Criswell Theological Review 5.2 (1991) 183-201.

                  Copyright © 1991 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission.    





                 CAREFULLY BUILDING ON

                   PRECEDENT (LUKE 1:1-4)



                                          DARRELL L. BOCK

                                   Dallas Theological Seminary

                                             Dallas, TX 75204





There is only on~ Gospel where the writer spells out his purpose

and preparation in detail. That is the Gospel of Luke. The introduc-

tion of Luke's Gospel is significant because he not only tells us why

he writes and how he writes but also indicates the state of the tradi-

tion about Jesus at the time he writes. In addition, the meaning of the

passage is hotly debated, with virtually every phrase a matter of dis-

pute. This article seeks to examine the preface and its meaning.1


            Structure, Genre, and Luke's Description of Narrative


            Luke begins his work, as other ancient writers do, with a preface.

The entire paragraph is one long Greek sentence. Luke writes with

balance as he argues his connection to the past and his desire to give

his readers assurance about the instruction they have received. Luke

discusses the tradition he inherited in v 1. Then he traces the origin of

that tradition to eyewitnesses and servants who preach the Word in

v 2. Luke 1:3 is the main clause of the preface and discusses how Luke

wrote his account. The purpose of Luke's writing is found in the last

verse. He desires to give his reader, Theophilus, assurance about the

events surrounding Jesus. Theophilus had prior knowledge of these


            1 This article represents a slightly reworked portion of a forthcoming two-volume

commentary on the Gospel of Luke by the author.



events, and Luke wishes to reassure his recipient that Jesus is the

fulfillment of God's promises. Luke 1:1 speaks of fulfilled events to

raise the note of God's activity at the very start. History makes it clear

that Theophilus was not the only one who benefited from Luke's la-

bor. The church is the major beneficiary of Luke's work.

            The structure of Luke 1:1-4 reflects balanced Greek periodic style

with a protasis, vv 1-2 ("Inasmuch as'' or "since"), and an apodosis,

vv 3-4 ("so also it seemed good to me").2 BDF describes how the peri-

odic parallelism works: "many" is parallel to "also to me," while "to

compose a narrative" goes with "to write for you," and "even as eye-

witnesses and servants handed down" is tied to "in order that you

might have assurance." The parallelism in the third unit is not as

clear as in the first two units.3 Tiede notes how the period lays out in

parallel lines.4 He parallels the suggestion of BDF. So the parallelism

of Luke 1:1-4 goes as follows:

            a) Inasmuch as many have undertaken (v 1a)

                        b) to compile a narrative of the things. . .(v 1b)

                                    c) just as they were delivered to us by . . .(v 2)

            a') it seemed good to us also. . .(v 3a)

                        b') to write an orderly account for you. . . (v 3b)

                                    c') in order that you may know the truth (v 4)


The balance of the passage provides an aesthetic touch to the intro-

duction. The parallelism also reflects the effort Luke spent in trying to

create a culturally appropriate introduction to his work.


Ancient Parallels: Other Historical Prefaces

            There are ancient parallels to the prologue. Some are in

Hellenistic-Jewish writings.5 Here one can note 2 Macc 2:19-31, which

parallels Luke in some particulars. The writer of 2 Maccabees cites a

predecessor and then explains what his own goal is in writing a new

summary work (v 23). He compares his work to painting an already

constructed house (v 29). He wishes to entertain and provide facts for

the profit of the reader (v 25). Josephus' prologue to Ant. 1.l. 1-4 and the

Ep. Arist 1. 1-8 should also be mentioned. There also is the prologue to

Sirach, where this writer also explains the rationale for his work.


            2 BDF 464.

            3 The main clause is in Luke 1:3. A stylistic parallel to the period exists in Acts


            4 D. Tiede, Luke (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament; Minneapolis:

Augsburg, 1988) 33.

            5 W. Wiefel, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (THKNT 3; Berlin: Verlagsanstalt, 1988)

38, n.l.

            Darrell L. Bock: UNDERSTANDING LUKE'S TASK    185


            Josephus says that he writes to set out events in which he took

part and to remove the prevailing ignorance that exists about impor-

tant events. Josephus' introduction in Ag. Ap. 1.1. 1-5 even has a dedi-

catory line to "most esteemed Epaphroditus" and describes the

quality of the witnesses on whom Josephus relies. He writes this work

to convict detractors of falsehood, to correct ignorance, and to instruct

all who desire to know the truth. Aristeas' prologue speaks of a "trust-

worthy" narrative of memorable matters (vv 1, 6). The author of Sirach

has simply tried to present to the outside world the legacy of Israel's

traditions of wisdom and discipline.

            Greek parallels also exist for this form. Tiede mentions a later

work by Lucian of Samosota (c. AD. 125-180), who wrote in his treatise,

How to Write History 53-55 that unlike the orators, he will not appeal

for a favorable hearing. He desires to interest his audience and in-

struct them. Earlier, he had said that the only task of an historian is to

tell the truth (39-40).6 Fitzmyer notes that the ancients knew how to

distinguish between fact and fiction.7 The goals in many Greek writers

are like those of the author of 2 Maccabees and the other Jewish

historian-theologians. Lucian argues if what is said is important and

essential, it will receive attention. The goal is to be clear, set forth

causes, and outline the main events. Luke is written with similar goals.

Alexander argues that Luke is a writer in the classic "ancient

scientific" mold.8 This places Luke in the "middle brow" of classical

writing. In Alexander's view, such a work respects tradition, uses

sources, but also has some reworking of tradition.


Luke's Term: Narrative Account

            Among the ancients, there are various terms tied to writing his-

tory. The term, yuxagwgi<a (psychagogia, "persuasion") is often nega-

tive.9 It refers to the goal of some writers, while others refuse to adopt

it. Another term is u[po<mnhma (hypomnema, "records," "memorial,"

"commentary," or "minutes").10  Still a third idea is i[stori<a (historia,


            6 Tiede, 34-35.

            7 J. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (AB 28, 28a, 2 vols.; Garden City, NY:

Doubleday, 1981,1985) 16. .

