Luke is the only one of the gospel penmen to give a preface to his publication. He wrote to a man called "Theophilus" and in his opening words Luke introduces the theme for Theophilus. It is found in the last part of verse 1. It deals with "those things which are most surely believed among us." Luke wrote concerning those things accomplished by the Almighty. They had been fully accredited by sure evidence. The story of Jesus Christ is not a "cunningly devised" fable (2 Peter 1:16). It is based on historical fact which has been established beyond all doubt.
The purpose of this passage is to teach us about the biographer of our Lord and the beneficiary of his book. What we learn about Luke in these four verses is very little but is highly profitable. He wanted to write a complete and orderly arrangement of the gospel story to confirm a friend in the faith. As our Lord, Luke valued the single soul and was willing to spend a large amount of his time in ministering to one person. Jesus spent much time with individual people. Luke’s focus on one person, in keeping with the practice of Jesus, teaches us that the work of Christ must be done on a one-to-one basis. It is one person telling another person about a person — the Lord Jesus Christ. Theophilus was the beneficiary of his book but he is not the only one who has profited by it. Luke’s ministry to one has become a ministry to millions. All who read what he wrote to Theophilus become beneficiaries of his book.
The name "Theophilus" means "lover of God." Some think the name does not designate anyone in particular but refers to all believers in general. When Luke speaks generally, he uses general terms. If he had all believers in mind, he would have said so. He personalizes his account, addressing it to Theophilus. Luke’s gospel is an historical report for a particular man in history whose name was Theophilus. He explained to Theophilus that he was not the first one to write about Jesus. There were others who had done it and Luke refers to
"Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things most surely believed among us" (v. 1).
Many who had a personal knowledge of Jesus would not be around much longer. A written account of Jesus and His ministry was needed while they were still present to verify the record. Luke tells us that this task had substantially begun. The word "many" indicates this. We are not told how many but it was certainly more than one or two. Neither does Luke tell us who they were. Matthew and Mark are excluded from the many because they are included in the eyewitnesses mentioned in verse 2. The many does not refer to the authors of the apocryphal gospels because they came much later.
Those who wrote were friends of the faith. They had something to say about Jesus and they wrote it down for others to read. It was not a few but many who had done this. Jesus put pens in motion then and He is still doing it. More has been written about Him than any other person who has lived on this earth. The end of writing about Him is not in sight. The truth revealed in Jesus is inexhaustible and servants of the Lord will continue to write about Him as long as the world stands.
The greatness of Jesus Christ compelled many of that day to write but what they wrote has not survived for our examination. The reason their works have not reached our age is their lack of inspiration. The Holy Spirit did not prompt them to write. Luke emphasizes this by saying they "have taken in hand" to write. It was what they decided to do apart from the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Their attempts were fragmentary and not well arranged. Luke must have thought of them as insufficient or he would not have felt the need for another. It is evident that something more was needed and Luke wrote to meet that demand.
Luke was not an eyewitness but his material was gathered from reliable sources. He calls this to our attention as he speaks of
"Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word" (v .2).
The many who had begun to write received their information from those who had a first-hand experience with the Lord. They had seen everything from the start. They knew Jesus personally and had felt the power of His presence. It was their privilege to hear His words and observe His works from the very beginning. The words "from the beginning" do not mean from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It refers to the time that began with the angel’s appearance to Zacharias and the announcement of the birth of John. Beginning with him, they were eyewitnesses of the life and works of Jesus.
Luke does not name the eyewitnesses but he gives us a hint of their identity by calling them "ministers of the word." This most certainly points to the apostles. One of the apostles closely associated with Mary was John. After the crucifixion of Christ, he took Mary into his own home and treated her as his own mother. If Luke did not get his information from Mary, he could have received it from John. In all likelihood he received it from Mary herself. The eye-witnesses were too numerous to name and Luke makes no attempt to do so.
Many had begun to write about the traditions handed down by those who knew Jesus best. The traditions they recorded were solidly based. Many, including Luke, had access to factual material and it provided a solid base for what they wrote. However, all that had been done was still lacking and Luke felt the need to do something about it. In contrast to others, he offered a complete and orderly arrangement of the traditions which had been handed down by eyewitnesses. He spoke of his work as
"It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order" (v. 3a-c).
Some try to deny inspiration to Luke’s gospel because of what he said in verse 3a — "it seemed good to me also." They think that these words suggest that it was his own idea. In contrast to others, Luke had not "taken in hand" to write. The idea came to his mind and it seemed good. It seemed good because the Holy Spirit made it seem good. The idea is a part of the inspiration.
The words "in order" further reveal divine inspiration. Order is heaven’s first law. All God does is characterized by order. What men do under God’s direction results in order. Others attempted the order. The Holy Spirit would enable Luke to produce it.
The words "having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first" refer to his thoroughness. Luke carefully investigated every detail back to the very beginning. He took nothing for granted. His habit as a doctor would not let him overlook anything. Nothing escaped his minute examination. He carefully scrutinized the history of Jesus Christ step by step back to when it started. We don’t have to be afraid to investigate the claims of Christianity. We will find nothing but truth and our faith will be fortified by what we find. We will never discover anything to contradict Christ. This was the conclusion Luke reached after exhaustive and extensive research.
Faith is based on fact and Luke wrote to Theophilus in order that he might have a systematic arrangement of the facts that had been found. The order mentioned does not mean chronological order but a methodical structure to the story. In his address to Theophilus we find
"most excellent Theophilus" (v. 3d).
It has been suggested that the words "most excellent" refer to a title given to those who were high in public office. Theophilus had become a Christian from the upper echelon. Paul said, "Not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (1 Corinthians 1:26d-f). He did not say "not any" but "not many." Theophilus was one of the few who had been called from the noble ranks.
Luke addressed him with the highest respect. Christian authority is superior to earthly authority but Christians have no license from God to be rude or disrespectful to those in worldly positions. There is nothing wrong in recognizing and rendering respect to those in worldly authority as long as it does not hinder our recognition and respect for divine authority. Failure to be courteous has closed more doors than it will ever open. Luke’s good manners set the example for ours.
Luke’s purpose in writing an orderly account was to provide certainty. Through it Theophilus would find
"That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed" (v. 4).
Luke did not write to convince Theophilus to be converted. He had already been saved. In fact, he had already received some instruction in the Christian life. However, he needed further grounding in the fundamentals of the faith. Luke wanted Theophilus to be firmly founded in the facts concerning Christ.
It seems that what some teachers want to do is create doubt. Luke’s aim was to fortify faith in his friend. This is the best gift we can give to another. It is something we need to give again and again. Nothing is lost by giving it. It is the gift that enriches both the giver and the one who receives it. Those who are won must be instructed in the certainties of Christ. This is done through the written Word. It was then and it is now. It takes time to do but it is worth every minute. We can forever be thankful that Luke chose to do this with Theophilus.
The Theme for Theophilus introduced in verse one is enlarged in the following twenty-four chapters of inspired instruction.