Many today love to talk smack about Jesus, speak for Jesus or comment about Jesus without stopping to listen to what he actually said to real people, in real time, in the the real world. Jesus said many things to many people in all walks of life. He spoke with hookers, conmen, religious people, busy people, adulterers, murderers, the powerful, his friends and people who were outcasts. His message is radical and will challenge our paradigms today.
This fall we are going to take a look together at how this enigmatic figure of history interacted with real human beings. There are many things which can be observed when looking at the life of Jesus of Nazareth. One could focus purely on his identity, who was this man who broke history wide open long ago in the ancient Middle East? One could focus on his works, what kind of things did he do and what are their significance? The person and works of Jesus are actually the central focus of our faith as Christians and could never be minimized. Yet I want us to peer into something quite interesting in the life of Jesus as we travel together this fall as Jacob’s Well. I want us to look at how Jesus treated people, interacted with people and instructed people who were from various stations and walks of life.
However, it must be made clear that what a person does is indeed an outflow of who that person is. With that in mind, I want us to do a few things in this essay. First, I do want to touch on the question of Jesus’ identity so we can see just exactly who it was that was interacting with a varied cast of characters in history. Second, I want to make a case that the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the place we should be looking to observe Jesus. This is not taken for granted in our day of Da Vinci Codes and wild speculation about Jesus. Furthermore we must ascertain which historical sources should be approached to find the ipsissima vox, the very voice of Jesus Christ. As a brief aside, we’ll discuss why we are using the gospel according to Luke as our primary text for the series. In looking at the gospels I hope we will see that Jesus is more radical than many assume. In fact, Scripture teaches that to look upon Jesus is to see the very being of God. Finally, I want to close with the focus of our series, namely that it is in the words and actions of Jesus that we see how God himself treats human beings. With that said, let’s look at perhaps one of the most important questions of history. Just who was Jesus of Nazareth?
Who is Jesus?
Jesus is such a simple name but one that stirs the soul of humanity in a profound way. He is venerated as God by adherents to one of the world’s largest faiths and is unavoidable when you draw up a short list of names of people who have quite literally changed history. Many people have an opinion about the identity of Jesus. Robert Bowman and J. Ed Kmoszewski begin their book, Putting Jesus in His Place with a profound observation:
Interpretations of Jesus are fraught with bias. He’s a powerful figure whom people want on their sides—and they’re willing to re-create him in their image to enlist his support. Animal-rights activists imagine a vegetarian Jesus. New Agers make him an example of finding the god within. And radical feminists strip him of divinity so that Christianity doesn’t appear sexist. “Frankly, it’s hard to escape the feeling that our culture has taken Jesus’ question ‘Who do you say that I am?’ and changed it to ‘Who do you want me to be?’”
Various groups of people endeavor to assign an identity to Jesus, any identity, other than the one most uncomfortable and yet most glorious: God. Let us look briefly at what various religions and philosophies have to say about this man.
The Humanist Jesus – Just Human
Those who believe phrases like “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was or ever will be” will only be able to see Jesus as a “a man, only a man and will always just be a man.” Many who have an anti-supernatural bias simply try to understand Jesus as a mere human. Even if the evidence should point that he might be more, those with a commitment to philosophical naturalism will not consider anything more. To some he may be seen as a wise and moral teacher, others may dismiss him as a religious nut, but the Jesus of the humanist is a dead man and they are tightly closed minded to any other options.
To the Islamist – He is ‘Isa, but Shirk not
To the follower of Islam, Jesus or Isa is highly respected and honored. Jesus is a prophet second only to Muhammad in terms of prominence. The Qur’an, written close to 700 years after Jesus, is the source Muslims use to arrive at their opinion of Jesus. The Islamic view of Jesus is quite exalted with Jesus being born of a virgin, said to be the Messiah, a performer of miracles. Jesus was a Muslim who actually foretold the coming of the final prophet Muhammad. However, the idea that Jesus was God become a human is a severe blasphemy in the view of Islam. In fact, according to Islam, anyone who worships Jesus is guilty of shirk. This sin is the worshipping of someone alongside the Muslim God Allah. Furthermore, despite historical sources verifying the event, Muslims deny the very fact that Jesus was crucified and died on Roman cross. Jesus in Islam is a prophet, who did not die and who should never be worshipped as the Son of God.
