Luke’s Prologue: the How question. (A question only)

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by Neil Godfrey

Luke 1:1-4

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. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

I am not an expert in biblical Greek. I rely on tools such as lexicons and grammars and dictionaries. But till then my use of those tools has led me to ask the following:

Is there anything in the prologue of Luke that discounts the possibility that he is speaking of written transmission exclusively?

The author begins by reminding readers that many before him have written a gospel-like narrative.

He then says that those who were there from the beginning, the eyewitnesses, “delivered the data” to us. That “delivered” work in Greek is the same as used elsewhere for Christ being delivered up for us, sinners being handed over to Satan, and Paul delivering the decrees from the Jerusalem council to his churches. It doesn’t seem to me to be related in any way at all to a method of delivery, but rather to a fact of delivery, method immaterial.

Is there anything in this prologue that denies the possibility, even plausibility, that the original eyewitnesses were believed to have passed on their understanding through a written narrative?

The Greek-English Lexicon of the NT ….. 4th ed of Bauers’s …. includes a meaning for the word for “delivered” the following:

3. of oral or written tradition hand down, pass on, transmit, . . . .  (p.615)

That sounds to me like a prima facie argument for the eyewitnesses handing on the tradition whether orally or in written form….

Then the author of Luke’s Prologue says it seemed a good idea for him to do the same thing as had been done up to the point of his own experience. To add another link to the chain to give some confidence to his own readers that the past was still present.

The strongest argument against this question that comes to mind is later belief that the original eyewitnesses did not write their of their own experiences. (Except maybe for Matthew for some, and John for others. — but these are not majority views.)

But we cannot without good reason judge the intended meaning of the author of Luke’s prologue by how later generations interpreted it. What does the Prologue itself actually say and what are the plausible interpretations of what it says in its own right quite apart from later interpretations?

Is it reasonable to think that the author of the Prologue was speaking of a chain of written documents — which of course stretches even further the possible time gap between the original events and his own time?