This particular word study is very personal to me, and it may be to you because it has to do with the origin of the Gospels. I was raised a Roman Catholic and had twelve years of religion classes in Catholic schools. However, my mother’s side called themselves Protestant and believed in the Bible as the only source of truth. Additionally, my mother agreed not to talk to me about anything about her faith as a condition of her being married to a Catholic! However, the things of God were very important to me even as a very young child. I pestered my mother for answers, and she reluctantly started to tell me what the Bible said about different things.
That caused a problem because I was very excited about these things and brought it up with a priest that I talked to even back in first grade and onward. But, when I said that my mother told me it was from the Bible, the priest got very mad and proceeded to chew me out for paying attention to such forbidden topics as at that time we were forbidden to read the bible especially non-Catholic bibles. But I knew that what I heard from the Bible gave me joy while I so often felt dead in religion class and wanted to learn more from my mom’s side. So, while I was very excited about learning things from the Bible, that priest tried to drill into me that the Mother Church decided all things doctrine!
One thing that resulted from this was that, different from many raised in Christian churches, I was not raised, nor did I believe at that time, that the Bible was the sole source of the Christian faith in this world. We did have a Bible history class where we were taught the inspiring stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samson, David, and so forth, but that was just for some history. There were occasional bible verses thrown in to support Catholic dogma, but it was Catholic dogma as displayed in Catechism that was paramount. I was taught from an early age, even back then, that there was a Magisterium, a ruling body in the church that decided what is true, that there was a Canon of laws independent of the Bible, and that the Pope at times spoke ex-cathedra. If anything in the Catholic church was infallible, it wasn’t scripture, it was the Pope. So, while I was thrilled with bits of the Bible that I picked up here and there, I was drilled in Catechism and I had no sense growing up that the Bible was the sole source of truth as my Protestant relatives professed.
As a result, when I believed that God raised Jesus from the dead, when I confessed him as Lord at about seven years old I was overjoyed realizing I had eternal life, but I did not believe in the Bible like so many others in my family did and perhaps you.
Then in my early twenties, I was exposed to the Bible, taught that the 66 books of the Protestant Bible were the inerrant word of God. Compared to the deadness of Catholic dogmatic teaching I was thrilled with the life-giving truth of the Bible and accepted it wholeheartedly as the sole source of truth for doctrine. But as time went on, the many divisions and controversies in the Church confronted me to investigate all of the claims that so many Bible-believing Churches make with the view toward reconciling how so many groups declare Scripture as the sole source of truth while teaching so many different things including traditions and nonapostolic sources as gospel truth. And I realized that there are problems with different teachings of Scripture that need to be dealt with for the body of Christ to mature. As evidenced in the section on this website called Divisions, there are many biblical topics that different believers and churches teach different things about and so all cannot be correct.
But, a warning, be ready for push back. Look at this record. Remember when Jesus sent the twelve in Matthew 10? He sent them to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Well, all of the division in the body of Christ, with all the controversies over doctrine and all the dependence on so many traditions that have sprung up since the Apostles’ traditions were established means that there are lost sheep in the Christian Churches today. And even ones that are saved may be lost in the sense that they are stuck in infant mode because of the nonapostolic traditions that have been ingrained in them. But we have an example, Jesus sent out the twelve, remember, not to unbelievers but to the assemblies of Jews, the religious people who thought they were on the right track following the traditions of the elders. Look at these instructions that he gave:
As you enter into the household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you. Whoever doesn’t receive you, nor hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city. “Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. (Mat 10:12-19 WEB)
The twelve were warned that the good, synagogue going people might do all kinds of bad things including being thrown out of the synagogue, and even being scourged, and brought before authorities. This has happened in Christian times, especially during things like the Inquisition, and there are places on earth today where certain Christians are persecuted, but in a lot of places, even without authorities stepping in, churches and church people may take action against you. This is called persecution in the Bible.
“Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat 5:11-12 WEB)
Look at that. People are rewarded with what is called a prophet’s reward for enduring persecution, and are encouraged to rejoice and be exceedingly glad! Your eternal rewards will be greater because you chose to follow the truth rather than go along with the crowd!
One thing that I have realized throughout this whole process is that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life and died on the cross for your sins and mine, and was raised from the dead, went to the Father to be the intercessor for all who claim him. And maybe because I believed that way before I was ever taught that the sixty-six books of the Christian Bible are the inerrant written word of God then whatever errors and controversies I see don’t daunt my faith in Jesus as the living word of God. But there is still grief at the loss of relationships over this matter just like any other loss.
So, keep in mind the goal of seeing the whole body of Christ mature until we all, as many as are true believers, in true unity get to the knowledge of the Son of God to where we are as mature and complete as the Lord Jesus Christ:
until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; (Eph 4:13 WEB)
So, back to Luke 1:3:
It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, (Luk 1:3 KJV)
Once I started being taught about the word of God status of the whole Bible, more than once I sat and listened to teachings that in The King James Version translation of Luke 1:3 the words “perfect understanding” signified the Holy Spirit guidance of Luke’s writing making it scripture just as described in 2 Peter:
For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit. (2Pe 1:21 WEB)
In those same teachings, more than once I was taught that the only way someone can truly have perfect understanding is by being moved by the Holy Spirit. I was told this verse is proof that these gospels are in the same category as the Law and the Prophets. I was taught that this was proof that the gospels were revelation just like the Old Testament. But are they? They don’t say that the writers received the word of the Lord. But, on the other hand, neither does this in any way prove that they are just human inventions and not true accounts of what happened.
