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Bible Q

When did Luke visit Israel to interview the eyewitnesses for his Gospel?

In Luke 1:2 Luke tells Theophilus that he has recorded the account of eyewitnesses for his account. This is significant in that Luke’s mentor Paul was not himself an eyewitness – as far as we know – of any of the events in the Gospel of Luke.

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 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, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4  ESV)

Luke first meets Paul at Troas (ancient Troy, at the mouth of the Dardanelles Strait, leading through the sea of Marmara to modern Istanbul) just before the vision of the Man from Macedonia (Acts 16:10-12), and it is usually assumed that Luke was a resident of that city. The dispersion of the first Christians by the persecution in Judea itself – in which of course Paul had a major part – could have led to eyewitnesses to some of the events of the gospels being dispersed as far as Troas. But it is usually assumed that Luke’s encounters with those who were eyewitnesses to events in Galilee and Judea around 30AD were on the road as he accompanied Paul.

Luke’s travels with Paul are indicated by the “we” passages in Acts:

  • Acts 16:10 to 16:18 Troas to Philippi 49 AD
  • Acts 20:4 to 21:19 Philippi to Jerusalem 54 to 57 AD
  • Acts 27:1 to 28:30 Caesarea to Rome 59 to 62 AD

Of those three “we” sections it is the section Acts 21:8 – the arrival of Philip the Evangelist’s house in Caesarea (just south of modern Haifa in Israel) which marks Luke’s first entry to the land where the events of his gospel took place. In Acts 23:33 the Romans move Paul back to Caesarea to provide a more secure gaol. One would assume that those closest to Paul also used Philip’s house in Caesarea as their residence when visiting Paul in detention there, but as the narrative from this point solely concerns Paul and his various appearances before Felix and Festus there is no mention of Paul’s company. Luke only re-enters the account in Acts 27:1 when the Romans decide to transfer Paul from Caesarea to Rome by sea.

So obviously the question is, what was Luke doing all this time? Acts 24:27 Luke tells us that Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for at least two years before his appearance before Festus. The total time Paul was detained in Caesarea is longer. It is conceivable that during some of this time Luke made one or more journeys home to Troas, but it is also possible that Luke remained in Israel the entire period getting to know well the many eyewitnesses in Caesarea, Galilee and Jerusalem to the events he describes in his gospels. This then is the normal assumption related to Luke’s claim in Luke 1:2, that his knowledge of the eyewitnesses to the events in his gospel was gained primarily from Acts 21:8 to Acts 27:1.

The end point for Luke’s encounters with the eyewitnesses would obviously be the date he completes the manuscript of the gospel for Theophilus. There is some evidence from the different ways that Theophilus is addressed in Luke 1:1 and Acts 1:1 that Theophilus was converted and baptised between the gospel and the second volume. If the second volume was completed at the time point marked by the final verses – which is the obvious inference since if Paul had already been released why wouldn’t Luke triumphantly record the most important vindication of Paul’s mission – then Acts would be around AD64 and the gospel perhaps a year or two earlier AD62.

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