The Eastern Jesus – A Master, Yogi, Guru
At the core of many eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Hinduism is the teaching that all reality is of one essence and individual entities are illusory. The technical term for this idea is monism. Some flavors of Buddhism do not believe in any divine reality to this oneness of being but other forms certainly do. Furthermore, various Hindu philosophies see all of life as one and all as part of a divine reality. The technical term for the all is one and all is god view is pantheism. This divine reality is revealed to us by many enlightened masters or yogis throughout history. Jesus is one of many revelations of the divine in the eastern mind but he is not the one transcendent creator God. Interestingly enough, many in contemporary Western culture, are merging ideas from the east and at times using the terminology of Christianity to do so. The results usually end up on the Oprah Winfrey show.
New Age Jesus – A Spark of Christ Consciousness
A strange amalgam of ideas is being mixed together in a day where we no longer seek truth but float through a myriad of ideas and experiences. There are some today who are into creating spiritualities from various concepts and our bookstores are full of such volumes. Centered on merging self help, eastern spirituality and an obsessive inward focus, America is concocting new religious ideas every day. In its pure forms, the eastern mind was about self-denial and becoming one with reality through meditation. Today those in the west have taken eastern ideas and married them with self-actualization. If you can learn certain laws of self-actualization, you can acquire the secret of unleashing the god within you. Books about this sort of thing sell well in America. When you throw this thinking together with Christian language and ideas of evolutionary theory something interesting emerges. You arrive to the idea that we are cosmically evolving towards a higher state of “Christ consciousness” by spiritually moving to higher planes of reality. In this view, Jesus is more of an idea of becoming one with the universe and revealing your inner god rather than a unique person and savior through whom we reconnect in relationship with God. Jesus Christ is reduced to a divine “you” that is deep down inside which just needs to be actualized and set free. It is very American when you think about it, but this tells us nothing about Jesus.
The Skeptic – What Jesus?
A healthy skepticism about truth claims is a good thing when evaluating ideas that others tell us are “true” about the world. However, there is a flavor of skepticism that refuses to accept or believe anything. For instance, there are skeptics who try to say that the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth never even existed. This sort of historical doubt is in no way helpful to anyone, but there are those who make sport out of denying even the most readily available historical realities. Beware of those who revel in being “deniers” of clear historical facts. Just saying.
The Gnostic and Da Vinci Code Jesus
Over the last several decades there has been an increasing interest in other writings from the first few hundred years of Christianity. Sensational stories about the recovering of “lost gospels” have made their way from the scholar’s tomes into the mainstream press. These “lost gospels” are said to represent a different story from the one we find in the New Testament of the Bible. We’ll comment on why these records are not reliable guides to the person of Jesus in a section below, but people like to take ideas from these books and make cool, fantastic stories from them. Seriously, Dan Brown has sold lots of books and movie tickets with the Da Vinci Code Jesus. This Jesus is a weird mixture of Gnostic ideas, conspiracy theories and a creative imagination. The only problem is this Jesus has little bearing on reality. Even one of the most skeptical, non Christian New Testament scholars has shown Dan’s Brown fiction to be a terrible twisting of history.
Just kidding. Though they do have a view of Jesus it is just too weird and involves galactic war lord aliens and psychological implants. Anyone else bummed out that Tom Cruise’s movie career has been struggling ever science he went scientology weird on TV a few times? Let’s move on friends, nothing to see here.
Jesus, According to Jesus?
Perhaps the best source to learn about Jesus would be from the man himself, yet here we find a problem. Jesus himself never wrote a book and he did not leave a YouTube video for the world. We must ask an important question: Just what did Jesus leave us from his time on the earth? The answer is both simple and astounding. Jesus left behind disciples; women and men who followed him, who proclaimed and wrote down his teachings. His followers walked away from his empty tomb and began to take his message, quite literally, to the whole world. Christ is raised from death and is the savior of all people. Turn from sin, receive forgiveness, trust in him and follow him as God and king. Their testimony about Jesus is uniquely found in the words of his apostles (messengers), in the writings of the New Testament.
In these texts, we find a Jesus that is much less a creation in our own image. It is not a humanistic, Islamic, Eastern, new age or Gnostic Jesus. In the gospels of the New Testament we find the glorious creator God being born in a rustic animal stall. We find the one who spoke galaxies into existence, the one who designed the intricacies of physics and biology, became a human being and walked among us. Jesus in his own words is much less tame than we at times make him to be. The late Scottish preacher and theologian James Stewart wrote powerfully to describe this untamable figure.