            8 L Alexander, "Luke's Preface in the Context of Greek Preface-Writing," NovT

28 (1986) 48-75, esp. 60-63. F. Bovon (Das Evangelium nach Lukas: Lk 1, 1-9, #50

[EKKNT 3.1; Zurich/Neukirchen-Vluyn: Benziger/Neukirchener Verlag, 1989], 30, n. 1)

notes that these comparisons with ancient prologues date back to the 18th century with

G. Raphelius and J. J. Wettstein. C. F. Evans (St. Luke [TPI New Testament Commentar-

ies; Philadelphia: Trinity, 1990] 116-19) cites several of these "scientific prefaces."

            9 LSJ 2026.2.

            10 LSJ 1889.2.4. These are often unpolished materials. Lucian On How to Write

History 47-48.



"inquiry," "information," "narrative," or "history").11  The absence of

references to these other terms in BAGD show that Luke chose none

of these terms to describe his work. His term is dih<ghsij (diegesis, "nar-

rative account").12

            Buschel in TDNT notes that the term dih<ghsij simply means "nar-

rative" and does not refer to some form of an incomplete literary work

that one could compare to the individual, detached traditions of mod-

ern form criticism.13  Luke has longer materials in mind than individ-

ual pericopes. His note 3 gives some extra-biblical texts using the term.

Some texts describe oral reports. Others refer to written reports or to

historical accounts: Sir 6:35 (oral); 9:15 (oral); 22:6 (oral); 27:11, 13 (oral);

38:25 and 39:2 (concerning discourses of famous men); Ep. Aris. 1. 8.322

(written); 2 Macc 2:32 (written); 6:17 (historical narrative). LSJ adds

Plato Rep. 392d; Phaed. 246a, and LXX-Hab 1:5.14 The term in the NT

speaks of both oral and written accounts: (oral)--Luke 8:39; 9:10; Acts

8:33; 9:27; 12:17; (written)--Mark 5:16; 9:9; Heb 11:32. So whatever type

of narrative Luke alludes to in v 1, it is not clear whether the sources

are oral, written, or both. What is clear is that these accounts are long

and that Luke's work is similar to them, as v 3 makes clear.15 This as-

sociation might suggest written sources but does not guarantee it.


Major Themes

            So Luke explains why he has written and establishes that his

work has precedent. However, Luke makes other points as well. He

highlights the eyewitness origin of tradition; he points out his account

is the result of a careful consideration of the events; and he notes that

the study was carefully done. In fact, the account begins at the start

and is thorough. Luke's contribution is significant not only because of

his careful work, but also because only he writes a second volume in

which he ties fulfillment in Jesus to God's work in the church.

            So the basic outline of Luke 1:1-4 is as follows:


Carefully Building on Precedent: Luke 1:1-4

            A. The Precedent (1:1-2)

                        1. What Came Before (1:1)

                        2. The Source of Earlier Accounts: Apostolic Eyewitnesses (1:2)


            11 LSJ 842.2.

            12 BAGD 195; Bauer, 6th ed., col. 392; LSJ 427, defines it broadly as "recount."

            13 TDNT 2.909.

            14 F. Buchsel's reference to Hab 2:16 is incorrect

            15 R Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation vol. I

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986) l.lO.

            Darrell L. Bock: UNDERSTANDING LUKE'S TASK    187


            B. Luke's Contribution (1:3-4)

                        1. Luke Describes His Work (1:3)

                        2. Luke's Purpose (1:4)



            (1) Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of

the things which have been fulfilled among us, (2) even as those who

were from the beginning eyewitnesses and servants of the Word de-

livered to us, (3) it seemed good also to me, having followed all

things carefully from the beginning to write an orderly account for

you, most excellent Theophilus, (4) that you might know certainty

concerning the things about which you were instructed.


                        Meaning: Luke Carefully Builds on Precedent

The Precedent (1:1-2)

            What Came Before (1:1). Luke's work is not novel. His Gospel be-

gins by noting the precedent of others in recounting what Jesus did.

The term e]peidh<per (epeideper, "inasmuch as'') gives a condition and is

usually causally related to the action in the main clause, so "since

many have undertaken."16 The accounts of others laid the groundwork

for why Luke writes. Ancient writers loved to show how what they

were doing had precedent.

            Luke also produces an introduction with stylistic parallels in other

ancient writings. Fitzmyer cites similar beginnings from Josephus J. W.

1.6.17 and Philo Legatio ad Gaium 164.17  No LXX usage exists for the

introductory term e]peidh<per ("inasmuch as''), but this style of introduc-

tion is common. The causal nuance is defended by Marshall and


            So Luke is not the first to write about Jesus. "Many" (polloi<, pol-

loi) refers to his literary and or oral predecessors. For most scholars

today, this would allude, at least, to Mark and Q. Q is a posited source

or set of sources that contained teaching material from Jesus to which

both Luke and Matthew had access. Those who hold to the existence

of Q usually think that Mark was the first Gospel. For those who think

Mark is first, Luke uses Mark, Q and a set of special traditions called

"L." Others believe that Matthew is a source that precedes Luke, and


            16 BDF 456.3.

            17 See above for more examples, also cr. Fitzmyer, 290-91.

            18 I. H. Marshall, Commentary on Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978) 41;

G. Schneider, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (Okumenischer Taschenbuch Kommentar

zum Neuen Testament 3; 2 vols.; Gerd Mohn: Gillersloher Verlagshaus, 1977) 38.



