Luke 1:1-2 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 it seemed fitting for me as well,having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (NASB)
Luke 1:1-2 Ἐπειδήπερ πολλοὶ ἐπεχείρησαν ἀνατάξασθαι διήγησιν περὶ τῶν πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων, 2 καθὼς παρέδοσαν ἡμῖν οἱ ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς αὐτόπται καὶ ὑπηρέται γενόμενοι τοῦ λόγου 3 ἔδοξε κἀμοὶ παρηκολουθηκότι ἄνωθεν πᾶσιν ἀκριβῶς καθεξῆς σοι γράψαι, κράτιστε Θεόφιλε, 4 ἵνα ἐπιγνῷς περὶ ὧν κατηχήθης λόγων τὴν ἀσφάλειαν. Note to reader: Your are invited to explore to see today how the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah are traced out in the Four Gospels at: http://pastormahlon.blogspot.com/2013/12/p311-discovering-identity-of-jesus-how.html
Introduction Today’s post is all about establishing what the early church and those Christians following the days of the Apostles (post-apostolic church fathers) had to say about the four Gospels. In order to get right into the material, I will simply list main headings so as to give the reader ease of reading. The practical reasons for such a study are included at the conclusion of this post.
1. Luke’s prologue as a reference point regarding the Gospels of Matthew and Mark Luke opens his gospel by noting the types of sources that he used and the one Divine Source that led him to write what he wrote.
a. Luke writes as a historian with a great concern for accuracy. The Greek words used to describe this first group of sources (πολλοὶ ἐπεχείρησαν ἀνατάξασθαι διήγησιν) would had been known to Luke’s reader Theophilus, who was Greek, being that the well known Greek historians of his day (like Thucycides) used such words to preface their historical records.
Case in point, compare Thucycides introduction to his book: “The history of the war between the Polypennisians and the Athenians”, written in 420 b.c: “….on the whole the conclusions I have drawn from the proofs quoted, may, I believe, safely be relied upon.” So what were Thucycides proofs? He writes on about how he utilized Greek politics, Naval records and traditions handed down through the history of Greek culture.
b. Luke notes that there had been “many of those who had carefully written down a highly ordered narration”. Clearly Luke’s prologue is intentional worded and designed to convey his commitment to accuracy in recording the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like Thucycides’ Greek history, we can ask similar questions of the Gospel of Luke. So who were those sources whom Luke was referring to? A reasonable answer could include three combined possible sources.
The first source could include the preaching of the Apostles themselves (i.e “the many” = πολλοὶ) , which Luke records in his second volume – Acts of the Apostles.
The second source possibly being referred to in Luke’s reckoning could be the already completed Gospel of Matthew. New Testament scholar William R. Farmer notes: “When Luke defined the intention of the διήγησιν (di-ei-gei-sin = account) compiled by the πολλοὶ (po-lloy = many) as being concerned to set forth ‘the things which have been fulfilled among us,’ his words describe one of the characteristic features of the Gospel of Matthew. For in Matthew the motif of the fulfillment of prophecy is prominent.” 1
The third source we could include in Luke’s reckoning could possibly be the soon to be newly completed Mark, based off the preaching of Peter. Dr. David Alan Black, Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary explains: “In order for Luke’s work to be recognized as a true account and one worthy to be read in the Christian assembly either alongside or in the place of Matthew’s Gospel, Paul needed to have it endorsed by an apostolic witness.”2 That endorsement, according to Black, would be none other than Peter himself.
Included in Luke’s writing process would had been a thorough checking of sources, undoubtedly guided by the Holy Spirit. Peter’s preaching series on the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is (according to history as we will see below) the source included by the Holy Spirit in the Divine inspiration of Mark’s Gospel. John of course would not compose his Gospel for another 20 or so years after Luke.
2. Another argument for Luke’s sources possibly including Matthew and the soon to be completed Mark stems from what Luke says in verse 2 about the identity of those who were bearing witness of Jesus’ life and acts. Consider the phrases “eyewitnesses from the beginning” (οἱ ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς αὐτόπται = hoy ap ar-cheis au-toptai) and the “being servants of the word” ( ὑπηρέται γενόμενοι τοῦ λόγου = ho-air-e-tie gen-o-menoy too lo-goo). Matthew and the Apostles preaching throughout the Roman world would fit the first designation “eyewitness from the beginning” and people like Mark could fit the second category “servant of the word”. Luke’s consultation of these sources was used by the Holy Spirit in the final drafting and composition of his Gospel.
Dr. David Alan Black aids us yet again: “Peter realized that Paul needed the public assurance that Luke’s book was in complete conformity with Peter’s own recollections of Jesus, and he was happy to compare Luke’s treatment with Matthew’s parallel account of the events at which He himself had been a participant or had witnessed. Peter’s plan was to give a series of speeches in the Roman location that he had designated for his weekly worship celebration. His secretary Mark helped prepare these talks…” 3
3. Luke identifies the one Divine Source that informed and shaped what he was getting ready to write about the Lord Jesus Christ. The NASB renders the beginning of Luke 1:3 “it seemed fitting for me as well,having investigated everything carefully from the beginning”. The phrase “from the beginning” is the Greek word ἄνωθεν (an-o-then) which can be just as easily translated “from above”. In John 3:3 for example, Jesus talks to Nicodemas about the need to be born “again” or born “from above”, utilizing this same word ἄνωθεν (an-o-then) . I would suggest that Luke’s reasoning for being able to write down an orderly and perfect record of Jesus’ life stems from the Holy Spirit’s working “from above” to superintend Luke’s process of gathering, collecting and arranging the details of Jesus’ life. (compare 2 Peter 1:21) Furthermore, as already mentioned, Luke’s explicit statements of taking great pains to be thorough and accurate in his work bears witness to the efforts of a historian.
With the authority of Luke’s prologue serving as our anchoring point, we can now proceed to the remainder of evidence from early church history concerning the New Testament Gospels.