I. Prologue: The Context and Purpose of Luke's Writing Project (1:1-4)

The opening verses of Luke's Gospel resemble the style of classical Greek found in ancient historians. There is likely a parallel between 1:1-2 and 1:3-4 as follows:

1 ἐπειδήπερ πολλοὶ

ἐπεχείρησαν ἀνατάξασθαι διήγησιν περὶ τῶν πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν

πραγμάτων,

2 καθὼς παρέδοσαν ἡμῖν οἱ ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς αὐτόπται καὶ ὑπηρέται γενόμενοι τοῦ

λόγου,

3 ἔδοξε κἀμοὶ

παρηκολουθηκότι ἄνωθεν πᾶσιν ἀκριβῶς καθεξῆς σοι γράψαι, κράτιστε

Θεόφιλε,

4 ἵνα ἐπιγνῷς περὶ ὧν κατηχήθης λόγων τὴν ἀσφάλειαν.

The context or precursors for Luke's writing are given in 1:1-2 and the explanation and purpose of Luke's writing in 1:3-4. The underlined words show the parallels between the three lines of 1:1-2 and their corresponding lines in 1:3-4 (see BDF §464; Bock 51; Fitzmyer 288; Marshall 40). Luke is writing about the outworking of past hopes, based on good evidence, so as to provide assurance to his readers.

1:1 The conj. ἐπειδήπερ ("since" NRSV; "inasmuch as" NASB, ESV), though not found anywhere else in the NT or LXX, was a common introduction to a causal clause in classical Greek (usually postpositive; T 318; Bovon 1.16; Fitzmyer 290). Here it introduces the reason (causal rather than concessive, Marshall 41; Nolland 6; completed in 1:3) for Luke's project; he is joining with "many" others (πολλοί; cf. Acts 1:3; Heb 1:1). Questions about who the "many" may be are impossible to answer, but it is unlikely to be limited to only one or two written sources (Robertson, Pictures 3). The following three terms describe the work of the many others. πεχείρησαν 3rd pl. aor. act. indic. of ἐπιχειρέω, "to endeavor," "set one's hand to," "undertake" (most EVV). The term may be viewed:

  1. negatively as a criticism of Luke's predecessors due to the use of the term elsewhere by Luke in contexts of failed attempts (Acts 9:29; 19:13) and his emphasis in this context on the comprehensiveness of his own work ("all things," "from the beginning," "accurately," Bovon 1.19; Fitzmyer 291-92); or
  2. * in a neutral sense without any implication of criticism due to Luke's association of himself with these others in the same task (κἀμοί, "to me also"). The term is preceded here with "because," not a concessive "although," and is used outside the NT for undertaking a (difficult) project without any indication of failure in the task (LN 68.59; MM 250d-51a; Marshall 41; Nolland 12).

The aor. mid. inf. ἀνατάξασθαι of dep. ἀνατάσσομαι, "to arrange in order," "compile" (HCSB, ESV), "draw up" (NIV) is complementary (and may refer to oral or written compilations, Bock 56). The acc. sg. fem. noun διήγησιν (διήγησις, -εως, ἡ) is better "account" (NRSV, NASB, NIV) rather than "narrative" (RSV, HCSB, ESV) as the term may be used of both written and oral accounts (F. Büchsel, TDNT 2.909; Bock 53). Elsewhere in Luke the cognate vb. διηγέομαι is used for oral accounts (cf. Luke 8:39; 9:10; Acts 8:33; 9:27; 12:17; cf. also Mark 5:16; 9:9; Heb 11:32; e.g., Acts 10:36-43, esp. 10:39, 41). Luke's ref. to his own work (ἔδοξε κἀμοί . . . γράψαι, 1:3) need not limit these prior accounts to written ones (pace Fitzmyer 291; Nolland 6). These accounts have been about (περί) πραγμάτων (gen. pl. neut. of πρᾶγμα, -ατος, τό) "things" (NASB, ESV, NIV), "events" (NRSV, HCSB) which have been fulfilled. Πεπληροφορημένων (gen. pl. neut. of pf. pass. ptc. of πληροφορέω, "fulfilled"; NRSV, HCSB, NIV; Bock 57; Bovon 1.20; Fitzmyer 293; rather than "accomplished" NASB, ESV; Nolland 7) is attrib. modifying πραγμάτων. The pf. perhaps highlights the state resulting from the completed events, and the pass. is a divine pass. (i.e., fulfilled by God, as promised; cf. Lukan refs. to fulfillment in Bock 57; Bovon 1.20; Fitzmyer 293; Marshall 41). ν ἡμῖν ("among us") includes Luke with readers such as Theophilus.

