The Bible does not reveal Luke’s nationality. He probably lived in Troas (judging from the switch to personal pronouns in Acts 16:8-10). However, there is an early tradition that he was a native of Antioch in Syria. There were large Jewish populations in both cities, and much of the Roman world, so neither is a reliable indication that Luke was not Jewish.
It is sometimes suggested that Luke was a Gentile because he appears to be distinguished from Jews (the circumcised) in Colossians 4:10-14, and thus seems to have been placed along with the Gentiles (Epaphras, Luke and Demas). However, it is more likely that “the circumcised” here means Christians who observed the Jewish law (cp. Acts 11:2; Gal 2:12; Titus 1:10). In that case, Luke could be a Christian Jew who did not observe the Jewish law.
There are some reasons for thinking that Luke may have been a Jew:
- It was Trophimus, not Luke, who was the cause of Paul’s arrest (Acts 21). The Jews wanted to accuse Paul of bringing a Gentile into the temple area, and they chose Trophimus (an Ephesian). Luke was also there, and accompanied Paul on several earlier visits to Jerusalem. The fact that Luke’s presence was not controversial suggests that he was a Jew.
- Luke had a detailed knowledge of the temple and Levitical practices (Luke 1:8-20). This would be unlikely for a Gentile.