The Text

Luke 1:3 reads in the Greek (with the word in question highlighted; SBLGNT):

ἔδοξε κἀμοὶ παρηκολουθηκότι ἄνωθεν πᾶσιν ἀκριβῶς καθεξῆς σοι γράψαι, κράτιστε Θεόφιλε

It is translated a few different ways into English:

KJV - 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,

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,

NASB - 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;

YLT - it seemed good also to me, having followed from the first after all things exactly, to write to thee in order, most noble Theophilus,

The Questions

There are two differing sets of questions related to ἄνωθεν.

First, is ἄνωθεν best understood as a time reference or an authority reference?

There is a minority view that may have been first proposed by John Lightfoot (1602-1675) that the word ἄνωθεν is a reference to "from above" (i.e. implied from God directly, Jesus directly, etc.; so an authority reference). Here is a quote from Louis Berkhof's Introduction to the New Testament, (page 51? [basing that of google book link, as no number displayed on page itself]) that states this view:

There are some Scripture passages that point to the inspiration of the gospel records. The older Lightfoot, (Works IV p. 1193 [incorrect? maybe 113 note e], 114; XII p. 7, and following him Urquhart, The Bible its Structure and Purpose I Ch. 5), find a proof for the inspiration of Luke's Gospel in 1:3, where they would translate the words παρηχολουθηχότι ἄνωθεν by "having had perfect understanding of all things from above." This interpretation is favored by the fact that ἄνωθεν has this meaning in eight of the thirteen times that it occurs in the New Testament, and in three of the remaining instances means again, while it is translated "from the beginning" only here and in Acts 26:4. The expressed purpose of Luke in writing his Gospel also falls in exceedingly well with the rendering from above. It is, he writes to Theophilus, that you may have the certainty of those things in which you have been instructed. Yet the verb παρηχολουθέω, meaning, to follow up carefully, and thus, to obtain knowledge, argues decisively against it.

The majority opinion has it as a time reference, as the ESV and NASB more directly translate (notice that the KJV and YLT are more vague in how they could be taken).

In answering this first question, please give arguments for and against both views, rather than just whichever view you conclude is correct.

Second, based on the answer to the first, then...

(1) If interpreted as an authority reference, would "from above" be more specifically God the Father, the Son, an angel, or what?

To clarify (1), who or what is more directly referred to by the oblique reference "from above"?

(2) If interpreted as a time reference, is ἄνωθεν meaning

  • (a) "for some time past" (ESV), where the implication is his investigation has been going on for some time,
  • (b) "from the beginning" (NASB), where the time reference is to the period his investigative work covered, or
  • (c) "from the first" (YLT), where the translation in context appears to refer to the period over which he was doing his investigating (i.e. investigating from the beginning)?

To clarify (2), is the intent for Luke to say sometime long after the events, he researched the things and had been doing so for a while now, so (a); or that in the research, he had covered from Jesus' birth onward, so (b), which seems to be the typical interpretation; or rather that he is actually identifying himself as part of the "eyewitness" group (Luke 1:1-3, YLT) that has previously born written testimony, whom he is about to join his written testimony to, having been following the matter ever since Christ's birth(!), as (c) might imply?


1 Answer 1


Rather than spend a month or two answering all of the questions laid out ἄνωθεν (wink), I'll add yet another perspective that neither authority nor time seem to be the dominant categories according to LSJ, but instead:

  1. spatial position (as when the "veil of the shrine was split from above unto below" in Mt 27:51), which may include heaven above earth, and then therefore
  2. narrative position, as I used it in my first sentence above.

Since Luke refers to many a narrative (διήγησις) he may simply be saying he is collecting, ordering, and harmonizing "the above", hence his intent "to write precisely successively" (ἀκριβῶς καθεξῆς).

  • +1 for conceivably valid option. My "authority" reference from Lightfoot I believe takes it in the #1 sense, but with a figurative meaning (i.e. "from above" is a spatial position reference figuratively saying "from God who is above in heaven," i.e. God directly). The #2 sense seems to fit both a "time" reference as well as your proposal as I read the entry. I cannot accept this answer, however, without far more argumentation as to why it should be taken this way as opposed to the other ways.
    – ScottS
    Nov 4, 2014 at 15:36

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