Today’s post is a bold statement, especially if you compare Luke’s Gospel against the amazing theology from the poetic beginning of John’s Gospel. As a person who graduated with a history major for my undergraduate degree, St. Luke has always held a special place in my academic heart. I put forth two reasons why the start of Luke’s Gospel is the best way to begin any book.
- Know your Audience: Luke dedicates his gospel to a person named Theophilus. Scholars hold that this name may be referring to a singular person or a general audience. The reason for believing the latter possibility is because the Greek word Theophilus translates to “lover of God”. Regardless of Luke’s intention, I found it interesting and significant that he adds this dedication. Along with the dedication, Luke gives us the purpose of his writing his account. Here is the exact text of his dedication to Theophilus:
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received (Luke 1:1-4).
- Credibility: The second point I wish to make to show the genius of Luke’s gospel is that within the initial verses, the evangelist tells his readers the sources that he is using. Relying on eyewitness testimonies, Luke is likely a second-generation Christian who had some contact with the original Twelve Apostles. Additionally, Luke seems to take careful time to sift through these sources utilizing both his reason and gift of the Holy Spirit which inspired him. Luke says, “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past (1:3 Revised Standard Edition). What this means is that Luke carefully examined his sources like any reasonable historian. Lastly, Luke tells Theophilus (us- as lovers of God) the purpose of his writing—“that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (1:4 Revised Standard Edition). Interestingly enough, the Greek word katécheó is translated to mean “informed” refers to teach and is the basis of the English word “catechize”. Catechesis was already happening between Jesus’ Ascension and the time of Luke!
St. Luke is unique among the gospels in that his writing is the only one that specifically details his sources and authorial aim. I firmly believe that one of the reasons for the Lucan text to be included in the New Testament canon—through the guidance of the Holy Spirit—was to appeal to people who rely first and foremost on reason. People like myself crave a rationale basis for various ideas and I love St. Luke’s gospel which is faith-filled in content, the book begins with a brief appeal to the rationalist. I hope to discuss Luke second work, the Acts of the Apostles—especially in celebration of this Easter season!