The Author of the Gospel of Luke is “a historian of the first rank”

[The following is an excerpt from “The Evidence for Jesus,” by William Lane Craig (https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/jesus-of-nazareth/the-evidence-for-jesus/).  (Citations deleted).]

The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability. . . .  I only have time to look at one example: Luke. Luke was the author of a two-part work: the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.  These are really one work and are separated in our Bibles only because the church grouped the gospels together in the New Testament.  Luke is the gospel writer who writes most self-consciously as an historian.  In the preface to this work he writes:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 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 know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. (Lk. 1.1-4)

This preface is written in classical Greek terminology such as was used by Greek historians; after this Luke switches to a more common Greek.  But he has put his reader on alert that he can write, should he wish to, like the learned historian.  He speaks of his lengthy investigation of the story he’s about to tell and assures us that it is based on eyewitness information and is accordingly the truth.

Now who was this author we call Luke?  He was clearly not an eyewitness to Jesus’s life.  But we discover an important fact about him from the book of Acts.  Beginning in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, when Paul reaches Troas in modern-day Turkey, the author suddenly starts using the first-person plural: “we set sail from Troas to Samothrace,” “we remained in Philippi some days,” “as we were going to the place of prayer,” etc.  The most obvious explanation is that the author had joined Paul on his evangelistic tour of the Mediterranean cities.  In chapter 21 he accompanies Paul back to Palestine and finally to Jerusalem.  What this means is that the author of Luke-Acts was in fact in first hand contact with the eyewitnesses of Jesus’s life and ministry in Jerusalem. . . .

Was the author reliable in getting the facts straight?  The book of Acts enables us to answer that question decisively.  The book of Acts overlaps significantly with secular history of the ancient world, and the historical accuracy of Acts is indisputable.  This has recently been demonstrated anew by Colin Hemer, a classical scholar who turned to New Testament studies, in his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (1990).  Hemer goes through the book of Acts with a fine-toothed comb, pulling out a wealth of historical knowledge, ranging from what would have been common knowledge down to details which only a local person would know.  Again and again Luke’s accuracy is demonstrated: from the sailings of the Alexandrian corn fleet to the coastal terrain of the Mediterranean islands to the peculiar titles of local officials, Luke gets it right.  According to Professor Sherwin-White, “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd.”  The judgement of Sir William Ramsay, the world-famous archaeologist, still stands: “Luke is a historian of the first rank. . . .   This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”  Given Luke’s care and demonstrated reliability as well as his contact with eyewitnesses within the first generation after the events, this author is trustworthy.

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