Chapter 1.
"The Word Became Flesh"

Luke 1:1-4; John 1:1-18

Luke's Testimony

Luke 1:1-4

Establishing the Groundwork

The New Testament writers were insistent on establishing the truth of their message. They wanted people to know that Jesus was real, not a creation of their imaginations. They wanted to confirm that people had seen, heard, and touched him.

In recent generations, certain scholars have considered it fashionable to question the historical reliability of the four biographers of Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These scholars claim to be engaged in a search for the "historical Jesus," suggesting that the world has been waiting for them to discover just who Jesus really was, how he actually lived, and precisely what he taught. Their assumption is that ancient historians lacked the objectivity that is essential to accurate reporting, or that they were moved more by emotional, doctrinal, or legendary motives and sources than by an impartial, investigative technique.

These criticisms are lengthy and involved, but essentially unconvincing. In support of the work of Luke, there are some factors that cannot be ignored. First, he was a well-educated man, accustomed to dealing with facts. As a physician (Paul calls him "our dear friend Luke, the doctor" in Colossians 4:14), Luke recognized the importance of getting all relevant information and getting it accurately. Second, his research was intensive. Investigating everything related to the life story of Jesus, he wrote from the direct testimony of eyewitnesses rather than rely on hearsay. Third, Luke's testimony sprang from the totally unselfish motive of a man who was sure of his convictions and stood by them, not for personal gain, but because he had a vital message to share.

But the most vital factor by far is the work of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus' last message to the apostles before his crucifixion, he promised to send the Counselor to dwell within them. Among the reassurances given was the promise that the Spirit would "remind you of everything I have said to you," and "guide you into all truth" (John 14:26; 16:13). What historian would not want a resource such as these apostles—men who would never forget what they had heard or been told, and who would be guided in the discovery and relating of all pertinent facts? While Luke was not one of the original twelve apostles, he was surely guided in his effort by the same Spirit who guided them and who was responsible for the inspiration of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21). In view of all these factors, it is not unreasonable for us to believe that Jesus, as he is presented to us by Luke and the other Gospel writers, actually lived on earth, did and said the things reported by these writers, and was indeed who he claimed to be.

Luke is also the author of Acts, as indicated by the fact that both Luke and Acts are addressed to "Theophilus" (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). (The "former book" mentioned in Acts 1:1 is Luke's Gospel.) Luke was a close associate of the apostle Paul, as indicated by the various "we" passages in Acts that show Luke's presence with Paul on certain occasions (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16). Some suggest that Luke may have been one of Paul's converts. In Philemon 24, he is listed among Paul's "fellow workers." In 2 Timothy 4:11 he is listed as one of the last to be with Paul as Paul's martyrdom approached.

The specific verses from Luke included in this study clearly demonstrate with what great care this man prepared for his task of writing a record of the life of his (and our) Lord Jesus.

Examining the Text

I. Received From Eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1, 2)

1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,

While we generally think of four Gospels, Luke records that many in his day had undertaken to draw up an account of the things that Jesus had done. Just what accounts did he have in mind? There is no way of knowing. Was he referring to the Gospels we have in our Bibles? Some of these may be included. Luke's Gospel is often dated at around a.d. 60, which would place his writing after Matthew's and Mark's but before John's. Luke surely was also including some accounts that were not inspired and have not been preserved to the present. Apparently many disciples were eager to preserve an account of what had transpired during the earthly life of Jesus. Some of the accounts perhaps were inaccurate because they had been written without careful investigation and without guidance from the Holy Spirit. Luke, of course, does not intend any criticism of the inspired records of the other Gospel writers.

In fact, Luke did not actually criticize the accuracy of any of the other efforts to set forth a record of Christ's life. He may have believed that these records were simply incomplete or perhaps not as orderly as they should have been. He undertook his writing, therefore, not to correct misinformation but to substantiate the things that Christians already knew and believed about Jesus. These early writings disappeared, probably because their content was included in the more systematic and thorough accounts of the four Gospels that have been preserved for us.

The word fulfilled occurs frequently in the Gospels to indicate the link between the events of Jesus' life and ministry and the words of Old Testament prophecies. It should cause us to reflect on the fact that these events were no accident; they were part of a divinely orchestrated plan. Near the end of his record, Luke records how the resurrected Christ declared to his followers, "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" (Luke 24:44).

2... just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.

