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.
New English Bible
Who was Theophilus? *
Donna remembers: Our journey to Lebanon
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 (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 Bible’s margins, 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 we’re using the translation from that old Bible, first published in 1961.)
David remembers: My journey to Vietnam
In June 1966, I met my ship USS Princeton (LPH-5) 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.
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 just a few months before our arrival, in June 1967).
From long before Jesus’ birth to our own time, the world has never known “holy places” without violence and war – and as Luke’s Gospel begins, all of Israel is subject to Roman domination.
* Who was Theophilus?
Luke wrote his gospel in Greek, addressing it to a man named Θεοφιλος. The Greek name Θεοφιλος (Theophilos) 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 this Theophilus was, but no one knows his true identity.