This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Luke=Lucius=author of Acts

Here I make the case that Luke (Philemon 24), Lucius (Rom 16:21) and the author of Acts were one and the same person. The argument has a triangular structure, with each element strengthening the other two. A three-fold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Luke was Lucius
I have shown in recent posts (here, here, here, and here) that Paul uses informal name forms for those from whom he sends greetings in Philemon 23-24, so it is probable that "Luke" (Λουκᾶς) was not his full name, but was an abbreviation. This is confirmed by the rarity of the name "Luke". The 6 volumes of the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names (LGPN) has just 11 Lukes. The name "Luke" (Λουκᾶς) was a short form of the name "Lucius" (Λούκιος) (see A. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East), so it is almost certain that the Luke of Philemon 24 was known formally as "Lucius".

Was he the Lucius of Rom 16:21? The LGPN lists 286 Lucii out of 300,584 people, which is just 0.1%. Admittedly, Latin names of this kind are rather over-represented among Paul's companions, for whatever reasons. We have a Mark (Acts 12:25), two Gaii (Acts 19:29; 20:4), and a Titus (Gal 2:3), though all but one of these were from the east. However, those who sent greetings in Paul's letters were part of a rather small group of close companions of Paul, since their names frequently recur elsewhere (consider Timothy, Jason, Sopater/Sosipater, Gaius, Erastus, Epaphras/Epaphroditus, Aristarchus, Prisca and Aquila). It therefore seems likely that the Luke of Philemon 24 was the Lucius of Rom 16:21.

A counter-argument is often put forward. It is said that the Lucius of Rom 16:21 was a Jew and that Luke was a Gentile. This argument rests on the assumption that συγγενεῖς in Rom 16:21 means "relative", and that it applies to Lucius as well as to Jason and Sosipater. It also rests on the assumption that we can infer from Col 4:11,14 that Luke was a Gentile. However, I have argued that the author of Colossians did not have accurate information on Paul's companions. He merely copied the names of the greeters in Philemon and naively left them in their hypocoristic forms. He probably misread "Jesus" in Philemon 23, and misidentified Mark. He was not a careful historian with good information, so we cannot assume that Luke was a Gentile.

Luke was the author of Acts
Luke's authorship of Acts is very well attested (see The Anti-Marcionite Prologue, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, The Muratorian Fragment, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome). This unanimity is impressive. However, there is an apparent difficulty with the identifications. The author of Acts was an important member of Paul's team, who accompanied him on the second missionary journey and travelled with him to Jerusalem and to Rome. "Luke", on the other hand appears to be unimportant since he is the last named of the greeters in Philemon 23-24, and is penultimate in Colossians. John Chrysostom on Philemon 24 rightly asks:
Why then does he put Luke last?
The problem, however, is only apparent. Chrysostom, himself, correctly explains why Paul includes greeters in Philemon:
And from these [the greeters] indeed he [Paul] salutes him [Philemon], urging him [Philemon] the more to obedience, and calls them [the greeters] his fellow-laborers, and in this way shames him [Philemon] into granting the request.
The greeters, therefore, are probably listed in descending order of their importance as examples for Philemon to follow. Epaphras is named first, because he was at that time sharing Paul's captivity and therefore provided an example of self-sacrifice. I have argued that Aristarchus, and perhaps Mark were benefactors of the church and this may explain why they were mentioned next, since Paul was encouraging Philemon to be a benefactor. Now, if Luke was a fellow-evangelist of Paul rather than a benefactor, it would be no surprise that he would be mentioned last. The fact that Luke is mentioned last does not preclude him being the author of Acts or Lucius. The author of Colossians, however, seems to have misunderstood Philemon 23-24, and promotes Luke by only one place.

Now, the church fathers unanimously ascribe the authorship of Luke-Acts to Luke in spite of the difficulty of his apparently lowly position in the list of greeters in both Philemon and Colossians. They must have had good reason to do so. The witness of the fathers therefore carries weight: it is not a mere inference from the texts, but actually goes against a (surface) reading of the texts (especially with the assumption that Paul wrote Colossians).

Incidentally, there are other cases in the NT where the context is one of benefaction, and in each case the name order is chosen according to importance in benefaction. Aquila is mentioned before Prisca/Priscilla in Acts 18:2-3 where we are told that Paul stayed in their house, and in 1 Cor 16:19 where the use of their house for the church is also in view. Elsewhere Prisca/Priscilla is mentioned first. In Acts 20:4 Luke lists the three Macedonians before the other 4 men, which even included Timothy. They may be mentioned first because they (or at least their region) contributed to the collection (see Rom 15:26). It seems that people were always listed in descending order of importance, but the criteria for importance depend on the context.

The author of Acts was Lucius
Paul left Philippi after the days of Unleavened bread (Acts 20:6). From this we can date his departure from Philippi to probably 15th April 57 or 26th April 56. He therefore did not depart from Corinth before early April. It is unlikely that Phoebe (Rom 16:1) departed for Rome before Paul left Corinth, because sea travel, while possible from March 10, was considered dangerous until May 27th, and she had to travel west against the prevailing winds. In all probability Phoebe left Achaia after Paul, who will have handed the letter to her just before his departure. Those named in Acts 20:4 had clearly assembled in Greece with the aim to traveling with Paul to Jerusalem via Syria. The author of Acts must surely have been among them, for otherwise he would have risked missing the boat (the change of plan occurred as Paul was about to set sail). It is therefore probable that the author of Acts was with Paul when he handed Romans to Phoebe just before leaving Greece.

