Three reasons why Luke's gospel is more accurate.
Let us begin in Luke. The first four verses of Luke’s gospel are a kind of salutation-like a preface. Unlike the other three gospels which dive directly into the narrative in some way (or some sort of theological introduction – as in the case of John), Luke begins with a long sentence that is much like a salutation that you would find in one of the epistles of the New Testament.
John MacArthur notes that these four verses are consistent with classic Greek historical writings.i Luke’s first sentence is in fact a formal introduction to a larger body of work – namely, the true gospel narrative. I stress the word true because in this introduction, Luke politely claims other gospel narratives as error and calls his own trustworthy. So in this introduction, Luke is setting his work on the life and death of Jesus as the superior work – the one to be trusted.
Now, I do not want to suggest that he is calling the other canonized gospels as heresy. I don’t think that Luke was including them in his accusation. Rather, he was including those that came before him and after him that conflict with the gospel he in fact proposes. This would not include Matthew, Mark, and John, but would exclude them from such claims. Some hold that Luke may have had Matthew and Mark’s gospels in hand when we penned his own. (But that is another topic altogether.)
What we do know is this: Luke’s gospel is inspired by God and is therefore trustworthy. However, in his opening sentence, Luke pens some words that are both sour and sweet. By calling his own gospel the true (sweet) gospel he in fact sours the others. You may be able to think of some that have arrived in our bookstores today. But to those whom Luke is referring is uncertain.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Lk. 1:1-4)
Notice that he is writing to Theophilus and deems him most excellent. We can believe then that Theophilus was some kind of high ranking citizen. It was the phrase used in Acts 23:26 to refer to governors (also in 24:3 and 26:25). More importantly, notice what he says to him, so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
Now, I am going to assume that Theophilus was taught something of the gospel. Luke uses “the things” twice when referring to this something. In context of Luke’s writing and defense here, he must have been referring to the gospel narrative. And so he is saying to this governor, “I am writing you this narrative so that you can be sure of the exact, real, actual truth of the life and death of Jesus.” In other words, Luke is writing in order to clear up the mess that is being caused by these other writings.
Go back to verse 1 to see this clearly. Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of things accomplished among us tells us that there were already many writings about the gospel narrative. So it begs to question, “Why would someone write yet another?” This is the reason why Luke introduces his writing in such a way.
In other words, since there was so much false recordings of the gospel accounts, Luke sees it necessary to write one in order that there be some clarity as to what reallyhappened and for what purpose. In plain argument … Luke’s gospel is superior.
Theophilus must have heard the real gospel. Then read many gospel records that confused the first gospel. He was uncertain. So, Luke comes in and says, “Let me clear this up for you by giving you the real account.”
What a bold statement to make – but very necessary, I’m sure. Luke says to Theophilus, “There are many narratives about the life of Christ, but they fall short. I have an accurate account for you to read.”
The question is “Why would Luke’s be more accurate than those others?” I mean, why is his so special? What sets his account apart from the other accounts? Luke gives some reasons.
The first reason is easily overlooked if you are not careful. Notice Luke refers to the recorded events as an account of the things accomplished among us (emphasis added). I think that common sense tells us that the closer you get to the people in the story the more accurate the story becomes. Luke accompanied Peter and Paul for a great deal of time and even became a co-laborer in their work. So his first reason is very subtle: Luke’s account can be trusted as the superior account because he was among those whom the story accounts.
Secondly, Luke’s account was handed down to [him] by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Not only was he around them and ministering with them for lengthy periods, they entrusted to him the gospel accounts with confidence of his persevering them. They committed these events and the principles behind them to Luke. So his second reason is much more clear: Luke’s account can be trusted as the superior account because it was delivered to him personally from those who experienced what the account tells forth.
Thirdly, Luke investigated everything carefully from the beginning. The Greek gives us the sense that he not only investigated carefully but also “had perfect understanding” (as the King James Version translates). Luke was confident since he investigated the entire story from the beginning. And I would think that since he accompanied the disciples for so long, they would have made sure that Luke’s account was indeed accurate. So his third reason is this: Luke’s account can be trusted as the superior account because it was thoroughly investigated from the get-go.
So Paul was as close to the account as you can get without being in the account, he learned first-hand from the characters in the account, and he investigated the entire account thoroughly and carefully from the beginning.
Why is Luke’s account superior to the others? Well, it is the closest account you can get without being there yourself. This implies that the other accounts (that he deems as sub par) fall short of at least those three characteristics. So that would eliminate Matthew, Mark, and John from the list of those he condemns.