He was the meekest and lowliest of all the sons of men, yet he spoke of coming on the clouds of heaven with the glory of God. He was so austere that evil spirits and demons cried out in terror at his coming yet He was so genial and winsome and approachable that the children loved to play with Him and the little ones nestled in His arms. No one was half so kind or compassionate to sinners yet no one ever spoke such red-hot scorching words about sin… His whole life was love. Yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of hell…He saved others but at the last, Himself He did not save. There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts which confront us in the Gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality.
Why We Look to the Gospels?
Finding the Voice of Jesus in the Canonical Gospels
The New Testament contains the earliest and most reliable witness to the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. What one believes about the existence of God and the supernatural may affect how one reads or believes these texts, but they are the primary place where all go to learn about Jesus. Period. At Jacob’s Well we trust the gospels, as both a theologically and historically accurate accounting of the life of Jesus, but I wanted to take some time to unpack why we place our trust in them. To do so we will do two things. First, we’ll look at the recent buzz about “lost gospels” and “gospels” outside of the Bible. In doing so, we will see that these documents are archaeologically and historically interesting, but they are in no way reliable guides to the life and words of Jesus. Second, we’ll unpack the reasons why we do look with trust and anticipation to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
What about other Gospels?
There have been some amazing archaeological finds in the last six decades dealing with the early centuries of the Christian movement. Many may be familiar with the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran which contain the scrolls of an apocalyptic sect of Judaism known as the Essenes. This find in 1947 was of particular interest to Old Testament Scholars. What the scrolls provided was a look at copies of many books of the Old Testament which date back to the time just before Christ. Due to the fact that the earliest existing Hebrew manuscripts dated only to the 10th century AD, the scrolls of Qumran gave us an opportunity to examine the transmission of the books over a gap of some 1000 years. What we found is that the text had been copied quite faithfully even over this long period of time. The Old Testament has been handed down with astounding accuracy.
Perhaps a less known discovery took place in 1945 in the Egyptian dessert at Nag Hammadi. It had been known for millennia that in the 2nd-4th centuries the Christian church countered a false teaching known as Gnosticism. Local farmers pulled an earthen jar from the ground at Nag Hammadi which contained some fifty Gnostic gospels and writings. Gnostic held a radical dualism between matter and spirit with spirit being good and matter evil. Through secret gnosis (Greek for knowledge) people could escape the bondage of the physical world and achieve salvation. The Christian version of Gnosticism held that Jesus was not really a human being, but merely appeared as such. As the human Jesus suffered and died, the divine Christ hovered above laughing at the confusion of people taken in by the appearance. This hyper-divine Christ would reveal secret knowledge to his elect via religious experience rather than conveyed truth in the apostolic writings. Early church leaders such as Iraneus wrote against certain 2nd century teachings. Iraneus actually speaks of these Gnostic writings by name. For example, you can read his reference to the content of the gospel of Judas in this segment of his work Against Heresies. Additionally, the early church historian Eusebius also named many of these writings. The point to be made is that these writings: Gnostic gospels, epistles and apocalypses were well known to the church and rejected by the Christians as false teachings. The great interest of the archaeological find at Nag Hammadi is that some codices (early books) of these mentioned works were actually dug up. Believe it or not the discovery was made by a guy named Mohammed Ali (no, not the one who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee). This of course shed light on the early debates within Christianity and the sources of the doctrines which the church rejected. It was a great archaeological find of actual copies of documents that we already knew existed.
Why then all the buzz about the “Lost Gospels” of Thomas, Judas, Mary etc.? First, many people including most Christians, are uninformed of church history and have no idea about the world in which the church was birthed, grew and confronted these false teachings. Second, there is a new school of scholars and practitioners who paint the early Christian world as a battle between equally valid, possible expressions of Christian faith. Therefore the poor Gnostics, losing the popularity contest years ago, need a new hearing today. Third, the media sensationalizes these things with misleading titles like “Lost books of the Bible” being recovered, etc. These books were never in the Bible and they were never lost, but titles like this apparently sell magazines.
