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By David Garland
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 David E. Garland
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Chapter OneLuke 1:1 – 4
Luke is the only gospel to include a preface in which the author addresses the one to whom the work is dedicated. He composes these opening verses in elegant Greek with a carefully balanced structure and employs current literary conventions used in opening dedications. This care and skill would reassure an educated Greek reader. It signals that the author was aware of the customs used in the non-Christian world and that he self-consciously intended for his work to be read widely and by those familiar with these literary conventions.
Luke's use of secular models for his preface does not mean that the Bible is not also his model. Du Plessis comments that while Luke writes as a historian of the Christian movement, "we must guard against the temptation to consider Luke as a mere imitator of classical conventions. He was writing independently although using conventional form, and uses his own terminology when it suits him.... He is not just writing ordinary history and thus the differences should be considered in the same way as the similarities!" He establishes his authority as one who has "followed everything closely" and as a result compiled an improved "orderly account," which leads the auditor to "full ... certainty" about the teachings received from the tradition.
This gospel's narrative is intended to persuade readers of the full certainty of the truth of the traditions about Jesus and their significance for salvation.
Structure and Literary Form
Luke composes a carefully balanced period (a single sentence) for his preface. This preface has been conventionally linked to historiographical works that typically include mention of any predecessors (sometimes with criticism), the subject, the qualifications of the writer, the purpose of the work, its organization, and often a dedication to a patron or friend. This formal preface has traditionally, and I think rightly, been taken as an indication that Luke intended to write history.
Alexander has seriously challenged this view and argues that "Luke's preface-style seems to be more closely related to that of the 'scientific' tradition than it is to that of the hellenistic Jewish literature or any other Greek literary tradition." In a review of her work, Marshall argues that her conclusions strengthen the assumptions about the historical reliability of Luke's work since readers would expect accuracy from a scientific writing, and it would suit the tradition that Luke was a medical doctor who would have been familiar with these kinds of works. The problem is that Alexander compares style, which is not genre specific.
Aune offers these other criticisms of Alexander's conclusions. (1) Few historical works survive, and those that do often cover a millennium of historical writing and are missing the preface. This fact impairs any statistical comparison to determine what is normative or rare. (2) Those histories that have survived come from authors of much higher social status than Luke, whose preface may have been more comparable to the hundreds of histories (see Lucian, Hist. 2) that have been lost and would have been considered pedestrian and lacking taste and ability by the educated (see Lucian's satirical critique of examples of such a preface in contemporary historians [Hist. 16]). (3) In trying to demonstrate what Luke's preface is not, a historical preface, Alexander does not demonstrate, beyond citing the parallels, how scientific prefaces functioned. (4) Luke's writing does not strike anyone as a scientific or technical treatise. It has biographical and historical content with a plotted narrative. It is not an explicatory discourse that is characteristic of a scientific treatise. Alexander's work has not completely derailed the premise that Luke intends to write history.
Aune compares Luke's preface to Plutarch's essay "The Dinner of the Seven Wise Men" (Mor. 146B – 164D). He characterizes its preface as "a cliché" in that it "adopts a pastiche of elements that the ancient reader would reflexively recognize as an explanatory prooimion whose primary function would be to bolster the claim that the following account is the truth and nothing but the truth." Plutarch's work has numerous parallels with Luke's preface, which suggests that Luke's intention with his preface is also to bolster the claim that what follows is the truth and nothing but the truth.
The structure divides into two balanced segments:
Inasmuch as many ... to compile a narrative ... just as they were delivered to us ... It seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you ... ... the certainty of the teachings in which you have been instructed.
I. Previous endeavors to relate the events that have been fulfilled among us (1:1 – 2)
II. Qualifications for undertaking the task anew (1:3)
III. Purpose of the task: to establish the reliability of the tradition and the certainty of faith (1:4)
Explanation of the Text
1:1 Inasmuch as many have set their hands to compile a narrative concerning the events that have been fulfilled among us ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). Luke was not the first to undertake the audacious task of committing to writing the oral traditions about Jesus, and he explains why he tackles this comprehensive project. It is a literary convention among historians to refer to one's predecessors when writing on the same topic. Marincola says that ancient historiography did not attempt "to strike out boldly in a radical departure from one's predecessors, but rather to be incrementally innovative within a tradition, by embracing the best in previous performers and adding something of one's own marked with an individual stamp." "Inasmuch as" expresses cause so that Luke associates his work with these predecessors and thereby justifies it.
