Luke 1.1-4

The text:

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. 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, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account

Studying at a Presbyterian college, I learned about “Q source” as a way of explaining the similarities between the synoptic gospels: Mark’s gospel and others’ accounts served as the research material for Matthew and Luke. Luke’s opening indicates multiple gospels, but I’m curious what specifically he might have been referring to. The Gnostic gospels, as I recall, came much later; it doesn’t seem likely that these were what Luke had in mind.

of the things that have been fulfilled among us

It strikes me that Luke says “among us.” He admits later that he isn’t an eyewitness, but he uses first person plural,which would also include the letter’s recipient, Theophilus. Luke’s book tells the story of Jesus’s life and death, and that would seem to be what he’s referring to when he says “things that have been fulfilled among us.” But he’s not an eyewitness, nor is Theophilus.

Additionally, there’s the use of the present perfect: have been fulfilled. Present perfect is used to describe two things:

  1. The indefinite past: When the action occurred is not important; what is important is that it indeed happened. “I’ve been to German.” It’s not necessarily important when I went. What’s important is the fact that I did go, at some point.
  2. A state or action that begins in the past and continues to the present: “I’ve lived in Boston for two years.” I still live in Boston (not really — just in the example), and that’s the important thing.

To what end is Luke, then, using present perfect? There are two ways to interpret it:

  1. It’s not so important when all these things happened, just that they happened.
  2. These events are still happening.

Both interpretations seem fundamentally sound and complementary. A gospel is the story of the salvific actions of Jesus. Christians believe that this is obviously an on-going process: Jesus continues to save. That the events are still literally happening is a distinctly Catholic view (in light of the Mass).

just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word

Clearly Luke is relying on eyewitness accounts: he says as much. But there’s still that worrying “us.” Another possibility — due to translation choices — would be that Luke is using the royal “we” to refer to himself, a common practice in more formal writing. But that possibility is untenable with the next passage.

Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning,

This returns me to the question of Q and other written accounts. Is Luke indicating that he relied on sources other than eyewitnesses? Or are my presumptions reading that into the passage?

I’m curious how he investigated everything. I don’t believe there was the degree of mobility in the first century that we enjoy today. It doesn’t seem likely that Luke simply took a road trip to interview eyewitnesses and check out other accounts. Yet how else would he ave “investigated everything from the beginning.” What would it mean, in a first-century context, to “investigate everything from the beginning”?

it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,

What is the relationship between Luke and Theophilus? Employer and employee? Mentor and student? Friends? Why would he write to Theophilus about this? What interest did Theophilus have in it, and what motivation would Luke have for writing such a long account for a seemingly small audience? Clearly, Luke was not anticipating his work to be widely read. Or was he?

so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Was Theophilus converting to Christianity? Did Theophilus hire Luke to go investigate the claims of the Christians?

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One thought on “Luke 1.1-4

  1. Jared Olar says:

    On the identity of Theophilus, some have observed that it could be a symbolic name — it means “God’s friend,” and might just mean, “Christian disciple.” That is, St. Luke might not be writing to one specific person named Theophilus, but is addressing the particular Christian who happens to be interested in finding out about Jesus and His teachings.

    Of course Theophilus might actually be a real person’s name.

    As for where St. Luke got his information, the parallels to the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Mark suggest that he knew of them and consulted them. Then we have the ancient tradition that St. Luke wrote Acts — and it’s hard not to conclude that whoever wrote Luke also wrote Acts as a continuation. In certain parts of Acts, the author tells of some of St. Paul’s journeys using the pronoun “we,” meaning the author of Acts was accompanying St. Paul on those particular journeys. There is also an ancient tradition, as early as the second century, that St. Luke’s Gospel was based on St. Paul’s teaching (as St. Mark was said to have based his Gospel on St. Peter’s teaching) — and in fact, some of the Fathers state that when St. Paul refers to “my Gospel” in the New Testament, he doesn’t just mean the content of his doctrine, but the very written Gospel that St. Luke had prepared. Based on these indications and traditions and suggestions, St. Luke could have based his Gospel on written and oral testimony of various apostles and other early Christians who were eyewitnesses of Jesus. It has also been traditional to view the first two chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel as based on things related by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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