Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Good News Bible, The Bible in Today’s English Version, copyright ©1976 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.
Luke Had a Reason to Write to Theophilus
by Dale D. Meredith
January 28, 2018
University Baptist Church
790 Dodge Road
Getzville, NY 14068
1 Dear Theophilus:
Many people have done their best to write a report of the things that have taken place among us. 2 They wrote what we have been told by those who saw these things from the beginning and who proclaimed the message. 3 And so, Your Excellency, because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you. 4 I do this so that you will know the full truth about everything which you have been taught. (Luke 1.1-4)
INTRODUCTION: Today I want to begin a series on the book of Luke. We will not be as interested in the critical analysis of the book as much as we will be interested in how the book contributes to our knowledge of Jesus, salvation, and the Christian life. The book was written almost 2,000 years ago.
Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1 indicate that the two books were written for same person. Acts is a continuation of Luke with a small overlap of the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts to indicate the connection of the two. When Luke and Acts were written all writing was by hand. It takes much more space on a page for hand written words that for mechanical or electronic writing today. This may have been the reason for two books. Luke was volume 1 and Acts was volume 2.
Acts 16:11-17, 20:5-21:18, and 27:1-28:16 indicate that the author was with Paul. These sections begin with the words “we left by ship,” “we sailed,” and “it was decided we should sail.” The first was when Paul sailed from Troas to Philippi on what is called his second missionary journey and the last was when he sailed to Rome as a prisoner of the Roman government. This covers a period of at least 10 or 12 years. There is no indication about when Paul met Luke or when Luke became a believer. Paul mentions Luke in three of his letters. In Colossians 4:14, Paul refers to Luke as “our dear doctor.” He calls Luke a fellow worker in Philemon 24, and in 2 Timothy 4:11, one of the last letters of Paul that we have, he says “only Luke is with me.” Paul was probably glad to have a physician travel with him. In Galatians 4:13 he said that the first time he preached the gospel to the believers in Galatia he was sick. We know he had a painful physical ailment that God told him he would have grace to live with (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Part of God’s grace may have included a physician as an assistant to help Paul deal with his ailment. In addition, Paul suffered beatings and had been near death many times. A physician was very helpful.
The important thing we can take from this information is that it doesn’t matter when we become believers or how we become involved in the God’s work. What matters is that we do become believers, become involved in God’s work, use our talents and abilities where needed, and remain faithful even when difficulties arise. We may even become part of God’s grace to help others endure problems and pain. After a long time of service Luke wrote the books of Luke and Acts to explain the significance of Jesus and how Jesus’ teachings were lived out by early believers like the apostles, Stephen, and Paul even when doubts, difficulties, and objections arose.
VERSE 1: "Dear Theophilus: Many people have done their best to write a report of the things that have taken place among us. We don’t know who Theophilus was. It actually reads “most excellent Theophilus.” He may have been a Roman official. He may have been a convert to Christianity or someone Luke was trying to convince that Christianity wasn’t a threat to the government, and also to let him know how he might become a believer. The book is written such that it could be used to introduce someone to Jesus or to help a believer know and understand the life, death, resurrection, and help from the Savior. We do know that it is a help and encouragement to more that just the person it is addressed to. It is also a help for us. Someone decided it was important enough to make copies and all copies had to be copied by rewriting it by hand. When you think about it, how many books do you know that you think are important enough for you to copy them by hand?
We don’t know all the written reports Luke had seen or heard about. It is not unrealistic to think that there may have been many small booklets of a few pages that described Jesus or contained quotations from Jesus. Believers would want to have a record that they could use to remind them of what Jesus did or said. Such booklets could be used to teach new believers about Jesus. Individuals didn’t have complete copies of any books of the Bible.
In 2 Timothy 4:13, Paul asked Timothy to bring his coat and some books he had left in Troas. Paul probably had copies of parts of Old Testament books he used as a basis for some of his teaching and preaching. Copies of almost all the Old Testament books were kept in the synagogues. When Martin Luther was teaching Bible at the University of Whittenburg in the early 1500s there was only one Bible in the town and it was chained to the pulpit at the church. We don’t appreciate the importance of books and notes to those who didn’t have the books, libraries, and digital resources we have today.
The New Testament was not completed when Luke wrote. Obviously, his writing was included in the New Testament. Some of Paul’s letters were in circulation. The book of Mark was probably in existence. Luke was probably familiar with the book of Mark. The book of Luke contains many identical passages to those in Mark.
VERSE 2: They wrote what we have been told by those who saw these things from the beginning and who proclaimed the message. Theophilus had heard about Jesus. Luke included himself among those who, like Theophilus, had heard about Jesus. They had been told about Jesus by those who had seen Jesus.