some who hold to Matthew as a source do not think an appeal to Q is

necessary. When scholars hold to the Griesbach or Augustinian hy-

pothesis, then Matthew is the first Gospel, and Luke's sources depend

on which variation is preferred (Griesbach: Matthew, Luke, then

Mark; Augustinian: Matthew, Mark, then Luke). Regardless of the

view preferred, and good arguments exist on each side of the debate,

Luke does tell us that he had predecessors, even if he does not name

them for us.19

            "Epexei<rhsan (epecheiresan, "have set their hand," "attempted")

describes the work of Luke's predecessors. The idea of "setting the

hand" to tell a story might well suggest written accounts here, except

that other terms in the context can suggest organized oral reports. So

Luke's remark suggests the presence of written materials but need

not be limited to such sources. Is this term neutral or pejorative? Did

Luke think Jesus' story was well served by previous accounts? First,

the term is the natural term to use for composing an account.20 The

use of ka]moi< (kamoi, "and I also") in v 3 looks as if Luke joins himself

to his predecessors.21 But Fitzmyer argues that the stress on accuracy

and research shows Luke still thought work needed to be done. Klos-

termann also views a critique as implied.22

            However, another fact complicates the discussion. Luke's sequel

makes his task unique as he seeks to join Jesus tradition and church

history together. Luke adds to the recorded accounts of Jesus' ministry

with more detail and includes the additional discussion of the

church's rise (a third of the Gospel contains "L" material). He does so

without necessarily downgrading his predecessors, who blazed a diffi-


            19 G. Caird, St Luke (Pelican Gospel Commentaries; Baltimore: Penguin, 1963) 23-

27. For evaluation of this issue, see the introduction and the excursus in the introduc-

tion to Luke 3:7-9 in D. L Bock, Luke (forthcoming). See also S. McKnight, Source Criti-

cism," in New Testament Criticism and Interpretation (D. A Black and D. Dockery eds.;

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, forthcoming, 137-72); and R Stein, The Synoptic Problem: An

Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987).

            20 BAGD 304; Bauer, 6th ed., col. 617; H. J. Cadbury, "Commentary on the Preface

of Luke," in The Beginnings of Christianity, part 1, ed. by F. J. F. Jackson and K Lake;

London: MacMillan, 1922) I.2A93.

            21 ARC. Leaney, The Gospel According to St Luke (2 ed.; Black's New Testament

Commentaries; London: Adam & Charles Black, 1966) 77; Marshall, 40-41; Creed, 3, and

A Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St

Luke (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1922) 2, have good discussions, as does G. Delling,

TDNT 8.32-33, esp. n. 3. Here Delling makes it clear that a censure of the predecessors

is not in view. He cites the 1st century B. C. historian Diodorus Siculus 1. 1.1-3. as a par-

allel. To this H. Conzelmann (TDNT9:596) adds from the same work 1.2.7. and l.4.4-5.

            22 E. Klostermann, Das Lukasevangelium (HNT 5; 3d ed.; Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr

[Paul Siebeck], 1975) 2.

            Darrell L. Bock: UNDERSTANDING LUKE'S TASK   189


cult trail ahead of him.23 One can note the neutrality in the term by

citing common usage from Moulton/Milligan.24 Acts 9:29 and 19:13

represent other NT uses, which are more negative, but ka]moi< in Luke

1:3 is the key to the problem. The phrase is not as pejorative

as Danker suggests when he includes the possibility of heretics in

this group.25 Along with Luke 1:3, the connection of these accounts

with the apostolic eyewitnesses shows that they are seen in a good

light (v 2).

            Luke describes the previous accounts.   ]Anata<casqai dih<ghsin (ana-

taxasthai diegesin) means to "compile an orderly account." Fitzmyer

has a detailed lexical survey of dih<ghsij, which refers to historical

narrative.26   ]Anata<casqai refers to an orderly account.27 Thus, others

had given accounts of the events surrounding Jesus. Delling suggests

that the term refers to the movement from oral to written tradition.28

Taken with this sense, the Lucan reference is exclusively to written

sources, but it is not guaranteed that this is the point. The term itself

can refer to oral or written accounts, so the idea that only written ac-

counts are in view cannot be defended merely form the use of this

term.29 This term is a technical expression of ancient historians for

different kinds of recounting.30


            23 For a defense of the unity of Luke-Acts and the prologue as serving both vol-

umes, Maddox, The Purpose of Luke-Acts (Studies of the New Testament and its world;

Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1982) 4-6.

            24 Moulton and Milligan, 250-51; Cadbury (2:494), has a list of texts where the

term is both neutral and pejorative. As always, context determines the proper force in a

given example.

            25 F. Danker, Jesus and the New Age (2d ed.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 24. For

Bovon (34) the usage in Acts is decisive for a negative sense, but he calls the criticism


            26 Fitzmyer, 292. Note also the discussion above.

            27 BAGD 61; Bauer, 6th ed., col. 122.

            28 G. Delling, TDNT, 8.32-33.

            29 For more on dih<ghsij; as meaning oral and written accounts, see key terms above

and TDNT 2.909, where Buchsel provides a nice summary of usage. One parallel to note

is Polybius 5. 31. 4.

            30 W. C. van Unnik, "Luke's Second Book and the Rules of Hellenistic Histo-

riography," in Les Actes des Apotres: traditions, redaction, theologie (BETL; ed.

J. Kremer; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1979) 40-42, cites Lucian's use of the term

in De Acte conscribentae historiae (On Writing History) 47-48, cf. esp. 42, n. 23. See also

W. C. van Unnik, "Once More St. Luke's Prologue," Neot 7 (1973) 7-26. It should be said,

however, that when used in a prologue and tied to a term like "setting down an orderly

account," the term suggests written or, at least, well-organized reports. Also arguing for

written predecessors is L L du Plessis, "Once More: The Purpose of Luke's Prologue

(Lk I 1-4)," NovT 16 (1974) 262-63. Written sources are still the most likely referent

here. Our point is that it is not guaranteed that this is all that is meant.



            These were not just any set of events. They had a special charac-

ter. Peri> tw?n peplhroforhme<nwn e]n u[mi?n pragma<twn (peri ton peplero-

phoremenon en hemin pragmaton) means "concerning the fulfilled

events among us." The meaning of "fulfilled" is disputed.31 Does it

mean 1) "completed events";32 2) "assured events";33 or 3) "fulfilled

events"?34 The third meaning, "fulfilled," is the best since Luke's em-

phasis in his volumes is on the fulfillment of God's plan (Luke 1:20,

57; 2:6, 21-22; 4:21; 9:31; 21:22, 24; 24:44-47). The passive participle pep-

lhroforhme<nwn ("which were being fulfilled") suggests God's acts with

its use of the "theological" passive.35 These fulfilled past events con-

tinue to color how one should see the present. The effect of Jesus' life,

death, and resurrection lives on. Luke will chronicle one of the imme-

diate effects, the rise of the church, in his second volume. In Acts,

Luke makes the point that Jesus continues to work in the world as the

exalted Lord (Acts 1:1-5).

