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Ultima Weapon

Luke's Authenticity

4 posts in this topic

Acts of the Apostles

Suppose someone wrote a book in 1980 describing your hometown as it was that year. In the book, the author correctly describes: your town's politicians, its unique laws and penal codes, the local industry, local weather patterns, local slang, the town's roads and geography, its unusual topography, local houses of worship, area hotels, town statues and scriptures, the depth of the water in the town harbor, and numerous other unique details about your town that year. Question: If the author claimed he had visited your town that year - or said he had gotten good information from people who had been there - would you think he was telling the truth? Of course, because he provides details that only an eyewitness could provide. That's the type of testimony we have throughout much of the New Testament.

Luke includes the most eyewitness details. (while Luke may not have been an eyewitness to the Resurrection itself, he certainly was an eyewitness to many New Testament events.) In the second half of Acts, for example, Luke displays an incredible array of knowledge of local places, names, environmental conditions, customs, and circumstances that befit only an eyewitness contemporary of the time and events.

Classical scholar and historian Colin Hemer chronicles Luke's accuracy in the book of Acts verse by verse. With painstaking detail, Hemer identifies 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research. As you read the following list, keep in mind that Luke did not have access to modern-day maps or nautical charts. Luke accurately records:

(for the sake of brevity, it's in spoiler)

  1. the natural crossing between correctly named ports (Acts 13:4-5)
  2. the proper port (Perga) along the direct destination of a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13)
  3. the proper location of Lycaonia (14:6)
  4. the unusual but correct declension of the name Lystra (14:6)
  5. the correct language spoken in Lystra - Lycaonian (14:11)
  6. two gods known to be so associated - Zeus and Hermes (14:12)
  7. the proper port, Attalia, which returning travelers would use (14:25)
  8. the correct order of approach to Derbe and then Lystra from the Cilician Gates (16:1; cf. 15:41)
  9. the proper form of the name Troas (16:8)
  10. the place of a conspicuous sailor's landmark, Samothrace (16:11)
  11. the proper description of Philippi as a Roman colony (16:12)
  12. the right location for the river (Gangites) near Philippi (16:13)
  13. the proper association of Thyatira as a center of dyeing (16:14)
  14. correct designations for the magistrates of the colony (16:22)
  15. the proper locations (Amphipolis and Apollonia) where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey (17:1)
  16. the presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica (17:1)
  17. the proper term ("politarchs") used of the magistrates there (17:6)
  18. the correct implication that sea travel is the most convenient way of reaching Athens, with the favoring east winds of summer sailing (17:14-15)
  19. the abundant presence of images in Athens (17:16)
  20. the reference to a synagogue in Athens (17:17)
  21. the depiction of the Athenian life of philosophical debate in the Agora (17:17)
  22. the use of the correct Athenian slang word for Paul (spermologos, 17:18)
  23. the proper characterization of the Athenian character (17:21)
  24. an alter to an "unknown god" (17:23)
  25. the proper reaction of Greek philosophers, who denied the bodily resurrection (17:32)
  26. Areopagites as the correct title for a member of the court (17:34)
  27. a Corinthian synagogue (18:4)
  28. the correct designation of Gallio as proconsul, resident in Corinth (18:12)
  29. the bema (judgement seat), which overlooks Corinth's forum (18:16ff.)
  30. the name Tyrannus as attested from Ephesus in first-century inscriptions (19:9)
  31. well-known shrines and images of Artemis (19:24)
  32. the well-attested "great goddess Artemis" (19:27)
  33. that the Ephesian theater was the meeting place of the city (19:29)
  34. the correct title grammateus for the chief executive magistrate in Ephesus (19:35)
  35. the proper title of honor neokoros, authorized by the Romans (19:35)
  36. the correct name to designate the goddess (19:37)
  37. the proper term for those holding court (19:38)
  38. use of plural anthupatoi, perhaps a remarkable reference to the fact that two men were conjointly exercising the functions of proconsul at this time (19:38)
  39. the "regular" assembly, as the precise phrase is attested elsewhere (19:39)
  40. use of precise ethnic designation, beroiaios (20:4)
  41. employment of the ethnic term Asianos (20:4)
  42. the implied recognition of the strategic importance assigned to this city of Troas (20:7ff.)
  43. the danger of the coastal trip in this location (20:13)
  44. the correct sequence of places (20:14-15)
  45. the correct name of the city as a neuter plural (Patara) (21:1)
  46. the appropriate route passing across the open sea south of Cyprus favored by persistent northwest winds (21:3)
  47. the suitable distance between these cities (21:8)
  48. a characteristically Jewish act of piety (21:24)
  49. the Jewish law regarding Gentile use of the temple area (21:28) (Archaeological discoveries and quotations from Josephus confirm that Gentiles could be executed for entering the temple area. One inscription reads: "Let no Gentile enter within the balustrade and enclosure surrounding the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his consequent death")
  50. the permanent stationing of a Roman cohort (chiliarch) at Antonia to suppress any disturbance at festival times (21:31)
  51. the flight of steps used by the guards (21:31,35)
  52. the common way to obtain Roman citizenship at this time (22:28)
  53. the tribune being impressed with Roman rather than Tarsian citizenship (22:29)
  54. Ananias being high priest at this time (23:2)
  55. Felix being governor at this time (23:34)
  56. the natural stopping point on the way to Caesarea (23:31)
  57. whose jurisdiction Cilicia was in at the time (23:34)
  58. the provincial penal procedure of the time (24:1-9)
  59. the name Porcius Festus, which agrees precisely with that given by Josephus (24:27)
  60. the right of appeal for Roman citizens (25:11)
  61. the correct legal formula (25:18)
  62. the characteristic form of reference to the emperor at the time (25:26)
  63. the best shipping lanes at the time (27:5)
  64. the common bonding of Cilicia and Pamphylia (27:4)
  65. the principal port to find a ship sailing to Italy (27:5-6)
  66. the slow passage to Cnidus, in the face of the typical northwest wind (27:7)
  67. the right route to sail, in view of the winds (27:7)
  68. the locations of Fair Havens and the neighboring site of Lasea (27:8)
  69. Fair Havens as a poorly sheltered roadstead (27:12)
  70. a noted tendency of a south wind in these climes to back suddenly to a violent northeaster, the well-known gregale (27:13)
  71. the nature of a square-rigged ancient ship, having no option but to be driven before a gale (27:15)
  72. the precise place and name of this island (27:16)
  73. the appropriate maneuvers for the safety of the ship in its particular plight (27:16)
  74. the fourteenth night - a remarkable calculation, based inevitably on a compounding of estimates and probabilities, confirmed in the judgment of experienced Mediterranean navigators (27:27)
  75. the proper term of the time for the adriatic (27:27)
  76. the precise term (Bolisantes) for taking soundings, and the correct depth of the water near Malta (27:28)
  77. a position that suits the probable line of approach of a ship released to run before an easterly wind (27:39)
  78. the severe liability on guards who permitted a prisoner to escape (27:42)
  79. the local people and superstitions of the day (28:4-6)
  80. the proper title protos tes nesou (28:7)
  81. Rhegium as a refuge to await a southerly wind to carry them through the strait (28:13)
  82. Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae as correctly placed stopping places on the Appian Way (28:15)
  83. appropriate means of custody with Roman soldiers (28:16)
  84. the conditions of imprisonment, living "at his own expense" (28:30-31)

See Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990).

Is there any doubt that Luke was an eyewitness to these events or at least had access to reliable eyewitness testamony? What more could he have to prove his authenticity as a historian? Indeed, Luke's accuracy in Acts is truly amazing.

Now, here's where skeptics get very uncomfortable. Luke reports a total of 35 miracles in the same book in which he records all 84 of these historically confirmed details. Several miracles of Paul are recorded in the second half of Acts. For Example, Luke records that Paul: temporarily blinded a sorcerer (13:11); cured a man who was crippled from birth (14:8); exorcised an evil spirit from a possessed girl (16:18); "performed many miracles" that convinced many in the city of Ephesus to turn from sorcery to Jesus (19:11-20); healed Publius's father of dysentary, and healed numerous others who were sick on Malta (28:8-9). All of these miracles are included in the same historical narrative that has been confirmed as authentic on 84 points. And the miracle accounts show no signs of embellishment or extravagance - they are all told with the same level-headed efficiency as the rest of the historical narrative.

Now, why would Luke be so accurate with trivial details like wind directions, water depths, and peculiar town names, but not be accurate when it comes to important events like miracles? In light of the fact that Luke has proven accurate with so many trivial details, it is nothing but pure anti-supernatural bias to say he's not telling the truth about the miracles he records. So it makes much more sense to believe Luke's miracle accounts than to discount them. In other words, Luke's credentials as a historian have been proven on so many points that it takes more faith not to believe his miracle accounts than to believe them.

The Gospel of Luke

What about that Gospel of Luke? First, we need to recognize that Acts and the Gospel of Luke are closely related books. How do we know? First, both documents contain the same Greek vocabulary and literary style. But more important, Luke addresses both documents to "most excellent Theophilus." He was probably some kind of Roman official because "most excellent" is the same title Paul used to address the Roman governors Felix and Festus.

