, since it comes from an epistle (Colossians) which is likely to be pseudepigraphical. On the other hand, whether Colossians was written by Paul or not, it is certainly very ancient, and so we have reason to trust it when it affirms Luke as a physician. And I think Harfield has a decent point about Luke being referred to as among his "fellowlabourers." It is, as DJClayworth has pointed out, quite plausible that a slave might be referred to as such. But it seems more likely to me that Paul considered Luke to be closer to his own social standing.

  • Who is Michael Card? A link to whatever work you are referencing would be great. Click edit to add that in. +1 in advance.
    – user3961
    May 20, 2015 at 2:19

The question implicitly asks two questions. The first is whether Luke wrote the gospel that now bears his name; the second is whether Luke was a slave.

Luke's Gospel, like all the New Testament gospels was originally anonymous, as was Acts of the Apostles. They were attributed to Luke later in the second century, largely because it was felt that the author must have been a gentile who knew Paul, and only Luke seemed to fit that description. After studying the two works traditionally attributed to Luke, nearly all critical scholars have concluded that he is unlikely to have been the author.

Luke is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:11 and Colossians 4:14, but both epistles are widely considered pseudepigraphical. In any case, neither reference gives any information that would suggest he was a slave. Colossians 4:14 describes him as a physician, but that does not mean he was a slave. True, the Romans took many Greek physicians as slaves, but they would take any captives as slaves if they had useful skills. Paul was not a Roman and there is no suggestion that Luke was under any kind of restraint from another person. And of course, doubts about the Pauline authorship of Colossians mean that we can not even know whether Luke really was a physician at all.

Philemon is an undisputed epistle of Paul and mentions a Lucas (Luke) at verse 1:24:

Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

It seems most unlikely that Paul would socially equate a slave with himself by referring to the slave as "my fellowlabourer." On the evidence as I see it, Luke was not a slave.

  • 4
    You write: "It seems most unlikely that Paul would socially equate a slave with himself". Paul calls Onesimus (an unquestioned slave) a "faithful and dear brother" in exactly the same epistle. Mar 25, 2015 at 15:02
  • 1
    @DJClayworth Thank you for the insight. For me, there are three issues here. The first is that for Paul, "brother" simply meant a Christian. The second is that Paul was begging his friend to accept Onesimus back and not harm him for his desertion or for any damage he had done - Paul called Onesimus his dear brother to show how keenly he wanted Onesimus treated well. The third is "faithful," which strongly qualifies Paul's reference, suggesting that Paul knew his place. ... Mar 25, 2015 at 20:28
  • ... Also, Paul thought he was writing to a single person, a friend who would be discrete regarding any off-guard remark Paul made, not to an entire congregation. Mar 25, 2015 at 20:29
  • 1
    Not really convinced. Mar 26, 2015 at 3:30
  • Luke's Gospel, like all the New Testament gospels was originally anonymous, as was Acts of the Apostles. They were attributed to Luke later in the second century - There isn't a single shred of evidence for this. All four gospels could have been (and in all likelihood were) attributed to their traditionally recognised authors at the time of writing. A great book on the subject, completely debunking Bart Ehrman's (and Dick Harfield's) view, is "The Case for Jesus" by the Roman Catholic scholar Brant Pitre. Dec 4, 2022 at 17:13

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