“The Certainty of Faith”
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.
Most people know the New Testament begins with the four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. We call them the four Gospels. Sometimes we think of them individually as “Matthew’s Gospel” or “Mark’s Gospel” etc. But instead they should be called “The Gospel according to Matthew, Mark…” etc. In the New Testament there is only one Gospel. (Gal. 1:6-9) And in the first four books of the New Testament we have this one gospel being presented according to the witness of four individuals.
That’s why there is so much similarity between these books. They each have unique qualities but they are telling the same story. They all start, in some way, with the beginning of Jesus’ work on earth and end with His crucifixion and resurrection. Reporting the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is a tidy way of summarizing the good news. (1 Cor. 15:3-4)
We hear a lot about “The Gospel of Thomas” and “The Gospel of Peter,” which are second and third century documents that some say are just as authentic and authoritative as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But if you read “The Gospel of Thomas,” for example, you will notice the difference in content to the original four. It is a fake document that was written later and ascribed to Thomas. In fact, it does not follow the storyline that the others follow. There is no account of Jesus’ ministry, of His death or His resurrection. It is simply a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus. Whatever it is, it is certainly not “The Gospel according to Thomas.”
But the four Gospels of the New Testament are telling the same story and are just ordered differently by four different men. The beginning of Luke’s gospel is especially fascinating because he gives us insight into how he compiled and wrote it. Luke says he did a lot of research. Many people had written summaries of Jesus’ life but Luke wanted a more comprehensive account. So he studied early church documents and he interviewed early Christians, people like Peter and Paul, whom he knew personally.
He did all of this for a man named Theophilus who was a young Christian who needed reassurance about the things he was taught. Theophilus may have been a wealthy patron who funded Luke’s research and the publishing of the document, which was an extremely labor-intensive and costly process.
The purpose of the document was to reassure him of the truth of the Gospel. Many people think faith is a subjective choice and has nothing to do with objective truth. But faith in the Bible is never used in this post-modern way. Rather, Biblical faith is perceiving and acting upon what is true. Our faith is increased (our faith in who God is, what Jesus has done, His death and resurrection) when we understand what is true. When the truth is articulated and defended, faith is established. (Rom. 10:14ff)