In this message, Greg explains the “Legendary Theory.” This theory maintains that though the authors of Luke weren’t consciously lying and trying to deceive people (they genuinely believed what they where saying), they were just wrong about essential things like Jesus’ being both the messiah and God! They were not trying to deceive, but they themselves were deceived, according to the Legendary Theory.
Last week Greg offered two things. First was a brief introduction to the Gospel of Luke. Following that was a defense against the “Conspiracy Theory.” This is the idea that the gospel writers worked together to deceive people with the message of Jesus. Today, Greg takes on the “Legendary Theory.” The main difference here is that the authors weren’t consciously lying and trying to deceive people…they genuinely believed what they where saying, they were just wrong about essential things like Jesus’ being both the messiah and God! They were not trying to deceive, but they themselves were deceived, according to the Legendary Theory.
The big picture here is: Either the basic message of the Gospel is true or it is false. If it is false, then it is either intentionally false or unintentionally false on the part of those who pass the Gospel down to us. Today we are discussing the latter. (If you missed the Conspiracy Theory, check out last week’s message and study guide to catch up.)
The Legendary Theory usually grants that “something happened” but then the stories grew out of proportion until they are finally downright miraculous. Greg’s first point was that not all cultural environments are equally conducive to “legend making.” For example, our current US culture is not friendly to stories of miraculous events. If someone claims to have seen something that sounded “too big” for real life, people would likely examine it scientifically and verify what really happened. Greg argued that First Century Palestine was also resistant to legend making. The Jewish belief in only one God made it difficult to explain anything miraculous as having come from anyone other than God. Idolatry and blasphemy would be the charges if others made claims to be divine or do what only God can do. Indeed, this is how Jesus was charged.
Legends typically reinforce the social and cultural expectations and values. If a legend about a Jewish Messiah were to evolve in Palestine, it would have difficulty getting off the ground with these elements:
- A cursed and crucified messiah
b. Jesus’ divine claims and authority
c. A human being is worshipped!
d. Extraordinarily dull disciples (Usually legends embellish the strengths of those involved)
e. Jesus’ own family doesn’t believe until after the resurrection!
f. Women were the first witnesses and generally prominent throughout the Gospels. Women were not regarded as valid witnesses at the time. The only reason to say they were there is if they actually were, and it would hurt the strength of the case in that culture. In this way, Christianity initiates liberation for women by including them in the most important places. This is not likely to happen in a legend.
g. A messiah who attracts tax collectors, prostitutes and others that society at that time rejected.
h. A messiah who breaks many “rules of the faith” he claims to represent! (Touching lepers, talking to Samaritans, heals on the Sabbath, praises Gentiles, etc.)
In addition to the context being hostile to elements that are core to the Gospel, there is just not enough time for a legend to develop between the writing of the Gospels and the events they speak of. Legends evolve over hundreds of years, not within the lifetime of those depicted. A good way to illustrate this is ask: How could a legend form when those who were witnesses (both believers and nonbelievers) to the events are still alive? A person could easily check the story against what others actually saw. And this is exactly what Luke claims he did in the beginning of his gospel.
The final two arguments Greg developed had to do with what we find in the writings of the Gospels themselves. The Gospels claim to write history (Luke 1:1-4; I John 1:1-3) and they read like history from that period of time. Not like legend from that period of time. And finally, the Gospels contain evidence that we would expect to find if they were based on eyewitness accounts. We find incidental descriptions of what seem to be irrelevant to the storyline. Mention is made of locations and individuals that don’t seem to be needed to communicate the message. As a result of this, frequently the Gospels have come under attack by archeologists. But over time, the Gospels have vindicated themselves time and again. Consistently, the naming of leaders of the day are accurate, the description of events like the census are accurate.
All of these objections call into question the plausibility that the Gospels are simply legendary. Saying this does not “prove” that they are therefore absolutely true, but it does make it quite reasonable to believe that they are. When it comes to making decisions in life, especially the really big ones, we almost always must go beyond the evidence, but Greg’s point is that we don’t have to go against it. At least not when we believe in Jesus! Faith is just that, going beyond the evidence to say, “YES! I believe that Jesus is who he said he was. And since Jesus was God, I will trust and imitate him with my whole life.”
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