The verb "set their hands" underscores the difficulty of the task. "To compile [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], an uncommon verb] a narrative [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" means that Luke's predecessors have arranged the events sequentially. The "events" are not simply occurrences; they are matters that concern salvation history. The passive participle translated "that have been fulfilled" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) can simply mean "happened" or "taken place, " but here it refers to divine acts (see Heb 2:3 – 4), and Luke customarily refers to God's action with the passive voice (4:21; 22:37; 24:44; Acts 1:16; [3:18 has God as the subject]). The perfect tense used here suggests that these are not only events "in which God is active" but those "which He brings to completion."
1:2 Just as they were delivered to us by those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and became ministers of the word ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). Hellenistic historians believed that writing history required either being an eyewitness or having access to eyewitnesses (Polybius, 3.4.13; Josephus, Ag. Ap. 1.10 §55; Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39).14 Luke was not an eyewitness to the first events, but he had access to eyewitnesses of what happened and to those who had conducted close inquiries. They were present "from the beginning" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; see Acts 1:21 – 22; John 15:27), and Luke records the tradition that has been delivered by them "just as" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) it was delivered.
Some translate "eyewitnesses" and "ministers of the word" as two separate groups, which fits the criteria laid out for Judas's replacement in Acts 1:21 – 22. Those who accompanied Jesus during his ministry as eyewitnesses are distinguished from the Twelve, who are witnesses to his resurrection. In Acts 13:31 – 32, Paul differentiates himself, as one who proclaims the gospel, from the eyewitnesses of the resurrection. The relative pronoun ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) that governs the construction, however, suggests that Luke refers to one group. In Acts 26:16, Paul records his commissioning by Jesus on the road to Damascus to appoint him "as a servant [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me." The participle [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] separates "ministers" from "the word" and has its primary sense "becoming." It suggests that the eyewitnesses of the events recorded in the gospel "became" the ministers of the word. Acts records this transformation. Since the infancy narrative immediately follows this statement, might one also assume that it represents an eyewitness report? Kuhn believes so. The proclamation of the gospel events was not limited to the apostles. Women were also with Jesus in Galilee (8:1 – 3) and were witnesses of his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (23:55 – 24:10).
The term "word" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) can also be translated "report" ("matter"). In 5:15 and 7:17, it has the neutral meaning, but to any insider it would refer to the Christian proclamation of what God has done in Christ. In Acts 1:1, the whole gospel of Luke is referred to as (lit.) "the first word." In Acts 6:2 – 4, "word" is equated with the "word of God." Both are used interchangeably for the message God sent to the people of Israel (see Acts 4:4, 29, 31; 6:2, 4; 8:4, 14, 25; 10:36 – 38, 44; 11:1, 19; 13:48) and for the Christian movement (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 13:49; 19:10, 20). Here the "word" refers to the traditions about Jesus and the proclamation of what it means.
1:3 It seemed good also to me, having followed everything closely back to the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). Luke presents his qualifications to write the account. "It seemed good also to me" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) indicates that Luke does not wish to criticize his predecessors. They belong to the "us" (1:1) and had the same tradition (1:3). What Luke does differently from his predecessors is write a " 'continuous' account — one that tells the story from the beginning to Rome." The verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is used in Acts 15:22, 25, 28 for a decision that is prompted by the Holy Spirit.
