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Luke 1:2 reads (NIV emphasis mine):

... just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.

Reading this recently, this struck me as unusual that Luke would refer to these first eyewitnesses as "servants of the word" rather than "servants of the Lord" or something similar. Which then got me thinking: what is "the word" to which these people were servants?

In Acts 6, the Twelve are said to give their attention to "to prayer and the ministry of the word", which would maybe seem to indicate the the word as the Scriptures. I'm not sure, though, how different "servants of the word" would be from the scribes in that case.

Famously in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is the Word - the λόγος; but as far as I know, Luke doesn't adopt this idea.

What is "the word" that Luke has in mind such that he characterizes the first eyewitnesses as servants of this word?

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The phrase "the word" appears a number of times in Luke:

  • (7) times it refers to "the word of God".
  • (2) times (Lk 10, 22) it refers to words Jesus spoke.
  • (2) times (Lk 4) it refers to Jesus' teaching.
  • (2) times (Lk 5, 7) it refers to stories/rumors spreading.
  • (1) time (Lk 16) it refers to an accounting of an administration.
  • (1) time (Lk 1) it refers to Gabriel speaking.

None of these are very satisfactory. If we include Acts as a continuation of Luke, however, we see a definite pattern:

  • (2) times (Ac 2, 3) it refers to Peter telling the story of Jesus.
  • (3) times (Ac 13, 14, 18), it refers to Paul telling the story of Jesus.
  • (31) times (Ac 4, 6, 8, 10-19) it refers to "the word of God/lord", which is pretty clearly defined in each as the story of Jesus.
  • (2) times (Ac 14, 20) it refers to "the word of God's favor", which is also likely the story of Jesus.
  • (1) time (Ac 19) "the word" is growing but is not more specific. However, given the pattern above, it is likely also the story of Jesus.
  • (1) time (Ac 6) it refers to the decision of the apostles to not wait on tables.
  • (1) time (Ac 20) it refers to Paul being long-winded.
  • (1) time (Ac 7) it refers to Moses being confronted.
  • (1) time (Ac 20) it refers to words Paul spoke about his departure.
  • (1) time (Ac 15) it refers to the teaching about circumcision.
  • (1) time (Ac 22) it refers to Paul's story about his own conversion.
  • (1) time (Ac 11) it might be the story of Jesus or it might be the story of Stephen.

The overwhelming use is "the word of God", which appears to be a term used by Luke to refer to the story of Jesus. It's no great leap to adopt this meaning in the introductory section of the whole work.

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"Eyewitness" seems to be a key part of this. Jesus charged those who had been with Him from the beginning to be His witnesses, to spread the "word" (the Good News, the Gospel) and tell everything that they had seen, and He confirmed it by the signs that they were able to show.

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:20)

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. (Acts 8:4)

Peter wrote: For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)

Jesus told Paul: "Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me." (Acts 26:16)

Paul wrote: This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. (1 Corinthians 4:1)

John wrote: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1)

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These servants of the word were also first eyewitnesses that personally experienced the message of the gospel from Christ himself to which they were participants and faithfully and willingly shared their experiences. I hope this answers your question.

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