Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
‘Authenticity’… July 2, 2014
Writing in The London Times, someone once commented, ‘I’d like to be a Christian, but to do that I need a water-tight argument.’ At times we may feel like that – for ourselves and for the sake of others. But that is not how God has chosen to work. He invites us to trust him, not by way of a leap of blind faith, but on the basis of the revelation he has given us. Which raises the question of authenticity: can, for example, the New Testament be trusted?
Unlike with other religions, the Christian Bible has been written by many different writers over at least 2,000 years. It invites us to ask questions about this revelation and, insofar that it provides us with historical context, gives us opportunities to explore its historical accuracy. So, when we come to the New Testament, we want to ask questions about it.
The New Testament writers were conscious of their particular responsibilities in their writing and nobody understood the need for accuracy and clarity about God better than Luke. In Luke 1:1-4 we read: Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who were from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have the certainty concerning the things you have been taught. Luke wants us to know:
He was writing a history—he was setting down an accurate and orderly account of events that had recently occurred. His writing is not myth or legend that had the appearance of a history, such as Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings.
His research is thorough. While he tells us that he himself was not an eyewitness of the events he verified his work carefully (1:2). Thucydides said: Where I have not been an eyewitness myself, I have investigated with the utmost accuracy attainable every detail that I have taken at second hand (History of the Peloponnesian War).
His narrative is true. Luke’s reference to eyewitnesses was more than just a convention. The picture we have in Luke and Acts leads us to conclude that he met with people who had been with Jesus throughout his public ministry – the twelve disciples and other close followers, including Mary. It seems that he met with these people in Jerusalem when Paul was under house arrest in 56-59AD.
Dr Edwin Judge, a highly respected ancient historian wrote the following: ‘An ancient historian has no problem seeing the phenomenon of Jesus as an historical one. His many surprising aspects only help anchor him in history. Myth or legend would have created a more predictable figure. The writings that sprang up about Jesus also reveal to us a movement of thought and an experience of life so unusual that something much more substantial than the imagination is needed to explain it.
The question is, ‘Do you have this kind of confidence for your own faith? Does this give you greater confidence when you talk to others about the Christian faith – that faith is not a leap in the dark, but the appropriate response to a unique man who lived an extraordinary life?
John G. Mason