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Friday, May 1, 2020

Why did Luke Write his Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles?

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. Luke 1:1-4

Eyewitnesses told what they had seen. Luke checked these reports and then wrote his own orderly and accurate account so that Theophilus could see that God's plan – to get the gospel to Rome – worked in history as in His mind . Hearsay – unverified rumour – became Godsay: God-verified truth!

"The things you have been taught" - is "katēchēthēs logōn", which means "words taught orally." This is the word from which we get "catechism". "The prefix kata lends the idea 'exactly,' indicating how oral instruction skilfully brought a subject from one level to another to reach precise and growing understanding." (Strong). Yet Apollos's "katechesis" had left him misinformed. See Acts 18:24-26, and later discussion. Now Luke is giving Theophilus written confirmation of what he had earlier heard through word-of-mouth teaching. Didasko is the other word for to teach, as with Jesus in Acts 1:1.

Was Luke writing to a believer who needed written confirmation of what he had been taught orally, or was he giving a brief to a Roman judicial investigator connected with Paul's upcoming trial before Emperor Nero? Theophilus means "dear to God, friend of God or loved by God"  and we would like to think that Theophilus was indeed a friend of God because he would accept Luke's evidence given to assure him of its accuracy. Compare whom Jesus regarded as his friends in John 15:14.

Peter says in 2 Peter 1:19 that "we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts." Compare Acts 18:24-26; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; Hebrews 2:3-4.

I'm sure Luke wanted Theophilus to "pay attention" with "the morning star arising in his heart"!!

Christian Cheong wrote:

Luke wrote to affirm Theophilus' faith.

• He investigated all that has been fulfilled (meaning from the Scriptures), gathered the evidences from eyewitnesses, and penned down the Gospel for Theophilus, so that he may know the certainty of the things he has been taught.

• Yes, Theophilus 'has been taught'; he is a believer. Luke writes to strengthen his faith in Jesus.

• His identity is not known but likely a man of status because Luke addresses him 'most excellent'.

• Luke himself is not an apostle but a Gentile believer and a travelling companion of Paul. We get to know that he is a physician because Paul mentioned it in Col 4:14.

Luke writes to strengthen Theophilus in the faith, so that he can be 'certain of the things he has been taught', the 'good news' about Jesus.

Acts 1:3 "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that   he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God."

• Our faith is rooted and grounded in HISTORY, not some "cleverly devised stories or fables". The

apostles were all eye-witnesses of Christ, His death and resurrection (cf. 2 Pet 1:16).

• None of the apostles doubted His death, but they needed some convincing regarding His resurrection.

• Jesus showed Himself repeatedly and gave them 'many convincing proofs that he was alive', over a period of 40 days. They were STRENGTHENED BY THE PRESENCE OF THE RISEN CHRIST.

Theophilus can be assured that Christ is risen and is with them. It is not a spiritual tale or fable,

not some kind of hallucination. Jesus ate with them.

• Luke seems to emphasize this. They had fellowship over meals. 1:4 "On one occasion while

he was eating with them…" he gave them a command (1:4).

• In Luke 24 Jesus met two disciples on the road to Emmaus … and had a meal with them in the

house: Luke 24:30-31 "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them … and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight."

This is certainly a possible interpretation of who Theophilus is. On "the things you have been taught," compare Acts 18:24-26, where Apollos had been orally taught about Jesus but knew only the baptism of John, until Priscilla and Aquila "explained to him the way of God more accurately." Also compare Ephesians 4:21; Hebrews 2:3-4; 5!12 for the need of being taught and paying attention. Now to Acts:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:1-8

(Interestingly, Acts 1:2 shows the role of the Holy Spirit in the authoritative instruction given to the apostles after the resurrection of Jesus. Compare Luke 24:44-49; John 7:37-39; 16:12-16; 20:20-23; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16.)

