Luke's Perspective On Jesus (Part 1)

The Gospel of Luke begins with something the other gospels don't have. A preface. You know what a preface is. It shows up at the beginning of a book and the author uses it to explain why he or she wrote the book. I actually have a book called Famous Prefaces. No joke. A real page turner, as you can imagine.

You thought I was lying.

Here's Luke's preface, found in Luke 1:1-4, taken from the NRSV.

"Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed."

Sheesh. Wordy much, Luke?

Do you remember how Mark began? "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the son of God." In Greek that phrase is only seven words! And there's no verb in the sentence! Then comes Luke, Mr. Big Stuff, with his 42 word preface. Oh, and there's only one period, by the way. That's right, this thing is a 42 word sentence. Shame on you, NIV, for adding a period in the middle and giving people a chance to breathe. That's just no fun at all.

We can learn a lot from the preface of Luke. First, Luke isn't afraid to follow the style of the day. Anyone who was familiar with Greek and Roman literature, particularly works by Greek historians, would recognize Luke's preface. It's how books written by Greek historians frequently began. From the start of the gospel, Luke is letting the ancient reader know two things: 1) he knows how to write, and 2) his work should be taken seriously, like other works of history of the time.

I like to think Luke looked something like Peter O'Toole in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." Probably wishful thinking.

There's more to be learned from this preface. Luke mentions that many others have attempted to write about the events in his book, and that these events were passed down by eyewitnesses. That is, there were not only many written accounts ("many" seems like more than four, by the way), but there was an oral tradition too. And here's my favorite part -- Luke wants it to be known that he studied all of it ("after investigating everything carefully from the very first"). That's right. Like a good student, he used resources. He researched. I know that may seem a little... human, but these are Luke's words, not mine. If it troubles you a little, that's ok. It troubled early scribes too. Some early copies of Luke don't simply say "I too decided." That seemed just a little too not-inspired, a little too "man-made" for those ancient scribes, so they added "and the Holy Spirit." Leave it to people to try and make it more spiritual than God did in the first place.

One more thing about this preface. Luke lets us know that his account was written for Theophilus. This name means "lover of God" or "beloved of God." That's all we know. Was Theophilus a patron who had provided financial support to Luke so that he could write his account? Again, I know that doesn't necessarily fit neatly with how we usually talk about inspiration (the idea that Luke wrote this book because someone paid him to write it). But I'll say it again, these are Luke's words, not mine.

Then again, what if Theophilus wasn't a specific person? What if Theophilus was a title for his true audience -- other Christians? Just maybe, Luke wrote his account for the "beloved of God."

Well we just spent more time on the preface of Luke then most of us will spend on prefaces our entire life. Not me. One of these days, I'm totally reading Famous Prefaces.

Next time will talk a bit about the rest of Luke.


  1. I'm curious how you came to own a copy of Famous Prefaces (hardcover edition). Was it recommended by a friend? "Weeg, the best part of every book is the first five pages before chapter one. This book is all those good parts without all the other crap!"

  2. I think I bought it at a local library book sale. For absolutely no good reason except I'd never seen one before and it made me laugh.


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