When I read this verse I read that the writer chose to write these words because he had an excellent understanding of what happened. First off, when I read that it seemed good to him to write that indicates it was the man’s choice, it was his will to do this, not that he was following the Spirit’s guidance. I don’t see anywhere in these words that he received these words by revelation or that they were God’s words or anything that indicates that it was the Spirit of God’s decision for the author to write these things or that the Spirit moved to have these words written. And, we have that he had “perfect understanding” in the verse. I know that the word perfect in the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean divine. So, in order to get to the meaning of this verse that the writer intended, I did a word study of the words “perfect understanding”.
In order to do a word study, we need to understand a few things. We want to look at the verse as close to the original language as possible. And the original language of the New Testament books is a little controversial. The most popular view is that they were written in Koine Greek, commonly spoken Greek, as compared to Classical Greek. Greek was the most common language in that part of the world just like English is a common language today even in places where it is not the native language. However, some have argued that Jesus and the apostles spoke in Aramaic, and would have written in that language and promote the Peshitta texts as the original form. After all, it is argued that “Aramaic is the oldest continuously spoken and written language in the Middle East, even older than written Hebrew and Arabic. It is among the oldest written languages in the world.”i
And it is known that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew, so there is some argument for Hebrew originals as well. There are Latin texts but they didn’t come until later.
The Greek texts give by far the greatest evidence, and they are the tools that we will use today. But a good exercise would be to investigate these words in Peshitta and Hebrew Texts if you have access to them.
The Koine Greek words for “perfect understanding” in this verse are akribos and parakoleutheo. Definitions of words are determined by looking at how they are used in other places as well as secular sources. In our case akribos is used five times and parakoleutheo is used four times in the New Testament in the KJV. In order to understand these words more fully, we will look at how these words are used in these other places. We will look at the context of those verses and determine their meanings.
First, how do you know what the Greek words are? There are translations that assign the Greek word to the translated word in the form of what are called Strong’s numbers. Way back in 1890, James Strong developed a concordance of Bible Words and their Hebrew and Greek counterparts, the root form of the word in the translation. There are other lexicons and concordances that you can use, but Strong’s is a good tool. Tools like the free e-Sword program present verses in the Bible in the following manner with the Strong’s numbers:
Luk_1:3 It seemed goodG1380 to me also,G2504 having had perfectG199 understandingG3877 of all thingsG3956 from the very first,G509 to writeG1125 unto theeG4671 in order,G2517 most excellentG2903 Theophilus,G2321
This is the verse, Luke 1:3, in the KJV version of the Bible with Strong’s numbers. In our case, we are interested there to see that perfect is assigned the Strong’s number, G199, and understanding is assigned G3877. In the e-Sword program you can hover over each Strong’s number and a pop-up will appear with the Strong’s number definition, the definition that the people at Strong’s determined from studying how that Greek word was studied. Here is the G199 pop-up:
Here are the other occurrences of G199:
Then Herod secretly called the wise men, and learned from them exactly what time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child. When you have found him, bring me word, so that I also may come and worship him.” (Mat 2:7-8 WEB)
The word “diligently” is translated from akribos, and you can see that there is no implication that Holy Spirit guidance was implied in Herod’s instruction to the men in how to search for the young Jesus. There is nothing in this usage to indicate that their search was other than human, not perfect in the sense of being divinely inspired.
This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. (Act 18:25 WEB)
The word “accurately” above is akribos (G199), and it looks like it is accurately translated, pun intended. While he was accurate on what he knew, what he knew was incomplete. So his understanding was not perfect and doesn’t appear to be divinely inspired, although the verse does say he was fervent in spirit, but that is not the same.
Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; (Eph 5:15 WEB)
The word “carefully” above is akribos (G199), and it looks like it is accurately translated too. While we are to follow the spirit in everything that we do, this verse is charging us to use our senses to “watch carefully.”
For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. (1Th 5:2 WEB)
Here akribos (G199) is translated as “well”. The implication is that these people have been well taught, and have a good understanding, not that they received this knowledge by revelation.
Likewise, the word “understanding” (G3877, parakoleutheo) in Luke 1:3 is used three other times in the New Testament in the KJV. The Strong’s definition (from the e-Sword program) is “to follow near, that is, attend, trace out”. The definition means following something, tracing something out.
These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new languages; (Mar 16:17 WEB)
The word “accompany” above is the word Greek word parakoleutheo (G3877). Another way of translating it would be “Signs will be traced back to believers…”.
If you instruct the brothers of these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished in the words of the faith, and of the good doctrine which you have followed.
