Jesus, the Bible, and History

by Edwin Crozier

As Luke digs into the story of who Jesus is, he doesn’t say, “Long ago, in a land far, far away.” He doesn’t say, “Once upon a time.” He gets specific. It was the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea. Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee. Philip was the tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitus. Lysanias was the tetrarch of Abilene. The high priesthood was shared by Annas and Caiaphas. Wow! That is pretty specific. Of course, critics try to poke holes in these details while supporters have found evidence that every bit of this fits exactly right.

Luke isn’t writing a fairy tale. He is not sharing a myth or a legend. He is recording historical events. He is not providing a metanarrative. He is not trying to write a series of stories to help us organize our way of thinking about life and the world. He is claiming these events happened in real-time in real places. They can be dated on the calendar. They can be pinpointed on the map. This story of Jesus matters because it happened. He really lived. He really taught. He really died. He really rose again. And because these things really happened, they mean something even today. You may disagree. You may think Luke is wrong. You may think Luke lied or was mistaken. You may think Luke completely made it up. If so, feel free to state your case.

However, please don’t make the very silly mistake of claiming Luke believed he was passing on mythic stories to help explain the world and how we should live. He didn’t. He believed he was writing history. He believed he was writing a biography. And everyone reading it in his day would have known that was what he was attempting. For Luke, this story needed to be recorded because it actually happened. Since it actually happened, it actually means something, it actually has consequences for our lives.

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