1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us,
2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us,
3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus,
4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
In recent decades, there has been a surge of sorts in schools–both secondary schools and colleges–teaching the Bible as literature. They approach the Bible as a huge and very influential book, one that has had an indelible impact upon human history. These classes trace the Bible through the ages, and they examine the stories of the Bible and compare them to folktales, legends, and myths. Also, these classes show how the Bible has influenced the art of many periods, this sacred Book contributing indirectly to some of the world’s greatest painting, sculpture, and literature.
I think the authors of the various books of the Bible would have a good chuckle at these attempts to weasel the Bible back into public discourse in a land that has fallen so far away from the Word of God. Certainly the Bible is a well-written and influential Book, but it was never intended as literary entertainment. The Bible was written for enlightenment. Or, as the apostle Paul wrote to his protegé Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Luke was one of Paul’s companions on his missionary journeys and, as that great apostle’s own disciple, a fellow minister of the Word. Scholars agree that Luke’s writing both in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles is scholarly and educated. Paul speaks of Luke as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14), and we know that Luke alone stayed with Paul during his final imprisonment in Rome. (2 Timothy 4:11) In short, Luke was an educated man seeking to educate others about the Son of God.
The person to whom Luke addresses his writings, Theophilus, is doubtless someone whom he and Paul had instructed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Luke therefore sets about writing his Gospel account in order to help Theophilus be sure of his newfound faith and the instruction he has already received.
It is interesting that in verse 1 above, Luke tells us that “many” authors have taken upon themselves the task of writing about the gospel. We might then think it strange that only four Gospels have survived to be included in holy Scripture. And indeed, some have recently theorized about early conspiracies to suppress those other “many” accounts of Jesus’ life, claiming that ALL the writings we have about Jesus from that period are somehow valid in their own ways. But Luke points out that his own account is based upon “perfect understanding” of the events about which he writes. Where most of those non-canonical “gospels” try to shoehorn Jesus’ life into a treatise on Gnostic doctrines or try to make the gospels entertaining, Luke’s Gospel is not coming from any other place than to record events with accuracy and wisdom for the continuing education of those who were instructed by the apostles.
Whence comes Luke’s own understanding? As an early companion of Paul, Luke doubtless had interviewed and learned from some of the original Twelve (v.2), and he also had listened carefully and written down the various accounts of Jesus’ early life from those who knew Him. Not everyone in those early churches had access to the written Gospels, or else they had on hand one of those second-hand gospels told by someone from hearsay (and therefore incomplete) or told from their own motives. (Galatians 1:6-7) And so Luke took it upon himself to write a Gospel that was thorough, orderly, and instructive. (v.3)
But what strikes me most about the verses above is the REASON for Luke sending this account to Theophilus: “that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”
Certainty: such a wonderful word.
Hebrews 11:1 (New International Version)
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
We may hear someone speak about the gospel of Christ, or hear someone preach about Moses or the prophets, or perhaps we receive instruction in the sacraments of baptism and communion. But how do we know for certain that what we hear is true and right? We turn to the Word of God ourselves. The Bible exists to solidify, to confirm those things we hear taught–or else, as is sometimes the case, to bring us right instruction when what we have heard from others is wrong.
You see, we MUST return to the Bible to check what we hear, to confirm it, to line it up against that which is already written. And we are to use the WHOLE Word of God, not just cherry-picked verses that bolster man-made “points” at the expense of solid Biblical doctrine. As Paul said, “ALL Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV), not just the parts we like, and it is ALL profitable for our instruction.
Ministers of the Word must start and end in the Bible, and we who listen must do our part, too, to continue our instruction by going to the Bible regularly ourselves. Do we really think that Luke wrote this long account of the Gospel and then Theophilus just tossed it aside on a pile of other letters from other people? Plainly not, since this holy missive has found its way into the hands of Christians all over the world! Theophilus read it and cherished it and SHARED it, so that others saw it and knew it and also felt compelled to share it. It confirmed what Theophilus had been taught, bringing him certainty and greater faith. That is what happens with the truly “God-breathed” Word: it reaches into hearts, gives us certainty of this hope in which we stand, and motivates us to share what we have learned.
At face value, the Bible is indeed great literature, but more than that it is the very Word of God, set down by forty different writers and delivered to us so that we may know the certainty of the things in which we have been instructed. And that certainty is more than just intellectual affirmation, it is certainty of faith and hope, certainty of purpose and intention, certainty of love, and, of course, certainty of salvation.
Therefore, let us read the Word of God in search of that certainty, seeking to have our hope secured by the promises of our loving and merciful God. Let us join Theophilus in reading what was written for us and in passing it along to others so that they, too, may be certain of this hope in Christ which is the core of our faith and our being.
Lord God in heaven, hallowed be Your name, and hallowed be Your Word. Teach us and guide us back to Your Bible, giving us that certainty which nothing else in this life can ever give us: the blessed assurance of our salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Blessed be the Word of the living God! Amen.