Series on Luke, I The Introduction, Text: 1:1-4, Title: A Reliable Account


God has given us four varied accounts of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. Each of them bears unique characteristics, and Luke is especially a Gentile Gospel. It was written for an important man as the form of address shows, “Most excellent Theophilus.” He was a Roman and most likely had the means to pass along this writing which would be good reason for Luke to direct it to him. Starting with tracing the genealogy of Jesus to Adam, and proceeding with numerous historical references to events in the Gentile world, he shares accounts from Jesus’ life that show that the redemption he offered is not just for Jews, but for Samaritans, pagans, publicans, sinners, outcasts, rich, poor, and women as well as men. We can note that the way the gospel of Luke begins  more closely resembles in language and style the treatises of the Graeco-Roman world. Also, by way of introduction we should observe that Luke is actually part one of a two volume work, the second part being Acts. As the gospel covers what Jesus began to do an teach, Acts which is also addressed to the same Theophilus is by implication the account of what Jesus continued to do and teach. Although it has been called the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of the Holy Spirit, and though neither is wrong, it is more accurately Luke’s continuing account of Jesus ministry from his glorified position at the right hand of God the Father. There are three observations about this gospel that can be taken from verses 1-4.

I Primary Sources

The sources are revealed in verses 1 and 2 as primary, Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. When we first become involved in writing papers, usually in High School, we discover that the teachers are concerned about our sources, and the rules for footnotes or endnotes are usually taught. If they are not observed, then we may become guilty of plagiarism, that is, pretending someone else’s words or ideas are ours. If we go on in our education  to higher levels this becomes increasingly important. A primary source is an eyewitness. When somebody else tells you what the eyewitness said, that is a secondary source. Political speeches are known for quoting others and not acknowledging the source, unless of course, it is advantageous. And you know how we trust political speeches. Luke is educated and scholarly and serious. He wants the reader to know he is writing history, and if you want the facts you find the eyewitnesses. Luke tells us that the eyewitnesses have passed along much of their experience to others who have written it down piecemeal. Now Luke is writing it all down and he has checked the primary sources.

II Personal Study

The industrious manner in which Luke has approached this task of writing is revealed in verse 3, Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus. The translation of the New International Version does not reflect the intensity of Luke’s claim about his research. Literally he says he has followed very carefully or traced out the facts. The word means to gain comprehension or a full knowledge of something by tracing it back to its source. Luke has done this with everything. And in the original Luke adds an adverb describing how he has traced this out. It is most often translated accurately. Translated into our modern situation we might say that he did it like a crime scene investigator. This was a word used to describe evidence in a trial, and it is so used in Acts 23:15 and 20. In addition  to this careful investigation, Luke tells us that he endeavored to set everything down in orderly fashion. Although Luke is generally acknowledged to be the most chronologically organized gospel, the idea of being orderly goes beyond that. It means that a great deal of studious effort on the part of the author was put into the organization of the material. Thus this is a worthy scholarly historical report as described in the prologue.

III Profitable Standard

The effort of Luke would be worthy of careful reading and study even if it were a secular historical work. Thus he concludes the introduction in verse 4,  So that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke stresses the certainty of the things, literally words, that have been taught. They are reliable. In other contexts this Greek word translated certainty is translated “securely locked” as of a jail cell in  Acts 5:23. It can even mean in other literature, “nailed shut.” We speak metaphorically of something being nailed down when it is  convincingly proved. Luke refers to the very words themselves because he believed in the inspiration of what was being written. He traveled much with the apostle Paul, and Paul said in I Corinthians 2:13 that he spoke not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul says, For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. Luke believed this too. In his gospel in the first few chapters we see the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at work. In chapter 1 Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist and Zechariah, John’s father, are filled with the Spirit in their utterances. When Simeon prophesies at Jesus’ dedication in chapter 2, the “Holy Spirit was upon him.” In chapter 3 Luke quotes from Isaiah the prophet concerning the ministry of John the Baptist fulfilling the prophecy, and he uses the oft repeated formula, “As it is written.” In chapter 4 Jesus Himself, in the wilderness, tempted of Satan, answers every temptation with a quotation from the Old Testament and the words, “It is written.” The crowing fact is that the apostle Paul describes the writing of Luke as "Scripture" in his first letter to Timothy 5:18 where the Gospel of Luke 10:7 is called Scripture along with a quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4. It therefore makes sense that when Paul used the term "Scripture" in his second letter to Timothy, saying that all Scripture is God breathed, he was thinking not just of Old Testament books but also of New Testament books that had been written up to that time. Thus, when Luke asserts the reliability of what he has written in the prologue, he is asserting not only that it is the result of the most exacting research, but it is also inspired by the Holy Spirit. This means it is profitable to confirm our faith today as it was in the first century for Theophilus.