"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4)
If Luke was able to select from a wide variety of sources in putting together an accurate account of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, then it stands to reason that he had access to Mark and other earlier material. He also would have had contact with direct eyewitnesses to the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Luke's preface shows us that the four gospel accounts are rooted in history. He carefully sorted through oral traditions in compiling a truthful narrative. Luke did not make up things to fit an underlying agenda but sorted through details to ensure the credibility of his message. He intended that his work be understood as history.
His gospel account is not a work of fiction. It is not a work of myth. His account is not a forgery or intended to be deceptive. Luke told the person to whom he had dedicated his work that it was to be understood as what actually took place. Thus, human imagination was not used to fill in unknown details. The author did not go out of his way to embellish things.
William Barclay wrote in his commentary on the gospel of Luke:
"It is the best bit of Greek in the New Testament. Luke uses here the very form of introduction which the great Greek historians all used. Herodotus begins, "These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus." A much later historian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, tells us at the beginning of his history, "Before beginning to write I gathered information, partly from the lips of the most learned men with whom I came into contact, and partly from histories written by Romans of whom they spoke with praise." So Luke, as he began his story in the most sonorous Greek, followed the highest models he could find. It is as if Luke said to himself, "I am writing the greatest story in the world and nothing but the best is good enough for it."
Craig Keener, in his IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, notes in regard to the prologue of Luke's gospel:
"[Luke] 1:2. “Handed down” was sometimes a technical term in the ancient world. *Disciples of *rabbis normally passed down first-generation traditions carefully. Elsewhere in antiquity, disciples of teachers viewed communicating accurately their teachers’ sayings as a central part of their mission; the school would continue to propagate the ideas of the founder. Why should anyone suppose that Jesus’ disciples would be less accurate than all other disciples? Historians normally consulted key eyewitnesses, many of whom remained alive and even in leadership during the period when the Gospel’s sources were being written. Ancients often trained their memories in ways that could put modern intellectuals to shame. Orators could recite speeches hours in length; one exceptional orator even claimed to recall samples of scores of practice speeches offered by classmates decades before. Such memory was not the exclusive domain of the educated; uneducated oral storytellers could recite full works like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey from memory. To object to all such examples because this one is Greek, that one is late, and so forth, is to dismiss all extant evidence in favor of pure speculation. We should expect the material to have been preserved. Because Luke writes while eyewitnesses are still alive, and because they were accorded a place of prominence in the early *church, we may be confident that his traditions are reliable. (Eyewitness sources were accepted as the best.)"
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