Returning to Luke 1:1-4, in another interpretation, John W. Mauck in his 2001 book, Paul On Trial: The Book Of Acts As A Defense Of Christianity, believes Theophilus, to whom Luke addressed both books, was the Judicial Investigator for all trials before Caesar, and that he wrote them to bolster Paul's defence when he stood before the emperor.

"I contend that Luke investigated, gathered facts, borrowed from other sources, and edited them for a different and definite purpose: He wrote a legal 'brief' to defend Paul against charges of fomenting civil insurrection and, by extension, to defend all of Christianity against the charge that it was an illegal religion. His original reader, Theophilus, was, the evidence will show, the Roman official responsible for the judicial investigation of trials to be conducted before the Emperor Nero. Luke, true to his reputation as an evangelist, crafted his brief to present the gospel so that even the very investigator would come to believe in Jesus."

In Luke 1, Luke says he researched all reports to write "an orderly account" so that Theophilus "may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." What Theophilus had "been taught," if we knew exactly what that was referring to, would no doubt clear up some of the mystery surrounding who he was and what he had heard. Apollos, we learn in Acts 18:24-28, had also first been orally taught, and left with an incorrect understanding of baptism until taught (here the word is not the one for oral teaching) more accurately by Priscilla and Aquila. Also note "instruction about baptisms" in Hebrews 6:2, where the word for instruction, again, is not the word for oral teaching.

Luke's gospel is an account of Christ's birth until His ascension, while Acts is an account of Jesus' promising that the apostles would take the gospel to the "end of the earth" – the biggest portion being about Paul's conversion from Judaism and his defending himself against Jewish accusations as he travelled to Rome to stand trial before Nero. Along the way, as we read in Acts 10, 13 and 16, some Romans became Christians! Paul himself was a Roman citizen. Acts 16:37-38, Acts 22:25-28.  Luke might therefore have been giving corroborating evidence to back up Paul's own defence and ensure that Theophilus – if he was the judicial investigator - had the truth regarding what had happened to Paul, which truth would confirm or correct what he had been orally taught. It is of the greatest importance that in Acts, when Paul is defending himself against these accusations before governors Felix and Festus, and King Agrippa, his defence includes the Abrahamic connection to Jesus, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and his own conversion. Paul is on trial for what God Himself had originally promised to Abraham and then made happen!! Luke's brief includes the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, which happened in fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 12,15 and 22. Thus Luke verifies what Paul said as he was making his defences.

And as John Mauck wrote, "Luke, true to his reputation as an evangelist, crafted his brief to present the gospel so that even the very investigator would come to believe in Jesus."

And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7

to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this

hope I am accused by Jews, O king … 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God,

and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles." Acts 26:6-7,22-23

As part of his defence, Paul includes truth from the Old Testament - truth that his Jewish accusers, and governor Festus and King Agrippa, should also believe:

But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe." 28And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" 29And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains."

30Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, "This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment." 32And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar." Acts 26:25-32

It is also fascinating to read Acts 25 when Paul is brought before Judaean governor Festus and King Agrippa, and Festus then briefs King Agrippa. Note their concern for justice. Here's a bit of that:

So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, "King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him." Acts 25:23-27

In his Book of Acts, Luke includes Paul's preaching in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch – which was well before his arrest. His preaching, whether before or after his accusers had him arrested, was always based on the testimony of the Old Testament which all true Jews would know is God's truth:

So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. 17The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, 'I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.' 23Of this man's offspring God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised … 26"Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead, 31and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, "'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.' Acts 13:16-23,26-33

  As in that sermon, so everywhere, the resurrection of Jesus is a central theme in Luke's presentations 

to Theophilus:

1.     In his gospel, Jesus is shown to predict his resurrection in 9:21-22,30-31; 18:31-33; 20:9-16; 23:39-43, and then reveals the resurrection itself and some of what proved the resurrection. 24:1-53.   

2.     In Acts 1:3, "he presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God."

3.     Then Jesus tells his disciples they will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, before he then ascends in a cloud. Acts 1:3,8-9.

