Today is the feast of St Luke the Evangelist, author of the paired volumes, Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, sometimes called simply Luke-Acts to indicate that they are one book and not two. People who know Biblical scholarship are aware that Luke and Acts are 2 parts of a single book with a single author, but I suspect the average pew-sitter is not aware of this fact for no other reason than that they are separated in the traditional Bible by John’s gospel (although some newer Bibles put them together). Historically the author is equated with one of Paul’s companions called Luke who is mentioned in salutations in Philemon 1:24 and Colossians 4:14, where he is called “Luke the doctor,” and in 2 Timothy 4:11 where Paul says, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” Most scholars now reject this identification, as do I. We do not know who wrote any of the gospels, but I will use the name Luke for the author for want of another name, but without equating him with Paul’s helper.
Luke’s gospel is one of the so-called Synoptic Gospels. According to prevailing theory, Mark was written first, then Matthew and Luke were written later with Mark as their primary source, but with other material added to suit their audiences. Matthew appears to have had Jews as his audience and Luke was apparently written for Gentiles. One classic comparison concerns the parable of the lamp. From Mark 4:21–22 we get:
21 He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand?
22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.”
This is a specifically Markan point. If this is an authentic saying of Jesus, its original meaning is not clear to me; but Mark uses it in his own way. In his gospel Mark gives the impression that until the crucifixion Jesus was cryptic in his teachings and that his parables were designed to hide Jesus’ message in figurative language. This suggests to me that Mark was not familiar with the Judaic tradition of parables whereby a teacher explains a difficult point to his students via a colorful story. So Mark here is suggesting the lamp is Jesus whose light will shine one day.
In Matthew 5:14–15 we read:
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”
And Luke 8:16 says:
16 “Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light.”
Too much can be read into the differences between Matthew and Luke, but Matthew talks about people in the house, and Luke talks about people entering the house. Some commentators believe that the difference points to Matthew being a Jew and hence addressing Jews (Judaism being the house), while Luke is a Gentile addressing Gentiles (newcomers entering the house built by Jews). This is a fairly weak point by itself, but the tone of Luke’s gospel as a whole does not seem Jewish. Furthermore, the second half Acts is devoted to Paul’s journeys into the Greek world to spread the Word to people outside of Jerusalem, whilst the first half concerns the apostles who stayed in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE and subsequent dispersal of the Jews, the apostolic church in Jerusalem died, and Paul’s churches in the Gentile world survived. So Luke’s gospel may have been written for the Gentile church outside Jerusalem.
Luke’s follows Mark’s gospel reasonable closely except at the beginning. Luke 1&2 contain stories not found elsewhere in the Greek Bible. Most famous of these is the nativity, but also included are the Annunciation, the Visitation of Mary, the birth of John the Baptist, the presentation at the temple, and the boy Jesus in the temple. There are also three poems/songs, including the Nunc Dimittis and the Magnificat, that are used liturgically as chants or canticles.
You can find my thoughts on this part of Luke here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/visitation-mary/
Luke has a theological ax to grind in these early chapters. He’s trying to tie up loose ends. How come the Messiah is supposed to be born in Bethlehem in the line of David, but Jesus is a carpenter from Nazareth? Who was John the Baptist really? Chapters 1&2 answer such questions. Without Luke we’d have no Christmas story, no shepherds, no manger, no angels. From a purely ritual point of view we’d really have an impoverished liturgy, not to mention the canticles and carols, without Luke.
Acts is an important book too because it fleshes out the historical side of the life of Paul. It is unlikely that Luke was actually Paul’s companion when he traveled, but there are certain passages in Acts where the narrative shifts from third person — “he” — to second person plural — “we.” These, known as the “we passages” are probably not Luke’s own recollections, but may well be transcriptions of the diary of someone who was, indeed, Paul’s companion. As such they are very valuable.
Luke’s Christian symbol is the ox, so a beef dish would be suitable for today. In England, in the Midlands, it was customary to eat Banbury cakes on St Luke’s Day. You can get them now year round in the south of England and are a great favorite of mine at tea time. In Rutherglen in Scotland (now a suburb of Glasgow), it was customary to eat tea cakes with sour cream on St Luke’s Day — called locally at one time Sour Cakes Day. So maybe you could combine the two and have Banbury cakes with sour cream. I’d do it if I could get ANY of the ingredients. My father’s brother and his family lived in Rutherglen most of his life. In fact that’s the last place I have visited in Scotland when I went to see my aunt and cousin.
Here’s a recipe for Banbury cakes. I’ve never made them because they are wonderful and plentiful from bakeries in England — and I am not a baker.
50g unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp honey
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
50g candied orange peel
plain flour, for dusting
500g pack all-butter puff pastry
1 egg white, beaten
1-2 tbsp nibbed sugar or crushed rough-edged sugar cubes
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
Cream the butter and honey together with the spices. Add the currants and the candied peel and mix well. On a lightly floured surface roll out the pastry to about 0.25 cm and cut out 10 x 10cm circles, re-rolling any trimmings. Divide the filling between the circles.
Bring up the edges of the pastry to enclose the filling and crimp the edges of the pastry together to look like little purses. Turn the parcels over, with the folds underneath. Roll each parcel out gently to an oval shape, taking care not to expose the filling.
Place the cakes on a baking sheet lined with non-stick paper. Brush with the egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Cook for 25-30 minutes until golden and crispy. Turn the oven down if the tops brown too quickly.
When cooked, transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool a little before eating. When cold, they can be spread with a little salted butter or sour cream.