            These divinely wrought events did not occur in a corner.  ]En h[mi?n

describes "events fulfilled among us." At the minimum, the first per-

son plural pronoun refers to those believers who saw the time of sal-

vation history's initiation, the "first generation." Both Fitzmyer and

Leaney stress the reference here is to those who observed these

events.36 Leaney is more narrow, taking "us" to refer to only this

original group. But Fitzmyer correctly extends the reference to all

affected by salvation history, as does Marshall.37 Dillon argues that

this phrase moves away from a reference only to the original events

to the effect of those events in a later time for all who came to be-

lieve. It refers to the "second" and "third" generations.38 He notes cor-

rectly that the perfect tense of the participle "fulfilled" can include a

reference to a group that was not originally present at these events.

Past and present believers are united by these events and share in


            31 Fitzmyer, 293.

            32 So Cadbury, 2.495-96. Cf. RSV, NASB--"things which have been accomplished."

Similar translations are found in Neu Luther and Zurcher.

            33 K. Rengstorf, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (NTD 3; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck

und Ruprecht, 1937) 14.

            34 Fitzmyer, 293, Marshall, 41, E. Schweizer, The Good News according to Luke

(Atlanta: John Knox, 1984), 11. Du Plessis, Luke 263-64. Cf. NN, NKJV--"things that

have been fulfilled." The German Einheitsubersetzung speaks of events which occurred

among us and were fulfilled, combining meanings one and three.

Marshall, 41. A “theological” passive is the use of the passive voice when the

context suggests that God acts.

            36 Fitzmyer, 293-94; Leaney, 77.

            37 Marshall, 41.

            38 R Dillon, From Eye-Witnesses to Ministers of the Word (AnBib 82; Rome: Bibli-

cal Institute Press, 1978) 271, n. 115. The perfect participle suggests a broader time frame

for the remark.

            Darrell L. Bock: UNDERSTANDING LUKE'S TASK    191


their significance. The historical ground that produced this impact is

the topic of Luke's two volumes.

            The Source of Earlier Accounts: 1:2. Luke 1:2 details the ulti-

mate source for these accounts. The conjunction kaqw<j (kathos, "even

as'') describes how the accounts originated by comparing the previous

accounts about Jesus to their point of origin.39 The term stresses the

reliable basis on which these accounts rested (Marshall, 41). The ac-

counts of v 1 go back to traditions passed down to the reporters by the

eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word. There is a two step process

described here; but the nature of the sources guarantees the quality.

Luke still is discussing the other earlier accounts here, not his own

study, which he will describe in Luke 1:3-4.

            The ultimate sources of the Jesus tradition are described by two

terms, au]to<ptai (autoptai, "eyewitnesses") and u[phre<tai (hyperetai,

"ministers"). Here is a clear allusion to the original oral level of the

tradition. This is the only NT use of this term for eyewitness. These

servants served Jesus' cause as eyewitnesses who preached the Jesus

they saw.40 Fitzmyer notes that the word order favors a reference to

one group that holds a twofold role: early witnesses who became min-

isters of the Word.41 The one article, oi[ (hoi, "the"), and the trailing

participial phrase, geno<menoi tou? lo<gou (genomenoi tou logou, "became

of the Word"), argue for this view, though the plural makes it less

than certain, since the Granville-Sharp rule does not apply in plural

constructions. Fitzmyer suggests the reference is to those disciples

who became apostles. Those eyewitnesses go back to "the beginning"

(a]p ] a]rxh?, ap arche) of Jesus' ministry, a ministry that started after

Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist (Acts 1:21-22; 10:37-41). One group

is referred to as they functioned in two stages of church history: they

saw, and then they reported.42

            Fitzmyer argues that Luke is a third-generation Christian be-

cause before him there were 1) those present at the beginning and

2) those who ministered the Word.43 But if the same group is present


            39 Fitzmyer, 294; BDF 453.

            40 K Rengstorf, TDNT, 8.543; also W. Michaelis, TDNT, 5.348, 373. Luke will call

these men "witnesses" later in Luke-Acts (Luke 24:44-48; Acts 1:8). Such eyewitnesses

were important to ancient historians, Thucydides 1. 22. 2. Josephus Ag. Ap. 1. 10. 55, and

Lucian's parody in Varae Hist (True History) 1.4; Du Plessis, 265.

            41 Fitzmyer, 294; J. Nolland, Luke 1-9:20 (Word Biblical Commentary 35a; Dallas:

Word, 1989) 7.

            42 So also E. E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, (New Century Bible; London: Oliphants,

Marshall, & Scott, 1974), 65; For details, see Dillon, 270-71, esp. n. 114. The title of this

work alludes to the unified view of this phrase.

            43 Fitzmyer, 294; also Goulder, 201.



in these two periods" then Luke could be a direct descendent of the

original group. Even though Luke may be "second generation," he is

describing three stages of history in the tradition: 1) the experienced

events; 2) the witnesses' formulation of the events' tradition; and

3) the recording of that tradition and the reflection upon those events.

Ellis' description of Luke as second generation is more accurate than

seeing Luke in the third generation.44

            The reference to the Word is to the Christian message about

Jesus, which was a message about divine events.45 The Word

preached as God's authoritative message is powerful.46 The ministers

served not their own ends, but the cause of God's message.47

            The message was preached and it was passed on, as pare<dosan

h[mi?n (paredosan hemin, "passed on to us") indicates. This verb, pare<-

dosan, is a technical term for passing on official tradition.48 Since an

account (v 1) was made of what these ministers passed on (v 2), it is

likely that the reference in v 2 is to apostolic oral tradition.49 The ref-

erence to "us" in v 2 alludes to the tradition's transmission to a later

generation of the church, to those of Luke's time. The appeal to eye-

witnesses is more than mere literary convention. Creed notes against

Cadbury that one mentions eyewitnesses in the hope that one's ac-

count will be believed. The recording of this tradition preserves this

important material for all time.


