There is a very good argument that the word for “eyewitnesses” in the preface to the Gospel of Luke (and by extension to Acts) does not refer to persons who literally saw the people and events that are found in the narratives.
The argument by John N. Collins has been published in The Expository Times (June, 2010) and deserves far more attention than it appears to have received. Its implications are far-reaching and highly significant for any thesis that rests upon the view that Luke drew upon oral traditions or accounts of individuals who were known for having personally witnessed Jesus or other events found in the Gospel and Acts.
I originally posted this as What Did Luke’s Eyewitnesses See? I won’t repeat it in all its detail here. I’ll outline here the main points of the argument but first let’s have another look at that prologue in the inspired King James translation:
1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
The original article and my post have the details, but in sum the argument goes as follows:
1. The grammatical construction in verse 2 combines the “eyewitnesses” and “ministers/servants” as one and the same from the outset. That is, the eyewitnesses did not eventually go on to become servants of the word; whoever is spoken of here were both eyewitnesses and servants of the word” from the outset.
2(a). The “word” in verse 2 can be (and often is) translated as “books” or “writings” or “treatises”;
2(b) The “things” in verse 4 is a variant of ‘logos’ and can be understood in a way that embraces those books/writings or “treatises”.
3. The word for “eyewitnesses” can be (and often is) translated not as a witness to events but as an observer of static things such as a fruit, a culture — (thus opening up the possibility of being an “eyewitness” even of “writings”.)
4. The word for “servants” in “servants of the word” was the same word used for minor officials in bureaucracies.
5. The word for “delivered” in verse 2 implies some form of teaching and learning by some form of guarantors of traditions.
6. “Eyewitnesses and servants of the writings” were those through whom the tradition was taught and passed on. They were the officials held responsible for guarding the “books” and ensuring the correct writings were being collected and passed on through reading and teaching.
7. Luke chooses to add one more book to the collection of these “eyewitnesses and servants of the writings”.
Seven points. King James. You can’t get more authoritative than that!
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