Regardless of the true identity of Theophilus, the main point is that Luke reveals that Acts is a continuation of his Gospel. His opening says, "in my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up into heaven..." (Acts 1:1). Luke uses the remainder of Acts to tell Theophilus what happened after Christ's ascension. And as we have seen, he did so with amazing precision.

Should we expect the same degree of accuracy from Luke's Gospel? Why not? In fact, Luke says as much when he writes, "Since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:3). Judging from his meticulous work in Acts, Luke certainly is a careful historian who should be trusted. A historian who has been found trustworthy where he or she can be tested should be given the benefit of the doubt in cases where no tests are available. Since Luke has been tested on 84 points and has earned a perfect score, there's every reason to believe his Gospel is "gospel" as well.

But we don't have to rely solely on his work in Acts to confirm Luke's Gospel. There are several details in Luke's Gospel that have been verified independently. For example, Luke names eleven historically confirmed leaders in the first three chapters of his Gospel alone (twelve if you include Jesus). These include Herod the Great, (1:5), Caesar Augustus (2:1), and Quirinius (2:2). He then writes this at the beginning of chapter 3:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar - when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene - during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Does this sound like Luke is making up a story? Of course not. If he were, there would be no way he would put historical crosshairs on the events he's describing by naming these prominent leaders and their dates. A writer who thus relates his story to the wider context of world history is courting trouble if he is not careful; he affords his critical readers so many opportunities for testing his accuracy. Luke takes this risk, and stands the test admirably. Indeed, all eleven of the historical figures Luke names in the first three chapters of his Gospel - including John the Baptist - have been confirmed by non-Christian writers and/or archaeology. For example, John the Baptist is mentioned by Josephus (Antiquities 18:5.2), and an inscription dating from A.D. 14 to 29 bears the name of Lysanias.

Another historically accurate detail can be found in Luke 22:44. That's where Luke records that Jesus was in agony and sweat drops of blood the night before his crucifixion. Apparently, Jesus was experiencing a rare stress-induced condition we know today as hematohidrosis. That's when tiny blood vessels rupture due to extreme stress, thus allowing blood to mix with sweat. Since Luke probably didn't know of this medical condition 2,000 years ago, he could not have recorded it unless he had access to someone who saw it (Which btw, is incredible evidence suggesting Christ's foreknowledge of his arrest and crucifixion; otherwise why that level of stress? But that's a different topic...).

The bottom line is that Luke can be trusted. Since Luke can be affirmed independently on so many testable points, there's every reason to believe he's telling the truth elsewhere.

Now here's the crucial point: Since Luke is telling the truth, then so are Mark and Matthew because their Gospels tell the same basic story. This is devastating to skeptics, but the logic is inescapable. You need a lot of faith to ignore it.

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So you're saying New testament should be trusted or must be trusted?

Thing is, as in any theory or story, choice of believing lays in mind of reader. The best thing you can try to prove, that existence of historical Jesus as a Savior of mankind is possible. More than that you can't achieve, for people have tendency to behave in their own choices, even with confronted with decent evidences. Remember, even Angels believe and shudder (Jacob 2:19)

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As a Christian who belIeves these stories took place I must disagree with your conclusion. It does not prove that these incidents/miracles took place. All it proves is that the author of Luke BELIEVED they took place. There is no doubting Luke had a knowledge of events and therefore incorporated historical incidents into his narrative. But it doesn't prove (in anrempirical sense) that they actually happened. The author of Luke simply shared what he had come to believe, taking history and melding it with the supernatural. As I said, I believe this happened. I am a believer in the Jesus story. But just beside historically verifiable fats exists in the writings of someone who believed they took place is not proof they did take place because rubbery are accompanied by natural events.

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Very good post.

Look at it this way, what AquilaChrysaetos is basically saying/showing us can be analyzed this way.... it's like someone describing a sports car: they say it can go 0 to 60 in 2.3 seconds, the car is red in color, has a v8 engine, blah blah blah.....and then they also say that this car beat all these other cars in a race, and it did this doughnut, and it's burnout lasted such and such long... and then one day someone actually finds this sports car and it's exactly like it was described! Now since it looks and contains everything it was said to contain, shouldn't we then believe that it did beat those other cars in a race, and performed the burnouts and doughnuts we're told it performed??? That's like the Gospel, the historical account is all confirmed, so why wouldn't you believe that the miracles are just as truthful???

I agree that this type of logic doesn't give actual proof, because the only proof would be seeing it happen yourself...... but it should certainly make it easier to believe and help get rid of a lot of doubts someone might have about whether the miracles are real or not..

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