What we need to know is this. The first several centuries of the church were filled with theological spaghetti and a myriad of writings. This in fact led the church to recognize and canonize the apostolic witness found in the 1st century gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. That which was false, which did not match the tradition handed down from the apostles, was rejected and not included in what eventually became the collection of the 27 books of the New Testament. The gospel of Thomas, The Apocalypse of Peter, and the gospel of Judas were never part of the Christian Bible, nor will they be. They were lost to history, but not lost from the Word of God. They were lost to us in manuscript form, many of which we have now recovered. This is a great thing for our understanding of the Gnostics, who they were and what they taught. But it is not ground shaking in that it gives us a “new Christianity.” It simply gives us an up close look at beliefs that were deemed not Christianity at all. And that was decided a long time ago; by the Christians.
Now don’t get me wrong, people are welcome to believe the Gnostic teachings if they so choose (they are pretty wacky and convoluted); but let us not come up with some nonsense that the Gnostic way is just another way of being a Christian. This is simply not the case. Therefore, if we will not find Jesus and his words in the Gnostic gospels, what reasons do we have to place confidence in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? To this issue we now turn our attention.
Why Look to the Canonical Gospels?
Skeptics throughout the ages have asked whether the gospels are to be trusted because they were written by supposedly biased people, the followers of Jesus himself. They surely must have had a skewed point of view as to who this Jesus is. After all, you cannot trust someone’s biggest fans to give an objective account of someone’s life…Can you? This skepticism has been found unwarranted for a couple reasons. First, we know that eyewitness accounts are always the most reliable when looking at events that we ourselves did not observe. If the gospels demonstrate themselves to be the testimony of eyewitnesses they are then the most trustworthy views of Jesus we possess. Second, the claim that someone is unable to correctly convey a story because they are “biased” is highly unwarranted. We will look at each of these issues.
Eyewitness Testimony in the New Testament
When asking the question “What happened with this Jesus guy?” the first persons we should ask are those who walked with him, talked with him and lived their lives with him. Or as 2 Peter 1:16 rightly records, those who were eyewitnesses of his majesty. This requires us to look at the claims of the gospels to be just that – a written record of eyewitness testimony. This was a view taken for granted for years until the advent of critical scholarship in the 19th century where the origin and source of all the gospel writings was brought into question. Revisionist historians and liberal New Testament scholars began to claim the gospels were 3rd or 4th century compilations of Christian communities which did not reflect anything close to eyewitness testimony.
However, there has been much movement in New Testament studies over the last several decades which has ruled out the revisionist ideas of liberal theology. The late 3rd and 4th century dates have been utterly repudiated and we have been able to date all the gospels conclusively to the first century. This has been due to amazing archaeological discoveries such as a fragment of John’s gospel dating to around 125 AD. Additionally, recent scholarship has shown that there are very good reasons to understand the gospels as testimony. In 2006 Scottish New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham published Jesus and the Eyewitnesses – the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony which makes a strong case for our understanding the gospels as containing the testimony of those who knew the life and teaching of Jesus directly. More and more scholars are coming to the position which the church has always held. The gospels are the most reliable portrait of the life and teaching of Jesus because they contain the accounts of the people who were there. But were these people just Jesus fan boys, too biased to be trusted? Good question.
Bias is not Always Bad
The question of bias is important, after all, the gospel writers did not leave us with a simple narrative that records nothing more than rote historical facts. No, they were convinced of the truth of Jesus’ teaching and their account of history contains the teaching of theology about Jesus as well as historical data. Yes, there are towns, rulers, times and places mentioned, but also teaching as to the identity of Jesus and his mission from God. But does this one sided account, that of Jesus’ followers, disqualify their testimony as being valid? In fact I will argue that if you want to know anything about something or someone, you are better off asking people who are passionately committed to the story he shares. A few examples can help us see that Bias is not always bad.
One example comes from the world of technology and through a simple question. If you desire to know about the ins and outs of Macintosh computers, would you ask someone has never touched a Mac to be your teacher? Of course not…who would you ask? You probably would ask one of those MacIdolaters who are loyal subjects of the cult of Steve Jobs. You know that crazy Apple guy who has to put down Windows every time the subject arises. You know the guy who is flossing his iPhone for all to see. You may be that guy. My point is this. The people from whom you will get the best information about Macs are probably the ones who are the most biased; the ones who are passionate about their elite computers. In like manner, NASCAR fans should be consulted on the intricacies of Stock car racing, indie rockers should be the ones you talk to about what is happening in that music scene and his original followers are the ones we should consult about Jesus Christ.
