“Luke the beloved physician greets you…” – Colossians 4:14 (ESV)
The four Gospels in the New Testament each provide us with a unique account of our Lord’s time here on Earth. If I had to pick one as a favorite (and thankfully I don’t!), I would have to choose the Gospel of Luke. Luke was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, yet he wrote not only the longest Gospel, but also the longest book in the New Testament. His sequel to Luke, the book of Acts, advances the storyline further in his trademark manner. His prologue in chapter 1 of his Gospel gives a clue as to the type of historian he was.
- He notes in verse 1 that “Many have undertaken…”, meaning that he was familiar with the literature of his day
- He says in verse 3 that he “carefully investigated everything”, showing the detail and care he put into his work
- And he tells Theophilus, his recipient, that he is providing him with an “orderly account”
In his Reformed Expository Commentary on Luke, Philip Ryken (2009) explains that, “Luke did his work with all the rigor of a prize-winning journalist…” (p. 10).
I want to be clear and state that I am in no way overlooking the work of the Holy Spirit in what Luke has written in his two books. Peter explains that, “For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21, WEB). There is a divine tension there that we will never be able to fully grasp. However, Luke, known and loved as a physician, was a historian as well, which even some secular historians have acknowledged.
I will be co-teaching a course at my institution this week that focuses on research, and have found Luke’s example to be a great model. It’s critical to be familiar with the literature and research of our day, as Luke was with his. It’s simply not enough to know our own positions thoroughly on a specific research topic or question – we must be able to accurately represent and state the opposing side, in terms that those representing the opposition would agree with as fair. This comes about by “investigating everything”, as Luke did, and following what can often be a very time-consuming research trail. Bibliographies in books, trade publications, and scholarly journal articles are often a goldmine of material for a researcher. I remind students not to skip these! Reviewing these bibliographies should cause us to ask, who are the experts on this topic and who cites these experts? This allows us to enter the scholarly conversation responsibly, as Luke did in his day. I try to emphasize this approach in any research interaction I have with a student for several reasons.
When I first started my own graduate degree in library science, I searched for the known experts in the library field and researched them, tracking down what they had written and who had influenced them. Sometimes I took the extra step of contacting them directly and asking them to share their stories. This type of research was invaluable to me in getting to know the scope of the issues in librarianship and where the trends were heading. I also try to get students to get ask the “5W” questions of any source they find – who, what, when, where and why. In his Gospel, Luke exemplified this approach. As Ryken (2009) notes, “With a doctor’s gift for observation, Luke noticed things that other people overlooked” (p. 9). There is so much surface analysis in our day, with cable TV arguments and parroting of studies that no one has actually read. I want to emphasize to students, that as Christians, we should be known as people who find what is often “overlooked”. Herbert Simon, a 20th century economist, was credited with coining the phrase “satisficing”, which suggested that people will often seek a satisfactory solution to a question or problem, rather than the best. The concept of satisficing should not be something we should ever gravitate to. We should instead be known as the Bereans were, who Luke himself wrote about in Acts (17:11), and investigate the claims that we are confronted with in our academic endeavors with eagerness and diligence.
As librarians, it is beyond our scope to provide our patrons with every known resource on every known topic. It can be difficult to even keep up with the substantial amount of literature produced each year just relating to librarianship. Knowing this should cause us to be humble! As J.C. Ryle said in his commentary on Matthew, “Humility is the very first letter in the alphabet of Christianity. We must begin low, if we would build high”. This spirit of humility is an approach I strive for whenever I am working with a student; Scripture commands us to do so (James 4:6; Isaiah 66:2). In my mind, having a humble spirit means that each of us has to “redeem the time”, as the Apostle Paul said (Ephesians 5:16), and know that the time is indeed limited. We have to be purposeful in how we locate, retrieve, and evaluate information, being aware that we simply cannot know all there is to know about a given subject. God has not wired us for that.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the work that Luke, guided by the Holy Spirit, has left for us. I also think he has provided us a great blueprint on how to approach the task of research. I look forward to learning with our students this semester by God’s grace and with the help of the “beloved physician”.
Above image, Gospel of St. Luke, 12th century, Macedonia, via State Archive of the Republic of Macedonia [CC BY-SA 3.0]