Actually the story begins in verse 5, “In the days of Herod…etc.” This is a prologue. It is important for Luke to write this prologue because this is the classic way of writing in the Greek world. Any philosopher, any theologian, any educator, any historian in the ancient world who was of high quality who wanted his volume to stand on the shelf with the classics would start his writing with such a prologue. Herodotus did it. Thucydides did it. Polybius did it. Even Josephus did it. And Luke does it.
These four verses, in fact, are one long unbroken sentence, one sentence, written in Greek originally and written in the polished style of Greek that is known as literary classical Greek. The rest of the gospel of Luke is written in the common Greek, but not the prologue. Luke did this, I think, because he wanted to establish the lofty literary character of this work. It is such a high quality of Greek, by the way, that it was obvious that Luke was highly educated. If it didn’t tell us in the Bible that he was a physician, we would assume that he had had some kind of high level education because of his handling of the classical form of Greek.
By using this kind of Greek as he introduces his gospel, he is claiming a place for the gospel as a classic. He is claiming a place for the gospel as a serious work, as a true work of literary, historical worth to be given attention by the most sophisticated and highly educated Gentile or Greek reader. Luke is claiming a place for Christianity among the classics. He’s claiming a place for Christianity on the stage of world history. And while much of the New Testament literature was written for the church and therefore the common people, Luke had in mind the world and he wanted to make sure that he included those who were at the very highest levels of education. As I said, other Greek writers used a very similar prologue. In fact, the format here is very, very common to ancient Greek classical writing.
In this prologue he talks about his…his sources, as any good historian would. He talks about other accounts that have been compiled. He talks about eye witnesses and servants of the Word who have handed them down. This is not something He has invented. He has…he has carefully investigated, verse 3 says, and researched everything carefully from the beginning. He is concerned about actual history. He is concerned about precision as he says in verse 4, “exact truth.” And so, this prologue is very important in establishing Luke as a legitimate writer.
Now, as we approach the prologue, I have to confess again, as I did earlier to you, that Luke is never mentioned in this gospel and he’s never mentioned in the prologue. But we’re going to learn everything we can learn about him, even though he’s not mentioned here. Now if you’re saying, “Well wait a minute, it says it’s the gospel according to Luke right before verse 1,” but that’s not in the actual text of Scripture, that was placed there because of the conviction of the church that in fact he did write this, although nowhere in his gospel and nowhere in the book of Acts does he personally identify himself as the author.
Now that’s an interesting dilemma for us. But it makes for fascinating history to dig into it. By the time we’re done with these four verses, not today but today and next time, by the time we’re done with these four verses you’re going to meet Luke the physician, Luke the historian, Luke the theologian, and Luke the pastor. To me, this kind of adventure in trying to dig into the Scripture and find what isn’t immediately apparent there is the real fun of Bible study, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.
It nowhere mentions Luke’s name and yet its clearly said it’s the gospel according to Luke, how did they come to that conclusion? Let’s begin, first of all, with looking at Luke the physician…Luke the physician.
Now the only thing that is a reference to the author in the first four verses is in verse 3. “It seemed fitting for me,” that’s all we have is “me.” That leaves us with a rather open-ended question…who is me? Me…who is it?
Well the answer to that question takes us into two areas. First of all, it takes us into tradition, and then secondly it takes us into the text of Scripture. And by both of those I’m going to try to answer the question…who is me? Who is the author of Luke? We can take the word for the people who put it there that this is written by Luke, but much more instructive for us to come to that conclusion by being led through a process of understanding why they designated it as such.
According to early tradition the gospel, the third gospel, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the third gospel has always been attributed to Luke…always called Luke, never called anything else, never was there a suggestion of any other author. And traditions are interesting, they really are. Traditions are very interesting. If you’ve done any archaeological work or you’ve traveled in the Middle East or in ancient places and even in more modern places, there are traditions that develop. And as you look at certain sites in the ancient world they say, “Well the tradition is that this was the place where Jesus did this…or…Tradition says this is the place where Abraham sacrificed Isaac…Tradition says this is the place where such and such happened…this is where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel…This is the traditional site of this and that.” When you tour the Holy Land or you tour ancient Turkey which, of course, was Asia Minor, the ministry of the Apostle Paul there, they will tell you all about traditional sites. We have traditional sites all over the world, not only in Christian religion but in many other places of history. This is the traditional place where So-and-so died in a battle, or whatever.