One final example of a more serious kind should be mentioned. To exclude a person who was involved with an event, who passionately cares that the story be told, as being a reliable witness would be quite odd indeed. This sort of reasoning would rule out the accounts of Jewish historians of the Holocaust. They are most interested as they were the ones most closely involved with this horrific course of events. We would not think of discounting someone’s testimony because they are “biased” against the Nazi’s because their family went through the Holocaust. No, rather we trust them as they were the closest people to the events and care most passionately about conveying and passing on this history.
Until someone is shown to be an unreliable witness we ought to take their word for something until they are shown to be not trustworthy. The philosopher Immanuel Kant rightly showed some time ago that an assumption that all people are lying all the time is self-refuting. We should assume truth telling unless we have good reason to think that someone is not telling the truth. If we find that someone is in their right mind and capable to tell the truth, is willing to do so, his words are recorded and preserved with integrity and his testimony is validated by other witnesses, we should trust the words of that person. It seems that this is precisely the sort of reality that we find in the writers of the gospels.
It was their intention to tell the truth
Most of them were religious Jews who thought that intentional falsification (lying) was a direct violation of one of the Ten Commandments. Lying was not a virtue in their community. This does not mean there were not religious Jews who were liars at the time, but it was not a virtue extolled in the community.
The New Testament writers were concerned with “delivering” the teaching of Jesus and the gospel to the next generation in their writing. The Apostle Paul specifically says that he delivered or passed on to the Corinthian church the gospel. This gospel was considered by the early Christians as a matter “of first importance.” See 1 Corinthians 15:1-3. There is good evidence that they believed they were passing on what they saw as a holy tradition through their writings.
They were able to tell the truth
They were a culture steeped in a tradition of oral teaching and memorization. In fact, scholars have shown that ancient peoples could memorize massive amounts of information, with an important focus on maintaining the very words of their teachers.
If they experienced any external pressure it was against the preaching of their message. They gained nothing in the way of position, power and possessions for faithfully telling the Jesus story. To the contrary most of them were killed for it.
Their Words Preserved Accurately
It is beyond the scope of this paper but there is good textual evidence that we have the New Testament documents today in a form that is extremely close to the original manuscripts. This is non controversial. Most scholars agree that the current Greek texts of the New Testament are very accurate. To put it simply, we have pretty much what was written.
Additionally, there was very little time between the actual events of Jesus and the writing of the New Testament. The less time that passes the less likely legendary development occurs. The gospels were all finished by around 90AD with Mark and Matthew likely within just a few decades of the resurrection of Jesus. In the period in which the gospels were written down many eyewitnesses of the events would have still been alive. As Richard Bauckham states, “The Gospels were written within living memory of the events they recount. Mark’s gospel was written well within the lifetime of many of the eyewitnesses, while the other three canonical Gospels were written in the period when living eyewitnesses were becoming scarce, exactly at the point in time when their testimony would perish with them were it not put in writing”
They are Corroborated/Validated by Others
If an author shows that he tells the truth on matters that are verifiable externally, he is thought to be a reliable witness. The New Testament writers note at least thirty historically confirmed people in their works. The gospels in general and the passion narrative in particular find corroboration in several ancient sources outside of the New Testament. In addition, we find quotations at length from the gospels in the sermons and writings of the early church fathers.
When the gospels are examined, they show a strong historicity which is only doubted when a bias against the supernatural is brought to bear. Many skeptics have written off the testimony of the gospels because they were written down by men who believed in God, who record the occurrence of the miraculous and the resurrection of an incarnate Savior God. Yet such bias against the supernatural is just the work of a closed mind. Someone who says – I cannot believe the words of the New Testament because I don’t believe in God or miracles – is already closed off to any amount of evidence. They are saying “I don’t believe because I don’t believe.” Such views are intellectually stifling and hardened to what God might say if they simply read the gospels with an open heart and mind to see the unparalleled life of Jesus on display.
In closing, the gospel literature is unique indeed. It is part biography, part history, part theology yet passionately what Bauckham simply calls testimony.
Understanding the Gospels as testimony, we can recognize this theological meaning of the history not as an arbitrary imposition on the objective facts, but as the way the witnesses perceived the history, in an inextricable coinherence of observable event and perceptible meaning. Testimony is the category that enables us to read the Gospels in a properly historical way and a properly theological way. It is where history and theology meet.
In this series we will be looking at testimony which records the interactions of Jesus with people from various stations and walks of life. Our primary source for these narratives will be the gospel according to Luke. We will observe a few stories from Matthew and John as well but primarily we will walk with Luke to hear the voice of Jesus. With that said, we’ll take a little time together to learn a bit about the gospel written by the one who historically became known as the beloved physician.