1:2 The conj. καθώς places the many compilers of accounts in 1:1 in harmony with the activity of the eyewitnesses in this verse (Robertson, Pictures 4). Παρέδοσαν 3rd pl. 2nd aor. act. indic. from παραδίδωμι, "hand over," has been understood to refer to:

  1. a general transmission of history (Nolland 8); or
  2. * a technical term for the transmission of tradition often by a rabbi to a disciple (Fitzmyer 296; Marshall 41-42).

The context here of "eyewitnesses and servants" (with apostles likely in view) and the use of the term elsewhere in contexts of transmitting tradition lends support to the second view (cf. 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Mark 7:13; Jude 3; cf. the cognate noun παράδοσις in 2 Thess 2:15). The dat. ἡμῖν, "to us," shows that Luke is distinguished from the original eyewitnesses but is nevertheless dependent on them. On "beginnings" (ἀρχή) in Luke-Acts, see Luke 3:23; Acts 1:21-22; 10:37 (cf. John 15:27; 16:4). π᾽ ἀρχῆς is perhaps placed forward for emphasis together with the noun (i.e., they were the "from-the-beginning witnesses"). Αὐτόπται καί ὑπηρέται ("eyewitnesses and servants" most EVV) are probably one group as indicated by the placement of "from the beginning" (ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς) before and the (subst.) ptc. οἱ . . . γενόμενοι after the two nouns (Bovon 1.21; Fitzmyer 294; Marshall 42; Nolland 7; though pace Nolland the art. οἱ modifies the ptc. and is not an example of the "Granville Sharp Rule," cf. BHGNT 3). Οἱ . . . γενόμενοι (nom. pl. masc. of 2nd aor. mid. ptc. of dep. γίνομαι, "those who were") is the subj. of παρέδοσαν. Αὐτόπται (nom. pl. masc. of αὐτόπτης, -ου, ὁ, "eyewitness") highlights the basis for the reliability c.f. the information (Marshall 41; i.e., from those who had firsthand observance) and ὑπηρέται (nom. pl. masc. of ὑπηρέτης, -ου, ὁ, "servant," "assistant," cf. Acts 26:16) clarifies that this role is not one of mere observance but one of service for "the word" (τοῦ λόγου is an obj. gen. and may be inclusive of both Jesus and the "message" about him; cf. Acts 10:36-39; 13:26-31; cf. also 1 John 1:1; Gathercole, 221-27).

1:3 δοξεν (3rd sg. aor. act. indic. of δοκέω, "think," "seem") together with the dat. κἀμοί (crasis, καί and ἐγώ; "also to me"; idiomatic for "I too decided" NRSV, NIV; BHGNT 4) indicates that Luke does not criticize the efforts of his predecessors but joins his efforts with theirs (Plummer 4). Παρηκολουθηκότι dat. sg. masc. of pf. act. ptc. of παρακολουθέω, "to follow closely" (ESV), i.e., "follow" in a figurative sense mentally ("pay careful attention to" BDAG 767a; in the context of the surrounding modifiers, "investigate" NRSV, HCSB, NIV; Robertson, Pictures 6; Bock 60; Bovon 1.21; Fitzmyer 297; Marshall 42). The ptc. is attrib. modifying the dat. κἀμοί (i.e., "also to me, who has investigated" BHGNT 4; ZG 168 suggests that the ptc. is either appos. to ἐμοί or it represents the unexpressed subj. of the inf. γράψαι, cf. Z §394). The adv. ἄνωθεν is temp. and modifies the ptc. (i.e., "investigated everything from the beginning" NIV). It has been understood as referring to:

  1. The length of time taken by Luke (e.g., "followed . . . for some time past" RSV, ESV; Marshall 42); or
  2. * The earliest events that he has researched (NIV; Robertson, Pictures 6; Bovon 1.22).