Luke's Contribution (1:3-4)

            Luke Describes His Work: 1:3. This verse introduces the main

clause of the prologue. Here is Luke's view of his own work.   @Edoce

ka]moi< (edoxe kamoi) means "it seemed well to me also."50 Luke wishes

to join himself to those others who have catalogued the events of

Jesus' life. As v 2 makes clear, they drew from the apostolic tradition

for these accounts. Luke joins a line of accounts about Jesus. Most

agree that Luke wishes to add to this tradition of writing because he

feels he has something to contribute (Schneider, Fitzmyer). Any


            44 Ellis, 65.

            45 H. K Luce, The Gospel According to S. Luke (Cambridge Greek Testament; Lon-

don: Cambridge University Press, 1933) 82.

            46 Cf. Leaney (77), who mentions the responses to Jesus and the apostles through-

out this book as examples of this theme; Luke 4:22; 6:17; Acts 2:36-37; 4:13-14.

            47 Marshall, 42.

            48 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3: Mark 7:13; Jude 3; Fitzmyer, 296. On the form of this aorist

verb, cf. BDF 95. 1.

            49 So also J. M. Creed, The Gospel According to St. Luke (London: MacMillan,

1930) 4.

            50 The grammatical parallels to the e@doce ka]moi< construction are Acts 15:22, 25, and

28; Fitzmyer, 296.

            Darrell L. Bock: UNDERSTANDING LUKE'S TASK    193


description of Luke's meaning contrasting him to his predecessors

does not honor the presence of kai< (kai, "and") in the verse.51

            Luke notes four characteristics of his work in v 3, but the mean-

ing of several terms in the verse is disputed. So the terms surrounding

each characteristic need careful study in order to determine exactly

what Luke asserts. The first key term is parhkolouqhko<ti

(parekolouthekoti), whose literal rendering is "having followed along

closely." The verb basically means "to follow," but its precise force

here is very much debated.52 Though six possibilities exist for the

term, the dispute boils down to three options. 1) The term refers to

"following closely the progress of certain events," so it means,

"to keep up with a movement.”53 In this view, it refers to following

something with interest or by association, as opposed to describing re-

search. 2) The term refers to the investigation of past events.54

3) Some Fathers took the term differently, referring it to Luke as a

self-description of his role as an apostolic follower. They argue it

means to accompany, a meaning that is close to the first sense found

here, but that stresses Luke's direct involvement more than the first

view would (Irenaeus Ag. Her. 3. 10; Justin, Dial. with Trypho 103). If

this third sense were the meaning, one wonders why Luke would ap-

peal so strongly to the testimony of others as eyewitnesses, since he

would have been one himself. Why would Luke be so obtuse about

his own direct involvement?

            Haenchen argued strongly for the second view against Cadbury.

Haenchen asserted that the meaning "to investigate" was present in

Josephus and that Cadbury's interpretation did not fit the Lucan

context.55 A check of Josephus will show that he meant "to follow,"

but with a catch. The idea was to follow an account or events so as to

understand them. If Luke's meaning' parallels that of Josephus, then

the gospel writer is asserting here that he gave careful attention to

the events, something that implies investigation, since he did not ex-

perience all the events.

            Haenchen continues his case against Cadbury by noting one can-

not be intimately associated "carefully," which is what Cadbury's


            51 Ka]moi< is crasis for kai< plus moi. It means "and to me" or "also to me."

            52 Fitzmyer, 296.

            53 So Cadbury, "'We' and 'I' in Luke-Acts," NTS 3 (1956-57) 131, who argues the

meaning "to investigate" is unattested in Greek, so also Luce, 82. Cadbury's argument

has roots in an earlier article, "The Knowledge Claimed in Luke's Preface," Exp Tim 24

(1922) 401-21, where he notes the six possibilities for the verb. So translates RSV.

            54 So most take it including Fitzmyer, Creed, Ellis, Schweizer, Marshall, and

G. Kittel. TDNT l.215-16, who cites Polybius 3. 32. 2; and Josephus Ag. Ap. 1. 10. 53; Life 357.

            55 Josephus Ag. Ap. 1. 10. 53 and 1 23. 218; E. Haenchen, "Das 'Wit' in der Apostel-

geschichte und das ltinerar," ZTK 58 (1961) 263-65.



linking his sense of the term to a]kribw?j (akribos) would mean. Also

a@nwqen (anothen) is unlikely to mean "a long time" which is what it

must mean for Cadbury's definition of the term to stand.56 Now Luke

is not an eyewitness, so his ability "to follow" the events carefully can

only be the result of investigation.57 Robertson also entered the dis-

cussion, noting that the choice for "investigation" is contextually gen-

erated because of the perfect participial form of the verb, since the

meaning is that Luke "followed along" before he wrote.58 So Luke de-

clares first of all that his work is the fruit of investigation.

            The second description applies to the extent of the investigation.

It is tied to the term a@nwqen (anothen) in the phrase a@nwqen pa?sin

a]kribw?j (anothen pasin akribos), which could be translated "from the

beginning all things [or events] carefully." However, a@nwqen can mean

either “from the beginning”59 or “for a long time.”60  If the latter

translation is chosen, Luke refers to the length of his personal study.

The solution comes from Lucan usage. The parallelism of the expres-

sion a]p ] arxh?j; with Luke 1:1 and Acts 26:4-5 suggests the first mean-

ing here.61 An emphasis on the length of the study would make the

later reference to the care of the study somewhat redundant. So Luke

makes a temporal reference back to the earliest events.

            Fitzmyer raises the question if the beginning referred to here is

the start of Jesus' life (with the birth of John the Baptist) or the begin-

ning of the apostolic tradition. He opts for the latter but gives no clear

reasons.62 The first option remains the best.63 If one notes the empha-

sis on fulfillment in the infancy material and also the unique contri-

bution of Luke to this period of Jesus' life, then it would seem natural

that Luke intends to say that his inquiry goes back to the very begin-


            56 Cadbury takes a]kribw?j with gra<yai (grapsai, “to write”) in order to solve the

contextual problem of his view. So in his view, Luke writes carefully. But word order

makes such a connection grammatically unlikely, as Creed makes clear, 5.

