Part 1: How can I find out about Jesus?
- Think of a particularly famous person. What are they famous for? Do you wish that that you could know them personally? If you met them what questions would you want to ask them? Do you think they provide a role model worth following?
- What do you know about Jesus? How would you describe him? Would you have liked to have met him? If you had met him, what questions would you want to ask him? Do you think he would be a good role model to follow?
A look at the Bible
Jesus is one of the most famous people in history. Many people say that they would have liked to have met him. He is often held up as a good role model, a loving man and wise teacher. But what can we really know about this man who lived over 2000 years ago and is his example really worth following? Our aim in these studies is to try and find out a bit more about Jesus, his life and his teaching so that we can make our own minds up about him.
Read Luke 1:1-4
- How does Luke know about Jesus?
- Why has he written his account?
People are fascinated about other people, especially famous people and we want to know all about their lives. That’s why programmes that delve into the lives of celebrities have always been popular, whether by current standards the relatively high brow interview with Parkinson, sitting on the sofa with Phillip and Holly or sticking several z listers in a house, jungle or dancing competition together all under the camera spotlight!
My interest is more in famous people of the past. I love history and reading about great battles and great ideas. That means I’m unlikely to meet most of my heroes. I won’t ever get the chance to grill them over a coffee. But I’m grateful to historians past, find the eye witness accounts, dig up the evidence and piece together the story of our past.
Luke was a historian. He took time to piece together the account of Jesus’ life and of the early church. He was originally a doctor and also a travel companion of a man called Paul who was responsible for starting many of the early churches around the Mediterranean. Together they had many adventures risking imprisonments, beatings and shipwrecks.
Luke wrote one of the four Gospels that we find in our Bibles. The word Gospel simply means “Good News.” Each of the writers were claiming that they had an important message which was “good new” for all those who chose to read it and believe it. In fact, Luke’s Gospel opens with the announcing of Jesus’s birth. Angels (special messengers sent by God) appear to Mary, Jesus’ mother and later to shepherds watching their sheep and say that the birth of Jesus is good news because this special baby who:
Will be a King who will reign for ever (Luke 1: 31-33).
Is a Saviour –someone able to rescue or deliver people who are in trouble (Luke 2:11).
Brings Peace (Luke 2:14).
These are extravagant claims. Was Luke justified in making them? It is important that we make the right decision about these claims. After all, if Jesus really is an eternal King, who has power to deliver and can bring peace on earth, then he is more than just a famous person in history who it would be nice to have round for dinner. On the other hand, if the claims are false, then we are dealing with a wicked hoax, a myth or fantasy which it would be delusional to believe in.
Luke was confident that his account was true –but what confidence can we place in his evidence? Well here are a few reasons as to why we can be confident.
- His Gospel is based on eye witness evidence (v 2). Luke was writing his Gospel around about 63 AD. This means that many of those eye witnesses would still have been alive and if he was telling lies, they would have been able to contradict him.
- Luke has taken great care to investigate the evidence (v3). Luke was a medical doctor who would have had a concern for accuracy and an eye for detail. This is demonstrated by his careful recording of other, historically verifiable names, places and events. As a result, scholars recognise him to have been a diligent, first class historian who put together an ordered, reliable, trustworthy account.
- Luke and the other early followers of Jesus took what they believed and said about Jesus seriously. Many of them died for what they believed. Luke travelled frequently with another early church leader, Paul. Often on their journeys they faced danger including shipwrecks, rioting mobs out to kill them, beatings, stonings and imprisonment. Paul was probably executed by order of the emperor soon after Luke wrote his Gospel.
So we can trust Luke’s account because of the care he took in putting it together. Luke has been recognised by scholars as a reliable historian comparable with other ancient authorities such as Josephus and Tacitus. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be any challenges and things to wrestle with as you sift the evidence for yourself. Dealing with ancient history isn’t always easy and scholars have had to put time into trying to work out how the exact chronology of events pieces together. There have only been two serious question marks raised over Luke’s reliability. The first concerns his association of Jesus’ birth with a census during the time when Quirinus was governor in Syria (Luke 2:1) and the dating of an uprising by a Jewish rebel called Theudas (Acts 5:36). However, even with these trickier examples, credible explanations have been given to demonstrate the reliability of Luke’s account (On Quirinius see John Nolland, Luke 1-9:20, WBC 35a, 99-102 or Darrell Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, ECNT, Baker Academic , 1994, 903-909 and on Theudas see Darrel Bock, Acts, ECNT, Baker Academic, 2007, 250).
We can also rely on Luke’s account because his interest in Jesus wasn’t just academic or frivolous. His study of Jesus changed his life. That’s why he and other early followers of Jesus were willing to risk their own lives. What about you? The only sure fire way to test the evidence is to read the Gospel for yourself and make your own mind up about the claims it presents.
To think about
- Is there something so important to me that I would be willing to die for it? Or is that sort of thing just for fanatics?
- Am I ready to accept Luke’s evidence as reliable and trustworthy? If not, what would it take for me to believe it? What additional evidence am I lacking?
If you want to investigate the evidence further, then there are plenty of resources available to help you. Here are a couple of good books to check out (copies are available at the Chapel to borrow).
Josh McDowell, Evidence that demands a verdict. (Campus Crusade, 1972)
FF Bruce, The New Testament Documents, are they reliable? (IVP, 1981)
Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. (IVP, 1987)
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ. (Zondervan, 1998)