The Gospel begins: Luke 1:1-4
The author to Theophilus: Many writers have undertaken to draw up an account of the events that have happened among us, following the traditions handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses and servants of the Gospel. And so I in my turn, your Excellency, as one who has gone over the whole course of these events in detail, have decided to write a connected narrative for you, so as to give you authentic knowledge about the matters of which you have been informed.
Translation from the New English Bible (1961)
Theophilus: Who was he? *
Thoughts: on reading Luke’s Gospel
Since the late first century, when this Gospel was written, Christians have believed that Luke was a physician and Paul’s companion on his missionary journeys around the Mediterranean (see Colossians 4:14). And, from the first century to our present day, many have believed that this Gospel is the best “life of Christ” ever written.
Luke wrote this Gospel and the Book of Acts as a single work. In terms of the sheer number of words written, Luke’s work dominates the New Testament. In terms of literary beauty and the power of story, this Gospel is first in our hearts.
Memories: Our journey to Lebanon — Donna Ross
In September, 1967, we began our journey to Beirut, where Rob would teach chemistry at the American University, and where I would care for two baby boys. We also hoped to to take time to explore the eastern Mediterranean, especially the places where Jesus lived and taught (Galilee, Jerusalem, and points in between), and where Jesus’ first disciples took their electrifying message (in today’s Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy).
Our first flight took us first from Oakland to London. After a few days in Great Britain (and after purchasing a large pram that Mary Poppins would have loved), we flew to Paris (pram and babies in tow). From Paris we went on to explore Florence, Rome, and Athens before finally arriving in Beirut.
To prepare for the trip, I took a brand-new copy of the New Testament and began
to mark it up – reviewing the story of Jesus and his first disciples; digging into first-century history; and finally, in the margins of the Book of Acts, sketching maps of St. Paul’s travels around the Mediterranean. (I still have that old New Testament, with its well-thumbed pages and penciled maps – and that’s why this study is using the translation from that old Bible, first published in 1961.)
It was only after we moved to Beirut that we learned the city was surrounded by refugee camps – where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had settled after escaping from ongoing wars in the “Holy Lands” (the latest refugees had arrived just a few months before our arrival, in June 1967).
From long before Jesus’ birth to our own time, the “holy places” of the Middle East have never known a time without violence and war – and as Luke’s Gospel begins, all of Israel is subject to Roman domination.
Memories: My journey to Vietnam — Dave Baldwin
In June 1966, I met my ship USS Princeton in Subic Bay, P.I., one year after I graduated from UC Berkeley. I was 24 years old. My wife of three months, Nancy, was stuck alone in a strange city, Long Beach, California. It was a time of great uncertainty.
My first real job was to be a line officer in the Navy. The war in Vietnam was in high gear. Over 500,000 troops were ordered into combat by that time.
Join the Navy and see the world? Not exactly. I saw two tours in Vietnam, from June to September 1966 and March to September 1967. Mostly, the ship stayed a few miles off the beach at the border between North and South Vietnam. Other than brief liberty calls in Okinawa, Hong Kong, Yokosuka, and Subic Bay, the Far East was all business for me.
I was in the combat zone, but my personal safety was not an issue. However, I saw a lot of body bags containing dead Marines on the hangar deck. I saw a lot of wounded Marines removed from helicopters, headed for surgery. As a communications officer, I processed hundreds of death messages to the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
I am sorry to say my travels were not nearly as inspirational as Donna’s travels to see the holy places in the Middle East. But it was a learning experience. I learned to hate war. I despise all attempts to glorify combat and violence.
Luke wrote his gospel in Greek, addressing it to a man named Θεοφιλος (Theophilus). The Greek name Θεοφιλος meant “friend of god”, derived from θεος (theos, god) and φιλος (philos, friend). Theophilus was both a common name and an honorary title among learned Romans and Jews in the first century CE. Over the centuries there have been many conjectures about who Luke’s Theophilus was, but no one knows his true identity.