Tuesday, October 18, 2011

St. Luke, Apologist

October 18th marks the the Festival of St. Luke, Evangelist. St. Luke was one of the holy men of God carried along by the Spirit to write the Gospel that now bears his name. If you want to read more there's a great summary of the work of Luke and his place in the early church here, posted on another Lutheran blog. He's called the Evangelist and rightfully so, since his book bears witness to the evangel, the Gospel, the Good News that Christ is born, Christ died, Christ rose and ascended and he does it all for you. However St. Luke deserves another title that is all too often overlooked, that of Apologist, defender of the Christian faith. Listen to the opening of the Gospel:

1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

Eyewitness. Orderly account. Certainty. Delivered. Instruction. These are important phrases right out of the gates in Luke's Gospel. It's no accident, no coincidence. While Luke was not an eyewitness himself of the events described and told in the Gospel, he was a good reporter, an early journalist and a close associate of people who were eyewitnesses from the beginning. In other words, he did his homework. Talked to the right people. Asked the right questions. And recorded this faithfully. No wonder there are portions of Luke's Gospel that you don't find in the other Gospels. While at the same time, it's no wonder you find significant portions that are. The four Gospels are working like four eyewitnesses to an auto accident, each reporting the same event from a different street corner, or vantage point. But we also know that Luke was an eyewitness of many of the events in the book of Acts, part two of Luke's Gospel. Those are the "we" sections in Luke. Yes, Luke is writing a Gospel of Jesus' life and work, but he's doing it as any historian worth his rust would.  If St. Luke was trying to fudge the facts of history he simply would not have put as many historical details in both Luke and Acts. Check out the historical specifics in Luke 3:

1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.

If you're trying to cleverly devise a myth and make Jesus into something he didn't claim to be and fabricate the whole story, this is the wrong way to go about it. Any reader can pick this up and go check out the facts. And you know what? The facts check out.Caesar and Pilate (not to mention the rest of this lot) were real historical figures involved in the real, historical events of Jesus saving work on our behalf. That's why we confess "under Pontius Pilate" every Sunday in the Creed. Note, the famous "Pilate Inscription" found in the 1960's shedding valuable archaeological light on Pilate's existence.  No wonder F.F. Bruce commented once that Luke is a writer of habitual accuracy. And thank God for it. I'm sure Theophilus did. We all should.

Here's one more reason to honor St. Luke with the title, Apologist. As noted above, Acts is the sequel to Luke's Gospel. However, the dating of the book of Acts is an interesting case in the defense of the Christian faith. The major players - Peter and Paul - are reported to have died under the Neronian persecution of the Christians, most likely around 64 A.D. However, the book of Acts records neither the death of St. Peter nor St. Paul, which is more than odd since they are chief players in the book. It is more likely that the book of Acts was not written yet and they were still alive, otherwise their deaths would have been recorded. Also, the temple, the center of the world in 1st century Jerusalem, was destroyed in A.D. 70. Guess what? Not mentioned in Acts. Would Luke, a good historian, leave such a major historical detail out? Not likely. It's more likely that the events of Jerusalem's overthrow (as predicted by Jesus) had not happened yet and Acts was written before it occurred. So, why all the hullabaloo? Well, if Acts is part 2 of Luke's Gospel and it is written sometime around 64 A.D., Luke's Gospel must precede it. And if Luke's Gospel is written before 64 A.D., most scholars agree that Matthew and Mark were written before Luke. Whether you prefer Markan or Matthean priority matters not (at least for the sake of argument here). Jesus' death occurred somewhere around 33 A.D. Do the math. The time gap between the writing of Luke's Gospel (and others) and the events he records (Jesus' life, death and resurrection) becomes so short as to be meaningless. Luke's writing is historically reliable, veracious and trustworthy.

For that belov'd physician
All praise, whose Gospel shows
The Healer of the nations,
The One who shares our woes.
Your wine and oil, O Savior,
Upon our spirits pour,
And with true balm of Gilead
Anoint us evermore. LSB 518:26

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