Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Reliability of the Gospels

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

The prologue to the gospel of Luke thoroughly destroys the arguments of theological liberals that the gospel writers were fourth century papyrichurchmen bent on changing the Jesus story to fit their new religion. This is not the case. Luke uses clear, concise first-century Greek language to describe a historical and logical approach to the writing of his gospel account. He acknowledges that many gospels had been written (We have four extant gospels today), but that he had relied on what had been “delivered” (a technical term for direct transmission of oral accounts) from eyewitnesses and ministers of the “word” (shorthand for the gospel). These were undoubtedly the apostles with whom Luke had associated in the early decades of the church. And they were preaching the same things about Jesus which is why the synoptic gospels are so similar.

The motivation of the author of the gospel is clear. Luke assures his readers that he had followed things closely (literally “investigated”) for some time before attempting to write these things down. He kept notes. He was an investigative reporter on a mission to get the facts out. He also wanted to write an “orderly” account emphasizing some logical order to what Jesus said and did.

Luke has a goal in mind in his writing: that Theophilus might have certainty concerning what he had been taught. Notes on the NET Bible describe this word as denoting Luke’s desire for psychological confidence to come to the reader. He wants to encourage his reader in faith. This word assumes the truth of the report that he is writing. Nowhere is Luke offering conjecture or fable. He is writing out the researched and established facts of what Jesus said and did. There is no need for a team of egghead liberal scholars to cast colored beads for him to know what really happened. It was established by the eyewitnesses. Period.

So in the gospels I have an accurate record of events as they were believed and taught in the very first few years of the founding of the church. They constitute the facts as they were known and as they happened in the life of Jesus. There were too many eyewitnesses to the actual life of Christ alive at the writing to rebut any legend. Luke could not get away with lies, which is one reason why the gnostic gospels were so quickly rejected by the church. They came later and did not fit the facts of the eyewitnesses. Luke’s commitment to reporting these known facts is a hallmark of his gospel, and since he is synoptic with Matthew and Mark, it lends credibility to the accuracy of all the gospels.

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