            57 See Plummer, 4, for a defense of the term with this meaning; BAGD 619 cites

other ancient texts; also Bauer, 6th ed., col. 64. Among them are the already noted texts

Josephus' Ag. Ap. 1.10. 53; 1. 23 218; du Plessis, 267.

            58 A T. Robertson, "The Implications in Luke's Preface," Exp Tim, 35 (1924) 319-

21. Robertson believes that Luke may have been an eyewitness to the events, but the

language of the earlier verse makes this unlikely for the events in Luke's Gospel. The

we” sections of Acts are another matter.

            59 So hold most including Buchsel, TDNT, 1.378. So read NKJV (“from the first”),

NIV, NASB, Neu Luther, Zucher, and the Einheitsubersetzung.

            60 So Cadbury and Marshall; for options, see BAGD, 77; Bauer, 6th ed., col. 153, 2a.

So reads RSV:

            61 Luce, 82-83. Even though aa@nwqen in Acts 26:5 means “a long time,” it looks back

to the earliest point in Paul's ministry, where it is paired with a]p ] arxh?j in v 4.

            62 Fitzmyer, 298.

            63 Schneider, 39, Plummer, 4, Creed, 4.

            Darrell L. Bock: UNDERSTANDING LUKE'S TASK   195


nings of this life. Therefore, though Jesus' ministry does not begin un-

til after John the Baptist, the fulfillment starts with his coming to

earth, a coming that is paralleled to and contrasted with that of John

the Baptist in Luke 1-2. As such, Luke may well have viewed his new

material on the infancy to be a contribution to the church's informa-

tion about Jesus. So his material goes back to the start of the story.

            The reference to "everything" (pa?sin, pasin), gives a third charac-

teristic of Luke's work. It tells what he studied. He not only investi-

gated the accounts and went back to the beginning, but he also looked

at everything. A question exists whether "everything" is masculine,

referring to the study of all the sources, or is neuter, referring to the

study "events.64 If "from the beginning" refers to the events starting

from the infancy narrative, then it is most natural to see a reference

to events here as well. Fitzmyer seems inconsistent in taking the pre-

vious phrase to refer to apostolic tradition, while referring this phrase

to events; Luke examined all the events going back to Jesus' birth.65

Given Luke's associations in the church, he could make such inquiries.

Given his personal acquaintances, we should not think of Luke as a

student locked up in a library, especially since written material was

so rare in the ancient world. Here is an inquiring student who took in

whatever he could, oral or written.

             ]Akribw?j (akribos) describes a fourth characteristic of Luke's

study. It tells how Luke did his work.66 He investigated the material

"carefully." Some commentators try to place this description on how

Luke wrote his material rather than as a description of his investiga-

tion. But the word order of the sentence makes this connection less

likely. So, Luke's study is the fruit of a careful and thorough investiga-

tion going back to Jesus' birth.

            Luke describes his undertaking with kaqech?j soi yra<yai

(kathexes soi grapsai, "to write an orderly account for you"). The con-

nection of kaqech?j; could be disputed. 1) Does it describe the manner

of study and go with parhkolouqhko<ti? If so, it means "having investi-

gated in an orderly manner." 2) Or does it describe the nature of the

account? If so, it goes with gra<yai and means, "it seemed good to

write an orderly account for you." The parallel structure of the pro-

logue argues for kaqech?j describing what Luke wrote for Theophilus,

or view 2.67 Luke writes an orderly account of these events.


            64 Fitzmyer, 297, opts for the latter.

            65 So agrees Klostermann, 3.

            66 Josephus liked this term to describe his work, Ag. Ap. 1. 10. 53; J. W. 1.2.6. 17;

du Plessis, 268 n. 50.

            67 Fitzmyer, 298, who correctly notes on the other view the parallel line starting

with soi would be very short. Almost all translations go this way.



            But to what does kaqech?j, "an orderly account," refer? Is the order

1) "broadly chronological,"68 2) "a literary systematic presentation,"69

3) "a salvation-historical linkage."70 4) "a complete presentation,"71

5) "a continuous series,"72 6) the presentation that follows the pro-

logue,73 or 7) a presentation without gaps?74

            One can only determine this question by what Luke has done. It

would seem that the first three views all have some merit; but each by

itself is inadequate. Luke is broadly chronological in its flow, but not

strictly so. There is some rearrangement of material (e.g., Luke 4:16-30

from Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:1-13, where the temptations' order differs

from Matthew; and the placement of John the Baptist's imprisonment

before Herod, Luke 3:19-20). These rearrangements and others rule

out a strictly chronological arrangement though a general chronology

is present in the Gospel.

            There is a literary, geographical arrangement to the material as

well. This movement goes Galilee, Samaria, Jerusalem, Judea-Samaria,

and then Rome. This arrangement is not artificial since it represents

the broad geographical sweep of Jesus' ministry and the church's

growth. However, the organization of this material with this clear em-

phasis is Luke's work.

            The order also is salvation historical in that it shows the growth

of the faith under God's direction. This growth starts from its founder

and works to one of the most representative messengers of the faith,

Paul. This salvation-historical focus runs from Israel to the Gentiles. It

moves from promise in the infancy material to fulfillment in Jesus'

ministry and in the church. This two-part promise fulfillment struc-

ture for God's plan has more merit than the threefold division advo-

cated by Conzelmann (promise, Jesus, church), since it is not entirely.

clear that Luke separates the Jesus period from the church period as


            68 So argue Marshall and Plummer.

            69 So argues Fitzmyer, who cites Acts 11:4 as a parallel.

            70 So Schneider, both in his commentary and in an article (see n.73 below).

            71 G. Klein, “Lukas 1,1-4 als theologisches Programm," in G. Braumann, Das Lukas-

Evangelium (Weg der Forschung 28; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft,

1974) 194-96.

            72 M. Volkel, “Exegetische Erwagungen zum Verstandnis des Begriffs kaqech?j im

lukanischen Prolog," NTS 20 (1973-74) 289-99.

            73 J. Klirzinger, “Lk 1,3:... a]kribw?j kaqech?j soi gra<yai," BZ 18 (1974) 249-55.

            74 F. Mussner, “Kaqech?j im Lukasprolog" in Jesus und Paulus (ed E. E. Ellis and E.

Grasser; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1975) 253-55. Evaluation and rejection '

of views 4-7 can be found in G, Schneider, Lur Bedeutung von kaqech?j im lukanischen

Doppelwerk," ZNW 68 (1977) 128-31. It is hard to determine the difference between

views 4 and 7, except that view 4 says the account is full, while view 7 might suggest it

is exhaustive.