Luke was not an eyewitness of any of the events of the earthly life of Jesus, but he received accurate information from those who were. The terms eyewitnesses and servants are very interesting in light of Luke's medical background. The first is from the same word from which we get our word autopsy. It had to do with the personal examination of a body: in this case, a body of facts. Servants is from a word that referred to the assistants who served under the direction of another. In a medical context, it might refer to one who assisted a surgeon or chief physician. Thus the servants of the word could be viewed as carrying out their duties under the direction of the "Great Physician," Jesus.

No doubt Luke spoke with as many of those who were directly involved in the events of Jesus' life as possible—all who were still living at the time in which he undertook his writing. For example, it is very likely that Luke conferred with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Of all the Gospel writers, he alone mentions the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary before the birth of Jesus, the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem, the manger, and other details connected with the birth and infancy of Jesus. Luke could also have spoken to some of the women who supported Jesus' ministry (Luke 8:2, 3) or to Jesus' brothers (Mark 6:3).

Those who view the stories of Jesus as legends or myths have to reckon with the fact that there was but a brief period of time between when the events took place and when the written works began to appear. There were people alive who could verify the truthfulness of the Gospel accounts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written within about thirty years of Jesus' death. It takes much longer than thirty years to create a legend. The Gospel accounts are not accumulations or collections of such legends. They are records written by men inspired of God, two of whom (Matthew and John) were themselves with Jesus and two (Mark and Luke) who most surely conferred with eyewitnesses.

The inspiration of Scripture does not mean that a writer could not use his own personality or that his writing would not reflect his own style. Notice that in Luke's case, the Holy Spirit inspired him to talk to eyewitnesses. The doctrine of inspiration does not require that every word of Scripture be supplied by God directly. Inspiration is the process by which God guarded the words that were written, whether they came by revelation from God, from the author's memory or research, or from another source. Together, revelation and inspiration have produced for us a Bible that is reliable and trustworthy, completely inerrant in the original manuscripts.

II. An Orderly Account (Luke 1:3, 4)

3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,

Luke approached his work with a passion for accuracy. He did not just put together whatever stories or rumors drifted into his mind. Rather, he carefully investigated everything, he made strenuous efforts to obtain accurate, authentic information, separating fact from rumor.

From the beginning in this case includes much more than the beginning of Jesus' earthly life. Luke's Gospel actually begins with the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah, announcing the birth of a son to him and his barren wife Elizabeth. That son, of course, was John, the forerunner of Jesus.

It seemed good also to me to write. What prompted Luke to write what he did? As noted earlier, it appears that Matthew and Mark had written their accounts of Jesus by the time Luke began his; and John later compiled another. Matthew, in his writing, referred to many Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Christ. This would be of great significance in evangelizing the Jews but of lesser concern to Gentiles. Mark wrote a brief, swiftly moving account, stressing the deeds of the Lord—a record that would appeal more to the Romans. Luke wrote in superb literary style, in a manner that would not fail to impress cultured Greeks such as himself. John later provided supplementary material not included by the other three writers.

In addition, Luke mentions compiling an orderly account. Although his account is written by and large in chronological fashion, this expression is not a promise that every single detail is related in chronological sequence. It may simply mean that Luke wrote in an orderly, and not a haphazard, manner. Sometimes the order is chronological and sometimes topical, but it is always carefully and deliberately ordered.

In this verse, Luke also mentions the name of the person to whom he has addressed his account: most excellent Theophilus. The name Theophilus means "friend of God" or "lover of God." Some have therefore suggested that this is a designation of all friends and lovers of God wherever they may be. Theophilus might thus represent all Christians. Others propose that Theophilus was an otherwise unknown Christian who was the recipient of Luke's accounts of Jesus' life (Luke) and the life of the early church (Acts). The expression most excellent suggests that he was either a high government official or a person otherwise deserving high honor. It is similar to a title such as "Your Excellency." (The same title is translated this way in Acts 23:26.) Some have suggested that Theophilus was a Roman official somehow connected with Paul's trial in Rome. Those who hold this position believe that Theophilus was involved in Paul's defense in court, and needed an orderly account of the life of Jesus in order to learn more about the Christian message. Still another view is that Theophilus was a benefactor who supported Luke in the production of his writings.

