This week I was hit with a double-whammy of writer’s block as well as some long anticipated home improvement projects that needed my attention. So for the past several days I’ve put off writing for this blog and now I find myself itching to post something…but what to post, I wasn’t sure. Then it came to me that last Sunday’s Gospel triggered a few thoughts in my mind that are worth some brief comments here...
The Gospel opens with these words: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” (Luke 1:1-4)
As I heard these words on Sunday, three lines jumped out immediately. The first was this: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us...”
Luke says that “many” have written accounts of Jesus’ life. Now scholars tell us that, of the four Gospels in the Bible, Mark was written first. Then Luke and Matthew wrote around the same time (possibly Matthew first). And John’s Gospel was written last of the four. So when Luke says that “many” have written, this means that Luke was examining more than just Mark’s account as a source for consideration, but he couldn’t mean John, but he may have had access to Matthew. These two hardly constitutes “many.” So Luke saw his own work as one among “many,” which would include non-inspired writings. In other words, the First Century Christians, and even the gospel writers themselves, did not make clear distinctions between what we now call “inspired” writings and the other works that were being read along side the future “Bible.”
Second we read the words: “…I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down…”
This passage suggests that the author, Luke, made a conscious decision to write the Gospel. Now as believing Christians we accept that this book was divinely inspired. But as Catholics we know that “inspiration” does not mean that God took the hand of the writer and forced him to write against his will. Nor did God whisper in Luke’s ear each syllable to be written until the work was complete. Notice that Luke does not write: “God spoke to me, and I wrote what he commanded.” Instead Luke tells us: “I too have decided to write…”
Third, I would consider the following: “I too have decided...to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”
Now Theophilus means “lover of God.” Scholars are unsure whether this is an actual name of a First Century Christian to whom Luke was writing, or whether “Theophilus” referred to all “lovers of God” and thus all Christians everywhere. (I rather think the latter). But Luke is clear about one thing, whomever he is addressing is already a believer, for he writes not to convince the reader to believe, but rather “that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” Having already received the faith and accepted Christ’s teachings, we read this Gospel to realize the certainty of our faith. Luke’s purpose is to edify and build-up an already present belief.
Now let’s take all of these things together: In Luke we see that the Early Christians did not have an official “Bible” and that even the inspired writers did not make clear distinctions about various texts circulating at the time. And the writers did not always make a specific claim to divine inspiration for their own works, and even admitted that their own decision-making and personal inclinations drove them to write. And finally we see that the Bible was written to believers and not as a tool to make converts. We might say that faith came first – the Church grew out of this faith as a Body of believers, and then the Bible. The Bible sprang forth from the Church.
So, this brief passage from Luke, which on its surface is seemingly unimportant and merely a necessary introduction to what follows, is actually a treasure trove of information telling us how the early Church was shaped in Biblical times.