Luke 2:1-20, the account of Jesus’ birth, is probably one of the most widely known passages of Scripture. During this time of year, one might hear it in the most unexpected places. Religious or not, it is nigh impossible to get through the Christmas season without at least a passing reference to this important passage.
It’s author, Dr. Luke, was not an apostle and not an eyewitness to the events. He describes his knowledge of the events this way, "Dear friend who loves God: Several biographies of Christ have already been written using as their source material the reports circulating among us from the early disciples and other eyewitnesses. However, it occurred to me that it would be well to recheck all these accounts from first to last and after thorough investigation to pass this summary on to you," (Luke 1:1-3, The Living Bible). Dr. Luke is an early investigative reporter. One scholar describes him this way, "The general consensus of both liberal and conservative scholars is that Luke is very accurate as a historian. He’s erudite, he’s eloquent, his Greek approaches classical quality, he writes as an educated man, and archaeological discoveries are showing over and over again that Luke is accurate in what he has to say," (Strobel Lee, "The Case for Christmas," Zondervan Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998; 2005 p. 43).
What we have from the pen of Dr. Luke is an accurate historical description of an unique event in history. Today, however, we have certain scholars who are bent on dismantling this account (as well as all the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth). Michael White, professor of New Testament at the University of Texas declares the Gospels to be filled with "creative writing." while John Dominic Crossman laments, "We would like there to be records of all of this. And instead, what we have is Gospels," (Source CBS’s "The Mystery of Christmas" December 20, 2005). Both these men, along with others, claim that the Gospel writers were not recording history but crafting a story.
Let’s look at that for a minute. Forget the fact that Luke claims to be writing a report which he has carefully investigated to a Roman official. Forget the fact that he writes this report during the life-time of the eyewitnesses, anyone of whom could have said, "No I didn’t say that." And forget the fact that scholars from all walks of life have declared Luke to be an accurate historian, (one expert going as far as saying, "He never puts his foot wrong").
Why then do these modern scholars discount him? Let me simply touch on that and then get back to my argument for the accuracy of the Luke account. One must understand that, like me and like you, scholars everywhere approach things with their own biases. In the case of Crossman and White the bias is that there can be no miracles and therefore when they look at the life of Jesus they must, based on their preconceived notions, find a way to discount any reference to any miracle.
The problems with this approach when it comes to the writings of Dr. Luke are two-fold. First, even secular scholars recognize Luke as a leading source of accurate information regarding life in first century Rome. Both Crossman and White simply have to deny this fact when they relegate Luke’s account to the realm of creative writing declaring it to be untrue when it comes to Jesus.
Second, if Luke was taking creative liberties to try to explain how an illegitimate, immoral birth could produce what many hold as the world’s finest moral teacher (I believe him to be much more than that by the way), this educated man would not have chosen shepherds as his primary witnesses. If Luke were being creative, he would have used men of renown like Matthew, or appealed to priests and nobles, not ignoble shepherds. The fact that Luke reports that the news of the Savior’s birth occurred to shepherds, is a firm basis for believing the accuracy of his account. Shepherds were not the sort of people you would appeal to, if you were creating a story. But, if you were reporting the facts, you have to give such information even if it would be hard for your audience to swallow. That is what Luke does.
Bottom line, Mr. Crossman, is we do have records of this, and those records are reliable and accurate. And to my readers, you can trust your Bible.
Merry Christmas to all! And a special thanks to those who are my faithful readers.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. He can be heard Thursdays on the radio on WMVV 90.7 (FM) at 8:30 p.m.