Was Luke an Accurate Historian? -- By: Nicholas M. van Ommeren

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 148:589 (Jan 1991)
Article: Was Luke an Accurate Historian?
Author: Nicholas M. van Ommeren


Was Luke an Accurate Historian?

Nicholas M. van Ommeren

Doctoral Student, The Free University
Huizen, The Netherlands

Are the books of Luke and Acts historically reliable? Opinions on this question are divided.1 But is this question of historical reliability very important? Is not an existential encounter with Jesus more important?2 Should believers proclaim not the Jesus who was, but the Jesus who is?3

As Marshall explains, the Christian faith is rooted in the historical,4 that is, it depends on historical facts.5 The life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus are historical facts on which the Christian faith stands.6 That is why Luke attached so much importance to the eyewitnesses who had seen the Lord Jesus after His resurrection. They confirmed the truth of the resurrection as a historical fact.7

That is what makes the question of the historical reliability of the Gospels and Acts so extremely important.8 As F. F. Bruce said, “This historical ‘once and for allness’ of Christianity, which distinguishes it from those religious and philosophical systems which are not specially related to any particular time, makes the reliability of the writings which purport to record this revelation a question of first-rate importance.”9

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Why have some concluded that the Gospels and Acts are historically unreliable? As far as the Gospels are concerned, the differences between the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus have presented problems to many people. Though there are indeed differences,10 the same question must be asked here as in any other area of study: “What do we do with the facts? How do we interpret them?”11

For many scholars, those differences have been and still are reason to view the Gospel writers less as reliable reporters of the historical facts, and more as theologians who have adapted the historical facts to their own theological framework.12 According to such scholars (Rudolf Bultmann, for example), we can know next to no...

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