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Jesus for Thinking People, Part 1

• Greg Boyd

Greg introduced the Book of Luke by first providing some context for the Gospel. Then he launched into a big question that occurs to many who read the Bible in general: “Is this true?” In other words, is the Gospel about Jesus that Luke researched and presents true? And to get at this he broke it down as follows: either it is true or it is false. If it is false, then it can be false in one of two ways: intentionally false (Conspiracy Theory) or unintentionally false (Legendary Theory). This week’s message focused on showing how irrational the Conspiracy Theory is.

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Greg started this week with an introduction to the book of Luke. When we decide to study a book of the Bible, it’s important to understand some things about the context of the book. For example, when was it written? by whom? in what setting? for what purpose? We don’t always have good access to the answers of each of these questions, but we should make an attempt to find out. When it comes to books written long ago, some of these questions become quite challenging. Fortunately, many study Bibles offer good introductions to each book which means that most of the work has been done for you! So take the time to check it out. You’ll understand the book better if you know that information. Greg started this week by setting the book of Luke back in its historical context.

Here’s what we can say we know about the Gospel of Luke (and the author) with reasonable confidence: Even though the author does not identify himself, writers in the early church attributed both Luke and Acts to Luke. No one in the early church disputed this. Luke was a physician and companion of Paul (Col. 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Tim. 4:11). His use of the plural pronoun “we” indicates that Luke spoke from personal experience in places like Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16. Luke was not an eyewitness of the historical Jesus, but he fellowshipped with eyewitnesses. Luke states his intentions when he described his work as having “carefully investigated everything…” at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke.

Dating of ancient texts is often disputed, and the same is true of Luke-Acts (these two books go together as a two volume set of one book). A good guess is in the early 60s. Acts ends abruptly in 62AD, and no mention is made of Nero’s persecution in 64AD (this would certainly have been mentioned if it had happened during the time of the writing), so it seems likely that the writing was between 62 and the persecution. Finally, the audience Luke addresses is named: “Theophilus” which means “friend of God.” This could be either an individual with this name or a literary device that addresses Christian leaders generally. Most scholars think it is most likely a Roman official interested in or recently converted to Christianity.

Having given some context for the Gospel, Greg launched into a big question that occurs to many who read the Bible in general: “Is this true?” In other words, is the Gospel about Jesus that Luke researched and presents true? And to get at this he broke it down as follows: either it is true or it is false. If it is false, then it can be false in one of two ways: intentionally false (Conspiracy Theory) or unintentionally false (Legendary Theory). This week’s message focused on showing how irrational the Conspiracy Theory is. Some people challenge the truth of the Gospel by saying that it was made up by the early followers of Jesus. Perhaps they were disappointed with how things turned out, so they invented what we now call Christianity. Greg offered the following responses to this proposal:

  1. There is no evidence to support this theory. We know of no accusations launched against the early church to this effect. If this were made up, someone would have accused it as such.
  2. There’s no logical motive for this. There was nothing to be gained and everything to lose. Nero’s persecution in the 60s would have shown a conspiracy for what it was by threatening death. People don’t let themselves be willingly killed for a lie they made up.
  3. There were no deserters. In fact, instead of deserters we have huge numbers of martyrs who died for their faith!
    In known conspiracies, there are deserters who expose the truth. Two of three critical witnesses to early events that Mormonism is founded on recanted. Chuck Colson talks about how the Watergate Conspiracy was only held secret for two weeks before the truth started coming out.
  4. It’s full of bad ideas. If someone wanted to “sell” a conspiracy to Jews in the first century, Christianity isn’t a good candidate. Here are just some of the things that should have been left out if it were made up: a human being is also God, God died on the cross crying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, salvation is not based on the law but on this incomprehensible act just described, and the disciples are frequently cast in poor light in the Gospels. If it were made up, these things certainly would not have been included because they reduce the plausibility so significantly.
  5. Too many verifiable (therefore falsifiable) facts and witnesses. There were lots of opponents to Christianity. If the message was not true, those who witnessed the same events would have said so! Powerful people like Ciaphas, Pilot, and Joseph of Arimethia are mentioned and were still around to be questioned about what occurred. In fact, this situation of people’s proximity to the events was used to strengthen the case in Acts 2:22.
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Topics: Defense of Christian Faith, Resurrection

Sermon Series: Jesus for Thinking People


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Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 1: 1-4

    1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 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, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

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