The second option is preferable as the term is likely synonymous with ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς (Luke then begins with the birth narratives after the prologue; Nolland 9; cf. e.g., Acts 26:4 [ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς] and 26:5 [ἄνωθεν]). The dat. πᾶσιν is also a complement of the ptc. and is likely neuter here ("all things" ESV; Fitzmyer 297; on the form cf. T 199). The adv. ἀκριβῶς ("carefully") is a third modifier of the ptc. (i.e., "carefully investigated" HCSB, NIV; cf. Fitzmyer 297-98; Marshall 43; Bovon 1.22 and Nolland 9 suggest it should also be linked to γράψαι). The adv. καθεξῆς ("successively," "consecutive order" NASB; "orderly sequence" HCSB) is used only by Luke in the NT (cf. Luke 8:1; Acts 3:24; 11:4; 18:23). It probably includes a broad chronological and historical order as well as a geographical and salvation-historical order, though allowing for topical ordering of narrative sequences too (BDAG 490c; Bock 62-63; Bovon 1.22; Fitzmyer 298-99; Marshall 43). The aor. act. inf. γράψαι is complementary with ἔδοξεν ("it seemed good . . . to write"). The voc. superl. (for elative, T 31; Wallace 303) adj. κράτιστε (of κράτιστος) could be:

  1. * a term of honor in addressing officials (elsewhere in the NT only at Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25; so Theophilus may be an official of some high rank, Robertson, Pictures 6; Wallace 303); or
  2. a polite form of address that is common in dedications (BDAG 565b; BDF §60[2]; Marshall 43).

Although the term does not reappear with Theophilus's name in Acts 1:1 (indicating that #2 is possible), the use of the term elsewhere in Acts suggests that #1 is more likely (on the voc. in Luke-Acts cf. T 33; Wallace 69; possibly, though not necessarily, indicating that Theophilus might be a patron or financial supporter of Luke's work, Fitzmyer 299-300). The name "Theophilus" by itself does not indicate whether a Jew or Gentile is being addressed. There is evidence in the next verse that this "most excellent Theophilus" is a Christian. As with other dedications (e.g., Josephus, Against Apion 1.1), the dedication to an individual does not exclude a wider audience that shares his perspective (Nolland 10).

1:4 The use of ἵνα with the subjunc. ἐπιγνῷς signals the purpose of this writing project. πιγνῷς 2nd sg. 2nd aor. act. subjunc. of ἐπιγινώσκω, "to know." σφάλειαν (at the end of the sentence for emphasis, Bock 64; Bovon 1.23; Fitzmyer 300; Nolland 10) acc. sg. fem. of ἀσφάλεια, -ας, ἡ, "certainty" (HCSB, ESV, NIV), "truth" (NRSV), "exact truth" (NASB). The noun is used in Acts 5:23 for the safety or security of the locked jail, and related terms are used elsewhere in Acts (adv. ἀσφαλῶς 2:36; adj. ἀσφαλής, -ές 21:34; 22:30; 25:26) to refer to assurance or knowledge of facts with certainty. The combination with a vb. of knowing here indicates that a secure knowledge or "assurance" is meant here (Bock 65; Fitzmyer 300). This assurance or certainty is "concerning" (περί) "the things which [ὧν . . . λόγων] you have been taught." The rel. pron. ὧν is gen. by attraction to λόγων (BDF §294[5]; Z §16; ZG 168). Κατηχήθης 2nd sg. aor. pass. indic. of κατηχέω ("teach"), is "taught" (NASB, ESV, NIV), or "instructed" (NRSV, HCSB; Bock 66; Fitzmyer 301; Marshall 43-44 [though allowing for an evangelistic purpose as well]; cf. Acts 18:25), rather than "report information" in the sense of merely "told" ("informed" RSV; Nolland 11; cf. Acts 21:24). The context here of 2nd person personal prons. (1:2 "fulfilled among us," "handed down to us") together with the reference to "certainty/assurance," indicates that Theophilus is a Christian who has received instruction or teaching already, and is in need of assurance (perhaps in the face of persecution) concerning what he has been taught about Jesus and the fulfilment of God's promises.

For Further Study

1. The Prologue to Luke's Gospel (1:1-4)

Alexander, L. C. A."Luke's Preface in the Context of Greek Preface Writing." Pages 90-116 in The Composition of Luke's Gospel: Selected Studies from Novum Testamentum. Edited by D. E. Orton. Leiden: Brill, 1999.

________. The Preface to Luke's Gospel: Literary Convention and Social Context in Luke 1.1-4 and Acts 1.1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Barnett, P. Finding the Historical Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. See p. 109-20.

Bauckham, R. J. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.

Homiletical Suggestions

The Truthfulness of the Gospel (1:1-4)

  1. Based on multiple sources (1:1)
  2. Based on eyewitness testimony (1:2)
  3. Based on careful investigation (1:3)
  4. Leads to confidence in the faith (1:4)