Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
–Luke 1:1-4 (TNIV)
With these innocuous words, Luke begins his Gospel. But don’t be lulled into missing the tremendously important implications of what he writes here. First, he tells us he has “undertaken to draw up an orderly account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.” To do this, of course, requires a careful and systematic investigation. Luke is telling us he is an historian, not a blogger. Luke’s Gospel is no fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants endeavor!
Second, notice the supreme importance Luke gives to eyewitness accounts. Luke tells us that the account he is going to present in his Gospel is based on eyewitness testimony from the beginning of the Jesus story. The verb Luke uses for “handed down” is paradidomi, which is a technical term in Greek meaning to entrust or deliver to somone (BDAG). It suggests that the story was not handed down willy-nilly nor was the story subject to the whims of the storyteller. Rather, it suggests that great care was taken not to change the original eyewitness accounts of Jesus and transmitted in a formal way, much like we would expect to see occur in educational contexts and environments. If you are interested in the Gold Standard of this stuff, I commend to you Richard Bauckham’s tome, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Be forewarned, however, that it is very dense and scholarly reading and not for the feint of heart.
Why am I spending time on this? Because this suggests that contrary to many modern, liberal theologians, the Gospel accounts are not the product of the first-century church which cannot be trusted to be historically reliable. They are not myth or a product of imaginative thinking, but just the opposite. Luke is telling us here in language that would have been readily recognizable to any first-century reader or hearer that his Gospel is based on eyewitness accounts, the Gold Standard for ancient historians, and are consequently trustworthy and true. This includes the whole enchilada: miracle stories and–dare I say it?–the physical resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus.
I do not have time to parse out a full case for all of this. Suffice it to say that when you read the Gospels, you can read them and be confident that they are based on history, not myth or imagination, and this is a game-changer. You can read their respective testimonies and have confidence that they report accurately who Jesus was and what he said and did. Thanks be to God for that!