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Reliability of Luke-Acts

Reliability of Luke-Acts

Scholarly Quotes Pertaining to Luke-Acts

Bruce, F.F.. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Kingsley Books. Kindle Edition.

Luke inherited the high traditions of Greek historical writing, and had access to various excellent sources of information about the events with which he dealt, besides being himself present at some of the incidents which he narrated. We have already mentioned some sources, written and oral, on which he may have drawn. The value of his work may be realized if we compare our relatively ample knowledge of the progress of Christianity before AD 60 with our ignorance of it for many years after that date. Indeed, after Luke there arose no writer who can really be called a historian of the Christian Church until Eusebius (p. 58)

The accuracy which Luke shows in the details we have already examined extends also to the more general sphere of local colour and atmosphere. He gets the atmosphere right every time. (p. 63). 

Now, all these evidences of accuracy are not accidental. A man whose accuracy can be demonstrated in matters where we are able to test it is likely to be accurate even where the means for testing him are not available. Accuracy is a habit of mind, and we know from happy (or unhappy) experience that some people are habitually accurate just as others can be depended upon to be inaccurate. Luke’s record entitles him to be regarded as a writer of habitual accuracy. (p. 64). 

The historical trustworthiness of Luke has indeed been acknowledged by many biblical critics whose standpoint has been definitely liberal. And it is a conclusion of high importance for those who consider the New Testament from the angle of the historian. For the writings of Luke cover the period of our Lord’s life and death, and the first thirty years of the Christian Church, including the years in which Paul’s greatest missionary work was accomplished and the majority of his extant letters were written. The two parts of Luke’s history really bind the New Testament together, his Gospel dealing with the same events as the other Gospels, and his Acts providing the historical background to the Epistles of Paul. The picture which Luke gives us of the rise of Christianity is generally consonant with the witness of the other three Gospels and of Paul’s letters. And he puts this picture in the frame of contemporary history in a way which would inevitably invite exposure if his work were that of a romancer, but which in fact provides a test and vindication on historical grounds of the trustworthiness of his own writings, and with them of at least the main outline of the origins of Christianity presented to us in the New Testament as a whole. (pp. 65-66)

Keener, Craig S.. Between History and Spirit: The Apostolic Witness of the Book of Acts. Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Dating

“Although a substantial minority of scholars continue to date Luke-Acts in the 60s, contending that Luke omits Paul’s death because it had not yet occurred when he wrote, and a smaller number date the work, or part of it, in the early second century, the majority of scholars favor the final three decades of the first century, with most clustering in the mid-range of 70–90.” (Although a substantial minority of scholars continue to date Luke-Acts in the 60s, contending that Luke omits Paul’s death because it had not yet occurred when he wrote, and a smaller number date the work, or part of it, in the early second century, the majority of scholars favor the final three decades of the first century, with most clustering in the mid-range of 70–90.” (page. 3) [Footnote 4: Pervo, Dating Acts, 359-63, lists roughly 31 scholars for the 60s; 48 in the 70s-80s; 20 in the 90s; and 11 for c. 100 or later.]

Luke as Historiography

“Many scholars argue, I believe persuasively, that Luke writes a two-volume work that includes both biography and historiography. Treating the two books together thus invites a brief exploration of the character of ancient historiography, and of where Luke-Acts falls in the broader range of this genre.” (p. 4)

“Because historians told cohesive stories and did not simply recite annals, rhetoric was essential to their enterprise. Some allowed more rhetorical embellishment than others, but all were interested in cohesive compositions.” (pp. 5-6)

“Luke proves accurate where we would most expect this for a good ancient historian. Thus, for example, the we-narratives, which claim eyewitness information, frequently offer the most detailed scenes and sequences in Acts. Wherever Paul’s letters provide a chronological sequence for the events of Paul’s life and mission, the sequence in Acts proves nearly identical. Indeed, the correspondences of considerable information even in the earlier chapters in Acts with external sources is remarkable.” (p. 11)

“Luke takes over much material from Mark and other material shared with Matthew. Although he regularly polishes Mark’s grammar, he normally retains the general substance of Mark’s narrative and sayings where he uses Mark’s Gospel. To assume that Luke would engage in a different method of wholesale fabrication where we cannot check him, one must presuppose that Luke could foresee which sources would remain extant. Historians had considerable freedom to shape their material into cohesive narratives; they did not expect each other to exercise such freedom to fabricate events.” (p. 11)

Luke’s Preface

“Alone among the Gospels, Luke offers what appears very much like the prefaces found in histories, a preface that (with most scholars) presumably includes both of his volumes in its purview. That this preface includes Luke’s claim to investigate or have close acquaintance with his information (Luke 1:3) fits historical works… Whatever may be said of the preface’s style, the content it promises for the work is telling. A good introduction should summarize what is to follow, and Luke’s summary of what will follow is explicitly historical: “an orderly narrative of the things fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1, 3).” (p. 12)

“In 1:3, Luke claims to be “thoroughly aquatinted” with the events he narrates (parêkolouthêkoti), language used to affirm a writer’s familiarity with prior reports and the writer’s reliability on the subject. Investigation of the sources, including travel to interview witnesses, belonged to the best tradition of Hellenistic historiography.” (p. 15)

Reflections

“I have endeavored to show that Luke’s chosen genre and his expressed intentions lead us to expect that he handled accurately, by the standards of his era, the sources available to him. Luke has historiographic (as well as biographic) intention; while ancient historiography had essential rhetorical and literary interests, it also focused on information. Luke indicates that he made use of various oral and written sources no longer available to us, but most of which remained for examination in his own day.” (p. 17)

“Many [of Luke’s] sources probably stemmed from the first generation, when some eyewitnesses remained alive and in prominent positions in the church. I thus believe that a healthy measure of skepticism is in order regarding allegations of the first-century church’s rapid amnesia. With W. D. Davies, it is helpful to note that probably only a single lifespan “separates Jesus from the last New Testament document. And the tradition in the Gospels is not strictly a folk tradition, derived from long stretches of time, but a tradition preserved by believing communities who were guided by responsible leaders, many of whom were eyewitnesses of the ministry of Jesus.” (p. 18)

“In view of such factors as those surveyed above, I believe that there is reason to suppose that Luke not only has interest in retelling historical information, but that much of the information to which he had access ultimately stems from fundamentally reliable and eyewitness sources.” (p. 19)

William Mitchell Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (p.222)  London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915

“Luke is a historian of the first rank not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history, and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of each incident. He seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length, while he touches lightly or omits entirely much that was valueless for his purpose. In short, this author should be placed among with the very greatest of historians.”

Articles for the Reliability of Luke-Acts

Is the Book of Acts Reliable?

December 20, 2018, Greg Boyd

IS THE BOOK OF ACTS HISTORICALLY ACCURATE?

Blue Letter Bible Commentary, Don Stewart

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