Writing in A.D. 62 about the events surrounding the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the subsequent actions of his followers, Luke said that he had “followed all things closely for some time past.” It rarely occurs to the casual reader what is meant by that statement, because for some strange reason we tend to think the Holy Spirit dropped all the words of the gospels right down out of heaven into the laps of the New Testament writers. But it just didn’t happen that way. According to Luke himself, he had “closely followed” the events he wrote about in the gospels and Acts; in other words, he researched the history from those who were actually present when the events took place.
The question is, when and where did he find time to do this? If tradition is correct then Luke was from Antioch. Whatever the circumstances were which brought him to Troas, this is where it appears he joined Paul on his second apostolic journey with Silas and Timothy (note the change of speaking from “they” to “we” beginning with Acts 16:8-10). Then it seems Paul left him in Philippi (Acts 17:1), perhaps to help care for the new church, where he more or less remained until Paul’s return some six years later (Acts 20:6). From there Luke travelled with Paul to Jerusalem, where Paul ended up in a Caesarean jail for two years before being transported to Rome.
Now, at what point did Luke conceive of writing an account of the life of Jesus? Unfortunately we do not know. We only know he was spurred on by the example of “many” others (Luke 1:1) who were doing the same thing around that time. Nor do we know when exactly he began his research. But we can be sure he received much from Paul himself, at least concerning the events of Acts 9-16, while obviously some of the history he knew firsthand.
When it comes to his gospel Luke undoubtedly borrowed a good deal from Mark (whom tradition asserts wrote for Peter), and possibly Matthew. Early events surrounding the birth of John and Jesus which are not recorded by either of these writers was probably received from Mary (Luke 2:51b), while the early history of the church in Jerusalem probably came from Philip, Cornelius, and other Judean saints whom Luke contacted during his extended stay in Caesarea during the time of Paul’s imprisonment.
All this is very interesting, to me at least. It adds a touch of reality to the New Testament story. At what other points do you think Luke might have gathered research for his writing?