Luke's preface fits the ancient pattern in which a writer explains the rationale for his work (2 Maccabees 2:19-31; Josephus Antiquities 1. proem. 1-4, and Against Apion 1.1 1-5; Epistle to Aristeas 1-8; Lucian How to Write History 9, 39-40, 53-55). Luke consciously introduces his work to show where it fits in ancient literary terms. Some speak of Luke as "apologetic historiography" (Sterling 1991), but Luke is writing more for internal exhortation, so that any apologetic has a pastoral purpose.
Luke describes his work as a narrative, an account (diegesis). Such narratives came in both oral (8:39; 9:10) and written forms (Heb 11:32). The ambiguity of the term means that Luke may be referring to more than the sources biblical scholars mention today when they discuss the Synoptic problem (Mark, Q, L, M or Matthew). However, the remark that many have undertaken to draw up (literally, "many have set their hand to"; epecheiresan) such an account suggests mostly written sources. It is important to remember that the ancient world did not have the printed page, and written texts were not in wide circulation. The fact that many had undertaken to prepare an account shows Jesus' importance.
What these accounts discussed were the things that have been fulfilled among us. This detail raises an important Lukan theme right at the start. The events surrounding Jesus fulfilled the plan of God. Numerous passages make this point (1:20, 57; 2:6, 21-22; 4:21; 9:31; 21:22, 24; 24:44-47). The us in v. 2 includes all those who experienced the effects of Jesus' presence up to the time of Luke's writing. All those who shared in the realization of what God brought in Jesus share in the experience of fulfillment.
Now these accounts had sources who handed down (paredosan) the story of Jesus, eyewitnesses who became ministers of the Word. Luke's stress here is the credibility of the sources, since they saw firsthand what has been described in the tradition. Luke makes a key point—the tradition about Jesus had roots in the experience of those who preached about him. These witnesses were with Jesus from the beginning. Thus these first two verses mention at least two generations: those who preached Jesus and those who recorded what was preached. There was precedent for what Luke was doing, both in terms of larger ancient history and in terms of the story of Jesus.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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