Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Historical Certainty of the Gospel

(Author's note:  I have just published this same article on my A Journey Through the Bible blog, but not all of my readers peruse every one of my blogs.  But I want this one read by a wider audience so I wish to add it to my main Bible blog as well.)

Luke 1:1-4--"Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 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, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed." Luke's prologue is one of the most interesting, and faith-building, paragraphs in the Bible. As an historian, Luke has been proven true on all matters of which he can be tested; historians only reject his gospel and book of Acts because of the miracles he records. This is simply prejudice, not evidence. I want to do a little word study of this section, looking at a few of the terms Luke uses and how they forcefully proclaim the historicity of his writings.

"Which have been fulfilled" (v. 1). The KJV has "most surely believed." The Greek is a form of the word plerophoreo, which is variously translated (in the KJV) as "be fully persuaded," "be fully known," and "make full proof of." In other words, there is an absoluteness of belief because the life of Jesus is something "fully known" and supported by "full proof." God never asks us to believe something without evidence.

"Eyewitnesses" (v. 2). From the Greek word autoptes. It means an eyewitness, seeing with one's own eye. The apostles didn't simply listen to tales made up by Mother Goose. They saw Jesus and everything recorded about Him in the gospels. Our English word "autopsy" derives from this Greek word. What does the doctor do in an autopsy? He sees with his own eyes the cause of death, so that there will be no doubt.

"Having had perfect understanding" (v. 3). The ASV has "having traced the course of all things accurately." The Greek word is akribos, which is variously translated "diligently, circumspectly, perfectly." The idea is exactly, accurately, diligently. Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit, of course (that's the only way he could have truly had "perfect" understanding), but such inspiration did not preclude a Bible writer from doing research. The Lord knew that future historians would demand such, and thus Luke is at pains here to indicate that he did a thorough investigation of that which he wrote, talking to eyewitnesses, getting the facts "from the very first." What else can an historian do?

"That you may know the certainty" (v. 4). Greek, asphaleia, which is found only three times in the New Testament. The other two instances it is translated "safety." Both of those other two examples, however, also imply certainty and absoluteness (Acts 5:23; I Thess. 5:3). The word has the meaning of firmness, stability, certainty, undoubted truth, safety from one's enemies. Luke wanted Theophilus to know that his faith stood on a firm foundation, that it was true of a certainty, and that there could be no fear from enemies of the gospel.

Everything about what Luke writes in this prologue indicates the absolutely true nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no hesitancy, there is no doubt, there is no speculation--this is historical fact, Luke says, I researched it diligently from the very beginning, I talked to those who were there, I know what I'm talking about, and you can be certain of its truth. That's Christianity.