The Gospel of Luke
As with any work of literature there are some pertinent questions we ask when approaching a text and there are additional questions when coming to a work of Scripture. Some questions we want to discuss briefly about the gospel of Luke.
- Who wrote it?
- When was it written?
- What is the subject and theological focus?
As we approach Luke several of these questions will be directly related to the book of Acts as we have very good reasons to see Luke/Acts as a large work by one author in two parts. Luke and Acts, have similar prologues that connect them overtly and they also share a similarity in style and language. In the discussion below we may refer to this as “Luke/Acts.”
The oldest traditions and writings we have all ascribe authorship of this gospel to a gentile follower of Jesus and companion of the apostle Paul. He was an educated person who was referred to in Scripture as being a physician. We have no good reason to doubt this as the internal evidence (what is said in the New Testament) and external evidence (what is said about this book by others) all point to Luke being the one who compiled the story of Jesus from eyewitness accounts from those in the early church. In fact, Luke’s gospel is introduced in the following manner.
1Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
The reasons for holding to Luke’s authorship are as follows. First, the earliest existing manuscript of Luke ascribes authorship to Luke and there is no other author in the early tradition mentioned but Luke. With Luke being directly addressed to someone, in this case someone referred to as Theophilus, M. Dilebus makes the point that it is highly unlikely that the book was ever anonymous. It is clear that Luke’s name has been connected to this work from very early in tradition. The external evidence is equally convincing as Lukan authorship for this gospel is found in the Muratorian Canon, the anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke, Ireneus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, and Jerome. All of these early literary works speak of Luke as the author for the gospel bearing his name. Finally, the book of Acts provides some interesting internal evidence to corroborate Luke as the author of this two-volume work. There are four passages in Acts (16:10-17, 20:5-16, 21:1-18, 27:1-28:16) that record “we” did this or that suggesting the author’s own presence in these situations. The final passage in Acts has the author with Paul in Rome so he must be one of people mentioned as to being with Paul in Rome. This leaves Demas, Crescans, Jesus called Justus, Luke, Epaphras, and Epaphroditus. There has never been any reason given to assume authorship to any of these, so Luke’s authorship is again reinforced. One final note, many have discussed the nature of the medical language used in this gospel as evidence that “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14 ESV) was indeed the author. New Testament Scholars DA Carson, Goug Moo, and Leon Morris agree that this argument from medical language has suffered recently in some circles, but the linguistic nature of the book does show that the author was an educated person. Luke, the doctor, would certainly fit this description. Both internal and external evidence shows that the traditional attestation of authorship to Luke is accurate and trustworthy.
Dating the Gospel of Luke
There are certain events in New Testament chronology that are largely uncontested by historians and NT Scholars (whether skeptical or confessionally oriented). The following list gives the events and approximate dates:
Table1: Basic First Century Chronology
Event Date (AD)
End of the Frist Century 100
Fall of Jerusalem 70
Martydom of Peter and Paul 64-68
Epistles of Paul 45-68
Some Oral Tradition 32-70
Crucifixion of Jesus 32
It is these dates that serve as external references or historical markers for our discussion of the four canonical gospels. These are major events in church history and some, like the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, are so well documented as to be without dissent. These dates are important as we investigate the relationship to early church history recorded in Acts and these well established first century dates. Acts is important in dating the gospels due to the fact that it is the second volume of the two-part Luke/Acts work. If one can zero in on a good date for Acts, then the composition of Luke must be at least written at a similar time if not earlier.
Though some make an argument for placing Luke in the AD 80-90 range the most central argument for this is that Luke’s gospel (Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24) seems to predict future events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 there are good reasons to prefer an earlier date in the 60s. The book of Acts concludes with Paul under house arrest in Rome a situation which lasts two years according to Acts 28:30-31. This two year time period comes after the rise of Festus to power in Judea recorded in Acts 24:27 in AD 59. This places the time of Paul’s imprisonment at precisely 60-62, which implies Acts was completed in the early 60s around this same time period. If so, then we must place Luke no later than that, with the Luke/Acts work completed before A.D. 62. It may also be noted that there is no mention of the widespread persecution in the mid sixties at the hands of the Roman emperor Nero, as well as no mention of Paul’s death by martyrdom of which Luke certainly would have mentioned had it already taken place. Furthermore, there is no direct mention of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 in the book of Acts which features a Jerusalem setting on two occasions (Acts 6-7 and 21-23). Thus, a date in the early 60s explains this absence of these events in Acts; they simply had not taken place at the time of its writing.