(1Ti 4:6 WEB)
The word “followed” above is the word Greek word parakoleutheo (G3877), and it looks like a reasonable translation.
But you did follow my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, (2Ti 3:10 WEB)
The word “follow” above is the word Greek word parakoleutheo (G3877), and it too looks like a reasonable translation.
Combining the words akribos (G199) and parakoleutheo (G3877) we get the sense of “carefully following” something, “carefully tracing” something out. This is the description of a careful human process as opposed to divine revelation. Luke said he carefully traced what happened and decided to write about it.
We also have the record of Papias on this very topic. Papias writes about how Mark, one of the gospel writers constructed his Gospel record with careful attention to detail:
“And John the presbyter also said this, Mark being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy, but not, however, in the order in which it was spoken were done by our Lord, for he neither heard nor followed our Lord, but, as before said, he was in company with Peter, who gave him such instruction as was necessary, but not to give a history of our Lord’s discourses: wherefore Mark has not erred in anything, by writing some things as he has recorded them; for he was carefully attentive to one thing, not to pass by anything that he heard, or to state anything falsely in these accounts.”ii
I write more about this is in The New Testament Books Were Not Received as the Word of God Initially, at Least Not by Papias. Also, there have been other things brought up as to the scriptural status of the gospels like that the order of events in the different gospels don’t always appear to match. The fact that they were not written by revelation, rather that they are eyewitness accounts written decades after the life of Christ goes a long way toward explaining the conflicts in the timing of events in the Gospels.
Back to the word study, there are more sources than these to further establish the meaning of these words in the texts. Using the e-Sword program you will find that the Apostolic Bible Polyglot version shows akribos (G199) used eleven times, two in the Old Testament, and nine in the New. There are also secular Koine Greek sources from which to further study.
But what we have seen looks sufficient to establish that the words akribos (G199) and parakoleutheo (G3877)used together mean to follow something carefully, to think something through carefully. Nothing in what we have seen appears to establish that these words put the gospel accounts in the category of holy men of God writing as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, rather than the gospel writers were men who used their mental faculties carefully to give an accurate and reliable record. They were good witnesses, and the fact that there were multiple witnesses satisfies the Biblical mandate for multiple witnesses to establish truthfulness.
It’s also written in your law that the testimony of two people is valid. (Joh 8:17 WEB)
This is the third time I am coming to you. “At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (2Co 13:1 WEB)
So, while this verse does not qualify the gospels to be of the nature of holy men writing as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, it does satisfy the word of God mandate to establish them as true!
From this lesson, we see that we need to get as close to the original meaning of the words in a verse as possible and not rely on the modern meaning of words or even one particular translation to understand scripture. We also need to read what is written and not just follow tradition in determining what a verse means. In this case, Luke 1:3 reports that some people and he, Luke, is one of them that followed gospel events carefully and chose to give a report on them. It also establishes that some things reported by two or three reliable witnesses can be trusted.
Looking at multiple translations can also be helpful as we will do in a minute. But, only a word study in the ancient languages these texts were written in enables us to find the accurate meaning of the texts.
Looking at numerous translations we see that there are numerous translations that translate Luke 1:3 more accurately. A great way to see that is also in the e-Sword program where there is a Compare tab to view the different renderings of a verse and compare them. Here is part of that screen shows for Luke 1:3:
(ABP+) it seemed good G1380 that I also,G2504 having followed closelyG3877 from the beginningG509 in all thingsG3956 exactly,G199 [2in orderG2517 1write to you],G1473 G1125 most excellentG2903 Theophilus,G*
(ASV) it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus;
(BBE) It seemed good to me, having made observation, with great care, of the direction of events in their order, to put the facts in writing for you, most noble Theophilus;
(CEV) So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. Honorable Theophilus,
(DRB) It seemed good to me also, having diligently attained to all things from the beginning, to write to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
(EMTV) it seemed good to me also, having followed up accurately all things from above, to write to you in orderly fashion, most distinguished Theophilus,
(ESV) 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,
(ESV+) it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write R8an orderly account for you, R9most excellent R10Theophilus,
(GNB) And so, Your Excellency, because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you.
Looking at the above you can see that “perfect understanding” is translated in much better ways such as “having made observation, with great care,”, “ made a careful study of everything”, and “followed all things closely”.
So, I have shown you a word study of “perfect understanding” in Luke 1:3 in the KJV. We looked at the Greek words (akribos and parakoleutheo) and used the e-Sword program and the Strong’s numbering system to see what the words were and where those words were used in other places. We looked at the context of those verses to determine their meanings. We looked at how the words are translated in other places.
While we have no originals, we have a lot of tools to dig deep into the meaning of these books of the Bible to get closer to the original text and its meaning. We looked at how the words in the verse were translated in other versions. If you want to really know what the writers meant when they wrote what they wrote, research like this is the way to go. While it may be painful to realize that what we have been taught by tradition is not what the verse actually says, choosing to believe what the verse actually says can free us from traditions that are not based on truth.
ii ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF EUSEBIUS PAMPHILUS, Eusebius Pamphilus, chapter XXXIX