I just spent the past hour writing this quaint little study on Luke 1-3, and at the end it disappeared into cyber-etherland. So in the true Spirit of the faith once delivered to the saints, I will, begin again.
My son attends a local university, and as part of a philosophy course on Kierkegaard, was required to read the Gospel of Mark. He has somewhat of an unfair advantage, having been raised on the Word for almost 26 years, so his acing the test did not surprise me. What caught my ear though, rang back to the seminary cemetery I once briefly attended, as I heard the walls of Doubting Castle rise, echoing the words of theologians, who heard them from theologians, etc. etc.
My dear progeny began to tell me how the Gospel of Mark was really the first and that Matthew and Luke borrowed off it, and all the other refrains that I had heard and read for over 24 years, about Q documents, late dates on the gospels, and how basically nothing about the Bible can really be trusted as the idols of speculation take forefront. However, there is evidence from the Word, that the New Testament books were written just exactly as one expects even from a cursory reading, and the greatest 'evidence' if one requires it in the realm of faulty human reasoning, is found in Luke 1:1-3.
Luk 1:1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
Luk 1:2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
Luk 1:3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
Luk 1:4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
Who was Luke writing to? Some say Theophilus was of the household of Caesar, others claim he was a Roman official, and some say he used a rubric, a pseudonym of Theo-philus which means 'lover of God' to hide his identity. In any event, a few things become abundantly clear which shed light on how early there were extant Gospels around:
1. The first verse states "...for as much as many have taken in hand to set forth in order, a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,..." shows us that A.)Many were writing down what had happened, B.) they were diligently seeking to put the events coherently, logically and implicitly in chronological order, and that C.) they were setting in order the foundation of doctrine and the teaching of the Lord and Savior.
Why is this important? Because theologians today often claim that the Gospels were written much later, as though they were some fable and not a history of EYEWITNESS events, and though some 'oral tradition' circulated over time until after years of playing 'gossip' someone took it upon themselves to write it down. I was taught that several times about the Pentateuch, that the stories just circulated until someone write down, I don't know, thousands of intricate words which all tied in perfectly with one another, and pointed to events several thousands of years later. I guess they think 'oral tradition' is more believable than Moses picking up a pen, or anyone else in the years since the Gan. This first verse though shows that the WRITING started, well, immediately, as all who had seen and heard the most wondrous things, felt compelled to get it down on paper before they died and the next generation and those who had not seen might forget the fullness of 'Teleos'. So even in the first verse, the doctrine is set, the events are set, the order is set, and many delivered their accounts to the leaders/apostles and Luke before the century was out, wrote the whole of the Gospel of Luke and Acts, to his friend, Theophilus.
2. As mentioned about, vs 2 shows they were delivered to Luke, and that the writer, Luke was an eyewitness and minister: they SAW what happened. They ministered the teaching: these were not the result of an oral tradition handed down, like fairy tales which the Grimm brothers collected in many versions: they were eyewitness accounts, put together in order, carefully written which brings us to the next point:
3. It was written with Perfect Understanding.
One would have to be deaf dumb and blind not to believe that Luke had an anointing to write that Gospel, filled with the Holy Spirit, who only can give 'perfect understanding'. Those who walk in the Holy Spirit know, that when preaching or teaching, comforting, prophesying etc, when filled with the Holy Ghost, one just 'knows' what to say, perfectly, beyond our mere human efforts. The test of time has been applied: that 'perfect understanding' and exact rendering of what happened in Luke's Gospel has lasted 2000 years, and without flaw contradicts nothing in the Word, before or written at the same time. Theologians debate theories , they surmize, manipulate details, etc, but seldom take the Word of the most honest men who ever lived. These men were eyewitnesses "from the beginning It also says Luke was a witness of ALL THINGS, and that he WROTE them to Theophilus.
4. Lastly, Luke emphasizes the CERTAINTY of what he writes: the greek word 'asphaleia', the "undoubted truth"[BLB]. Theophilus has already been instructed of some of it: it says so.
Clement of Rome, and later Origen
Clement of Rome lived around 96 a.d. and he in response to a troubled church, admonished believers to read the Word. They had Bibles of a sort. Each church soon received a Gospel after they were written, and withing days or weeks, the Epistles of Paul and others reached every church. Those who could write, would copy the copies, and keep them. We know they did this because even today hidden copies turn up, one found in a hollow rail of a stairway. Origen later admonished the same. By the 300's we know the Gospels and Epistles were down in Alexandria, for Eusebius made 50 commissioned copies for Constantine, though it was a somewhat dissensioned text. So though Canon was not set till much later, the standard Books of the New Testament were in most Christian hands one way or another, and were not an oral tradition collated some years later by an anonymous source.
My doctorate was not in Theology, but in Psychology, and there were similar issues there: we read what people said about theoreticians but seldom went and read source material. Source material is often not at all what gets reported about it. We believed what our teachers taught because 'everyone in the field said so' and taught the same, but it was not always the case. There is a power in a number of austere and educated scholars all agreeing to the same thing, when standing before a young university student, or a businessman with education in some other field, or a housewife with young children. We tend to cower in their presence, thinking they must know more than we do, but the key is to listen to the Logic or 'ill-logic' of the idea. Could it really have come about the way they say? It takes more faith to believe that the same story circulated for years by thousands of mouths and then got written down with perfect synchrony by 4 separate authors, than to take Luke's word for it.
We believe Theologians who may not even believe in God (the oxymoron of centuries), but we won't take the Word of a man willing to lay down his life even against Rome, for the truth of what he had seen and reported, and others with him. Those theological surmizings can be real faith-breakers, if one doesn't walk back to the Word, and a step beyond their arguments. Their positings almost never end in faith and belief and trust: the Word always does. ekbest