[Note: This is the “Old” version of the Grace Commentary on Luke. It will be updated to the new version soon.]
Luke begins his account of the life of Jesus by stating who he is writing it for, and he also provides a bit of insight into the methods he used to glean the information that follows. Luke follows the widespread Greek-style preface for histories of his time, which was intended to arouse interest and gain the trust of the reader (Green 1997:34).
1:1. First, he recognizes that many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative. It is possible that he is referring to narratives like Matthew and Mark, but there may have been others as well which are no longer available. It is also unclear what order Luke has in mind, but by stating that the content of his narrative will be the things which have been fulfilled among us indicate an emphasis in showing how God has been active in and through the historical events Luke records, and which continue to have ongoing significance for Luke’s readers (Green 1997:39-40). Luke does not simply want to explain the things that have happened in the life of Jesus, but more importantly, show how these events continue the great saga of God’s mission on earth through His people. The books of Luke and Acts show how the history of Israel is fulfilled in Jesus, and how God’s mission to the world continues through the church (Wright 2006: ).
1:2. Second, Luke is careful to note that he is only referring to those accounts which were written by eyewitnesses of the events, and that these individuals delivered their accounts directly to him. He did not get his information, either verbal or written, through secondhand sources. Furthermore, Luke was careful in selecting his sources by limiting them not just to witnesses, but to those who had their eyes opened by the Spirit to what they had witnessed (cf. Luke 24:13-35; Green 1997:41).
1:3. Having received these accounts, Luke decided to write his own. Why should he do so when there were already accounts by eyewitnesses? Becuase it seemed good to him. That is, he wanted to write an account. Frequently, the desires of our heart are from God, and should be pursued with passion, especially if they bring glory to God and fit within our gifts, talents, personality, and abilities. Luke certainly believed he had these, for he writes next that he had perfect understanding of all things from the very first. This doesn’ t mean that Luke understood everything about Jesus and knew every detail about His life, but rather that Luke had thoroughly investigated the events he records and could vouch for their accuracy. Such statements were expected from individuals who were writing historical accounts, especially if their account was for legal or official purposes.
Luke states next that he desired to write an orderly account. He does not elaborate on how he intends to organize his account. Possibly, his intent was to write a chronological narrative, but based on Luke’s usage of similar terminology when relating the same event in two different ways (cf. Acts 10:1-11:18), a strict chronological ordering seems unlikely (Green 1997:44). Instead, early historians often ordered their accounts in such a way to emphasize certain aspects of the narrative, in order to have the greatest impact on the reader. In other words, Luke is using a “persuasive order” (Green 1997:44).
Luke is writing this narrative for one person, the most excellent Theophilus. We don’t know who he was, but the term most excellent possibly indicates that Theophilus was a high-ranking Roman official, who may have been a patron of Luke (Malina 2003:224; Green 1997:44; Bock 1994:63). Of the various titles given to Roman officials, this is one of the highest. Some have written that the only Roman title higher than the one Luke uses here is “Caesar.”
It is also unclear if Theophilus is this person’s real name, since the name means “Lover of God.” It may be that Luke is writing to a man who wishes to keep his identity secret, or that the name refers to a general group of Christians. Most believe that Theophilus was an individual, and was probably a patron to Luke (Bock 1994:63). “Nevertheless, that the work is dedicated to Theophilus does not mean that Luke intended his work just for him. Other ancient writers dedicated their works to individuals, knowing full well that they were writing for a larger audiene (Bock 1994:64).
Curiously, in Acts, which was also written by Luke to Theophilus, Luke does not use the title “most excellent.” Instead, he simply writes to “Theophilus.” Why? Ultimately, the answer is unknown. Some speculate that Theophilus lost his position of prominence, maybe as a result of becoming a follower of Jesus.
1:4. Whoever Theophilus was, Luke writes to him so that he may know the certainty of the things in which he had previously been instructed. Apparently, Theophilus had been taught about the life of Christ before. By whom we are not told. Luke writes his account to confirm what Theophilus had learned as a new believer (Bock 1994:64).
Luke seeks to help Theophilus, as a new believer, answer questions that he may have had. Some of these questions are:
“Is Christianity what I believed it to be, a religion sent from God? Why should a Gentile suffer frustration for joining what was originally a Jewish movement? Is the church suffering God’s judgment because it has been too generous with God’s salvation? Will the rest of God’s promises come to pass? Has most of Israel rejected the promise? Can one really be sure Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise and that he brings God’s salvation both now and in the future?” (Bock 1994:65)