This review is focused on, Exploring the New Testament World (1998), a popular volume from Dr. Albert A. Bell, Jr., who is current faculty and professor of history at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.
Understanding the meaning of the Christian word gospel depends on understanding how the word gospel is presented in the New Testament.
Two millenia of existence demonstrates that the New Testament literature has merit sufficient enough to require one to become familiar with these unique documents. Evidence exists showing that the New Testament documents was translated into many contemporary first century languages. The early christians found it necessary to share this message, and it was well received. Even in modern times, the New Testament has been translated into several thousand languages and dialects the world over, and there is continued progress and commitment from the academic community to present the teaching of Jesus to many more. These are facts which corroborate with other evidence suggesting that the New Testament has enduring value.
The Gospel of Luke, like Matthew, Mark, and John, provides a narrative of Jesus that dramatically emphasizes the story and significance of His life and ministry, His rejection and crucifixion, and His resurrection and exaltation. Yet, despite bearing strong similarities with the other inspired accounts, Luke’s approach expands our understanding of Jesus and the working out of God’s plan to bring salvation into the Jewish and Gentile world.
In fact, Luke is the first book of a two-volume set. Luke and Acts are joined at the proverbial hip by their prologues styled in the manner of ancient historical accounts (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3). If one is to truly appreciate Luke, one must understand that the ministry of Jesus is but a beginning —a prelude— to the establishment and expansion of the church. Luke is the only Gospel Account that has a sequel (i.e., Acts). Said another way, in relation to Acts, Luke is a prequel. From this broad perspective, then, we can see that Luke purposefully expanded the stories of Jesus’ ministry to include more genuine details, to provide unique emphases, and to show that the ascension was not the end of the redemption story but that it was to be continued by the church.
The Prologue and Purpose
When one pauses to appreciate how each gospel accounts begins, Luke’s prologue to “book one” is set with a series of unique features. In Luke 1:1-4, the inspired text reads in such a way that the reader should see early on that this account is framed along different lines than previous accounts:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 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, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (ESV)
This one sentence in the Greek outlines very clearly the overarching concern of Luke’s gospel account, and it does so in a formal way consistent with ancient Greek historians and medical writers according to Graham N. Stanton in his classic work, The Gospels and Jesus.
Here, Luke acknowledged the presence of other narratives preexisting his own account (Gk. diégesin). Despite their existence, it appeared to be the right time to provide his own inspired account. Luke told us explicitly that his gospel is in keeping with three aspects of early Christian testimony: (1) these preexisting accounts, (2) earliest eyewitness testimony, and (3) those who served to deliver the Word to the world. To be clear, Matthew, Mark, and John demonstrate to have the same concerns, but regarding emphasis, Luke’s account is the clearest. And this feature is most likely due to the sort of audience he seeks to reach —that is, people like Theophilus who are interested in the certainty of the events of Jesus’ life and ministry, death and resurrection, and the progress of those who followed Him afterward.
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