Luke As a Historian -- By: Earle E. Cairns

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 122:487 (Jul 1965)
Article: Luke As a Historian
Author: Earle E. Cairns


Luke As a Historian

Earle E. Cairns

[Earle E. Cairns, Chairman, Department of History and Political Science, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.]

Luke introduces his Gospel by a literary prologue of verses in which he claims to write history. In Acts 1:1 he speaks of his Gospel as his “first treatise” concerning “all that Jesus began both to do and teach.” In his preface to the Gospel he claimed to be a historian who used the finest materials with the best method to fulfill his motive, the obtaining of truth for Theophilus. How then does Luke compare as a historian with ancient historians, such as Herodotus, Thucydides and Polybius, and with historians in modern times, such as Von Ranke, who was the forerunner of modern scientific history and who claimed to write scientific and objective history? An analysis of his prologue in 1:1–4 will help to answer this question.

Luke was a physician with such a sympathetic spirit that his friend Paul described him as the “beloved” doctor (Col 4:14). As a doctor he would most likely belong at least to the middle section of the social order of his day. This meant that he would have had the good education which is apparent to anyone studying his work. His preciseness of language would grace the report of a modern scientist or physician.

Luke’s Material

Luke, just as any good contemporary historian would do, describes the kind of materials which underlie his Gospel. A number of good secondary accounts were available to him (Luke 1:1). These had been written by people who were acquainted with earlier eyewitnesses of the deeds and words of Christ. Luke does not make disparaging remarks about these accounts nor censure their author as Polybius in his

Histories censured his contemporary Timeaus. Polybius analyzed the account of Timaeus for errors in a very caustic manner in Book XII. He claimed that no one could write good history unless he was a man of action—a soldier or statesman. Only such are competent to collect documents, to ask the right questions of contemporary witnesses or, if present at the scene of action, to interpret properly what is going on (XII:4.28). According to Polybius, only a seasoned participant can be a good writer. Luke certainly fulfilled several of these criteria.

Luke, in contrast, associates himself with the “many” of verse 1 who wrote orderly accounts of those things which the Christians hold dear concerning Chris...

You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
Click here to subscribe
visitor : : uid: ()