04.01.04 Lk. 1:1-4 Introduction by Luke
1 Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. 3 It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.
The gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were addressed to the same individual by the name of Theophilos, whom scholars believe was a wealthy government official in Antioch – obviously an upper-class Greek. Josephus mentioned a Theophilos whose son was given the position of high priest in Jerusalem by King Agrippa. The name apparently means love of God, and both books were written for an audience faithful to God. However, this interpretation is a minority viewpoint, since individuals frequently had names that were in some way connected with a deity.
“Original eyewitnesses and servants.” Luke assured his readers that his information was from reliable sources. He was by profession a physician and his medical training required him to be observant and dedicated to detail. He researched his material and his writing style reflects a sophisticated style of Greek that is uniquely different from other New Testament authors. The same care that he would have given to his patients, he exercised in compiling and recording the historical events that pertained to Jesus. He relied not only on personal interviews, but also on recorded events prepared by other writers (Lk. 1:1). Luke, a highly educated man of his time, wrote according to the highest scholarly standards of his era. However, a recent observation is to be made, some scholars now believe that some words of Jesus may have been written during His lifetime in the form of notes, possibly on ostraca or pieces of papyrus.
Luke was a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul (Col. 4:14; Phm. 24) and referred to himself and Paul as the “we” statements in the book of Acts. He met at least one of the original disciples, James, the half-brother of Jesus (Acts 21:18) and was a friend of Mark (Col. 4:10-14; Phm. 23ff) and Barnabas (Acts 4:36). Luke was with Silas (Acts 15:22, 27, 32) and with Philip, the evangelist (Acts 21:8), with Agabus (Acts 21:10) and with an elderly disciple, Manson (Acts 21:15ff). Clearly, Luke had an abundance of resources from which to write his gospel, as well as the book of Acts.
“I have carefully investigated.” The introduction by Luke is the only place in the gospels where the writer identifies himself with the pronoun “I.” This is similar to the, “I have made it evident” statement by Josephus, which he wrote in defense of his major work on the history of the Jewish people. Both writers underscored the detailed research they performed to insure accuracy for the readers.
I suppose that, by my books of the Antiquities of the Jews, most excellent Epaphroditus, I have made it evident to those who peruse them that our Jewish nation is of very great antiquity.
Josephus, Against Apion 1.1 (1a)
Luke said that he carefully (Gk. akribos, 199), meaning diligently, investigated his material prior to writing his two books (Luke and Acts). In fact, he used the term eight times of the thirteen times it is found in the New Testament. Attention should be given to the fact that Jesus had a half-brother named James (Mt. 13:55) who did not believe He was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Therefore, Luke, speaking with the once-skeptical James, understood the questions of skeptics that in turn motivated him to be extremely careful in his research.
Greek and Roman authors recognized the importance of writing so their audiences clearly distinguished the differences between history and biographies. For example, Suetonius (c. A.D. 69-140) wrote The Twelve Caesars, which is considered today as a primary source on Roman history. In it he explains his account of Augustus,
Having given, as it were, a summary of his life, I shall not take up its various phases one by one, not in chronological order, but by classes (categories) to make the account clearer and more intelligible.
Suetonius, The Life of Augustus 9
Suetonius was not the only writer whose literary works survived history. Lucius Mestrius Plutarch, was a Greek historian, biographer and essayist who wrote The Life of Alexander in A.D. 75. Like Luke, Plutarch gave a purpose and framework to his writing.
It being my purpose to write the lives of Alexander the king, and of Caesar, by whom Pompey was destroyed, the multitude of their great actions affords so large a field that I were to blame if I should not by way of apology forewarn my reader that I have chosen rather to epitomize the most celebrated parts of their story, than to insist at large on every particular circumstance of it. It must be borne in mind that my design is not to write histories, but lives. And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever. Therefore as portrait-painters are more exact in the lines and features of the face, in which the character is seen, than in the other parts of the body, so I must be allowed to give my more particular attention to the marks and indications of the souls of men, and while I endeavor by these to portray their lives, may be free to leave more weighty matters and great battles to be treated off by others.
Plutarch, The Life of Alexander 1.2-3
“An orderly sequence.” Luke stated that it was his purpose to record an orderly account or sequence of the events that occurred during the life of Jesus. As a trained medical physician, he not only focused on accuracy of detail, but also on the meaning of various events. Furthermore, the definition of the Greek phrase orderly account (Gk. kathexes, 2517) includes a high degree of chronological accuracy. However, scholars have noted that some points of his gospel are not in perfect chronological order, yet the overall tenor of the book is without question very chronological. The reason for the variation is unknown. But as such, Luke was different from other writers because, to them, it was generally acceptable to compromise on the chronology in order to obtain a deeper understanding and significance of a given message.
The introduction by Luke was written to convey the high degree of expertise he used to gather information. Furthermore, he followed the same research methodology used by other classical historians who have not been criticized by today’s critics. The books of Luke and Acts stand as monuments to excellence in ancient documentation and writing.
Likewise, Mark was careful to convey the words and deeds of Jesus. In the second century the bishop of Hierapolis in Asia, Papias, wrote the following of the apostle:
Mark, who was Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately what he remembered. He did not, however, report the sayings and deeds of the Lord in exact order. For he had not heard the Lord …. Peter adapted his teaching to the needs [of his listeners] making no attempt to give a connected whole of the Lord’s sayings. Thus, Mark did not act wrongly in writing certain things as he remembered them. For he had one concern only: to omit nothing of what he had heard and writing nothing untrue.
Eusebius, Church History 3:39, 15
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 1, page 4.
. Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.7.
. Millard “Literacy in the Time of Jesus.” 37-45.
. Vine, “Accurately.”Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:10.
. Clarification in parenthesis mine.
. Plutarch a/k/a Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, (A.D. 45-120) was a Greek historian, essayist and biographer who is known for two books, Parallel Lives which included the Life of Alexander, and Moralia. His few surviving works appear to have been written in Koine Greek, the common Greek language of the first century. See Warmington, ed. Plutarch’s Lives: Demosthenes and Cicero, Alexander and Caesar, Vol 7.
. Translated by John Dryden.
. Vine, “Order.”Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:450.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 54.
. This quotation was preserved by Eusebius, a 4th century church historian who also said that Matthew wrote his gospel in the Hebrew language Ecclesiastical History. 3:39, 16. Cited by Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, 35, 37n4.