Posted by: chuckbumgardner | April 19, 2009

Luke the Researcher

Luke is the only writer of a canonical gospel who gives us insight into how he put together his gospel:

Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,  [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,  [3] 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,  [4] that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Perhaps it is because I myself so much enjoy research and teaching, but the following passage from a piece of historical fiction made Luke “come alive” for me.  I recognize that historical fiction holds its own dangers — readers may gain false ideas about the way things really were — but it can also with due caution grant insight as well.  The setting is Philippi, shortly after Paul and company made their initial converts in the city.

They stood for a while, wrapped in thought, until Lydia shook herself.  “Well.  One more room to show you.  Luke is teaching in there.  I rather like Luke.”  She flashed an impish smile.  “He’s Greek, like us.  He understands us better than the others.  And, besides, he’s telling us all about the life of Jesus.  He says he wants to write a book about it one day.”

She led Clement to yet another doorway, where they stood together and peered inside.  This room was larger, with fifteen people sitting on the floor and leaning against the walls.  Like Silas, Luke sat before a low table.  On it, along with some candles and a table lamp, lay an open binder holding pages of closely lettered writing.  As he talked, Luke sifted through the papers, reading a fragment from one, a paragraph from another, verifying facts, quoting words.

“After he had battled the Devil in the wilderness, Jesus went home to Nazareth.  I’m sure it was good for him to see his mother and brothers again.  But the one thing people tell me about this homecoming has nothing to do with family.  It’s what happened in the synagogue.”  Luke stopped and looked around.  Though quiet, even shy in most social settings, Luke came alive in teaching situations.  He had something of the actor in him, with an actor’s understanding of the dramatic pause.

“When the time for the reading came–by the way, every synagogue service involves several readings from the Jewish Scriptures–they asked Jesus to read from the Prophets.  He chose a passage from a prophet named Isaiah.  Now, what’s interesting about this–”

Lydia whispered to Clement, “He gets so excited when he teaches.  You can barely get two words out of him at suppertime.  But he’ll teach all night if you let him.”

“What are those papers?” Clement asked, pointing to the binder.

“Those are his notes.  Every time he meets people who were actually there, who saw what happened with their own eyes, he interviews them.  Writes down every story they tell.  Checks and cross-checks that story against the memories of others.  That’s what he hopes to base his book on.  He says he wants it to be an orderly account.”

“That’s why the passage from Isaiah is so important,” Luke told his listeners.  “Jesus was defining his ministry with those words.  He was announcing to his hometown, ‘This is what I’m about.  This is what I’ve come to do.  I am here to preach to the poor, to free prisoners, to open blind eyes, to speak up for the underdog.’  That is not what they expected from the Messiah, let me tell you!”  Luke became even more animated, waving his bony arms, looking for all the world like an elongated, emaciated Paul. . .

Tim Woodroof, A Distant Presence: The Story Behind Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Narrative Commentary Series (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 163-65.

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