People have a lot of different theories about when and how the various books of the Bible came into being. Nonbelievers especially will prefer to distance the written record from actual eyewitnesses to the events depicted—questioning authorship and positing late dates of composition—because, naturally, it is easier to sidestep the demands the Bible places on us if we can be persuaded that it is an unreliable witness. As the serpent proved in the garden of Eden, it’s a short and easy route from Did God really say…? to dismissing God’s words outright (Gen 3:1–6).
Luke, the author of our third Gospel and the book of Acts, takes care at the outset of his Gospel account to ensure the reader that he is reporting eyewitness testimony from those he has met personally.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1–4, ESV)
When I took a course on “The New Testament and the Beginnings of Christianity'' as a junior at Brown, the professor proposed that Luke’s Gospel was written sometime after A.D. 70. Her reasoning? In Luke 21:6, Jesus prophesies that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, and in the year 70 the Romans did destroy it. So, Luke (or one of his sources) must have made up the “prophecy” sometime after that date.
Nevermind the possibility that Jesus might actually have said the temple would be destroyed, and that those who heard Him would have considered such a statement remarkable (regardless of whether or not they expected it to be borne out). Nevermind, also, that Luke’s second volume, plainly written after his Gospel (see Acts 1:1–2), ends with Paul living in Rome and neglects to mention his death—a notable event, one would think, with later sources telling us Paul was beheaded under Nero, sometime between 64 and 68. That would suggest Acts was written sometime in the early- to mid-sixties, with Luke before that (and Matthew and Mark earlier still).
Contrary to the belief of many modern Westerners, miracles do occur with some frequency. Craig Keener’s two-volume, scholarly tome on Miracles grew out of what was supposed to be a footnote while writing on Luke–Acts, as he sought to rebut the absurd claim of some academics that Luke’s miracle accounts couldn’t possibly be eyewitness testimony. (It should be obvious that people in every generation do claim to have seen or experienced miracles, even if one doesn’t believe them. In any case, Keener’s work is worth reading.)
The fact is, Luke’s writing bears all the hallmarks of being what it claims to be—the “orderly account” of a well-informed historian. Where skeptics once accused Luke of confusing or fabricating various geographical and political details, such as the name and title of a local official at some place and date, archaeological finds have repeatedly vindicated him.
While I am grateful for the painstaking work of the many scholars who have poured over ancient manuscripts and sifted potsherds from the sands of Israel, I am also aware that skepticism does not generally arise from an honest inquiry after the facts. Rather, people find the biblical witness implausible because they find it intolerable. If I want to be the master of my own life, I must refuse Jesus’ claim on me. If I don’t want to give to the one who asks of me, to turn the other cheek to the one who abuses me, to humble myself and wash the feet of those under my authority; if I want to have sex outside a lifelong, monogamous union of man and wife, or indulge some other craving that He bids me deny, it would be much easier if I could believe that Jesus isn’t who the Bible says He is, and/or that He didn’t say what the Bible reports He said. For if the Gospels are true, I have only two choices in the end: either humble myself and submit to the King, or be condemned for rebellion and face eternal hellfire.
The good news is, obedience actually begets joy. The rebel who thinks himself free is actually enslaved to sin, but whom the Son sets free is truly free (John 8:36), and in His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11).
Father, thank You for giving us Your Word, and thank You for the grace to keep it.
Writer & Ministry Fellow, Christian Union Lux at Yale University
FREE OFFER: Get the "Seeking God Lifestyle" Bible Course Manual. Download this 67-page, 5-lesson course in PDF format.