Monday, 27 February 2012

The Authorship of Luke-Acts

St. Luke by Simone Martini
     It is generally accepted that the author of the Third Gospel is also responsible for the book of Acts. The respective prologues (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1) show common authorship, in that both are addressed to the same person (Theophilus) and Acts 1:1 makes reference to "the former account." Acts begins with a summary of the material in Luke and takes up where the Gospel leaves off, and the language and style are similar in both books. The writer appears to have been non-Jewish, as he refers to the Aramaic tongue of the Palestinian Jews as "their own language" (Acts 1:18-19), and Aramaic expressions and place-names in the other Gospels do not occur in Luke.
     The author is implicitly included in the first person plural references (or "we" sections) of Acts (16:8-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1–28:16). Accordingly, he arrives in Rome with Paul (Acts 28:16), where in all probability the apostle writes his "prison epistles" (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon) and identifies certain ones who are with him. Excluding those named in Acts (i.e. Timothy, Tychicus, Aristarchus, Mark), the remaining candidates are Luke, Jesus-Justus, Epaphroditus, Onesimus, Epaphras, and Demas. Some of these are further eliminated. Epaphroditus was a messenger of the Philippi church (Philippians 2:25), but the "we" sections in Acts begin before the Christian community in Philippi was started. Demas is disqualified because of his lack of commitment to Paul (2 Timothy 4:10). Onesimus and Jesus-Justus were Jews (Colossians 4:7-14). Epaphras, a fellow prisoner with Paul (Philemon 23), was from Colosse (Colossians 4:12) and therefore probably converted sometime after the "we" sections of Acts begin. This leaves only Luke, who is named in the prison epistles but not in Acts, and combined with the unanimous testimony of the early church, Luke the physician is therefore the most obvious candidate for the authorship of Luke-Acts.
     W. K. Hobart, in his book The Medical Language of St. Luke (1882), argues that the Lukan writings are heavily saturated with medical terminology and thus indicative of having been composed by a doctor. However, H. J. Cadbury has shown that a number of these terms were fairly common in antiquity and not necessarily limited to medical writings (The Book of Acts in History [1955]), although Luke-Acts is still consistent with what a physician may have drafted. In fact, as Alfred Plummer observes: "there still remains a considerable number of words, the occurrence or frequency of which in S. Luke’s writings may very possibly be due to the fact of his being a physician. The argument is a cumulative one. Any two or three instances of coincidence with medical writers may be explained as mere coincidences: but the large number of coincidences renders this explanation unsatisfactory for all of them . . ." (The Gospel According to S. Luke lxiv; cf. lxiii-lxv). Furthermore, Loveday Alexander maintains that the preface of the Third Gospel fits into the mould of "the scientific tradition," involving works on subjects like mathematics, engineering, and medicine ("Luke’s Preface," NovT 28 [1986]: 48-74). The influence of this type of literature on someone educated as a medical doctor would be expected.
     The authorship of Luke is attested very early. The Muratorian Canon (ca. 170) names Luke as the author, demonstrating that the identification was well established at this time. Other early testimonies include Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 115-202), the Anti-Marcionite Prologue (ca. 160-180), and Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 263-339). The Bodmer Papyrus XIV (ca. 200) uses the title, "According to Luke." As a matter of fact, there is no manuscript evidence for the baseless assumption that the Third Gospel ever circulated without Luke’s name.
     The attribution of Lukan authorship, while not unanimously accepted among modern scholars, seems less contested than that of the other Gospels. Nevertheless, a number of critics, for whatever reason, are hesitant to give credit to the historical Luke and prefer instead to speak of the "unknown author" or the "traditional author" or to generically refer to him as "Luke" merely as a matter of convenience. But when the conventional authorship of a biblical document is challenged as an attempt to undermine its credibility, one must wonder what underlying agenda drives the critic to dismiss such weighty evidence. Surely it is reasonable to ask why secular documents are not treated with such cynical scrutiny (see also Authorship of NT Gospels).
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Luke's AudienceLuke's Historical Blunder?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Luke's Historical Blunder?

