The Aramaic Infancy Narrative (Luke 1:5 through 2:52) has sparked much debate. Some have dropped these two chapters as not worthy of consideration. However it seems that Luke’s information for these two chapters was private. In Matthew the narrative of the birth of Jesus is given from the standpoint of Joseph, and Mary is kept in the background, according to Eastern feeling (Wright). But in Luke the story is told from Mary’s point of view. Luke may have seen Mary herself in the years 57-59 AD (or 58-60). He could easily have seen some of Mary’s intimate friends who knew the real facts in the case. The facts were expressly said to have been kept in Mary’s heart. It is not possible to discredit Luke’s narrative of the Virgin Birth simply on the grounds of the text he has used. The Semitic flavor of this narrative argues strongly for its genuineness, since Luke was a Greek. We do not know whether Luke knew Aramaic or not. That was possible, since he spent these 2 years in Palestine. We do not know whether this information came to him in written form (note especially the hymns of Mary and of Zacharias) or in oral tradition. But it is hardly possible to credit a Greek with the invention of these birth-narratives and poems which ring so true to Hebrew life.
Others have found fault with Luke as an historian. The chief criticism of the Gospel of Luke which is challenged on historical grounds, apart from the birth-narratives, which some critics treat as legendary, is the census in Luke 2:1 ff. Critics, who in general have accepted Luke’s accuracy, have sometimes admitted that here he fell into error and confused the census under Quirinius in 6-7 AD when Quirinius came, after the banishment of Archelaus, to take a census and to collect taxes, much to the indignation of the Jews. It was not known that Quirinius had been governor of Syria before this time, nor was there any other knowledge of a census under Augustus. The case against Luke seemed strong. But Ramsay (Was Christ Born at Bethlehem?) shows that the inscription at Tibur, shows that Quirinius “twice governed Syria as legatus of the divine Augustus.” He was consul in 12 BC, so that the first mission was after that date. Ramsay shows also from the papyri that the 14-year cycle was used for the Roman census (many census papers are known from 20 AD on). He argues that the first one was instituted by Augustus in 8 BC. Herod, as a vassal king, would naturally be allowed to conduct it in the Jewish fashion, not the Roman, and it was probably delayed several years in the provinces. Thus Luke is vindicated.
The Acts of the Apostles has also been put through the test of accuracy and emerged unscathed, so that Luke’s credit as a historical writer is now very high among those qualified to know the facts. He has been tested and found correct on so many points where the presumption is in his favour despite the fact that he cannot as yet be verified.
Many question Luke’s accuracy from different perspectives. Aren’t the stories of Matthew and Luke incompatible? How is it Luke, if he is so detailed can miss out the Magi story and the many other elements he appears to miss out? Why is that, if he is compiling an account which harmonizes all other accounts? But Luke doesn’t tell us his plan is to harmonize everything together – I.e. Including all that others wrote. He merely says there are many accounts and I (Luke) am writing an orderly, careful account. That is not supposed to mean he will harmonize everything together, unthinkingly copying everyone else. Remember I said in Bible Gem 730 that Luke has not slavishly stuck to compiling what others have written but rather has added some elements and omitted others. Take this cue and attempt to work out for yourself Luke’s purpose in including or excluding material at his disposal. These elements don’t just relate to the Birth Narrative. It is all through Luke’s work. Why would Luke not include John’s account of the resurrection of Lazarus. Why is John the only Gospel writer to include this story (pericope)? Especially when the miracle in question is so outstanding and so relevant to the gospel story?
Another Lukan inclusion which needs investigation is the Genealogy of Jesus according to Luke as compared with the Genealogy of Jesus according to Matthew. They are obviously different. How can both be accurate? One has to be right and one has to be wrong don’t they? Mmm, ponder that one a while.
Keep your wits about you as you progress through Luke. Learn to face these and other questions and work out for yourself your personal stand or answer on such challenges. It is not wrong to question those things which seem to be anomalies or inaccuracies. Question them by all means but don’t arbitrarily throw out Luke’s material because he doesn’t fit your schema or what you think he ought to include, or at least not exclude. Try to understand the reasons for Luke’s choices or rearrangements. It is clear he is doing this deliberately. Be prepared to put your thinking cap on. Don’t abandon your responsibility to think. Nor leave the thinking to someone else or take on board their criticism unthinkingly. Rather assume Luke is writing an ordered, accurate account and therefore ponder on his purpose. Or perhaps more to the point, God’s purpose.
Beware of the half truth. You may have gotten hold of the WRONG half!Rick Godwin
Jesus is the answer; now what’s the question?Ian Vail
Strive To Know A Lot About One Thing, Rather Than A Little About A Lot Of Things.Robb Thompson