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Faith Embracing Certainty (Part 3)


By: John Ferguson

In part 1 of this mini-series, we began thinking about the introduction to the “The Gospel of Luke.” In part 2, we looked at the eyewitness testimony Jesus’ life. We saw that the eyewitnesses not only appealed to their own testimony and to the testimony of others, but also appealed to the common knowledge of these events that had spread throughout the Roman Empire.

Luke has said in effect, “We have established fact, not fiction.” In this final post, we’ll consider one more claim that Luke makes.

II. We have certainty, not wishful thinking.

Luke the historian

Luke is writing as a confident historian. He says, “…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past….”  What were the “all things” he followed closely? Simply the events surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Remember, Luke was a traveling companion with the Apostle Paul (Colossians 4:4; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24; Acts 16ff). He was with Paul on a journey to Jerusalem (Acts 21ff) and had access to the original eyewitnesses there, including James the brother of Jesus who was the early leader in the Jerusalem church.

Was Luke is writing as a historian? It certainly seems to be the case that he’s writing an orderly account as we read through his Gospel noting important details like the following:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…” (Luke 3:1-2).

Here, Luke is situating the events of Jesus’ life alongside contemporary historical figures. Such historical contextualization continues through in Acts. Scholar and historian, Colin Hemer, chronicles Luke’s accuracy in Acts noting 84 facts in the last 16 chapters that have been confirmed by historical and archealogical research [1]. It seems that Luke wanted people to know when this happened and the evidence confirms he did so accurately. He is an able historian, not a “wishful thinker” or myth writer.

History with an agenda?

As we mentioned in Part 1, Theophilus was almost certainly a Roman official who had some idea of the basic message of Christianity. In fact, Luke continued his documentation in Acts, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when we was taken up” (Acts 1:1). Regardless of whether Theophilus was a Roman official or not, Luke would have nothing to gain and everything to lose by lying about Jesus.

Luke unapologetically tells Theophilus that he is writing this orderly account “…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

Luke says in effect, “I am writing to persuade you of the truth about Jesus of Nazareth.”

Today, we are quick to suspect agendas: “He has an agenda, he’s biased, and therefore cannot be trusted.” But just because a person has an agenda to persuade us doesn’t mean that she cannot be trusted. Cannot a Canadian write Canadian history simply because she is Canadian. Cannot a civil war historian write about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln simply because he is American?

Gospel scholar Mark Stauss, “Some of the most important accounts of the Nazi Holocaust have been composed by Jews. Does this fact render them inaccurate? On the contrary, those passionately interested in the events are often the most meticulous in recording them. To claim that the Gospels cannot be historical because they were written by believers is fallacious” [2].

Even though Luke clearly states he has an agenda, this doesn’t mean he cannot write accurate information. In fact, since he clearly states his intentions, this shows a level of honesty that gives us more confidence in the rest of his historical narrative. He has nothing to hide.

History with implications

Luke is careful to get his facts straight and is writing to persuade. In fact, Luke tells us that he wants us to have certainty.This is almost shocking considering the modern notions about “religious belief” a la Dawkins. Far from a “believing what you know ain’t true” definition of faith, the New Testament writers invite belief based on the evidential testimony of the eyewitnesses.

The Apostle John writes in no uncertain terms, “… but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Here the Apostle states boldly, there is enough written in my biography of the life of Jesus to warrant belief in the message of Jesus.

Likewise, in his first letter, John wrote, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Again, there is a level of knowledge that is possible by trusting in the testimony of others.  

This shouldn’t surprise us.  All history is based on testimony.

Richard Bauckham, professor at the University of Saint Andrews, correctly states,

“Trusting testimony is not an irrational act of faith that leaves critical rationality aside; it is, on the contrary, the rationally appropriate way of responding to authentic testimony.Gospels understood as testimony are the entirely appropriate means of access to the historical Jesus” [4].

Luke invites us to listen to and examine the evidence and believe their testimony.

So where does this leave us?

Dick Lucas, an Anglican minister in London, England, was once asked to give a watertight argument with no holes in it for Christianity.  “I don’t think I have a watertight argument with no holes.  What I have is a watertight person.”

Luke would likely concur. He says to us, “Listen to the results of my report of my investigation into the eyewitness testimony of the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and be confident.”

Something world-changing happened 2,000 years ago.  Luke and the eyewitnesses say ‘that something’ was indeed the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He believes his account is sufficient to invite confidence—to secure certainty.

If you are looking into Christianity, the challenge of Luke’s Gospel is to read this historical document with an open mind. Why not take time to read Luke’s account?

Albert Einstein once said, “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene…. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life” [4].

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, your faith—far from having a “belief in what you know ain’t true”—can rest assured on the early testimony of the eyewitnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You don’t have “wishful thinking”, but have “faith embracing certainty” due to eyewitness testimony from history.

Biblical faith, the kind Luke calls us to, is based as is all of history, on eyewitness testimony.

Luke invites you to read his orderly account. Will you take him up on his offer?

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[1] Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, 1990.

[2] Mark Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels, 2007).

[3] Richard Bauckman, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, 2007.

[4] “What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck,”The Saturday Evening Post, Oct. 26, 1929, p. 17