The Method of a Historian
Jeff Foster (Cortez, Colorado)
In the Alamo hangs a portrait of a man who had not even been born when the battle of the Alamo was fought.
This inscription is posted under the portrait: "James Butler BonhamCno portrait of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by the family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom."
As disciples of Jesus Christ we are expected to bear the name and character of our Lord in this world, we are to be his very reflection.
Two books of the New Testament, more so than any other, bear this thought out, the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles.
The Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles share a common author. The many similarities in language, style, and message suggest this.
Both books were written to Theophilus, "friend of God." Was he a Roman official wanting to remain anonymous? Was the name a pseudonym for all Christians? Was he a lawyer defending Paul’s case before Caesar?
Not much is known about Luke, himself.
He may have been Greek (from Troas or Philippi); he may have been Jewish (from Antioch).
He was an occasional companion of Paul.
He was a physician of some kind.
The Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles share a common story. They should be read together.
Notice the opening words of Acts: "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven" (Acts 1.1-2a).
In his Gospel, Luke provides a historical record of Jesus’ life. His story of Jesus is the most detailed of the four Gospel accounts.
In Acts, Luke provides a historical record of the development of the church. The early church reflected the image of Jesus in their words and deeds, they carried on his mission.
These two books present a before-and-after picture: first, a revealing portrait of the Savior who calls a community (the church) into existence; and, second, a survey of the development and mission of that community.
But, this story has its critics. There are many in the world today who dismiss the church and Scripture as simply creations and inventions of men.
In a nutshell, here is how many in the world understand church history:
A man named Jesus indeed lived, but he was simply a man. His teachings were inspiring, and he did many good things. But, he ran afoul of the authorities of his day, and he was killed.
Many years later, critics claim, followers of Jesus established a religious movement, based on the his teachings augmented by the thoughts of others (like Peter and Paul).
The efforts of these followers resulted in the creation of the Christian movement, which soon began to become very fragmented, and the countless sects and denominations of today are the result.
Likewise, the Bible is dismissed as a book of mythology, fairy tales, and fabricationsCthe canon of teachings for just one corner of society.
What is your response to those who seek to deny the truth of the Gospel, denying the supremacy of Christ and the authenticity of his church?
As he begins his Gospel, Luke anticipates the critics, and he sets out to defend his writing and his subjects, Jesus and the church.
Luke 1.1-4: "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."
In v. 1, Luke mentions how others have written similar accounts.
Luke probably has at least Mark in mind, and maybe Matthew, as well. Luke was not the first to write an account of Jesus’ life.
In v. 2, Luke stresses that he received his information from eyewitnesses.
Luke was a second-generation Christian, and he was not among those who witnessed the life and ministry of Jesus firsthand. He apparently interviewed a number of those who had known and been with Jesus.
Of course, we also believe that Luke was inspired as he wrote. Why did he not mention this? Perhaps he was being sensitive to his first audience. Perhaps they (specifically, Theophilus) valued the critical proofs Luke emphasizes.
In v. 3, Luke emphasizes how he was careful in his research.
In v. 4, Luke claims that what he has written agrees with what Theophilus has already been taught.
Luke writes: ". . . so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught" (v. 4). The word translated "certainty" (Gr., asphaleia) conveys "infallibility, something firm, solid, absolutely trustworthy, a firm foundation."
Luke is saying, "Read what I have written, and you will see the facts on which Christianity is based; and you will find there something firm and solid and absolutely trustworthy, a sure foundation for faith."
What Luke has written does not contradict what others have said about Jesus, nor does it challenge the faith that Theophilus has developed.
Luke, as he begins his Gospel, defends the story he is going to tell. What he is going to tell is no myth, no fairy tale, and no fabrication . . . it is the truth!
The portrait of Jesus that Luke draws in his Gospel is credible, and we should be inspired by the image that we see.
Though we are removed from the events of the Gospel story by 2,000 years, we can read the Gospel and find ourselves walking alongside the Savior. We can hear his words, we can feel his touch, we can experience his power, and we can be moved by his love.
Then, once we have read the Gospel, we can turn the pages of our Bible to the book of Acts, and see Luke’s portrait of Christ reflected in the church.
A little boy lay sprawled on the floor, with crayons scattered about him and a tablet of drawing paper before him. He was furiously working on a drawing. His father asked, "Son, what are you drawing?" "I’m drawing a picture of God!"
Surprised, the father responded, "You can’t do that son, nobody knows what God looks like!" But the little boy was undeterred and continued his work. He looked at his picture with satisfaction and said very matter-of-factly, "They will in a few minutes!"
Let us share the confidence of that little boy. Let us be confident that the image we project to the world is the image of Christ. Let us be confident that the Gospel in which we place our hope is credible.