Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 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.
(Luke 1:1-4 ESV)
There is a Greek word we need to learn this morning as we look at the very beginning of Luke’s gospel: Diegesis.
Diegesis is a style of representation in writing (generally fiction), and is the (fictional) world in which the situations and events narrated occur; and
telling, recounting, as opposed to showing, or enacting. In diegesis the narrator tells the story. The narrator presents to the audience or the implied readers the actions, and perhaps thoughts, of the characters.
It is the word Diegesis that Luke uses to open his telling of what he describes in Acts 1:1 as, “the things that Jesus began to do and teach.” This isn’t someone filling in the background in order to embellish truth with fiction. A good example of diegesis in our day is the really terrible (and unnecessarily long) movie Pearl Harbor (2001, Ben Affleck/Kate Beckinsale). The story is completely fictional and highlights an historical setting.
The gospels are not biography. They are not literature. They were not intended as a complete survey of Jesus’ life. Even Luke doesn’t mean to tell us that he has included everything Jesus did or said. The really intriguing thing about Acts 1:1, a companion book to the Gospel of Luke, is how he describes what he had accomplished when he wrote the gospel of, “everything Jesus began to do and teach,” which implies that Jesus is still doing and teaching.
What his use of diegesis tells us is that there were a lot of people running around the Empire in the later part of the First Century who were writing fictionalized accounts of Jesus’ life. I’m sure that some of those accounts were becoming more and more fantastic in their exaggerations. That’s why Luke found it necessary to write and orderly account of what had been accomplished in their day, and to write it as faithfully as he could according to eyewitness accounts. Luke wants to make sure we don’t wonder that anything he’s going to tell us is a fabrication or a stretch.
He needs to give us this confidence because the birth narrative that follows in the next few paragraphs is going to be enough of a big fish story that nearly any reader will raise an eyebrow at visitations by angels, men being struck dumb because they question God, and old women and virgins becoming pregnant.
Yet there it is: an orderly account of the things that have been accomplished among us. I heard the story on CBS News the other day of a businessman in the Midwest somewhere who spends Advent every year handing out about $100,000 in $100 bills to strangers on the street. Fantastic? Yes. But amazingly true. Luke wants us to know with assurance that God is in the business of handing out not just hundred dollar bills from his storehouse of grace. God, in sending Christ into the world, was handing out hundred-thousand dollar bills. Really.