One of the criteria that the early church used to determine if a writing should be included in the New Testament was whether it was written by a person who been with Jesus or who was closely related to someone who had been with Jesus. Matthew and John had been disciples of Jesus. Mark had been associated with Peter and Paul. Luke implied that he had not seen Jesus. But, he had heard about Jesus from others who had seen Jesus. Luke believed because someone who knew Jesus had told him about Jesus. Those who had seen and knew Jesus wouldn’t be quiet. Thus, Luke said that those who and seen Jesus proclaimed the message.
In Acts 4, Peter told the Jewish leaders, the elders, and the teachers how a lame man had been healed. He said (Acts 4:8-10), “Leaders of the people and elders: 9 if we are being questioned today about the good deed done to the lame man and how he was healed, 10 then you should all know, and all the people of Israel should know, that this man stands here before you completely well through the power of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth - whom you crucified and whom God raised from death.” The leaders, elders, and teachers then told Peter and John “that under no condition were they to speak or to teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Peter and John answered them (Acts 4:19-20), “You yourselves judge which is right in God's sight - to obey you or to obey God. For we cannot stop speaking of what we ourselves have seen and heard.” They just couldn’t be stopped from talking about Jesus.
Peter and John had the feeling like Jeremiah had when he said to the Lord (Jeremiah 20:9), “But when I say, ‘I will forget the Lord and no longer speak in his name, then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back.’”
VERSE 3: And so, Your Excellency, because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you.
Luke said that he had carefully studied the other written material, the information he had been told, and the experiences he had while with Paul. From his study he would write an orderly account for Theophilus. He doesn’t state why the other accounts were not suitable for his purpose, but Luke did include more information concerning the birth of Jesus and the women involved, a sensitivity toward Gentiles, and a history from the resurrection until the time he finished the book of Acts that we don’t have from other sources.
There were mainly three methods of passing the story of Jesus from one person to the next. One method is to tell the story. This method depended upon how much an individual knew about the events and life of Jesus. Think about how much you can tell others about the events and life of Jesus from what you have heard others say. Another method is to participate in the rituals of worship and explain the rituals to others. This method will only continue to transfer the information that can be adapted to worship. Some of this is in the songs we sing. We also do this in baptism and communion. A more complete method of passing on the story is by the teaching and preaching of the messengers which allows for the inclusion of more information and details. The writing down of the information would allow new converts to be clarified and confirmed in their beliefs and then allow them to teach the material to others. This would insure that the teaching of those who had not been present from the beginning would be centered on the details of Jesus and His teaching and not on just the experience of the new convert and what he had heard.
Luke may have felt like Jeremiah. He had accepted Jesus as his Savior. He had experienced the presence of Jesus as he ministered with Paul. He had studied all that he heard from eye witnesses to Jesus and what he had read. It was “like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in but can no longer keep it back.”
VERSE 4: I do this so that you will know the full truth about everything which you have been taught. So, Luke wrote. What Theophilus had been taught was truth, but there was more than he had heard. Luke wrote that Theophilus might know the full truth. That is, what Luke would write would “fill in” the story so that Theophilus could have his faith clarified and confirmed with knowledge of a more complete account of Jesus, Jesus’ teachings, and how Jesus continued to empower those who followed Him. Theophilus would see how the truth from and about Jesus was suited to produce faith and conversion. He would have the material that he could use to pass the story on to others. Theophilus would know that the power of God would continue. Theophilus would know that the growth of Christianity was a matter of faith and following God and was not a political movement to form a different kind of government. Luke ended his writing with the statement (Acts 28:30-31), “For two years Paul lived in a place he rented for himself, and there he welcomed all who came to see him. He preached about the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking with all boldness and freedom.” This last means that nothing was stopping the gospel.
CONCLUDING COMMENTS: Luke did not write until he had time to study and reflect upon his experiences. His writing was not just and emotional outburst. His writing told of the reality of a life time with God.
You could put your name in the place of the name of Theophilus. What Luke wrote for Theophilus is true for us. As we study the book of Luke we will be taught the full truth about Jesus from the beginning. It will not be based on one person’s knowledge and experience. It will be based on the knowledge and experience of many people that Luke included in his writing. We will learn about Jesus and His teachings. We will learn what it means to accept and follow Him. We may come to understand how we can participate as part of God’s grace to minister to others. We will learn how we can use this material to explain to others that our faith and experiences are based on Jesus, His teachings, and His presence with us today. Perhaps after your study there will be “a fire burning deep within you such that you cannot stop talking about Jesus.”