There is debate whether Luke's choice to write after his predecessors was a critique of their effort. Some suggest that the writing must mean he was unhappy with previous efforts (L. T. Johnson 1991:29-30). But the words it seemed good also to me (edoxe kamoi) show Luke joining himself with his predecessors. It is likely that he engages in the effort because he knows he can add to the portrait of Jesus currently in circulation, but Luke is not unappreciative of the previous efforts. His predecessors blazed a difficult trail ahead of him. Luke's contribution will add a unique sequel to the portrait, Acts, and will bring in much new detail about Jesus, since virtually half of the material in Luke's Gospel does not appear in the other Gospels we possess. The other Synoptics help us to see what Luke's alternatives were like; he includes much more teaching material, especially parabolic material.
Four characteristics mark Luke's approach to his task. First, he investigated (parekolouthekoti) the story. This appears to refer to the fact he studied his topic. Luke was not himself an eyewitness to the events of Jesus' life. So only his study could produce such a work. But we should not think of Luke in a library here. He would have traveled through the community gathering information, both from recorded texts and from conversations with others who had seen Jesus.
Second, Luke went back to the beginning (anothen). This is why the story starts with John the Baptist. This Jewish prophet was the starting point of the renewal of God's activity, as Luke 1—2 will make clear.
Third, his study was thorough: he says he studied everything (pasin). Though what we have in Luke is surely a select collection of material, the Gospel writer wants it known that he did his homework. Luke was very concerned to get the story right, to be accurate in his portrayal of Jesus.
Fourth, Luke did his work carefully (akribos). As the Gospel itself reveals, Luke's work is thought out and precise in its development of the story.
Luke calls his account an orderly one (kathexes). For some this means he wrote in chronological sequence. But such a meaning is unlikely here. He has done some rearranging of the order of events for thematic or literary reasons (for example, 4:16-30; the order of the temptations in 4:1-13; the placement of John's arrest in 3:19-20).
There is a geographic flow to the order: Galilee through Samaria to Jerusalem. But above all, the order seems to be redemptive-historical. Luke is concerned to trace the progress of God's redeeming work in Jesus, especially by highlighting his teaching and the rise of opposition to him. The emphasis on promise-fulfillment also suggests this sort of order. The Gospel is roughly chronological, but not precisely so. More important to Luke is revealing how God worked through Jesus. This is "sacred history" revealing the order of God's plan.
All the care Luke gives to the task, as noted in his preface, is designed to reassure Theophilus, who has been taught (katechethes) on such matters previously. Whatever pressure this believer is under, he should be confident that God has moved to fulfill his plan through Jesus. Luke is carefully building on precedent to tell anew the story of Jesus. Like a pastor comforting a believer under siege by the world, so Luke wishes to encourage his readers. Theophilus may well be asking, "Is Christianity what I believed it to be, a religion sent from God?" Whether it is internal doubt, persecution or racial tension with Jews that has caused this question to be raised, Luke invites his reader to consider the story of Jesus again and know that these indeed were events that have been fulfilled among us.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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