Subject and Theological Focus
Along with Matthew and Mark, Luke’s work is one of the canonical gospels known collectively as the synoptics. The word synoptic is derived from two Greek terms that when combined mean to see together. When examined together, these gospels present a multifaceted view of the life and teaching of Jesus. So put simply, Luke’s subject in writing is Jesus, his life, his works, his death and resurrection. Though we do not have time to investigate all the themes explored in Luke’s gospel here, a few are worth mentioning. First, the gospel has a strong focus on good works and justice for the poor. This is typified by Luke’s accounting of Jesus beginning his ministry with the reading from Isaiah in Luke chapter 4:
18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus is seen often in Luke as a compassionate servant who cares about broken people and people in need. Women, children, the poor and the socially outcast were groups of people in the first century who would have been seen as marginal. Jesus is seen associating and serving all of them in Luke’s gospel. Second, there is a focus in Luke on the prayer life of Jesus and his dependence upon the Father as well as the importance of prayer in our lives. Finally, Luke has been called the gospel of the Holy Spirit due to his focus on the work of the third person of the Trinity. The Spirit led Jesus in his ministry on earth and the Spirit now leads us in continuing the work of Jesus in our time.
Shall we Let Jesus Speak?
In closing I do pray that when we look to Jesus we see him as he actually is. He is much more than man, guru or prophet. He is much more than the divine you that has yet to be discovered. He is the incarnate God, the living and breathing Savior who walked the earth, died a sacrificial death for sin, rose from death and today is leading his people. As we know who he is we can encounter him through the gospels. As we see him interact with various people in our series together we truly see the great answer to one of the great questions facing human beings. How does God treat people? How will God treat me?
As we walk forward together I pray that in a world where voices about Jesus are in abundance we would stop and hear his voice to us today. It is my hope that the risen Christ will shape us, move us forward in mission and connect us deeply to God through the gospel. God put his feet on planet earth in a small, obscure area of the Middle East some two thousand years ago. He left behind an empty tomb, a living people and good news for the world. God is a forgiving God, a just and holy God and a God who conquers sin, death and suffering through his own sacrificial love for us. He is there and he is not silent – he is bursting through barriers and speaking to hearts and lives today. As we look to the stories of people’s encounters with Jesus this is our passion. We want to clear out all the noise and our own preconceived notions of him and simply Let Jesus Speak.
To that end let us listen well,
Reid S. Monaghan
Lead Pastor, Jacob’s Well
 Robert M. Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place : The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 2007), 17.
 This, of course, is the famous dictum of the late humanist astronomer Carl Sagan who popularized this line on his public television show Cosmos. The book with the same name begins with these same words. See Carl Sagan, Cosmos, 1st ed. (New York: Random House, 1980), 1.
 Muslims refer to Jesus as Isa (from the Arabic for Jesus).
 See Mark Durie, “‘Isa, the Muslim Jesus.” http://www.answering-islam.org/Intro/islamic_jesus.html [accessed September, 18 2009].
 Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam : The Crescent in Light of the Cross, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 20.
 See Tacitus, Annals 15.44
 Theravada Buddhism holds not concept of the divine while Mahayana does. For a comparison of the two see the chart in Huston Smith, The World’s Religions : Our Great Wisdom Traditions ([San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 126.
One thinks of the bestselling book The Secret where the idea that if you learn a secret spiritual law of the universe you can have “the ability to transform any weakness or suffering into strength, power, perfect peace, health, and abundance.” Rhonda Byrne, The Secret, 1st Atria Books/Beyond Words hardcover ed. (New York, Hillsboro, Or.: Atria Books; Beyond Words Pub., 2006).
 See Douglas R. Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 27-29; 144-146.
 For a very thorough treatment of the relationship of the biblical worldview to the myriad of new age ideas see John P. Newport, The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview : Conflict and Dialogue (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998).
 See for example Maggie Sieger DAVID VAN BIEMA, Chris Taylor, “The Lost Gospels,” Time Magazine (2003). http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1006499,00.html.
 See Bart D. Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code : A Historian Reveals What We Really Know About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). Ehrman is a skeptic about biblical Christianity but does a good job showing the sensationalism in Dan Brown’s work. For a critique from Christian historians see Darrell L. Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code : Answers to the Questions Everyone’s Asking (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2004); Ben Witherington, The Gospel Code : Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
James Stewart, The Strong Name. I have seen this quote many times, most prominently in the writings of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. I tracked down the source a few years back but have yet to procure the book and get the page number.