Luke prepared himself to write the account by following everything with care as befits a historian. The verb "followed" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) means he "brought himself abreast of" events. He did so, first, by consulting "everything" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which, if neuter, refers to sources and other independent traditions, but, if masculine, may also include people. Second, he went "back to the beginning" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). This word can mean "for some time," referring to the length of research, but more likely refers to the scope of his investigations. He traced the events back to their starting point (see Acts 26:5) and probably refers to the infancy narrative that immediately follows (absent from Mark). The rich allusions to the Old Testament in chs. 1 – 2, however, suggest that Luke follows the interpretative approach used by Jesus at Emmaus when he began with Moses and all the prophets to interpret the things about himself in the Scriptures (24:27). The beginning, then, may extend back beyond the recent historical events surrounding Jesus' birth and John's appearance in the wilderness to God's purposes outlined by Moses and reaffirmed by the prophets. What happens in this story is a fulfillment of the Scriptures.
Third, Luke followed things "closely" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). This term appears frequently in Greek prefaces, and Luke uses it in connection to his following things carefully and accurately (see Acts 18:26). It results in enabling him to do more than "compile" but to write "an orderly account" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). "Orderly" modifies the infinitive "to write" rather than the phrase that precedes it. It does not refer to a chronological sequence of what happened but to a coherent, sequential arrangement of the material so that the reader has clear impressions. Luke will articulate his theological vision through narrative, and he fashions the narrative's unity "by the display of major developments and patterns."
Moessner points out that "in Hellenistic poetics the meaning of any incident or event ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is conferred by the movement of the plot; any event is 'figured' by its relation to all the other events and characters and their causally configured interactions according to the 'thoughts' of the author." The objective is to present the reader with the truth in a plotted narrative and to convince the reader of that truth, not to present just the facts. The orderly account discloses "why these events are seen as having reached their fulfillment ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1:1)." The order is designed to be persuasive, and one can compare Peter's justification for preaching to Gentiles before the circumcised believers who raised questions (Acts 11:1 – 17). He gave them a point by point ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Acts 11:4) account, but his telling of the story does not follow a chronological order. Peter's account is considered "orderly" not because of its accurate chronology "but in retelling the incident from a 'narratival' perspective, that is, with the larger sequence and purpose of the narrative."
The phrase "most excellent Theophilus" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) can be translated "your Excellency" and refer to a high official of some kind. It has this meaning in Acts in the tribune Claudius Lysius's letter to the governor Felix (Acts 23:26), in Tertullus's address to the governor (Acts 24:3), and in Paul's address to the governor Festus (Acts 26:25). Some infer from these instances that Theophilus is also a Roman official and that Luke writes a defense of the Christian movement to appeal for help. While Theophilus may be an official and certainly has high status, it is improbable that Luke writes an official defense of Christianity or of Paul. Though the opening paragraph is directed to Theophilus, the rest of the gospel is directed to the general reader. Luke explicitly states that his purpose is not to provide "definite information about a story" but to convey "the certainty or trustworthiness of a story" that Theophilus has been taught. Why would a disinterested Roman official want to wade through two volumes to find out about Christians unless he already was one himself?
It is more likely that this phrase is a polite form of address that means "most excellent." Josephus uses the same term in his preface to Against Apion 1.1 §1 ("most excellent Epaphroditus"; see Life 430 §76) to salute his patron who enabled him to write and publicly distribute the work. Theophilus, a common name that appears for real persons in the papyri, is addressed as if he were the sole recipient according to ancient dedicatory custom, but the work is meant for all who are interested in learning the truth of Christianity. I do not think that he is a fictitious person (so Epiphanius, Pan. 51.429) because the epithet "most excellent" would be unsuitable. It is a happy coincidence that his name means "friend of God" and is applicable to any faithful reader. Acts 1:1 has a short rededication to Theophilus, omitting the epithet, "most excellent," with a brief reference to the preceding volume.
In my view, Theophilus is the patron who provided funds to publish and distribute Luke-Acts. I assume, then, that he is a Christian, and the gospel and Acts will convince him (and others) of the reliability of what he has been taught and believed. It is possible that Theophilus, the friend of God, is an alias for a prominent Roman who needed to remain incognito. Hengel points out, "He was certainly not an ordinary man. It is his rank in society that requires the preface, which is extremely strange for the earliest church." It may explain the warnings in Luke about the dangers of wealth that is not used rightly.
Excerpted from Luke by David Garland Copyright © 2011 by David E. Garland. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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