El Greco's St. Luke
     Luke 2:1-2 is often cited as an alleged historical blunder that serves to discredit the historicity of Luke’s record as a whole if not the entire New Testament. The passage mentions the decree of Caesar Augustus that all the world (or the civilized realm of the Roman Empire, cf. Acts 19:27; 24:5) was to be registered, which was the "first" census while Quirinius was "ruling" Syria. The statement seems to imply that Luke was aware of a second census involving Quirinius, which is later referenced in Acts 5:37 and recounted by Josephus (Ant. 18.1.1; 2.1). The problem is, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until AD 6, over a decade after the events recorded here, and Luke is the only historian who mentions the first of these two censuses.
     The simplest way to resolve this apparent discrepancy is to understand that the Greek word protos, translated "first" in many English versions, is also used in the sense of "prior" or "before" (cf. John 1:30; 15:18). If this were Luke’s intended meaning, there is no problem. But to be fair to open dialogue and in consideration of every possibility, what if "first" is the correct rendering? Is this a legitimate case of a factual mistake?
     If one were not predisposed to dismissing outright any historical data in the Bible, one would have to concede that a census in Palestine at the time Luke affirms is not improbable, and some official connection of Quirinius with Syria at this time is not impossible. Note that instead of describing Quirinius as "governor," Luke actually employs the verb hēgemoneuō, which means to "rule," "order," "lead," or "command." Quirinius was a highly placed military figure in the Near East in the closing years of Herod the Great’s reign, and he was active in the general vicinity of Syria at the time Luke reports.
     After the death of Caesar Augustus, The Deeds of the Divine Augustus were inscribed on two bronze plaques outside his mausoleum, listing thirty-five of his greatest achievements while "he subjected the whole wide earth to the rule of the Roman people." Eighth on the list is a record of three empire-wide censuses that he authorized in 28 BC, 8 BC, and AD 14. Luke’s account of Christ’s birth fits the census of 8 BC, considering the likelihood that the bureaucracy of the census would have taken years to reach Palestine.
     It is of further interest that around the time of Christ’s birth, there was a transition in the Syrian governorship between the outgoing Sentius Saturninus and the incoming (somewhat inept) Quinctilius Varus. It is therefore historically plausible that the renowned Quirinius would have been put in charge of the census at this time (Luke 2:1-2), and no doubt because of his competent handling of it, he was later entrusted with the next one (Acts 5:37). The fragmentary Latin inscription Lapis Tiburtinus acknowledges a distinguished Roman officer who served as imperial legate of Syria "for the second time." If Quirinius is the subject of this mutilated inscription (as some scholars propose), Luke the historian is exonerated. And if Quinctilius Varus is the subject of the inscription (suggested by other scholars) and Quirinius assisted him as "procurator" of Syria (see Justin Martyr, Apology 1.34), again, Luke’s account readily corresponds to the historical facts.
     It is of no minor significance that the science of archaeology has always corroborated the accuracy and credibility of the biblical record, while no legitimate archaeological discovery has ever shown the scriptures to be in error on any historical point. For every accusation of alleged falsehood in the Bible, there are ample and satisfactory answers provided by competent biblical apologists. No fair-minded truth-seeker would deliberately embrace only one side of an issue without having given honest consideration to valid responses.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: The Bible in Perspective, Biblical Inspiration, Mistakes in the Bible?, Alleged Biblical Errors

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Alleged Biblical Errors: Contextual and Exegetical Factors

     If an atheist were to say, "I hear someone talking in the next room but I can’t hear what is being said," would it be fair to accuse him of self-contradiction? Is he "hearing" or is he not "hearing"? A sensible person would understand that the same word ("hear") is being used in two different senses: the first in reference to the reception of incoherent sounds, and the second to the comprehension of what is being spoken. Ironically, when the very same usage appears in scripture (Acts 9:7; 22:9 KJV), the label "contradictory" is promptly applied by otherwise rational people.
     In similar vein, regularly appearing on the skeptic’s comparative list are the biblical claims that God cannot be seen (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; 6:46; 1 John 4:12), while God has reportedly been seen and communicated with "face to face" (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:11). When set in opposition to each other on a confined itemized chart, there seems to be an obvious disparity. But when contextual and exegetical considerations are involved in the assessment, there is no problem at all. To "see" is an allusion both to physical eyesight ("I see the bird in the tree") and to mental perception ("We see the matter differently"). God’s full spiritual essence cannot be optically viewed with the human eye (Exodus 33:20), whereas deity can be more clearly understood when cognitively visualized through the revelation of Jesus Christ (John 1:18). It is not with physical eyesight that God is seen but with purity of heart (Matthew 5:8).
     The Bible, like all other forms of communication (both written and oral) in every language and culture throughout history, is filled with figures of speech. When two people living on separate continents "see eye to eye," no one envisions them literally facing each other with their eyeballs pressed together! Anthropomorphism is a very common literary device wherein human characteristics are ascribed to nonhuman entities (e.g. "The merciless tornado was tireless in its malicious tirade"). Since the spiritual realm is beyond the ability of the mortal mind to fully comprehend, God is depicted throughout scripture with imagery to which humans can relate ("face," "ears," "hands," "eyes," etc.). Thus speaking with God "face to face" is simply a metaphoric description of direct, intelligible, and intimate conversation (see Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:6-8).
     Another favorite example among antibiblicists is the following. In Luke 11:23 (cf. Matthew 12:30) Jesus is reported as saying, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." Compare this with the seemingly conflicting words of Luke 9:50 (cf. Mark 9:40): ". . . for he who is not against us [you] is on our [your] side." While critics of the Bible cry "blatant contradiction," a sympathetic reading of the statements in their respective contexts proves otherwise. In the first passage, the Lord is speaking to antagonistic Pharisees who were falsely accusing him of doing the devil’s work. Enemies of truth, resistant to Christ’s message, are decidedly against him. In the second passage, the apostles were forbidding the good works of an apparent disciple of Jesus simply because he was not in their immediate apostolic circle. In this case, the Lord is addressing misplaced pride and unwarranted discrimination. The teachings of Christ call for both exclusiveness and inclusiveness, depending on the circumstances. Out of context, there appears to be incongruity. In context, the teachings are easily harmonized.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Mistakes in the Bible?, Luke's Historical Blunder?