In Rom 16:21-3 Paul sends greetings from Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus. Luke belongs to a distinct group of four, with Timothy, Jason-Aristarchus, and Sosipater/Sopater, all of whom accompanied Paul with the collection (Acts 20:4). It is therefore highly likely that Lucius too was one of those who were assembled in Corinth, from which the group was scheduled to depart for Syria (Acts 20:2-4). Lucius is mentioned second, indicating his prominence. He proceeds even Jason-Aristarchus and Sosipater/Sopater, who were very prominent in the collection project, for they are mentioned first and second in the list of 7 names in Acts 20:4. Lucius was therefore a very prominent believer. Now, Acts mentions all of Paul's prominent associates (Titus-Timothy is no exception), so Lucius almost certainly has a role in Acts. He should be identified as the author of Acts, for there are no other good candidates.

In Rom 16:21-23 Paul sends greetings from all of his prominent companions who were with him at the time, so it would be surprising if he did not include the author of Acts, who had been his fellow-evangelist on the second "missionary journey" and would travel with him to Jerusalem and later to Rome. Sopater and Jason-Aristarchus are mentioned because they were men of highest repute who were entrusted by the Macedonians to deliver the collection. Gaius of Derbe, Tychicus and Trophimus were likely with Paul in Corinth at the time, but they were relatively minor characters and were not delegates of donor churches. It is true that Secundus was from Thessalonica, but he is mentioned after Aristarchus in Acts 20:4 and appears no-where else. Crispus is no exception, for he was Sosthenes, who had moved to Ephesus (1 Cor 1:1). Stephanas and Titius Justus were no exceptions because Gaius-Titius-Justus-Stephanas was one man and is mentioned.

In short, if Lucius was not the author of Acts, then Lucius is strangely absent from Acts, and the author of Acts is strangely absent from Romans.

Origen (translated by Rufinus and Scheck) wrote on Rom 16:21,
Moreover, some maintain that this very Lucius is Luke, who wrote the Gospel
It seems that Origen accepted this identification for he later says that Rom 16:21 describes the
"relationship that is held in common between himself [Paul], Timothy, and Luke and with a few others like them"
Origen was surely right. The Lucius of Rom 16:21 can be none other than the author of Luke/Acts, who was Luke, as the church fathers strongly attest. It is only the (unhistorical) information in Colossians that has prevented most ancient and modern commentators from making this three-way identification. When Philemon is read on its own terms, without regard to the pseudonymous Colossians, Luke/Lucius comes into sharper focus as the author of Acts.


I hope to discuss Lucius of Cyrene in a later post.


  1. Richard - say in this post "The name "Luke" (Λουκᾶς) was a short form of the name "Lucius" (Λούκιος) (see A. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East)" Can you give a page number in Deissmann? I cannot find it via the index, and I search the Logos version of the book and cannot find it either.

  2. Phil,

    it is on pages 435-438 in Appendix IV, and can be found on Google Books here if the link works.

    I am not aware of any advances in the debate since Deissmann's publication. There is still no evidence that Luke was a short form of any other name.

  3. I've thought it possible that Luke was not considered (in Colossians) a "co-worker" but a "relative" which is why he is not included in those of the circumcision party. That Luke is, in fact, a Jew (note, Luke was likely with Paul in Jerusalem yet there's no fuss about him being with Paul, it's only the Gentiles being with Paul that makes things sticky). Anyway, I'm fairly sure Luke is Lucius, Paul's relative, the beloved physician... (who also penned Hebrews, the summary of Paul's preaching in Ephesus, close to home)

  4. John, Hebrews doesn't sound like Luke-Acts to me, but please feel free to post a link to any presentation of the evidence that Hebrews was written by Luke/Lucius.

  5. Thomas Aquinas holds that translated prepped Hebrews for Paul. This makes sense because the thesis of Galatians is that of Hebrews. Also the Greek of Hebrews is nice - a Lukan touch.

    I also think that Luke wrote all the later epistles, eg 2 Timothy.

  6. In Galatians Paul speaks of "the circumcision party." So does Luke in Acts, when Peter visits Cornelius. This party were Jewish believers still attached to the Law of Moses, unlike Paul and Luke. So when Paul writes in Colossians about this party sending greetings to the recipients, he says "these three brothers are the only from the circumcised party that have worked with me among gentiles....Luke the physician greets you."

  7. I recommend "Lukan Authorship of the Hebrews" by David L. Allen. Great book.

  8. Thanks, Lucas. I have now ordered Allen's book from Amazon.

  9. You are welcome, Richard. I am confident you will thoroughly enjoy the book.

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  11. Love this information.
    Why is it only Origen refers to Luke as Lucious?

    1. People generally assume that different names belong to different people. Once people have ascribed different identities to two names it is hard for them to consider the possibility that the two names belonged to the same person. There is then a mental inertia behind the two-person view. I suspect that the ancients, like moderns, suffered from this mental inertia.

  12. Thanks for tge useful information