4.     The resurrected Jesus appears to Paul on the Damascus road, and Paul is converted. Acts 9:1-21.

5.     All the sermons in Acts, as well as Paul's defences, include the resurrection. Acts 2:22-32; 13:28-31; 17:31; 22:6-8; 23:6; 24:20-21; 25:19; 26:6-8,22-23; 28:31.

6.     In one of Paul's sermons before the Sanhedrin, Luke includes these words from Paul: "Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "Brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. It is because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial." Acts 23:6. The Sadducees deny the idea of resurrection.

The resurrection is crucial to Paul's defence: he includes it in his sermons and defences before the Jews, governors and King Agrippa, and it is the only thing that can explain his own conversion from Judaism to Christianity.

Everything that Luke includes in His gospel, as well as his Acts of the Apostles, backs up Paul's own claim that the resurrected Jesus appeared to him. In one of his sermons recorded by Luke in Acts 13, Paul speaks of God raising David to be king, from whose  "offspring God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised."   David then, in one of his Psalms, predicts the resurrection of Jesus:

And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, 'I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.' Of this man's offspring God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised.  Acts 13:22-23


And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, "'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.' 34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, "'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.'  35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, "'You will not let your Holy One see corruption.' 36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Acts 13:32-37


Luke records Paul arguing the Psalm is saying that Jesus – not David – did not see corruption! And the argument from Paul is basically the same argument the apostle Peter had earlier used in Acts 2:22-36 when he refers to the same Psalm Paul had. Paul wasn't there to hear Peter's sermon!


And so we have Luke, David, Peter and Paul all testifying of the resurrection of Christ. The witness list, in favour of Paul, is growing!! If the investigator is Luke's addressee, he will have to decide if Paul and Luke are more convincing than the Jewish accusers. The things Paul is saying were "nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles."

Any intelligent, fair-minded judge – whether Jewish or Roman – would be able to see that Paul was not talking through his hat, and that therefore his Jewish accusers had no case!

If Theophilus is another believer who needs his faith strengthened, then Luke has surely accomplished this for him. Theophilus means "dear to God", or "friend of God,"  and we would want Theophilus to be indeed dear to God because he believed Luke's evidence (and Paul's own defence at the trial if he was the judicial investigator) and perhaps even become a Christian himself if he is not already one!

Remember, Romans worshipped their emperor, the pantheon of gods, and their ancestors and ancestral gods and spirits. For a Roman to turn from his gods to the only true God was repentance indeed.  Repentance is a huge theme in Luke's writings, Luke 3:7-14; 13:3; 15:1―16:31; 24:44-47; Acts 2:38; 3:19-20; 8:22; 17:16-31, just as the repentant turning from idols is found many times in the New Testament. Romans 1:18-25; Galatians 1:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:9;  2:13; 1 John 5:20-21 – and especially  God's attempts to turn Romans from their demons, sorceries and idols as in Revelation 9:16-21.

In the 2000 years since Luke and Theophilus lived, Luke's writing was written for all people everywhere interested in the "salvation of God" in  Christ Jesus. Luke began in Luke 3:6 by quoting Isaiah who wrote that "all flesh would see the salvation of God." In Luke 19:9-10, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he [Zacchaeus the tax collector] also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." And it all ended in Acts 28:28 when Paul in Rome said: "this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will also listen." (My thanks to The Role and Function of Repentance in Luke-Acts, by Guy D. Nave, Jr', who brings this salvation truth to light.)


Shortly after Luke and Acts were written, Jerusalem was destroyed and Revelation penned. Jesus' life, death and resurrection to save sinners everywhere, and the beginning and growth of the church, all occurred while the Roman Empire was ruling the world, and even with its assistance. It was the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem – but not the church – and the Book of Revelation shows that Christ's kingdom is mightier than the Roman Empire that persecuted Christians late 1st century. "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22


David Carr


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