 See Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations : The Origin and Development of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999), 186-188. For basic information even the wiki can get you up to speed here - “The Dead Sea Scrolls,” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Sea_Scrolls.
 See Darrell L. Bock, The Missing Gospels : Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2006). Bock lays out the underlying texts and ideas surrounding these early Gnostic documents.
 Philip Schaff, “The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus,” (Public Domain, Electronic Version Logos Research Systems, Inc.). http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.ii.xxxii.html.
 Greg Koukl has a brief and helpful commentary on how there can simply be “no lost books of the Bible” Greg Koukl, “No Lost Books of the Bible,” (1994). http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5473 [accessed Septermber 25, 2009].
 Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities : The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
 A really good recent book on the trustworthy nature of the canonical Gospels is Mark D. Roberts, Can We Trust the Gospels? : Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2007), 39-51.
 See the Urban Dictionary for a definition of the word floss - Schaff.
 For a more sophisticated look at the uniqueness of Holocaust testimonies see the treatment in Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses : The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2006), 493-502.
 James Porter Moreland, Scaling the Secular City : A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1987), 137-138.
 Ibid., 138.
 Ibid., 144.
 See particularly chapters 10 and 11 of Bauckham, 240-263.
 Ibid., 7.
 See the chapter “The Corroborating Evidence” interviewing history professor Edwin Yamauchi in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ : A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 73.
 Bauckham, 5,6.
 Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris D.A. Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 113.
 Ibid., 115.
 Leon Morris, Luke : An Introduction and Commentary, Rev. ed. (Leicester, England Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press ; Eerdmans ;, 1988), 19-20.
Craig Blomberg and William Lane Craig, “The Historicity of the New Testament,” in Reasonable Faith - Christan Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton: IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 205.
 Ibid., 114
 Darrell L. Bock, Luke, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1994), Volume 1 - 17, 18.
 Morris, 29.
 Bock, Luke, 18.
 Morris, 50-51.
Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses : The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2006.
Bock, Darrell L. Luke. 2 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1994.
________. Breaking the Da Vinci Code : Answers to the Questions Everyone’s Asking. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2004.
________. The Missing Gospels : Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2006.
Bowman, Robert M., and J. Ed Komoszewski. Putting Jesus in His Place : The Case for the Deity of Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 2007.
Byrne, Rhonda. The Secret. 1st Atria Books/Beyond Words hardcover ed. New York, Hillsboro, Or.: Atria Books; Beyond Words Pub., 2006.
Craig, Craig Blomberg and William Lane. “The Historicity of the New Testament.” In Reasonable Faith - Christan Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton: IL: Crossway Books, 1994.
D.A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992.
DAVID VAN BIEMA, Maggie Sieger, Chris Taylor. “The Lost Gospels.” Time Magazine (2003). http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1006499,00.html.
“The Dead Sea Scrolls.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Sea_Scrolls.
Durie, Mark. “‘Isa, the Muslim Jesus.” http://www.answering-islam.org/Intro/islamic_jesus.html [accessed September, 18 2009].
Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities : The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
________. Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code : A Historian Reveals What We Really Know About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Groothuis, Douglas R. Unmasking the New Age. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
The Holy Bible : English Standard Version : Containing the Old and New Testaments. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2001.
Koukl, Greg. “No Lost Books of the Bible.” (1994). http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5473 [accessed Septermber 25, 2009].
Moreland, James Porter. Scaling the Secular City : A Defense of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1987.
Morris, Leon. Luke : An Introduction and Commentary. Rev. ed. Leicester, England Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press ; Eerdmans ;, 1988.
Newport, John P. The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview : Conflict and Dialogue. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998.
Roberts, Mark D. Can We Trust the Gospels? : Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2007.
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1980.
Saleeb, Norman L. Geisler and Abdul. Answering Islam : The Crescent in Light of the Cross. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.
Schaff, Philip. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus: Public Domain, Electronic Version Logos Research Systems, Inc. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.ii.xxxii.html.
Smith, Huston. The World’s Religions : Our Great Wisdom Traditions. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
Stewart, James. The Strong Name.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ : A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.
Wegner, Paul D. The Journey from Texts to Translations : The Origin and Development of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999.
Witherington, Ben. The Gospel Code : Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004.