The sponsored Gospel

Luke and the stopped clock

A little later this morning I shall preach on the first four verses of Luke’s Gospel. It is a short passage, but enough to reveal one of the Gospel’s most intriguing features.

Luke writes that he has researched and written his Gospel for ‘most excellent Theophilus’, or ‘Theophilus, your Excellency’, as we might translate it. In other words, in the second half of the First Century there was a patron wealthy enough and interested enough to pay someone to research the whole Jesus ‘thing’ for him. Below is a picture of Mount Vesuvius. At 1pm on August 24th AD 79, the volcano erupted, spewing volcanic mud and lava onto the surrounding cities, and effectively stopping the clock at that moment. CLICK on the image, and it will take you to a remarkable historical photograph in the Corbis collection.

CLICK now (Image: creative commons)

CLICK now (Image: creative commons)

What did you see? The photograph is taken inside the house of a wealthy household, and shows a small Christian altar there. Here is evidence that in the last quarter of the First Century there were wealthy Roman citizens willing to display their Christian faith in the family home. Maybe it was just such a person who had sponsored Luke to research and write his Gospel…

Little things like this remind us that Luke’s Gospel sits in an authentic historical setting, and emerge from a particular historical moment. Years ago a former ‘missionary kid’ who had spent his childhood years in Papua New Guinea came to see me. Childhood over, and a Classics degree behind him, he was not sure that he believed in Jesus any more. We made a pact. We would work our way through Luke’s Gospel, in the Greek text, applying our critical faculties to it mercilessly. No stone would be left un-turned and no question left un-asked. At the end of that process the young man in question recommitted himself to his Christian faith. Luke’s historical document had withstood his scrutiny, and led him back to its subject – Jesus.

I’m sure Luke would have been delighted.






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