            Darrell L. Bock: UNDERSTANDING LUKE'S TASK    197


greatly as Conzelmann implies.75 Thus, the order of Luke's account

works on many levels.76 It is broadly chronological, geographic, and

salvation historical.

            Now Schneider correctly argues that the focus of the account is

salvation historical. Luke does not just link the events but shows that

what has been fulfilled gives assurance about what is still to be ful-

filled: worldwide proclamation of the gospel and Jesus' return.77 He

appeals especially to Acts 3:17-24 and 11:4 for this concept. Schneider

has put his finger on a significant part of Luke's concern, but his re-

striction of assurance to future events is too limiting when one looks

at Luke 1:4 in light of the whole of Luke-Acts.78 Luke is also inter-

ested in Christology and Gentile mission.

            The recipient of the book comes next with kra<tiste Qeo<file

(kratiste Theophile, "most excellent Theophilus"). The identity and

spiritual status of Theophilus are unknown. Some have suggested that

 the name is symbolic of "pious Christians," since the name means

beloved of God.”79 However, the address to him in the vocative kra<-

tiste, "most excellent," seems to indicate a specific person of high so-

cial standing (Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25).80 This greeting could suggest

that Theophilus is the patron or monetary backer of Luke's work (so

Ellis), but there is no clear way to determine this point. Marshall,

Caird, and Fitzmyer mention traditions and speculation about his ex-

act identity.81 Is Theophilus a believer or an interested unbeliever?

This question turns on v 4 and the meaning of kathxh<qhj (kate-

chethes, "you were instructed" or "you were informed"). Caird argues

that an unbeliever is present because the dedication is too formal for

a reference to a believer and because Luke's work is apologetic in

character.82 But these arguments are not convincing. Luke's prologue

is formal because it purposely has taken on a literary character. As


            75 Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian, 77-83; D. Bock, “A Theology of

Luke-Acts,” in A Biblical Theology of the Bible, vol. 2 (ed. R Zuck, E. Merrill, and

D. Bock; Chicago: Moody, forthcoming).

            76 Tiede, 37, who alludes to Lucian's comparison of a historian's work to a work of

a fine sculptor.

            77 G. Schneider,”Zur Bedeutung,” 128-31.

            78 See Luke 1:4 discussion.

            79 Plummer, 5, seems to waver between a symbol and a real person.

            80 This is the polite form of address, BDF 60. 2. However, that Theophilus is of

high rank is not guaranteed; Bovon, 39, n. 64. See Theophrastus Charatares 5, who says

that the address is usimple flattering speech. Nonetheless, Luke's usage does strongly

suggest a person of high standing.

            81 Marshall, 43; Caird, 44; Fitzmyer, 299-300; Ps.-Clementine Recognitions 10.71.

            82 Caird, 44; So also argues H. W. Beyer, TDNT, 3.639. Bovon, 41, also prefers a pro-

fane sense, “to know.”



such the formality need not indicate the audience beyond suggesting

someone of high culture. Luke's goal, as stated in the preface, is to

give knowledge or assurance (see below a]sfa<leian, asphaleian in v 4).

The characterization of the Gospel as apologetic is not the best de-

scription of the work. The contents of the Gospel and Acts do not rep-

resent a defense but a proclamation of Jesus, a review of his teaching

and that of the church about which Theophilus has already heard

(v 4). So, edification and encouragement better describe Luke's goal. If

this description is correct, then Luke is probably addressing a new be-

liever, or at least one whose faith needs bolstering. Since Theophilus

is a name used both by Greeks and Jews, the name does not indicate

the nationality of Theophilus.83 However, "his social station suggests

that he is probably a Gentile, as does the amount of energy Luke

spends in Acts defending the Gentile mission. Nevertheless, just be-

cause the work is dedicated to Theophilus does not mean that Luke

intended his work for just one individual. Other ancient writers dedi-

cated their works to individuals knowing full well that they were

writing for a larger audience (Josephus Ag. Ap.1. I. 1-5).

            Luke's Purpose: 1:4. Luke 1:4 covers the purpose of Luke's work.

Luke wants Theophilus to realize something about the material.84

What is realized is a]sfa<leian. However, the meaning of a]sfa<leian

("truth," "trustworthiness," "assurance") is disputed. Is its meaning

vouching for the message's 1) correctness; 2) reliability, or 3) is it giv-

ing certainty-assurance to the reader? Is Luke interested in accurate

facts (view 1) or more (views 2 and 3)? The Greek word's position at

the end of the sentence is emphatic, so it is a key term for Luke. Lu-

can usage again answers the question. In Acts 2:36; 21:34; 22:30; and

25:26, he consistently uses the term of assurance or of determining

the facts with certainty.85 Thus, Luke wishes Theophilus, and those

who have questions like him, to be certain of the teaching's truth (ie.,

either view 2 or 3). 

            The resulting assurance is probably not of a political nature.

Luke is not writing an apology to a Roman official who wonders if

Christianity should be granted a legal status. Schweizer notes these

volumes are too long and deal too little with political issues to be


            83 Fitzmyer, 299.

            84 So one should read e]pign&?j (epignos, "you might know"). G. Bertram (TDNT,

1.704) argues it means "to confirm," but this comes more from the context than from the

term itself; Acts 22:24; 23:28.

            85 Fitzmyer, 300; Creed, 5; Marshall, 44; K. L. Schmidt, TDNT, 1.506, who cites the

Lucan usage noted above. In the LXX the term normally refers to something that is safe

or secure (2 Macc. 3:22), as it does in Acts 5:23. Its tie in Luke to a verb of knowing means

it looks to a psychological goal. It refers to knowing the truth, but doing so securely.

