The Investigative Reporter – Luke
Fact or fiction, the Gospel of Luke? Many have endeavored for centuries to prove or disprove the Gospel’s validity. Some have focused on the identity of the author of the unpinned writing, others on the content.
Who wrote the Gospel of Luke, the same author of the Book of Acts? Debate will continue, but there is one piece of evidence to consider. Among the first to document the identity of the author was Irenaeus, a student of Polycarp who was in turn a pupil of John, one of the original 12 Disciples of Jesus. He named the author as the Gentile doctor Luke, the inseparable traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. With a source this close, how likely is it that Irenaeus was wrong?
Credibility of a statement, the Gospel included, can be determined regardless of the identity of the author. Assumed to be Luke, the author’s first defining point of credibility is that his investigative report is addressed to a specific person identified as Theophilius, the same person as the Book of Acts, establishing both accountability and consistency. Very clearly Luke describes the basis of his investigation:
LK 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 eye-witnesses 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.” (NIV)
Not himself an eyewitness, instead Luke identifies the sources of his investigation as being original eyewitnesses. Evidence of this can be seen in the quotes and in the parallels found in the older Gospels of Matthew and Mark.
Nearly half of Luke’s content is unique in which 6 miracles are reported, including the resurrection of a dead boy, and 15-17 unparalleled parables (was it an illustration or a parable?). Included, too, are the birth circumstances of John the Baptist; identities of his father, Zachariah and his mother, Elizabeth, and her role with Mary during their pregnancies; the naming of Gabriel, the archangel, and his messages from God delivered separately to Zachariah and Mary; and Mary’s hymn of praise.
Focusing deeper, found only in Luke and Acts are two Greek words, apographo and apographe – a verb and a noun – cited as the impetus for Joseph taking his nearly 9-month pregnant wife, Mary, to Bethlehem 90 miles away. Neither Greek word translates to an equivalent English word as “census” often imprecisely used in the Christmas Nativity story.
Seven government rulers are identified in Luke, all corroborated in secular Roman history including Caesar Augustus, Tiberius Caesar, Judean King Herod, and Tetrarchs Herod and Philip. Two “governors,” Quirinius and Pilate, were both identified using the exclusive Greek word hegemoneuo, meaning to act with authority as governors, though not necessarily official “governors.” 
Two specific crucifixion scenarios are found only in the Gospel. Quoted is the conversation between the criminals being crucified with Jesus. Upon his death, the distraught witnesses reacted by “beating their breasts” in severe mourning.
Resurrection day, witnesses are distinctively identified and quoted. Most notable is Cleopas with his traveling partner headed home to Emmaus after being with some of the Disciples that weekend. Unrecognized, Jesus joined them walking down the road and asked what they were discussing so intently.
Cleopas was incredulous how this stranger could not know what had just transpired in Jerusalem. He is quoted explaining the sequence of events involving the encounter by the women of Galilee with angels at the empty tomb who proclaimed Jesus was alive and how the empty tomb was confirmed by other unnamed witnesses. It would not be expected for Cleopas to name the witnesses to a stranger and Luke did not embellish the statement by naming them.
Truthful witness statements characteristically reflect information being recalled from memory in the sequence in which it actually occurred. Cleopas, who was not alone, consistently used the plural pronouns “we” and “us” combined with past and present tense perspectives. All are hallmark characteristics of an accurate, honest statement being recalled from memory in real time – based on the structure of his statement, Cleopas appears to be completely truthful.
Corroborating John’s eyewitness Gospel account of the gathering of Disciples and followers in the locked room that evening, Luke adds a distinguishing depiction of events. Cleopas and his partner had rejoined the gathering telling of their encounter with the resurrected Jesus and, in turn, were told Jesus had also appeared to Simon (Peter).
Continuing, Luke described the excited group being terrified when Jesus suddenly appeared in the locked room. Thinking they were seeing a ghost, Jesus calmed their fears, quoted as saying “Do you have anything here to eat?” Jesus then ate some fish to prove he was not a ghost.
Omitted seemingly key information can expose hidden insights. Missing is the name of Cleopas’ traveling partner; Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus and John running with Peter to see the empty tomb, all that astounding morning.
One reason is revealed in Cleopas’ statement. Chronicling what had transpired over the weekend unwittingly to Jesus, Cleopas ended at the point when he departed for home before anyone had reported seeing the resurrected Jesus. Luke’s omission is thus explained – being unaware of Mary Magdalene’s Resurrection encounter with Jesus, Cleopas could not truthfully include it in his factual quoted statement.
Why is Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb omitted in the earlier chronology of Resurrection events? Luke had to be aware of it through his investigation by knowing Paul, contacts with Disciples and interviews of other witnesses. He could have easily enhanced the Resurrection story by including the incident, but he didn’t – why? There is a big clue of omission.
Mary Magdalene is mentioned only twice in the entire Gospel. She is one of the three named women generally reported to have run back from the empty tomb to tell the Disciples. Just once before, she is identified as the one from whom Jesus expelled seven demons early in his ministry. Neither time can the information be directly attributed to Mary Magdalene herself and therein lies the possible reason for the omission.
Mary Magdalene as a witness was apparently not available to Luke. If he did not have direct access to her as an eyewitness source, then Luke chose not to include secondhand information of her experiences. Likewise a similar reason for Cleopas’ unnamed traveling partner – being an unavailable witness and with the information expected to be the same, consequently his or her identity is no longer important in his investigative report.
Peter is the only one called out as running to see the empty tomb – no mention of John who, in his own eyewitness Gospel, adds himself as the “other disciple” who joined the race. Why was John not mentioned in Luke? Likely the same reason – Peter was an eyewitness source who recounted only his personal experience whereas John was not available to Luke and thus omitted. Nevertheless, John would be expected to include himself in his own eyewitness account.
Forthright acknowledgements, exclusive specific details, corroboration by secular history and other Gospels, named witnesses, quotes, credibility of statements, lack of personal opinions or injections, and ignored opportunities to embellish – all characteristics of a straightforward, true investigative reporter. If Luke’s report to Theophilus meets the standard of credible investigative reporting, what does it say about the validity of his account of the Resurrection of Jesus?
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