On the other hand, we cannot be absolutely certain that Theophilus was a Christian at the time Luke wrote his Gospel. Luke's intention may have been to write this account in order to win Theophilus to Christ. Those who espouse this position point out that later, when Luke wrote Acts to the same individual, he dropped the title and addressed him simply as "Theophilus" (Acts 1:1). Perhaps the title was omitted because by this point Theophilus was a Christian brother and the title was not necessary.

4... so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

The word certainty conveys the idea that the matters about which Luke was writing were matters of fact, not fiction; of history, not myth; of reality, not romance. Whatever Theophilus's spiritual condition may have been, Luke's record would provide an accurate standard by which to measure all that he was hearing about Jesus. Through the centuries millions of people have continued to benefit from Luke's precise, orderly account of the life of Christ.

John's Testimony

John 1:1-18

Establishing the Groundwork

The Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us about John, the son of Zebedee and brother of James, who was called from his fishing business to become an apostle of Jesus (Matthew 4:21, 22; Mark 1:19, 20; Luke 5:8-11). This John also wrote a Gospel account, some thirty years after the others wrote theirs. Nowhere in this Gospel does John mention himself by name; however, by comparing material in this Gospel with that in the other three, we can conclude that the writer was the apostle John. He usually refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23; 21:7, 20; cf. 19:26; 20:2), apparently to keep himself in the background of his writing. Along with his brother James, John was among Jesus' first disciples. It is generally assumed that John was directed to Jesus by John the Baptist, whom he and Andrew had followed earlier (John 1:35-40).

Jesus nicknamed James and John Boanerges, meaning "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17), apparently from their highly temperamental personalities (Luke 9:51-55). Nevertheless, John was so completely transformed by his acquaintance with Jesus that he came to be known as the apostle of love—a theme that permeates his writings, particularly his three epistles. Along with Simon Peter (another temperamental fisherman), the sons of Zebedee became Jesus' closest followers, sharing with him significant experiences not shared by the other disciples (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33). John seems to have done his writing—his Gospel, his three brief epistles, and the book of Revelation—later in a long life. Most students date these writings toward the end of the first century.

Many believe, on the basis of his long career, that John was the youngest of the apostles in the time of Jesus. Along with Peter and James the brother of Jesus, John was a leader in the early church (Galatians 2:9). The Scriptures give us little specific information about the closing years of his life. The book of Revelation informs us that John lived for a time in exile on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9). Traditions of the early church relate that John became a resident of Ephesus, where he taught and influenced the church for many years.

John's Gospel is different from the other three in several respects. It says nothing of Jesus' birth or early life; it tells more of his ministry in Judea and less of his work in Galilee; it focuses on Jesus' discourses rather than his parables; it includes more of Jesus' one-on-one encounters; and it highlights strong contrasts—life and death, light and darkness, spirit and flesh, truth and falsehood, love and hate. Mentioned among the one-on-one encounters are the following individuals: Nicodemus (3:1-21), the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar (4:4-42), the woman who had been taken in adultery (8:3-11), the man born blind (9:1-41), and Mary and Martha just prior to the raising of Lazarus (11:17-37).

John's prologue is also unique. Nothing in the other Gospels (or elsewhere in Scripture) compares with the description of God's revelation of himself found in these verses. It begins with an introduction of Jesus as the eternal Word, active in creation, but who then "became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14). The prologue is interrupted briefly (in verses 6-8) by a reference to John the Baptist as the man sent from God to announce Jesus' coming.

Examining the Text

I. The Eternal Word (John 1:1-5)

A. The Word and God (vv. 1, 2)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The Gospel of John begins with a simplicity that camouflages its sublime and profound message. The opening words of Genesis are used by John deliberately: In the beginning. The apostle will soon discuss a new creation or "new birth" (John 3:3), to be accomplished through Jesus Christ. These words, as we will see, introduce the relationship of Jesus to the first creation.

The term word was important in Hebrew thought as God's vehicle of creation. He spoke, and things came into being (Psalm 33:6). Word also designated his command; the term Ten Commandments is literally, in the Hebrew text, "ten words." Prophets often introduced God's messages with "Hear the word of the Lord."

This term was also important to first-century Greeks. Logos, which is the Greek term translated as "word," signified thought and reason as well as a unit of speech or writing. It is difficult to determine whether John had one of these specific ideas in mind by his use of this concept. Perhaps he simply chose a term that people had been using for years and with which his readers were familiar in order to show them that the divine Word entered into the arena of our existence in a real person, Jesus Christ. This point will become clearer in verse 14, although John will not specifically