Recommended Sources: Eric Lyons' Answering the Allegations

Monday, 6 February 2012

Mistakes in the Bible?

     A frequently heard assertion is that the Bible is replete with inconsistencies, contradictions, and factual mistakes. To substantiate this charge, biblical texts are sometimes pitted against each other or indiscriminately viewed as suspect when compared to other ancient sources whose accuracy is taken for granted. Many, it seems, have rejected the Bible based on second- or third-hand information (notably catalogues of perceived errors and contradictions compiled by antibiblicists), without having taken the time to examine the scriptures for themselves. But fairness demands that all charges of alleged falsehood and inaccuracies be more carefully investigated, noting the essential difference between "actual" and "apparent," and ensuring the texts in question are correctly interpreted with deliberate attention to matters of context, translation, and authorial intent. If one could step back from the debate and appraise these allegations fairly and objectively, the case against the Bible would significantly decrease in persuasive value.
     "Cherry picking" occurs when selected data are highlighted that appear to confirm a particular viewpoint while ignoring related materials that suggest otherwise. It has been alleged, for example, that Genesis 2:17 contains a false prophecy, in that Adam was supposed to die the very day he ate the forbidden fruit, yet he did not die that day (cf. 3:6 ff.; 5:5). On the surface this may seem like a compelling argument against biblical inerrancy. The problem is, the accusation shows a lack of awareness of "death" as a figure of speech and its spiritual significance. Biblically defined, physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body (James 2:26), whereas spiritual death – the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23) – is a severance from God (Isaiah 59:1-2; Ephesians 2:1, 5). While Adam did not physically expire the moment he ate the fruit (although the countdown had begun), he did consequently sever his intimate relationship with God, thus fulfilling the words of Genesis 2:17.
     Quoting references out of context is a logical fallacy in which statements are excerpted from the qualifying information surrounding them so that their intended meaning is distorted. A man once told me that he would never go to church because Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. When I asked him to justify his allegation, he replied, "Christians don’t drink, but the Bible says, ‘Eat, drink, and be merry’!" Unfortunately he would not discuss the matter further or agree to a Bible study, but by reading the immediate context of Luke 12:13-21, we learn that Jesus, in addressing the problems of greed and materialism, tells a story in which the words of v. 19 (". . . take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry") are attributed to a misguided rich man. The Bible does record this expression, but what is actually said about it?
     A "straw man" argument involves misrepresenting facts to make something seem more extreme or simplistic than it really is so that it can be more easily refuted. John Shelby Spong, in his Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (107), challenges the integrity of Genesis by accusing its author of being "quite confused" about the nationality of those to whom Joseph was sold into slavery. In one reference they are identified as "Ishmaelites" (37:25), while a few verses later they are called "Midianites" (v. 28). The fallacy of this charge is that of twisting a "both-and" situation into an "either-or" predicament. If the caravan was comprised of Ishamaelites who lived in the land of Midian (cf. Genesis 25:12, 18; Exodus 2:15; Judges 8:1, 22-28), then according to ethnic descent they were Ishmaelites and according to their place of residence they were Midianites (compare Deuteronomy 26:5). If a New Zealand Maori resides in the city of Wellington, is he a Maori or a Wellingtonian? A fair-minded person sees no dilemma here, and upon closer examination Spong’s belittling accusation is not as compelling as it might have first appeared.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: The Bible in PerspectiveBiblical Inspiration, Alleged Biblical Errors, Luke's Historical Blunder?Biblical Interpretation: Asking the Right Questions

Recommended Sources: Eric Lyons' Answering the Allegations

Image credit: http://www.prlog.org/10242589-enduring-comfort-89-year-old-hands-holding-bible.jpg