This week at Riverview we began a new sermon series in the gospel of Luke (listen to the first sermon in this series here). We looked at the first four verses of Luke’s gospel in which Luke guarantees his readers that the content of his gospel is trustworthy and reliable to the extent that a person can feel confident entrusting his or her eternity to it. This claim is well-founded, as Luke describes that he has done the necessary research to be able to make such a guarantee. He’s looked into written sources and talked to eyewitnesses in order to give the most reliable account possible of Jesus’ life and ministry. There is no reason to doubt the veracity of his research and the finished product of the gospel that bears his name that is included in the New Testament. This is an account of the life of Christ that you can trust and bank your eternity on.
The same is true for each of the gospel accounts that exist in the Bible. Luke is the only author who gives a written guarantee about his information, but Matthew, Mark, and John are all trustworthy as well. In fact, from a strictly analytical perspective, they would probably be considered even more reliable than Luke’s account, as Matthew, Mark, and John were all eyewitness of Jesus’ life and ministry. In other words, they don’t need to add a guarantee about doing the proper research and interviewing the relevant eyewitnesses, because it’s understood that they were there – they were the eyewitnesses. They are a first-hand account, whereas Luke’s is a second-hand account (albeit it was constructed with the most vigorous of research methods, which should not cause us to doubt Luke’s account at all).
In spite of the reliability and historical accuracy of the gospels, there are some who doubt that the gospels got it right, or that they are even close to the actual historical truth. For instance, Richard Dawkins has said “Nobody knows who the four evangelists were, but they almost certainly never met Jesus personally. Much of what they wrote was in no sense an honest attempt at history…. The gospels are ancient fiction.” Aside from all of the presuppositions and undocumented claims that are loaded into Dawkins’ assertion, certainly Luke would disagree that what he wrote about Jesus was not an “honest attempt at history.” In fact, Luke claims that his account of Jesus’ life is not only accurate history, but history that was vigilantly studied, researched, and fact-checked. I wonder how Dawkins deals with Luke’s own claim that his gospel is reliable history. What makes Dawkins more authoritative than the author himself? Nothing that I can see.
If Richard Dawkins is correct and the four gospel writers were all wrong about their account of Jesus’ life and their accounts of him are ahistorical, then Dawkins and his ilk have some serious questions to answer. For instance, how did each of the gospels come to be so similar? (And not just regarding historical events, names, and places, but in the character and nature of Jesus and the central theme(s) of his teaching?) What about all of the people who were purported to witness his miracles and even his resurrected body? Was it a conspiracy? If so, it would have been the most successful conspiracy in the history of the world. What about the apostles, 11 of whom died for the things that they either made up or believed as unsubstantiated rumors or hearsay? How do we explain that if this story isn’t true? Maybe one of them would be crazy enough to die for rumors and hearsay, but 11? In order to accentuate the problems with Dawkins’ disbelief that the gospels are not historical accounts of actual people and events, a writer at the Gospel Coalition wrote this poignant yet humorous hypothetical conversation between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as they sat down one day over drinks to cook up the Jesus story. Take a look.
As I write this post, it’s the beginning of the first full week of 2016. Many people make resolutions for the new year, and many Christians specifically make resolutions related to Bible reading. These are noble and admirable goals to set for ourselves, and it is a good practice to make these kinds of commitments. But it’s important to note that the only reason resolutions to read the Bible are worthwhile is because of the kind of book the Bible is – namely, the word of God. If the Bible were just a bunch of fairy tales or collection of rumors and hearsay, there would be no value in reading it. But because it is an historical book that accurately gives the account of the interaction between God and his people, chiefly through his Son Jesus Christ, it becomes the most precious thing we could ever read.
In summary, Luke believed the accuracy of what he was writing, so much so that he encouraged his readers to stake their eternal destinies on it. And so far there has not been one reason to doubt the accuracy of his writing, in spite of what Richard Dawkins would like to think. So then, can you be certain about what’s written in the gospels in particular, and in the Bible in general? Luke thought you could. Is he wrong? No one has been able to convincingly show that yet. So look to the Bible, see what you find, and believe it.