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The Prologue of Luke

The Prologue of Luke

The Prologue of Luke

Although the Gospel of Luke actually begins in verse five, it is the first four verses that provide us with evidence of its authenticity. While most of the New Testament was written in the common Koine Greek, Luke 1:1-4 was written in the most beautiful, classical Greek found anywhere in the ancient world. The literary style is indicative of only the most sophisticated Greek writers. A philosopher, educator, or historian in the ancient world would compose such a prologue when he wanted the work to be given the greatest respect. Prominent Greek and Roman historians did this. 

In the first four verses of his Gospel, Luke is laying down the express motivation of maintaining the highest level of accuracy. He is warranting that the Gospel is a serious literary and historical volume. He is suggesting that his Gospel should provide a higher level of accuracy and reliability than the rest. The motive is to engage the reader, not with fable, mythology, or fiction. Rather is to give an orderly account of real people, real events, and real places. He wants the reader to know he compiled his Gospel with the highest standard of integrity by providing a facts-based historical narrative evidenced by many points of reference that can withstand the scrutiny that others can’t.

Although he does not name them, the prologue clearly acknowledges his dependence on sources. Luke reminds us that other before him have attempted to document the ministry of Jesus (Luke 1:1) The accounts to which Luke makes reference includes written sources. In fact, there were many such narratives before Luke written for authoritative sources that had a closer perspective to the historical Jesus, from “those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (Luke 1:2) Although Luke was not a participant in the events described, he nevertheless has fully understood and faithfully transmitted the authoritative apostolic testimony: those “servants of the word” of Luke 1:2. (See A. Schlatter’s analysis of Luke’s prologue, Das Evangelium des Lukas, 14-23. Also, R. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 123.)

Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Acts 1:1-2 (ESV)

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

 

Luke-Acts is a two-volume work written by the same author in the first century. It comprises 27% of the New Testament and is the best foundation for understanding first-century Christianity since it provides the most reliable witness of Christ and his Apostles. It is the only New Testament reference that stands alone as providing continuity between the ministry of Christ and the ministry of his Apostles for gaining a sufficiently broad appreciation of the fundamentals of the Gospel message and Christian doctrine. Other gospels are revisions, expansions, and embellishments of the more primitive tradition exhibited in Luke. Accordingly, Luke-Acts is the best reference for understanding the belief and practices of the early Church.

To Theophilus

Luke and Acts are addressed to “Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). The name Theophilus can be translated as “lover of God.” Many theories have been proposed as to who is being addressed. Many scholars have the view that the Gospel is being addressed to a specific person of high esteem, but no one knows for sure. Honorary title (academia) tradition maintains that Theophilus was not a person, but according to the Greek meaning of the word Theophilus being “Friend of God,” both Luke and Acts were addressed to anyone who fits that description. In this tradition, the author’s targeted audience was the informed believers of the era. In a general sense, it would pertain to one of high integrity having an affinity toward God. Accordingly, Theophilus is an endearing name for the author to address the reader. This is the kind of reader who would be principally concerned with an accurate account of the truth, as to have certainty (the highest level of confidence) in the things taught. 

What the Prologue implies if Luke was written after the other Synoptics

The insistence on a missing source “Q” stems largely from an assumption that the author of Luke would not have excluded so much of Matthew if he had access to it as a source. However, the author of Luke recognized that there were many narratives before him. His prologue suggests the need, based on his close review of the witnesses, to provide an orderly account for the purposes of providing certainty about the things taught. This implies that, if Luke was written in reference to both Mark and Matthew, as the Farrier Hypothesis postulates, then Luke excluded much of Matthean material because Matthew largely embellished and got things wrong. This implication is especially made clear by the prologue:

Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Because the Farrer Hypothesis maintains that the author of Luke had a copy of Matthew when writing Luke. The clear implication is that the material in Matthew must have deviated from the sound testimony of eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, and that material omitted from Matthew is questionable. Accordingly, Luke’s intent to provide a concise and orderly account could be understood as editing out “the fluff” from the passages in Matthew based on what he believed was the most creditable and substantiated attestation of the evidence within his possession. 

However, we don’t believe the Farrer Hypothesis is correct and that the Lukan priority better fits the evidence.