by Doug Ward
On April 16, 2023, Dr. Craig Blomberg, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Denver Seminary, was a guest speaker at Oxford Bible Fellowship in Oxford, Ohio. Blomberg had lectured at Miami University on the previous evening about the historical reliability of the New Testament. The title of his sermon at OBF was "Can We Trust the Gospel?"
Blomberg began by observing that many in attendance might never have had any doubt about the veracity of scripture. "God said it; I believe it; that settles it" is an affirmation heard frequently among Christians. Even so, Christians should know what to say to those who are grappling with the question of whether to believe the Bible. In particular, we should understand what the writers of the Gospels were trying to do when they put the story of Jesus in writing.
Luke, the author of over a quarter of the New Testament, began his Gospel with a statement of purpose. This statement, a single sentence in Greek, comprises four verses in our modern verse numbering system. The subject of the sentence can be found in Luke 1:3: "it seemed good to me also ... to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus."
Writing such an "orderly account" was a major undertaking. Producing a book was an expensive process in the ancient world, and Luke would have needed help with that process. The materials-papyrus, stylus, and ink-were costly. The scribes who used these materials were trained professionals.
The gathering of material was also a major task. Luke was a companion of Paul, and he was an eyewitness of many events that he recorded in the book of Acts, the second part of his work. (Some sections of Acts 16-28 are written in first person plural.) But he probably never met Jesus, and so for his Gospel he needed to track down and talk with others who were eyewitnesses of Jesus' words and deeds.
Since writing a book was so expensive and time-consuming, ancient writers often relied upon the support of patrons. In Luke's case, that patron was the man he called Theophilus.
Four Subordinate Clauses
Luke's complex sentence has four subordinate clauses. Blomberg joked that if it were nearer Christmas time, he would have referred to them as "elves." He discussed these clauses one at a time.
The first is in verse one: "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us ... " Here Luke mentioned that "many" were spreading and collecting stories about Jesus. These could have included eyewitness reports and possibly both "fan fiction" and derogatory works. Luke wanted to set the record straight and emphasize the things he believed were important.
The story of "the things that have been accomplished among us" (or "fulfilled among us" as in the NIV and NKJV) had really begun some two thousand years earlier in the time of Abraham. God had promised to Abraham that "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Ge 12:3). The account of the promise of the Messiah proceeds through the Hebrew Scriptures, through the times of the Exodus, conquest, monarchy, exile, and beyond. Luke wanted to show how Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope (Lk 24:44-45).
The second subordinate clause is in verse 2: "just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us ... " Luke probably consulted a number of eyewitnesses. For example, the trip to Jerusalem when Paul was arrested (Acts 21) may have afforded Luke an opportunity to conduct interviews with leaders of the Christian community in Jerusalem. The "ministers of the word" mentioned here may have been trusted leaders who were authorized transmitters of early Christian tradition.
The third clause is in verse 3: "having followed all things closely for some time past ..." This clause describes Luke's diligence in investigating the story of the Gospel. He does not mention explicitly here the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this process, but Christians believe that the Holy Spirit directed the very human process by which Luke gathered his sources.
The fourth clause gives a reason that Luke undertook this daunting project: "that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." Luke wrote to reinforce the confidence of Theophilus in his newfound faith. The Greek word for "taught" is katecheo, the word from which the English word "catechism" derives.
From this prologue to the Gospel of Luke, we see that Luke believed he was conveying historical truth. The Gospels are intended to be reliable history. Blomberg concluded that we should give Luke the benefit of the doubt and investigate his claims further, weighing the evidence and using our critical thinking skills. Doing so will strengthen our faith.
translated from TEX by TTH,
On 10 Jul 2023, 15:50.