Luke 1: 1 – 4 Introduction
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 eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
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Who was St Luke, the author to whom Luke’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are ascribed?
We don’t know for certain. It’s possible that he was a disciple of St Paul who accompanied him on many of his travels. Much of the narrative of Acts records St Paul’s journeys, with some sections written in the third person and others written in the first person. It is surmised that the author wishes to differentiate between those occasions when he was actually present and those where he is recording what has been told to him. However, this is by no means certain, and there are differences between St Paul’s theology as revealed in the epistles and St Luke’s theology expressed in the gospel and in Acts.
Whoever he was, he was an educated man who wrote in elegant Greek. He was familiar with the way Greek scholars thought and wrote about history.
What does St Luke tell us about himself, in this introduction to his gospel?
Firstly, he refers to “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 eye witnesses and servants of the word”. In other words, he himself was not an eye witness, and, indeed, some of those on whom he relies were not eye witnesses either; they were “servants of the word”. This would make sense if he were a disciple of St Paul, for St Paul was not an eye witness to Jesus’ ministry.
Secondly, he says that he has “decided to write an orderly account”. He means two things by this:
- that the account will not be a simple narrative but will contain the theological teaching of Jesus; and
- that the account will be structured to justify the role of the Christian church. It will do this by showing the progression from the Jewish Law, to the human life of Jesus, and on to the actions of the church inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
What do we know of the provenance of St Luke’s gospel?
There is no autograph copy. The earliest texts are at least third generation copies.
There are two ancient texts that rival each other for authenticity, the Western text and the Alexandrian text. There are significant differences between the two.
Bible scholars tell us that St Luke draws on three distinct sources: the gospel of St Mark; a hypothetical collection of sayings of Jesus known as Q (from the German “Quelle”, meaning “source”); and material that is unique to St Luke designated L.
Irenaeus, one of the early church fathers, says that Luke wrote while being “moved by the Holy Spirit”. St John’s gospel has this to say about the Holy Spirit. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Irenaeus’s comment is both a validation and a warning. Prophetic truth as revealed by the Holy Spirit is often expressed symbolically, and needs interpretation.
So, these are some of the pitfalls I have to negotiate in trying to understand what Jesus is saying to me as I negotiate my 21st century world. Lord Jesus, be close beside me; there’s so much scope for me to make mistakes. But thank you for being with me, and walking beside me.
Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit. Please help me to welcome him and allow him to enrich my understanding of your will.
In Jesus’ name, Amen