            Darrell L. Bock: UNDERSTANDING LUKE'S TASK     199


written for that purpose.86 What official, he asks, would wade through

all this information for just that point? Rather, it seems that the assur-

ance is of a religious, theological nature.87 Theophilus' question

would seem to be, "Is Christianity what I believed it to be, a religion

sent from God?" Perhaps such doubt resulted from the judgment suf-

fered by the church, especially as a result of its inclusion of Gentiles.

Why should a Gentile suffer frustration for joining what was origi-

nally a Jewish movement? Is the church suffering God's judgment be-

cause she has been too generous with God's salvation? Will the rest of

God's promises come to pass? Questions like these seem to be Luke's

concern in Acts, where Gentile mission and Paul's ministry receive

detailed review. Can one really be sure Jesus is the fulfillment of

God's promise and brings God's salvation both now and in the future?

By the emphasis on fulfillment in Jesus (v 1), Luke intends to answer

these questions with a resounding "yes." The gospel of Jesus is from

God and is available for all, Jew and Gentile alike (Marshall, 43-44).

            The phrase peri> w$n kathxh<qhj lo<gwn (peri hon katechethes logon,

"concerning matters on which you were instructed") tells us Theophi-

lus knows something about Jesus. The meaning of this phrase is dis-

puted, but that meaning is clarified once a]sfa<leian is shown to mean

"certainty" or "assurance." Lo<gwn (logon) can mean 1) "matters" and re-

fer to the events of salvation (Luke 7:17; Acts 8:21; 15:6). It can also re-

fer to 2) "instruction" (Luke 4:32; 10:39). Kathxh<qhj (katechethes) can

refer 1) to "a report of information" (Acts 21:24, so Cadbury, RSV) or 2)

to "receiving instruction," (Luke 1:20; 6:47; Acts 18:25; NKJV; NIV;

NASB; Neu Luther, Einheitsiibersetzung; and Zurcher).88 The differ-

ence in sense for the options surrounding kathxh<qhj is that the first

meaning could refer to a report of information given to anyone, in-

cluding an unbeliever, while the second sense looks more to received

teaching and would imply a believer is addressed. Since the reference

to assurance suggests that a new believer is addressed, a reference to

instruction is the most likely sense. More importantly, the amount of

material in the Gospel pressing for commitment and for remaining

faithful until Christ returns also suggests this force. Luke's Gospel is

not pressing for decision, but for faithfulness.

            Whether lo<gwn means "events" or "teaching" is less certain, since

either meaning can fit the context. Fortunately, the difference between

the two senses is slight. Whether they were taught about the events or


            86 Schweizer, 13.

            87 G. Schneider, Das Evangelium nach Lukas, 40.

            88 For options, see also Fitzmyer, 301. This is not a reference to a formal cate-

chism, though this term can refer to a catechism, but rather it means simple instruction

(Gal 6:6; Rom 2:18; 1 Cor 14:19).



simply given teaching, the result is virtually the same. If teaching is in

view, then the events' significance may be included in the remark. But

since the events are seen as "fulfillments" (v 1) anyway, the difference

becomes almost meaningless. Luke's point is that Theophilus recon-

sider the teaching that he had previously received. He is to receive as-

surance about that teaching as a result of reading Luke's account. Ellis

suggests that heretical teaching, perhaps of a gnostic-like flavor, was

circulating in the church, but it is more likely that the assurance deals

with the pressures produced by a church suffering rejection and per-

secution.89  Such concern about the nature and extent of God's salvation

is the subject of the accounts in Acts. Luke's goal is to give Theophilus

assurance concerning the events of salvation's fulfillment tied to Jesus,

a salvation that even involves the Gentiles and about which Luke's

reader has already received instruction.




            The goal of Luke's prologue is to place his work alongside other,

church materials that have recounted the eyewitness, apostolic testi-

mony about Jesus. Luke's contribution to this type of account is found

in a fresh presentation of this salvation history starting from John the

Baptist's birth and running through the extension of the church into

Rome. Luke's work involved investigation that was thorough and care-

ful. In the orderliness of the account and its careful, systematic pre-

sentation, Luke hoped to reassure Theophilus and those like him

about the certainty of what the apostles taught about Jesus. Jesus is

the fulfillment both of God's promise and salvation, which are now

available directly to all nations.90

            Many have suggested that because Luke's prologue used a literary

convention in making claims about accuracy, it proves nothing about

the real historical character of his work. The argument goes, Luke

makes great claims for accuracy, as other ancients did who in fact

were not very accurate.91 It must be noted, however, that the goal of

what Luke wishes to accomplish, assurance, is greatly affected by his

accuracy. Also, unlike many of the historians to whom Luke is com-

pared, Luke writes within a period contemporary to the events he de-

scribes. As a result, his ability to be careless with the facts is limited.

Assurance grounded in "propaganda" that can be readily exposed is no


            89 Ellis, 66.

            90 Bovon, 31, compares this emphasis on the account's trustworthiness to John

20:30-31; 21:24-25; Rev 1:1-3; 22:18-19. Note also 2 Pet 1:16-18.

            91 So Cadbury, who is very responsible for this view, and most recently, C. H.

Talbert, Reading Luke (New York: Crossroad, 1984) 10-11.

            Darrell L. Bock: UNDERSTANDING LUKE'S TASK     201


great comfort to the doubting, For Luke to produce false propaganda

in a period when people had experienced what had happened would

be counter productive.

            One could also question the morals of a writer who believes in a

religion which stresses the telling of the truth, and yet goes on in fact

to misrepresent the history he describes.  Such moral constraints did

not exist for many ancient secular writers.  Thus, the comparison of

Luke to these other prefaces, though superficially compelling, does

not deal with the unique personal and religious factors controlling

Luke's account. The test of Luke's accuracy lies in the analysis of his

work, for he possibly did not execute his goal well. However, a cava-

lier dismissal of the claims of his preface is not possible either. Nei-

ther does a quick appeal to extrabiblical parallels do justice to the

statement of the author's goals. Luke's desire is to assure Theophilus,

or anyone who reads his Gospel, of the truth of the apostolic teaching

about Jesus. His claim is that he was careful about his task in order to

achieve this goal. He had precedent grounded in eyewitness testi-

mony, and Luke sought to build carefully on that precedent. One must

examine the account to see if Luke met his own standard with the

presumption that he tried to do so.




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